The Power of
Nightmares continues its assessment of whether the
threat from a hidden and organised terrorist network is
an illusion. Part two, the Phantom Victory looks at how
two groups, radical Islamists and neo-conservatives with
seemingly opposing ideologies came together to defeat a
Among the many
foreigners drawn to Afghanistan was a young, wealthy
Saudi called Osama Bin Laden.
Broadcast - BBC 2 - 10/27/04 - Written and
produced by Adam Curtis
VO: In the past, politicians
promised to create a better world. They had different ways
of achieving this. But their power and authority came from
the optimistic visions they offered their people. Those
dreams failed. And today, people have lost faith in
ideologies. Increasingly, politicians are seen simply as
managers of public life. But now, they have discovered a new
role that restores their power and authority. Instead of
delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us
from nightmares. They say that they will rescue us from
dreadful dangers that we cannot see and do not understand.
And the greatest danger of all is international terrorism. A
powerful and sinister network, with sleeper cells in
countries across the world. A threat that needs to be fought
by a war on terror. But much of this threat is a fantasy,
which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians.
It’s a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through
governments around the world, the security services, and the
VO: This is a series of films about how and why that fantasy
was created, and who it benefits. At the heart of the story
are two groups: the American neoconservatives, and the
radical Islamists. In this week’s episode, the two groups
come together to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. And
both believe that they defeat the Evil Empire, and so had
the power to transform the world.
[ SUBTITLE OVER CROWD SCENE : We will fight for an Islamic
State, we will die for it! ]
VO: But both failed in their revolutions. In response, the
neoconservatives invent a new fantasy enemy, Bill Clinton,
to try and regain their power; while the Islamists descend
into a desperate cycle of violence and terror to try and
persuade the people to follow them. Out of all this come the
seeds of the strange world of fantasy, deception, violence,
and fear in which we now live.
[ OPENING TITLES : THE POWER OF NIGHTMARES / THE RISE OF THE
POLITICS OF FEAR
Part Two: THE PHANTOM VICTORY ]
AFGHAN BOY (holding a gun and making gun noises): Ka-choo!
Daga daga daga daga! Pum pum pum! (etc.)
VO: In 1982, Ronald Reagan dedicated the Space Shuttle
Columbia to the resistance fighters in Afghanistan.
President RONALD REAGAN : Just as the Columbia, we think,
represents man’s finest aspirations in the field of science
and technology, so too does the struggle of the Afghan
people represent man’s highest aspirations for freedom. I am
dedicating, on behalf of the American people, the March 22nd
launch of the Columbia to the people of Afghanistan.
VO: Since 1979, the mujaheddin resistance had been fighting
a vicious war in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion.
But now, a small group in the Reagan White House saw in
these fighters a way of achieving their vision of
transforming the world. To them, they were not just
nationalists; they were freedom fighters, who could bring
down the Soviet Union and help spread democracy around the
world. It was called the Reagan Doctrine.
JACK WHEELER , Adviser to the Reagan White House, 1981-1984:
It was a small group of people and—yes, we did have.
Everyone thinks, “oh, the Reagan Doctrine, the Reagan
Administration,” like everybody was for. No. It was a small
little cabal within the Soviet—within the Reagan White
House, that really pulled this off. What united this small
group of ours was the vision of bringing more freedom to the
world, more security to the world, to actually get rid of
the Soviet Union itself. As a result, supporting the freedom
fighters became the premier cause for the entire
conservative movement during the Reagan years.
VO: But the Americans were setting out to defeat a
mythological enemy. As last week’s episode showed, the
neoconservatives, who were now in power in Reagan’s White
House, had created an exaggerated and distorted vision of
the Soviet Union as the source of all evil in the world. One
of their main influences were the theories of the
philosopher Leo Strauss. He believed that liberal societies
needed simple, powerful myths to inspire and unite the
people. And in the 1970s, the neoconservatives had done just
this. Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and other
neoconservatives had set out to reassert the myth of America
as a unique country, whose destiny was to struggle against
evil throughout the world. Now in power, they had come to
believe this myth. They saw themselves as revolutionaries
who were going to transform the world, starting with the
defeat of the Evil Empire.
RICHARD PERLE , Assistant Secretary of Defense 1981-1987:
We’re closer to being revolutionaries than conservatives, in
the sense that we want to change some deeply entrenched
notions about the proper role of American power in the
world. We want to see that power used constructively, and to
enlarge the opportunity for decent governance around the
world. We’re not happy about the old, cozy relationships
VO: And the man who was going to help the neoconservatives
do this was the new head of the CIA, William Casey. He was
convinced that Afghanistan was one of the keys to this
aggressive new policy. America was already sending limited
amounts of aid to the mujaheddin. But now, Casey ordered one
of his agents to go and form an alliance with the freedom
fighters, and give them as much money as they wanted and the
most sophisticated weapons to defeat the Soviet military
MILTON BEARDEN , CIA Field Officer, Afghanistan, 1985-89:
For Casey, Afghanistan seemed to be possibly one of the
keys. So he tapped me one day to go. He says, “I want you to
go out to Afghanistan, I want you to go next month, and I
will give you whatever you need to win.” Yeah. He said, “I
want you go to there and win.” As opposed to, “let’s go
there and bleed these guys,” make a [unintelligible]
Vietnam, “I want you to go there and win. Whatever you need,
you can have.” He gave me the Stinger missiles and a billion
[ SUBTITLE OVER AFGHAN WAR SCENE : God is great!]
VO : American money and weapons now began to pour across the
Pakistan border into Afghanistan. CIA agents trained the
mujaheddin in the techniques of assassination and terror,
including car bombing. And they gave them satellite images
of Russian troops to help in their attacks.
[ SUBTITLE OVER AFGHAN WAR SCENE : Move your fat arse and
shoot the f…ing rocket!]
VO: At the very same time, another group began to arrive in
Afghanistan to fight alongside the mujaheddin. They were
Arabs from across the Middle East, who had been told by
their religious leaders that their duty was to go and free
Muslim lands from the Soviet invader.
ABDULLAH ANAS , General Commander Afghan Arabs, Northern
Afghanistan, 1984-1989: I saw the fatwa, the order saying
that every Muslim has a duty to help the Afghans to liberate
their land. But I had no idea, where is this Afghanistan?
How can I go there? I’ve never heard about Afghanistan, and
I’ve never heard—in the map. Which airline goes there? From
where can I take the visa? It—100 questions! But I did meet
VO: Abdullah Azzam was a charismatic religious leader who
had begun to organize the Arab volunteers in Afghanistan. He
had set up what he called the Services Bureau, in Peshawar
on the Afghan border. It became the headquarters of an
international brigade of Arab fighters. Azzam quickly became
one of the most powerful figures in the battle against the
Soviets. He was allowed to visit America on many occasions,
both to raise funds and recruit volunteers for the jihad.
Dr. AZZAM TAMIMI , Institute of Islamic Political Thought:
When, Abdullah Azzam became so instrumental in marketing the
Afghan cause among the Arabs, he became very important. He
became called “the emir of the Arab mujaheddin.” The leader
of the Arab mujaheddin. And he set up an office in Peshawar
which provided services to Arabs who came and wanted to
participate in the jihad. There were no doors closed, so all
doors were opened, because the Americans, the Saudis, the
Pakistanis, and many other people wanted the Soviet Union to
lose in Afghanistan, and to be humiliated. That brought
about huge numbers of Arabs from different backgrounds in
the jihad in Afghanistan. He went to America, he went to
Saudi Arabia, he traveled wherever he wanted, because the
Afghan cause was a cause that everybody was happy
VO: But like the neoconservatives, Azzam also saw the
struggle against the Soviets as just the first step in a
much wider revolution. He was a member of the Muslim
Brotherhood, who wanted Islam to play a political role in
governing Muslim societies. And Abdullah Azzam believed that
the Arabs in Afghanistan could be the nucleus of a new
political force. They would return to their own countries
and persuade the people to reject the corrupt, autocratic r�gimes
that dominated the Middle East. But these r�gimes, Azzam
insisted, must be overthrown by political means. He made
every fighter pledge they would not use terrorism against
civilians in the pursuit of their vision. One of Azzam’s
closest aides was a Saudi, Osama bin-Laden.
ANAS : Osama came to participate in ‘85. When he was—when he
came, as you know, he is, he came from a rich family from
Saudi, and he had much, much money to spend. Sheikh Abdullah
Azzam was a scholar, he can organize the Afghans, but he is
not a rich man. So when Osama came, he filled in this gap.
So the main duty of Osama at that time was spending money.
Beside his good personal qualities.
VO: But then, in 1985, a new force began to arrive in
Afghanistan, who were going to challenge Azzam’s approach.
They were the extreme radical Islamists, who were being
expelled from prisons across the Arab world.
BEARDEN : And then, very quietly, most of the governments in
the Middle East, the Arab governments, began to empty their
prisons of their bad guys and send them off to the jihad
with the very fondest hope that they would become martyred.
Many of them were the people in Egypt that had not been
executed after the murder of Sadat, but were implicated in
it and had been in prison. Off they go.
VO: One of the most powerful of these newcomers was Ayman
Zawahiri. He was the leader of a radical faction from Egypt
called Islamic Jihad. And he was convinced that they, not
the moderates, were the true Islamists.
AYMAN ZAWAHIRI , in cage: We are here! We are here! The real
Islamic front! We are here! The real Islamic front and the
real Islamic opposition against Zionist. We are here! The
real Islamic front against Zionism, Communism, and
VO: Ayman Zawahiri was a follower of the Egyptian
revolutionary Sayyed Qutb, who had been executed in 1966. As
last week’s program showed, Qutb believed that the liberal
ideas of Western societies corrupted the minds of Muslims,
because they unleashed the most selfish aspects of human
nature. Zawahiri had interpreted Qutb’s theories to mean
that this corruption included the Western system of
democracy. Democracy, Zawahiri believed, encouraged
politicians to set themselves up as the source of all
authority, and by doing this, they were rejecting the higher
authority of the Koran. This meant they were no longer true
Muslims, and so they, and those who supported them, could
legitimately be killed. The terror this created, he said,
would shock the masses into seeing the truth behind the
corrupt fa�ade of democracy.
ANAS : When the Egyptians, the jihadi group, came from Egypt
with their own explanation, with their own ideas, that
anybody participating in any parliament, or any political
party, or going to elect, or call people for the election,
and sort of these activities, is totally rejecting the
Koran. So when you say that, it means when a Muslim is
rejecting the Koran, simply must be killed. And should be
killed, must be killed! And that’s what happened.
VO: Zawahiri and his small group settled in Peshawar. They
began to spread this new idea among the foreign fighters,
radicalizing the Islamist movement. It was not only a direct
challenge to the moderate ideas of Abdullah Azzam, but it
also involved a militant rejection of all American influence
over the jihad, because America was the source of this
BEARDEN : The only times that I ever ran into any real
trouble in Afghanistan was when I ran into these guys. You
know, there’d be kind of a moment or two, where it looked a
little bit like the bar scene in Star Wars, each group kind
of jockeying around, and finally somebody has to sort of
defuse the situation.
[ TITLE : MOSCOW 1987 ]
NEWS ANNOUNCER (speaking in Russian, subtitled): The
indicator lights aren’t on. Please adjust them. (pause)
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has issued a decree…
VO: Then, in 1987, the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev
decided he was going to withdraw Russian troops from
Afghanistan. Gorbachev was convinced that the whole Soviet
system was facing collapse. He was determined to try and
save it through political reform, and this meant reversing
the policies of his predecessors, including the occupation
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV , General Secretary, Soviet Communist
Party (speaking in Russian, via interpreter) : The state of
the Soviet Union and its society could be described very
simply with a phrase used by people across the country: “We
can’t go on living like this any longer.” And that applied
to everything. The economy was stagnating. There were
shortages. And the quality of goods was very poor. We had to
finish this war, but in such a way that the Russian people
would understand why tens of thousands had died. We couldn’t
just run away from there in shame, no. We needed to find a
VO: Gorbachev asked the Americans to help him negotiate a
peace that would create a stable government in Afghanistan.
But the hard-liners in Washington refused point-blank. They
would continue to help the mujaheddin until the last
Russians left, without any negotiation. The future of
Afghanistan would then be decided, they said, by the freedom
VLADIMIR POZNER , Soviet Spokesman in the United States,
1987: I think that basically, we’ve asked the United States
to help us get out, if you’re really interested in stopping
MODERATOR : But can you get out and leave a government in
Afghanistan that supports, that is a friend of the Soviet
POZNER : I believe that we can get out, provided that no
more aid is given to what people here call freedom fighters,
and we call counterrevolutionaries. I believe that’s
possible, provided that the United States is also interested
in the same.
RICHARD PERLE , Assistant Secretary of Defense 1981-1987 :
Well, it’s not very complicated. They arrived in a matter of
days, on Christmas Eve in 1979; they could be home by
Christmas Eve, if they decided to leave Afghanistan and let
the Afghans decide their own future. If you leave, the
problem of support to the mujaheddin solves itself.
VO: Gorbachev was shocked by the intransigence of the U.S.
Administration. He sent a private message through the KGB,
warning the Americans that if they allowed the mujaheddin to
take control in Afghanistan, it would not produce democracy.
Instead, he predicted, the most extreme forms of Islamism
would rise up and triumph. But Gorbachev’s warning was
ignored. As Soviet troops left Afghanistan, both the
Americans and the Islamists came to believe that they had
not only won the battle for Afghanistan, they had also begun
the downfall of the entire Evil Empire.
BEARDEN : I felt we won, because I was part of it; I’m sure
that the Afghan Arabs thought “we won,” and then all summer
long, the East Germans begin to gather—a hundred here, a
thousand there, tens of thousands—until November 9th, when
the wall was opened. And that’s it. Start the clock running
on the Soviet Union. And it was over. So the Soviet Union
was all crapped up and broken. And that was done.
VO: For the neoconservatives, the collapse of the Soviet
Union was a triumph. And out of that triumph was going to
come the central myth that still inspires them today: that
through the aggressive use of American power, they could
transform the world and spread democracy. But in reality,
their victory was an illusion. They had conquered a phantom
enemy, an exaggerated and distorted fantasy they had created
in their own minds. The real reason the Soviet Union
collapsed was because it was a decrepit system, decaying
MELVIN GOODMAN , Head of Office of Soviet Affairs CIA,
1976-1987: I think probably one of the greatest myths in
America, in the political discourse now, right now, is that
actions of the American government were responsible for the
collapse of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed
like a house of cards because it was a house of cards. It
rotted away from within. The economy was rotten, the
political process was rotten, they had developed a central
government that was no longer believed by people outside of
Moscow, there was total cynicism throughout the Soviet
system of governance, there was no real civil society. But
the Reagan Administration and their—the minions of the
Reagan Administration, will tell you that Afghanistan led to
the collapse of the Soviet Union itself—the collapse of the
Berlin Wall in 1989, the collapse of the East European
empire. We were saying that this was entirely fanciful. And
the United States missed all of this, because they believed
their own myths and their own fanciful notions. They had
become their own victims of their own lies.
VO: And for the Islamists too, a great myth was born out of
the struggle in Afghanistan—that it was they who had
conquered the Soviet Union.
[ SUBTITLES OVER MUJAHEDDIN GATHERING : God is great! Death
to Gorbachev! Long live Afghanistan!]
VO: The Islamists believed that this great victory would
start a revolution that would sweep across the Arab world
and topple the corrupt leaders. But as with the
neoconservatives, this dream was built on an illusion.
GILLES KEPEL , Historian of the Islamist Movement: The
Islamists were convinced that they were the key instrument
in the demise of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. They just
would not like to remember that without U.S. military help
and training, they couldn’t have done anything. And also the
Afghans were the ones who ousted the Soviets, not the Arab
jihadis, who didn’t really fight, who were trained, but they
were not the fighters. But the myth has it that they were
the ones who won. I mean, this was a jihad that had
triumphed. This was something very powerful that was a
mobilizing force for Islamists worldwide.
VO: But there was a deep rift within the Islamist fighters
based in Peshawar—between the moderates, led by Abdullah
Azzam, who believed this revolution could be accomplished
politically; and the extremists, like Ayman Zawahiri, who
saw violent revolution as the only way. And Zawahiri now set
out to extend his influence over the movement, and to
undermine Abdullah Azzam. To do this, he seduced Osama
bin-Laden—and his money—away from Azzam. He promised
bin-Laden that he could become the emir, the leader of
Zawahiri’s small extremist group, Islamic Jihad.
ANAS : Ayman Zawahiri and another group of Egyptians, they
refused to pray behind Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar. They used
to create rumors in Peshawar against Abdullah Azzam. That’s
why we became angry about Osama, why he became—he closed
these people to him. They accepted him as an emir, and he
accepted them as a group. Finally, I don’t know who did use
INTERVIEWER (off-camera): What do you think?
ANAS : I think the other used him.
INTERVIEWER : Because he had the money.
ANAS : Yes.
VO: Then, at the end of 1989, Abdullah Azzam was
assassinated by a huge car bomb in Peshawar. It is still
unknown who carried out the assassination. But despite his
death, it seemed as if Azzam’s vision of a political
revolution might prevail. In the early ‘90s, in countries
across the Arab world, Islamist parties began to gather mass
[ SUBTITLE OVER POLITICAL RALLY : Islamic State! ]
VO: In Algeria, the Islamic Salvation Front won overwhelming
victories in local elections, and looked certain to win the
coming general election. And at the same time in Egypt, the
Muslim Brotherhood began to win mass support, and a growing
number of seats in Parliament. Both parties were riding to
power on an idealistic vision. They would use Islam in a
political way to create a new type of model society through
SAIF AL BANNA , Senior member, Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt
(speaking in Arabic, subtitled): We can change people
through education and religious conviction. We want to build
a popular base. This is the right way. We do not want a
military coup; we do not want violence; we want our rights.
If people believe in us, the government must comply with the
VO: But the governments in both Egypt and Algeria faced a
terrible dilemma. At the heart of the Islamist vision was
the idea that the Koran should be used as the political
framework for the society. An absolute set of laws, beyond
debate, that all politicians had to follow. The implication
of this was that political parties would be irrelevant,
because there could be no disagreement. The people were
about to vote in parties that might use that power to end
ALI HAROUN , Algerian Minister for Human Rights (1991-1992)
(speaking in French, subtitled): But what a dilemma! Do you
find a way of stopping the electoral process and cancelling
the second round? Or do you let power go to a party which
claims: “One man, one vote, but only once! We won’t have any
elections after this, because democracy is non-religious.
Once we’re in power, we’ll stay there forever, because we
alone are the keepers of religious truth, and we alone shall
apply the Koran.”
VO: Faced by this dilemma, in Algeria the army decided to
step in, and in June 1991 they staged a coup d’�tat and
immediately canceled the elections. Mass protests by the
Islamists were repressed violently, and their leaders
arrested. At the same time, in Egypt, the government also
clamped down. They arrested hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood
members, and banned the organization from any political
ESSAM EL ERIAN , Senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood,
Egypt: What happened is a wave of arresting Muslim brothers,
a wave of military courts for Muslim brothers, going to kill
some of Muslim brothers under torture. They stopped all the
free elections in all of their society and institutions. And
this wave, in this manner, you open the doors of hell for
the violent groups who were hidden underground—and stopped
the moderates, open the door for the violence.
VO: For Ayman Zawahiri, this was a dramatic confirmation of
his belief that the Western system of democracy was a
corrupt sham. Groups of radical Islamists who had developed
his theories into even more extreme forms now set out to
create violent revolutions in Algeria and Egypt. It would be
the start of a jihad that would liberate the Muslim world
OSAMA BIN-LADEN (speaking in Arabic, subtitled): The only
way to eradicate the humiliation and Kufr that has overcome
the land of Islam is Jihad, bullets, and martyrdom
KEPEL : Bin-Laden and the others started, from now on, to
wage their own jihad, i.e. not to compromise, not to try to
compromise with more moderate groups, but thinking that an
armed vanguard would be able to implement the seizing of
power. They were convinced that they could duplicate the
Afghan victory, quote-unquote victory, that they could
establish an Islamist state in Algeria, in Egypt, and the
like. They thought that would capture the hearts and minds
of of the Muslim masses, that people realize that the
strength and victory were on the side of the jihadis.
[ TITLE : AMERICA 1991 ]
VO: At this same time, in Washington, the other group who
believed that they had brought down the Soviet Union—the
neoconservatives—were also determined to push on with their
revolutionary agenda. They were convinced that the Soviet
Union was just one of many evil r�gimes in the world led by
tyrants that threatened America. R�gimes they had to conquer
to liberate the world and spread democracy.
MICHAEL LEDEEN , Neoconservative theorist: We want, you
know, down with tyranny. We want free countries. We think
that America is better off if we live in a world primarily
populated with free countries, who have to appeal to their
own people for the source of their power, and to ratify
their decisions. And we think that if the whole world were
like that, then we would be much more secure, and that
typically we were attacked by tyrants. I think it’s
America’s destiny, because I think that America’s always
going to come under attack from tyrants. So I think that our
only choice is whether we’re going to win or lose, and when
we will fight, and under what circumstances, but that we’re
gonna have to fight. That’s automatic, because they’re gonna
come after us.
VO: One of the most evil of these tyrants, the
neoconservatives decided, was Saddam Hussein. In the 1980s,
Saddam had been America’s close ally. But in 1990, he
invaded Kuwait. The neoconservatives now saw him as a key to
pursuing the next stage of their transformation of the
world. An American-led coalition had been created by
President Bush senior, to liberate Kuwait. But the
neoconservatives, like Paul Wolfowitz, who was
Undersecretary of Defense, wanted to push on to Baghdad, and
bring about a transformation of the Middle East. It would
fulfill America’s unique role to defeat evil in the world.
Professor STEPHEN HOLMES , Political Philosopher: You see
already, in 1991, the hopes of Wolfowitz and others, that
the battle against Saddam Hussein, or other petty tyrants,
could take the place of the battle against the Soviet Union,
and could bear this interpretation of a battle between good
and evil. So, what you’re seeing is the attempt to keep
alive the idea that America is engaged in a battle of pure
good against pure evil, and to preserve that framework for a
world after the end of the Soviet Union.
VO: But President Reagan was no longer in charge. The
neoconservatives now had a leader who did not share their
President GEORGE HW BUSH : Kuwait is liberated. Iraq’s army
is defeated. Our military objectives are met. And I am
pleased to announce that all United States and Coalition
forces will suspend combat operations.
VO: Once Kuwait was freed, Bush ordered the fighting to
stop. His view was that America’s role was to create
stability in the world, not to try and change it. Like Henry
Kissinger, who had been the enemy of the neoconservatives in
the 1970s, Bush saw questions of good and evil as
irrelevant. The higher aim was to achieve a stable balance
of power in the Middle East.
BRENT SCOWCROFT , National Security Adviser to President
George Bush Snr., Interviewed in 1996: Saddam Hussein is not
a threat to his neighbors. He’s a nuisance; he’s an
annoyance; but he’s not a threat. That we achieved. It was
never our objective to get Saddam Hussein. Indeed, had we
tried, we still might be occupying Baghdad. That would have
turned a great success into a very messy probably defeat.
VO: In private, the neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz
were furious. Not just because Saddam Hussein had been left
in power, but because they saw this as a clear expression of
the corrupt liberal values that dominated America—a moral
relativism that was prepared to compromise with the forces
of evil in the world.
HOLMES : Wolfowitz’ anger is fundamentally an anger against
the weakness of American liberalism: the compromising nature
of a man like George Bush senior. His willingness to make
concessions, to negotiate, not to drive to the bitter end.
And his anger is motivated, interestingly, less by hatred of
Saddam Hussein, than by hatred of American liberals, who are
a source of weakness, and a source of rot, and a source of
relativism, that had been corroding American society for
VO: Faced by this defeat, the neoconservative movement now
turned inwards, to try and defeat the forces of liberalism
that were holding it back. And to do this, they turned again
to the theories of Leo Strauss. Strauss believed that good
politicians should reassert the absolute moral values that
would unite society, and this would overcome the moral
relativism that liberalism created. One of the most
influential Straussians was the new assistant to the
Vice-President, William Kristol.
WILLIAM KRISTOL , Chief of Staff to the Vice President,
1988-92: For Strauss, liberalism produced a decent way of
life, and one that he thought was worth defending, but a
dead end where nothing could be said to be true; one had no
guidance on how to live, everything was relative. Strauss
suggests that maybe we didn’t just have to sit there and
accept that that was our fate. Politics could help shape the
way people live, that politics could help shape the way that
people live, teach them some good lessons about living
decent and noble human lives. And can we think about what
cultures, and what politics, what social orders produce more
admirable human beings? I mean, that whole question was put
back on the table by Strauss, I think.
VO: The neoconservatives set out to reform America. And at
the heart of their project was the political use of
religion. Together with their long-term allies, the
religious right, they began a campaign to bring moral and
religious issues back into the center of conservative
politics. It became known as the “culture wars.”
[ TITLE : Christian Coalition commercial ]
VO (on commercial) : Your tax dollars are being used to
sponsor obscene and pornographic displays.
PAT ROBERTSON : I don’t like Jesus Christ, who is my Lord
and Savior, being dumped in a vat of urine by a homosexual,
and then have my money to pay for it! I think that’s
ROBERTSON : Satan, be gone! Out from this [unintelligible]!
VO: For the religious right, this campaign was a genuine
attempt to renew the religious basis of American society.
But for the neoconservatives, religion was a myth, like the
myth of America as a unique nation that they had promoted in
the Cold War. Strauss had taught that these myths were
necessary to give ordinary people meaning and purpose, and
so ensure a stable society.
TV COMMERCIAL MOM : Do you ever worry that they’re playing
too much Nintendo?
MOM 2 : Oh, not anymore. See, Matt has Bible Adventures.
They’re actually learning Bible stories while they’re
MICHAEL LIND , Journalist and former neoconservative: For
the neoconservatives, religion is an instrument of promoting
morality. Religion becomes what Plato called a “noble lie.”
It is a myth which is told to the majority of the society by
the philosophical �lite in order to ensure social order.
ANNOUNCER ON CHRISTIAN FITNESS COMMERCIAL : What better way
to enjoy God’s creation than a Praise Walk?
[ TITLE : INTEGRITY MUSIC FITNESS ]
LIND : In being a kind of secretive �litist approach,
Straussianism does resemble Marxism. These ex-Marxists, or
in some cases ex-liberal Straussians, could see themselves
as a kind of Leninist group, you know, who have this covert
vision which they want to use to effect change in history,
while concealing parts of it from people incapable of
VO: Out of this campaign, a new and powerful moral agenda
began to take over the Republican Party. It reached a
dramatic climax at the Republican Convention in 1992, when
the religious right seized control of the party’s
policy-making machinery. George Bush became committed to
running for President with policies that would ban abortion,
gay rights, and multiculturalism. Speakers who tried to
promote the traditional conservative values of individual
freedom were booed off the stage.
WILLIAM WELD , Republican Governor of Massachusetts : I
happen to think that individual freedom should extend to a
woman’s right to choose.
CONVENTION DELEGATES : (whistles and boos)
WELD : I want the government out of your pocketbook and your
VO: For the neoconservatives, the aim of this new morality
was to unite the nation. But in fact, it had completely the
opposite effect. Mainstream Republican voters were
frightened away by the harsh moralism that had taken over
their party. They turned instead to Bill Clinton, a
politician who connected with their real concerns and needs,
like tax and the state of the economy.
DIANE BLAIR , Clinton Campaign : In the week after the
Republican Convention, Republican moderates, young people,
and particularly women saying, “I’ve been sort of torn
between the two parties, but where do I sign up to help
Clinton get elected? I am frightened by this
ultraconservative agenda that I hear coming out of Houston.”
BOB MATERA : I’ve been a lifelong Republican. I’m a
registered Republican. I am voting for Bill Clinton this
time. Enough is enough. It is time for a change.
VO: At the end of 1992, Bill Clinton won a dramatic victory.
But the neoconservatives were determined to regain power.
And to do this, they were going to do to Bill Clinton what
they had done to the Soviet Union: they would transform the
President of the United States into a fantasy enemy, an
image of evil that would make people realize the truth of
the liberal corruption of America.
[ TITLE : ALGERIA 1992 / June 1992 ]
UNIDENTIFIED POLITICIAN (speaking in Arabic, subtitled): We
realize that other nations have surpassed us. In what? In
knowledge. And Islam—
[ GUNSHOTS , CHAOS ]
VO: In the early ‘90s, Algeria, Egypt, and other Arab
countries were being torn apart by a horrific wave of
Islamist terror. The jihadists who had returned from
Afghanistan were trying to topple the r�gimes. At the heart
of their strategy was the idea that Ayman Zawahiri and
others had taught them: that those who were involved in
politics could legitimately be killed, because they had
become corrupted and thus were no longer Muslims. This
violence, they believed, would shock people into rising up,
and the corrupt r�gimes would then be overthrown.
ABDULLAH ANAS , Member of the Political Council, Islamic
Salvation Front, Algeria 1993: “They must die!” Not only
“must die,” they DID kill. They did kill people. Not just
any—it’s not just an idea from far, it became true. People
[ TITLE : 4th June 1993 ]
ANAS : Many many rulers; many many holy men; many many
scholars; many many politicians in Islamic world have been
killed because of these ideas. Why? Because simply they are
against the Koran. They rejected the Koran. Why they
rejected the Koran? Because they did elect.
VO: Ayman Zawahiri was now based with bin-Laden on this farm
in the Sudan. He used it as a base for his group, Islamic
Jihad, to launch attacks on politicians in Egypt. But as one
of the leading ideologues of the revolution, he also
traveled throughout the Arab world, advising other groups on
their strategy. But the revolutionaries soon found that the
masses did not rise up and follow them. The r�gimes stayed
in power, and the radical Islamists were hunted down. Faced
by this, the Islamists widened their terror. Their logic was
brutal: it was not just those who were involved with
politics who should be killed, but the ordinary people who
supported it. Their refusal to rise up showed that they,
too, had become corrupted, and so had condemned themselves
Dr. AZZAM TAMIMI , Institute of Islamic Political Thought:
There was definitely a logic. The logic is that you assault
the leaders, you assault those who are associated with them,
and eventually you assault the people who have consented to
the presence of such a despotic leader, even if they are
passively supportive through their silence. And then you
start attacking economic institutions, you start attacking
the tourists, because the tourists bring money to the
country, and that money goes into the pockets of the corrupt
�lite. So, it is an endless process.
VO: In Algeria, this logic went completely out of control.
The Islamist revolutionary groups killed thousands of
civilians, because they believed that all these people had
MAN (speaking in Arabic, subtitled): All these innocents,
what did they ever do? Legs blown off! Such horror! Even the
French extremists never did things like this. Why? What have
we done? What have our children done? Leave me alone! I want
VO: In turn, the generals running Algeria infiltrated the
revolutionary groups. They told their agents to persuade the
Islamists to push the logic even further, to kill even more
people. This would create such horror that the groups would
lose any remaining support, and the generals could use the
fear and revulsion to increase their grip on power.
ANAS : The generals infiltrated the jihad ideas, the jihad
groups, to put the society under fear. By creating terror
and violence, [unintelligible] everything in the society, no
politic, no economy, no everything, just to stay and saying
to the West, “we are facing terror.”
INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Using fear.
ANAS : Using fear to stay on the power.
MAN WITH GUN (speaking in French, subtitled): Today they
kill, they kill everybody: innocent people, children, old
people. They have even cut up their victims. Who will trust
them if tomorrow they take power?
DEMONSTRATORS (shouting in French, subtitled): Down with
fundamentalism! Down with fundamentalism!
VO: By 1997, the Islamist revolution was failing. There were
mass demonstrations against the Islamist groups by thousands
of people horrified by the violence. And then, in June of
that year, a group of Egyptian Islamists attacked Western
tourists at the ruins of Luxor. 58 were killed in three
hours of random violence. The massacre shocked the Egyptian
people, and the leaders of the revolutionary groups agreed
to call a cease-fire. In Algeria, a few groups held out. But
they began to tear each other apart, as they followed the
logic that had driven their revolution to its ultimate—and
logical—end: they started to kill each other.
TAMIMI : It led to their own destruction. A group that
believes in 100% pure Muslim will not see that purity in
anybody else but themselves. So whoever disagrees with them
becomes the enemy, becomes out of the House of Islam, and
then if they happen to disagree with each other themselves,
then they will start liquidating each other. And they keep
fighting each other; there will be infighting. Eventually it
ends in suicide.
VO: The main Islamist group in Algeria, the GIA, ended up
being led by a Mr. Zouabri, a chicken farmer, who killed
everyone who disagreed with him. He issued a final communiqu�,
declaring that the whole of Algerian society should be
killed, with the exception of his tiny remaining band of
Islamists. They were the only ones who understood the
[ TITLE : AMERICA 1996 ]
VO: By the mid-’90s, politics in Washington was dominated by
one issue: the moral character of the President of the
WOMAN IN TV COMMERCIAL : If you believe you’ve been a victim
of sexual harassment by the President, we want to help.
VO: Behind this were an extraordinary barrage of allegations
against Clinton that were obsessing the media. These
included stories of sexual harassment; stories that Clinton
and his wife were involved in Whitewater, a corrupt property
deal; stories that they had murdered their close friend
Vince Foster; and stories that Clinton was involved in
smuggling drugs from a small airstrip in Arkansas. But none
of these stories were true. All of them had been
orchestrated by a young group of neoconservatives, who were
determined to destroy Clinton. The campaign was centered on
a small right-wing magazine called the American Spectator,
which had set up what was called the “Arkansas Project” to
investigate Clinton’s past life. The journalist at the
center of this project was called David Brock.
CROSSFIRE ANNOUNCER : Tonight, the Arkansas allegations. In
the crossfire: David Brock, of the American Spectator
DAVID BROCK : She was dressed in a raincoat and a hat, and
came in at 5:15 in the morning, and had a liaison with
Clinton in the game room in the bottom floor of the
CROSSFIRE HOST : David, this is getting a little bizarre.
Next thing, we’re gonna see… Jane Fonda’s gonna…
BROCK : It’s bizarre! But hey, Bill Clinton is a bizarre
HOST : Wait a sec.
VO: Since then, Brock has turned against the neoconservative
movement. He now believes that the attacks on Clinton went
too far, and corrupted conservative politics.
INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Was Whitewater true?
BROCK : No! I mean, there was no criminal wrongdoing in
Whitewater. Absolutely not. It was a land deal that the
Clintons lost money on. It was a complete inversion of what
INTERVIEWER : Was Vince Foster killed?
BROCK : No. He killed himself.
INTERVIEWER : Did the Clintons smuggle drugs?
BROCK : Absolutely not.
INTERVIEWER : Did those promoting these stories know that
this was not true, that none of these stories were true?
BROCK : They did not care.
INTERVIEWER : Why not?
BROCK : Because they were having a devastating effect. So
why stop? It was terrorism. Political terrorism.
INTERVIEWER : But you were one of the agents.
BROCK : Absolutely. Absolutely.
VO: The stories began to grip America, and despite Clinton’s
denials, the Republicans in Congress seized on the scandals
and began to press for investigations into this immorality
at the heart of government.
President BILL CLINTON : Basically, the press has
editorialized and pressured the politicians into saying,
“Here’s a guy that as far as we know hasn’t done anything
wrong, nobody’s accused him of doing anything wrong, there’s
no evidence that he’s done anything wrong, but we think the
presumption of guilt almost should be on him. You should
somehow prove his innocence.”
VO: Out of this pressure, Clinton was forced to agree to an
independent investigation into Whitewater. It was headed by
a senior judge in Washington called Kenneth Starr. But what
was not widely known was that Starr was a member of a
right-wing group of lawyers called the Federalist Society,
that had financial and ideological links to the
neoconservatives. And like the neoconservatives, they saw
Clinton as a danger to the country, and they were determined
to prove this to the American people.
Judge ROBERT BORK , Senior member, Federalist Society: In
the Merck manual—Merck is a pharmaceutical company—they have
a manual listing various disorders, and they listed
“sociopath.” And if you look at “sociopath,” it describes
Clinton exactly. Somebody who’s charming, who has no
particular feeling at all for the people he’s charming,
unable to resist instant gratification, and so on and so on.
Goes right down the list. We had a very dysfunctional man in
the Presidency. That was very dangerous, both as a model and
as, if a crisis had arisen, I had no confidence that he
would meet it.
VO: But despite all his efforts, Kenneth Starr could find no
incriminating evidence in Whitewater. Nor could he find any
evidence to support any of the sexual scandals that had come
from the Arkansas Project. Until finally, his committee
stumbled upon Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, which
Clinton denied. And in that lie, the neoconservative
movement believed they had found what they had been looking
for: a way to make the American people see the truth about
the liberal corruption of their country. A campaign now
began to impeach the President. And in the hysteria, the
whole conservative movement portrayed Clinton as a depraved
monster who had to be removed from office. But yet again,
the neoconservatives had created a fantasy enemy by
exaggerating and distorting reality.
JOE CONASON , Author ‘The Hunting of the President’ : They
were trapped by a mythological person that they had
constructed, or persons—the Clintons, these scheming,
terrible people who they, the noble pursuers, were going to
vanquish. I think, in the leadership of conservatism, during
the Clinton era there was an element of corruption. There
was an element of a willingness to do anything to achieve
the goal of bringing Clinton down. There was a way in which
the people who perceived Clinton as immoral behaved
immorally themselves. They ended up behaving worse than the
people who they were attacking.
VO: But all the moral fury, and the deception, came to
nothing. The impeachment failed because the polls
consistently showed that Americans still did not care about
these moral issues. One leading neoconservative, William
Bennett, wrote a book called The Death of Outrage, which
blamed the people. He accused the public of making a deal
with the devil. Their failure, he said, to support the
impeachment, was evidence of their moral corruption.
[ TITLE : AFGHANISTAN 1997 ]
VO: By 1997, bin-Laden and Ayman Zawahiri had returned to
Afghanistan, where they had first met ten years before. Back
then, it had seemed as if Islamism might succeed as a
popular revolutionary movement. But now, they were facing
failure. All attempts to topple r�gimes in the Arab world
had not succeeded. The people had turned against them
because of the horrific violence, and Afghanistan was the
only place they had left to go.
GILLES KEPEL , Historian of the Islamist Movement: Well,
1997 was their failure. Egypt, Algeria; it worked nowhere.
It went wrong because populations would not back them.
Because even people who were sympathetic to them in the
beginning were frightened away by their violence, by their
incapacity to communicate and to have access to the people,
and this was very clear in Zawahiri’s book Knights under the
Prophet’s Banner, where he sort of goes back from this
experiment, and laments over their incapacity to raise the
consciousness of the masses, and feels that, you know, as a
vanguard they did not manage to communicate. They remained
isolated, and this is why they failed. And this is when they
started this new strategy.
VO: In May, 1998, bin-Laden and Zawahiri invited a group of
journalists to this press conference, where they announced a
new jihad. Zawahiri was convinced that it was not their
theories that were to blame for the failure; it was the
fault of the Muslim masses. Their minds had been corrupted
by the liberal ideas from the West. But rather than give up,
they believed that the solution was to attack the source of
the corruption directly. The new jihad would be against
MAN (reading from paper): As I mentioned before, we focus
our efforts to fight against the Jews and Christians or
Americans. We have no objection against any party or any
person who fights Americans all over the world. And we want
to carry it out within the war against Americans. America
will be defeated. Americans know our power, and…
VO: This was a strategy of desperation, born out of failure
by a small group whose revolution had failed. And the anger
that came from that failure was about to be directed at the
United States. What Zawahiri and bin-Laden were about to do
would dramatically affect the future of the neoconservative
movement. By 1998, all their attempts to transform America
by creating a moral revolution had failed. Faced with the
indifference of the people, the neoconservatives had become
marginalized, in both domestic and foreign policy. But with
the attacks that were about to hit America, the
neoconservatives would at last find the evil enemy that they
had been searching for ever since the collapse of the Soviet
Union. And in their reaction to the attacks, the
neoconservatives would transform the failing Islamist
movement into what would appear to be the grand
revolutionary force that Zawahiri had always dreamed of. But
much of it would exist only in people’s imaginations. It
would be the next phantom enemy.
We ask readers to play a proactive role and click
the "Report link [at the base of each comment] when
in your opinion, comments cross the line and become
purely offensive, racist or disrespectful to others.
with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
is distributed without profit to those who have
expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational
purposes. Information Clearing House has no
affiliation whatsoever with the originator of
this article nor is Information ClearingHouse
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)