Protecting al-Qaeda: Guest Analysis by Steven Chovanec

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Steven Chovanec is a student of International Studies and Sociology at Roosevelt University and conducts independent, open-source research into geopolitics and social issues.  His writings can be found at undergroundreports.blogspot.comfind him on Twitter @stevechovanec.

by Steven Chovanec

Please Don’t Attack Al-Qaeda

In the weeks leading up to the agreed upon cessation-of-hostilities (CoH) agreement between the US and Russia, it was John Kerry’s diplomacy that was instrumental in “downgrading” the truce from a more forceful and legally binding ‘ceasefire’ agreement to the less intensive ‘cessation-of-hostilities’ now taking effect.

As described by Kerry: “So, a ceasefire has a great many legal prerogatives and requirements. A cessation of hostilities does not.  A ceasefire in the minds of many of the participants in this particular moment connotes something far more permanent and far more reflective of sort of an end of conflict, if you will.  And it is distinctly not that.  This is a pause dependent on the process going forward.”

So why the insistence on non-permanence?  Especially if, as Kerry says, the ultimate objective is to “obtain a durable, long-term ceasefire” at some point in time?

According to the 29-year career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service, India’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan and Turkey M. K. Bhadrakumar, it is plainly because “the Russian military operations have met with devastating success lately in strengthening the Syrian regime and scattering the Syrian rebel groups,” leading “the US and its regional allies” to “stare at defeat.”  Therefore, they “forthwith need an end to the Russian operations so that they can think up a Plan B. The Geneva talks will not have the desired outcome of President Bashar Al-Assad’s ouster unless the tide of war is reversed.” Therefore, “a cessation of hostilities in Syria is urgently needed.”(1)

Judging by the fact that top US officials began announcing that Russia would break the deal immediately after it was agreed upon while calling for further measures to “inflict real pain on the Russians”, Bhadrakumar’s assessment that a pause, and not a permanent halt, was sought in order to regroup and eventually reverse the tide of war seems to be quite apt.  As well there has been an almost ubiquitous media campaign in the US to prime the public for accusations of a Russian infraction, from which a breakdown of the deal would follow; the narrative portrayed is filled with “doubts” and “worries” and “statements from US officials” about how Russia isn’t serious and will likely break the agreement.

Furthermore, outwardly Russia is much more optimistic and invested in the deal, President Putin hopefully promoting it while engaging in a blitz of diplomacy to support it, while on the other hand the US has been less vocal and much quicker to doubt its outcomes.

However, this downgrading from a ‘ceasefire’ to a ‘cessation of hostilities’ actually violates past agreements.

In UN Security Council Resolution 2254, in which it was articulated that member states be committed to the “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic,” while calling on them to suppress ISIS, al-Nusra, and “all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL”, it was also agreed upon that the Security Council  “expresses its support for a nationwide ceasefire in Syria.” (emphasis added)

Given the about-face, Lavrov was visibly agitated, stating that “Resolution 2254 talks about the ceasefire only. This term is not liked by some members of the International Syria Support Group. What I’m referring to is how something that has been agreed upon should be implemented rather than try to remake the consensus that has been achieved in order to get some unilateral advantages.”

The “unilateral advantages” likely are in reference to the pause-and-regroup strategy Bhadrakumar previously articulated.

Despite this Russia agreed to the downgraded CoH, however, in the week leading up to the agreement there was a major hurdle to overcome, namely whether al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, would be protected as a party to the truce.

Long has there been a tenant of US propaganda which claims that a sort of “third force” of “moderate opposition fighters” exists, separate and distinct from the extremists and al-Qaeda affiliates.  Yet when push came to shove the main stumbling-block in the way of the CoH was the oppositions demand that any truce be “conditional on the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front no longer being targeted.”  Sources close to the talks would tell Reuters that this insistence was the main “elephant in the room” preventing a settlement.

Even more telling is the fact that this opposition demand only came after the US had insisted upon it.  Indeed, while relentlessly pushing the “moderate rebel” narrative it was official US policy to push for the protection of al-Qaeda.

According to The Washington Post: “Russia was said to have rejected a U.S. proposal to leave Jabhat al-Nusra off-limits to bombing as part of a cease-fire, at least temporarily, until the groups can be sorted out.” (emphasis added)

Nusra is the Rebels

Responding to arguments posited that al-Nusra should be included in the truce, given that they operate in areas where other rebels are and thus Russia can use this as an excuse to bomb them, Max Abrahms, Professor at Northeastern University and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, explains that these recent developments show that Nusra and the other rebels are one in the same.

If you’re pro-rebel in Syria, you’re pro-al Qaeda in Syria,” Abrahms writes.  “The rebels are now begging for Russia to stop bombing their al-Qaeda partner.”

Indeed, it was the “moderate” US-backed FSA factions that were the biggest advocates of their al-Qaeda partners being included in the truce.

Major Ammar al-Wawi, Secretary General of the Free Syrian Army and head of the FSA’s al-Ababil Brigade in Aleppo, said that al-Nusra was the FSA’s “partner”, and that al-Qaeda was an ally of most of the groups brought together by Saudi Arabia underneath the Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC) banner.

“Nusra has fighters on the ground with rebel brigades in most of Syria and is a partner in the fighting with most of the brigades that attended the Riyadh conference.”

And therefore, while the ceasefire is good in principle, it is not good if it does not include al-Nusra, because “if the ceasefire excludes Jabhat a-Nusra, then this means that the killing of civilians will continue since Nusra’s forces are among civilians.”  Al-Wawi seems to forget that the reason Nusra is a terrorist organization is specifically because of its indiscriminate attacks and disregard for civilian lives.

According to the spokesman for Alwiyat al-Furqan, one of the largest FSA factions operating under the Southern Front umbrella, the FSA “will not accept a truce that excludes Jabhat al-Nusra.”  The spokesman later goes on to call Nusra “honorable”, along with the equally honorable Salafi-Jihadists groups Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam.

Ahrar, it should be noted, only presents itself as being different from al-Qaeda, in actuality it is not, it is a Salafi-Jihadi group which espouses a reactionary and apocalyptic Islamist ideology that has been complicit in sectarian mass murders of Alawites throughout Syria.  On the other hand, Jaish al-Islam, in the words of their former leader, regards al-Nusra as their “brothers” whom they “praise” and “fight alongside.”  Jaish al-Islam as well is infamous for parading caged civilians throughout warzones, using them as human shields.  The current leader of the group, Mohammed Alloush, was named as the chief negotiator to represent the rebel opposition in talks with the UN.

Yet, according to the FSA, “If today we agreed to exclude Jabhat a-Nusra, then tomorrow we would agree to exclude Ahrar a-Sham, then Jaish al-Islam and so on for every honorable faction.  We will not allow the threat of being classified as a terrorist organization to compromise the fundamentals of the revolution for which the Syrian people rose up and for which we have sacrificed and bled.”

One wonders, if the exclusion of al-Qaeda from the ceasefire is tantamount to “compromising the revolution”, what would choosing al-Qaeda as partners be called?

Muhammad a-Sheikh, spokesman for an FSA faction in Latakia, as well thanked Nusra for its “role in trying to lessen the pain inflicted on the Syrian people”, of all things.(2)

Yet all of this gets recycled within the US media as al-Nusra merely being “intermingled with moderate rebel groups”, as the Washington Post puts it.  While the narrative purports that the FSA consists of “moderates” reluctantly forced to endure an al-Qaeda alliance for military expediency, in reality much of FSA conduct throughout the war has not been much different from that of the recognized extremists.

In the case of Aleppo, while one man describes how al-Nusra beheaded one of his brother-in-laws, ripped the other to pieces between an electricity poll and a moving car, and kidnapped the other, another man describes how “Free Syrian Army fighters burned down their house – leaving one daughter with terrible burns” after the man refused to join them.  He said they attempted to abduct one of his daughters, but were unsuccessful as neighbors intervened.

Another Aleppo resident writes that “Turkish-Saudi backed ‘moderate rebels’ showered the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo with unguided rockets and gas jars.”

Indeed, FSA groups were so brutal at times that these “moderates” were feared even more than other recognized extremists.

“Pilloried in the West for their sectarian ferocity… jihadists were often welcomed by local people for restoring law and order after the looting and banditry of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army,” writes Patrick Cockburn, the leading Western journalist in the region.(3)

For people paying close attention this is unfortunately not that surprising.

According to a recent poll conducted by ORB, it was found that most Syrians more or less hold both ISIS and the FSA in equal disdain, 9% saying the FSA represents the Syrian people while 4% saying that ISIS does.  The similarity in opinion is reflective of the similarity in conduct.

Jihadi ‘Wal-Mart’

The not-so-popular FSA groups are routinely described as a separate and distinct entity apart from al-Nusra and ISIS, yet in actuality the lines between the groups have always been extremely porous.

“Due to porous links between some Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels, other Islamist groups like al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, and ISIS, there have been prolific weapons transfers from ‘moderate’ to Islamist militant groups,” writes Nafeez Ahmed, Britain’s leading international security scholar.

These links were so extreme that “German journalist Jurgen Todenhofer, who spent 10 days inside the Islamic State, reported last year that ISIS is being “indirectly” armed by the west: “They buy the weapons that we give to the Free Syrian Army, so they get western weapons – they get French weapons… I saw German weapons, I saw American weapons.”

Recently the BBC’s Peter Oborne conducted an investigation into these claims and came across evidence that the “moderate” FSA were in essence being utilized as a conduit through which Western supplies were funneled to extremists.

Oborne spoke to a lawyer who represents Bherlin Gildo, a Swedish national who went to join the rebel ranks in 2012 and was subsequently arrested for terrorist offenses.  Based on her clients own first-hand observations while embedded with the rebels, trucks referred to as NATO trucks were observed coming in from Turkey, which would then be unloaded by the FSA and the arms then distributed quite generally without any specificity of the exact recipient.  The weapons would be distributed “to whoever was involved in particular battles.”

Similarly, in 2014 US-backed Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF) commander Jamal Maarouf admitted that his US-handlers had instructed him to send weapons to al-Qaeda.  “If the people who support us tell us to send weapons to another group, we send them. They asked us a month ago to send weapons to [Islamist fighters in] Yabroud so we sent a lot of weapons there.”

Battlefield necessity was dictating the weapons recipients, not humanitarian concern for victims of terrorism.

Eventually charges brought against Mr. Gildo were dropped.   The reason was because he planned to argue that he had fought on the same side the UK government was supporting  As it was explained before the court, if it is the case that the government “was actively involved in supporting armed resistance to the Assad regime at a time when the defendant was present in Syria and himself participating in such resistance it would be unconscionable”, indeed an “affront to justice”, “to allow the prosecution to continue.”

In a similar case a man named Moazzam Begg was arrested in the UK under terrorism charges after meeting with Ahrar al-Sham.  However, his case too was dropped, the courts understanding that if he was guilty of supporting terrorism than so was the British state.  “I was very disappointed that the trail didn’t go through,” Begg said.  “I believe I would have won… what I was doing… was completely in line with British policy at the time.”

Career MI6 agent and former British diplomat Alastair Crooke extrapolates further on this phenomena of the West’s principle allies playing such a crucial role in arming the jihadis.

“The West does not actually hand the weapons to al-Qaeda, let alone ISIS,” he said, “but the system that they have constructed leads precisely to that end.  The weapons conduit that the West directly has been giving to groups such as the Syrian Free Army (FSA), have been understood to be a sort of ‘Wal Mart’ from which the more radical groups would be able to take their weapons and pursue the jihad.”  This constitutes a sort of ‘supermarket’ where rebels can go and receive weapons, the weapons always migrating “along the line to the more radical elements.”  The idea was to “use jihadists to weaken the government in Damascus and to drive it to its knees to the negotiating table.”  Exactly the same kind of policy used in Afghanistan during the 1980s, when conduits such as the Pakistani ISI were used to funnel weapons to the mujahedeen.

Yet these Western weapons were not just going to al-Qaeda and Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS too was shopping at the “moderate” “supermarket.”

In his book “The Rise of Islamic State”, Patrick Cockburn writes, “An intelligence officer from a Middle Eastern country neighboring Syria told me that ISIS members “say they are always pleased when sophisticated weapons are sent to anti-Assad groups of any kind, because they can always get the arms off them by threats of force or cash payments.”(4) (emphasis added)

The result of all of this was a deep alliance between the US-backed “moderates” and al-Qaeda, as well as a rebel opposition dominated by ISIS and al-Nusra.

Nusra’s FSA

Recently a leader of the Nusra group appeared in a video presenting an FSA commander with a gift while saying that there is no difference between the FSA, Ahrar al-Sham, and al-Qaeda.  “They are all one,” he explains.  The Nusra field commander goes on to thank the FSA for supplying Nusra with US-made TOW anti-tank missiles, which were given to the FSA directly, of course, from the CIA.

A month prior to these revelations reports started to surface about the unfolding situation in “rebel-held” Idlib.  Despite the repressive dress codes and savage Islamist laws it became apparent that the FSA was only operating under the authority of the more powerful al-Qaeda rebels.

Jenan Moussa, a journalist for the UAE based Al Aan TV channel who recently had visited the area, reported that Nusra allows the FSA to operate in Hama and Idlib because the FSA groups there get TOW missiles from the West.  The reason they are allowed to operate is that the “FSA uses these TOW in support of Nusra.”

Investigating the situation further, veteran journalist Gareth Porter concludes from a range of sources that in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo every rebel organization is in fact part of a military structure controlled and dominated by al-Nusra.

“All of these rebel groups fight alongside the Nusra Front and coordinate their military activities with it,” Porter writes.

In the case of the rebel capture of Idlib, “Although some U.S.-supported groups participated in the campaign in March and April 2015, the “operations room” planning the campaign was run by Al Qaeda and its close ally Ahrar al Sham.”  As well, before the Idlib campaign, “Nusra had forced another U.S.-supported group, Harakat Hazm, to disband and took all of its TOW anti-tank missiles.”

Clearly al-Nusra was subordinating the “moderates.”

The reality began to emerge in December of 2014 when US-backed rebels, supplied with TOW missiles, teamed up with Nusra and fought under their command in order to capture the Wadi al-Deif base.  Al Qaeda was “exploiting the Obama administration’s desire to have its own Syrian Army as an instrument for influencing the course of the war.”

Andrew Cockburn reports that “A few months before the Idlib offensive, a member of one CIA-backed group had explained the true nature of its relationship to the Al Qaeda franchise. Nusra, he told the New York Times, allowed militias vetted by the United States to appear independent, so that they would continue to receive American supplies.”

“In other words,” Porter writes, “Nusra was playing Washington,” while Washington was “evidently a willing dupe.”

This all comes down to the fact that the savage and brutal al-Qaeda fighters were proving to be militarily effective, leaving a trail of torture and atrocities, and battlefield successes, in their wake.

Explaining the mindset, Ed Husain, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes that the influx of Al-Qaeda and various jihadis “brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results.”

Because of this, Porter explains, “instead of breaking with the deception that the CIA’s hand-picked clients were independent of Nusra, the Obama administration continued to cling to it.”  The United States basing its policy on the “moderates” was “necessary to provide a political fig leaf for the covert and indirect U.S. reliance on Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise’s military success.”

Ever since the Russian intervention began, the US has continued to embrace this deceptive narrative, claiming that Russia is targeting the “moderate” opposition.  This narrative, and the publics belief in its validity, “had become a necessary shield for the United States to continue playing a political-diplomatic game in Syria.”

Yet, as Patrick Cockburn has reported for quite some time, “The armed opposition to President Assad is dominated by Isis, the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and the ideologically similar Ahrar al-Sham.”  Of the smaller groups the CIA openly supports, they “only operate under license from the extreme jihadists.”

Several rebel groups, 5 of which belong to the FSA, have recently united under the leadership of the former emir of the al-Qaeda-linked Ahrar al-Sham.  A longtime al-Qaeda member who sits on al-Nusra’s elite council explained that “The Free Syrian Army groups said they were ready for anything according to the Islamic sharia and that we are delegated to apply the rulings of the sharia on them”, essentially meaning that the FSA had subordinated themselves to al-Qaeda.

It has been further revealed that all of the Syrian groups operative in Aleppo had recently declared Ba’yaa (loyalty) to the Ahrar al-Sham emir Abu Jaber.

Ba’yaa, it should be noted, means total loyalty and submission, much like what follows from pledging loyalty to ISIS.

Official Policy

At least by as far back as August of 2012, the best US intelligence assessments were reporting that the jihadists and extremists were controlling and steering the course of the opposition.  Then head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Michael T. Flynn, would confirm the credibility of these reports, saying that “the intelligence was very clear” and that it wasn’t the case that the administration was just turning a blind eye to these events but instead that the policies were the result of a “willful decision.”

Despite all of this, US officials still continue to maintain that “Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria, launched last fall, has infuriated the CIA in particular because the strikes have aggressively targeted relatively moderate rebels it has backed with military supplies, including antitank missiles.”

However, according to the CIA and the intelligence communities own data, this is false.

Back in October of 2012, according to classified US intelligence assessments, “Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar”, which were organized by the CIA, were
“going to hard-line Islamic jihadists.”

A year earlier, immediately after the fall of Gaddafi in October of 2011, the CIA began organizing a “rat line” from Libya to Syria.  Weapons from the former Libyan stockpiles were shipped from Benghazi to Syria and into the hands of the Syrian rebels.  According to information obtained by Seymour Hersh, “Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida.”

In a highly classified 2013 assessment put together by the DIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), an “all-source” appraisal which draws on information from signals, satellite, and human intelligence, it was concluded that the US program to arm the rebels quickly turned into a logistical operation for the entire opposition, including al-Nusra and ISIS.  The so-called moderates had evaporated, “there was no viable ‘moderate’ opposition to Assad,” and “the US was arming extremists.”

DIA chief Michael Flynn confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of warnings to the civilian administration between 2012 and 2014 saying that the jihadists were in control of the opposition.

“If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic,” Flynn said.

Yet, as Flynn stated previously, it was a “willful decision” for the administration “to do what they’re doing.”

By summer of 2013, Seymour Hersh reported that “although many in the American intelligence community were aware that the Syrian opposition was dominated by extremists,” still “the CIA-sponsored weapons kept coming.”

According to a JCS advisor, despite heavy Pentagon objections there was simply “no way to stop the arms shipments that had been authorised by the president.”

“I felt that they did not want to hear the truth,” Flynn said.

So what Russia is bombing in actuality is an al-Qaeda, extremist dominated opposition embedded with CIA-backed rebels operating under their control.  The not-so-moderates only operate under license from, and in support of, the Salafi jihadists, openly expressing their solidarity with them, labelling them as “brothers”, and begging the UN to protect them.  Concurrently the US and its allies continue to support the terrorist-dominated insurgency, US officials openly planning to expand their support to al-Qaeda-laced rebels in order to “inflict pain on the Russians”, all while Turkey and Saudi Arabia openly support al-Qaeda.  All of this occurring because of the United States reliance upon “Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise’s military successes” and their “deadly results”, in order to further the policy of using “jihadists to weaken the government in Damascus” and to “drive it to its knees at the negotiating table.”

The function of the “moderates” in essence being the logistical and public relations front for the “not-so-moderate” al-Qaeda units winning the battles.

Speaking at Harvard University, Vice President Biden infamously and candidly summarized what had been going on, saying that it was our allies who were “so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war,” that they “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

When asked why the United States was powerless to stop nations like Qatar from engaging in this kind of behavior, “a former adviser to one of the Gulf States replied softly: “They didn’t want to.”

So it should be no wonder why the US tried to push through a provision including al-Nusra in the current ceasefire agreement, nor why they would seek to protect their most viable ally in pursuance of their Syria policy.

It should be no wonder that it has been, and continues to be, official US policy to protect al-Qaeda.

Notes:

1) For further analysis, see Moon of Alabama, February 20, 2016, “U.S. Ignores Own UNSC Resolution – Tells Russia “Stop Bombing Al-Qaeda!” http://www.moonofalabama.org/2016/02/us-ignores-own-unsc-resolution-tells-russia-stop-bombing-al-qaeda.html.

2) Syria Direct, “Five rebel spokesmen, commanders react to ‘cessation of hostilities’ to take effect Saturday.”  February 25, 2016. http://syriadirect.org/news/five-rebel-spokesmen-commanders-react-to-cessation-of-hostilities-to-take-effect-Saturday/#.Vs-kDMO3y9U.twitter.

3) Cockburn, Patrick. “Jihadists Hijack the Syria Uprising.” The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Brooklyn, NY, 2015), pg. 84-5. Print.

4) Cockburn, Patrick, “The Rise of ISIS”, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Brooklyn, NY, 2015), pg. 3. Print.

On Syria Analysts and “Experts” Who Have Never Stepped Foot Inside the Country

https://levantreport.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/phot0001.jpg?w=837&h=628Not an “expert” or “analyst”: Me (left) with my buddy Eugene on one of many visits to Maaloula.

Would you be surprised to learn the think-tank and media “expert” community is often dominated by people who have never stepped foot in the countries of their expertise?

I’VE BECOME INCREASINGLY ALARMED at the number of “experts” and professional analysts occupying influential positions in the public sphere, who supposedly help interpret Syria for us, but who have little actual experience (if any at all) in Syria. Add to that the fact that many of these very “experts” don’t speak Arabic (which should be the minimal requirement for being considered a Middle East expert or professional analyst), which for most respectable postgraduate Middle East studies programs is an absolute minimal qualification.

I myself would never claim to be an expert, but I do have something which I’m constantly surprised to learn that many of the foremost pundits and public experts lack: a significant amount of time spent in country.

A couple of years ago my colleagues and I began writing about Syria not necessarily because we were enthused to do so or had a lot of time on our hands (we all have busy teaching schedules), but because the narrative which dominated major media and other public forums was so atrocious, so full of very simple errors, that audible laughs would often result upon us hearing the reporter on the TV screen (whether this was a FOX, CNN, NBC reporter, etc…) offer up utter falsehoods alongside whatever think tank panelist happened to be there giving the lies “credibility” and air of authenticity (ex: “the Syrian regime is Shia” is something heard a lot back then.)

We would see deeply flawed “news” about events on this or that street inside this or that village in Syria and felt compelled to at least vent our frustration through writing articles which few might ever see. Our “expertise” was not bookish or necessarily based on formal credentials, but we simply tried to “write what we know” from having stood on “this or that street” many times or having lived in “this or that village” at some point a few summers prior.

For example, my colleague Dr. Tim Heckenlively one day saw one of Anne Barnard’s (Beirut bureau chief for the NY Times) standard propaganda pieces in “the paper of record” on the Battle of Maaloula and knew it to be false based simply on having physically stood in the town. At first we waited and figured that surely somebody working for a major newsroom who had been to Maaloula, and knew the topography there, would point out Barnard’s glaring errors concerning the source of the shelling and destruction of churches. Surely somebody out there personally knew Mother Pelagia Sayyaf (who had been held at gunpoint by rebels, and forced to make a propaganda video) and understood she was being paraded in front of the camera under duress (Barnard and others would promote the narrative that the FSA/Nusra forces were “liberating” the ancient Christian town).

But a much needed corrective never appeared outside of independent media. Tim knew Maaloula and Mother Pelagia quite well and was easily able to deconstruct Barnard’s false report (which she wrote far from Maaloula in Beirut). While Tim’s article never made it into papers or onto big news sites, it was promoted and appreciated by some true experts who’ve actually been to Maaloula (and ironically, the article was “favorited” by Barnard herself; it should further be noted that, as As’ad AbuKhalil routinely points out, Barnard doesn’t know Arabic). This case of Maaloula is but an old example of something I’ve seen play out many times since then.

Stephen Kinzer made waves recently for his article “The Media are Misleading the Public on Syria” published in The Boston Globe. Its brilliance lies in articulating how the media and experts keep getting Syria so wrong from a “media culture” perspective (for lack of a better term). Kinzer breaks down the corporate media “machinery” and its process which continues to ensure that bad analysis makes it to the top:

Under intense financial pressure, most American newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks have drastically reduced their corps of foreign correspondents. Much important news about the world now comes from reporters based in Washington. In that environment, access and credibility depend on acceptance of official paradigms. Reporters who cover Syria check with the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, and think tank “experts.” After a spin on that soiled carousel, they feel they have covered all sides of the story. This form of stenography produces the pabulum that passes for news about Syria.

Yes, this means you too can be considered a Middle East “expert” so long as you get the right internship in the right DC beltway or NYC newsroom or think-tank. Forget about the days of getting your start trekking around the region of your expertise, getting to know the people, language, and customs…you can even become a media darling from the comfort of your own couch without ever having to apply for a passport!

Kinzer’s article has struck a deep chord (esp. as it was published in a visible, major paper) with biting lines like these:

Americans are said to be ignorant of the world. We are, but so are people in other countries. If people in Bhutan or Bolivia misunderstand Syria, however, that has no real effect. Our ignorance is more dangerous, because we act on it.

Kinzer is shining a spotlight on this whole sham enterprise from the perspective of a veteran foreign correspondent who has spent decades inside the media establishment (he himself is not claiming to be an expert on Syria, but he is an expert on the ills of newsroom culture). The whole process whereby a certain orthodox view of a foreign conflict gets entrenched, and from that point on must remain unquestioned, is indeed dangerous. As I wrote before: “American assumptions never line up with Eastern realities, yet our power combined with ignorance continues to sow disaster.”

Ironically, Kinzer’s point about reporters/analysts “not being over there” and the ignorance that results was given confirmation in the example of the very first person to attempt a point-by-point critical attack of Kinzer’s article. UK-based Kyle Orton wrote his “Assad and the Academics: Disinformation in the Modern Era” as a direct response to Kinzer.

Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprising), Orton has been published and quoted widely in multiple international and mainstream outlets. He recently had a New York Times op-ed piece called “How Saddam Hussein Gave Us ISIS” (which also ran in the print edition), wherein he argues that U.S. intervention and occupation in Iraq had little if anything to do with the rise of ISIS (elsewhere he’s argued the “Assad behind ISIS” conspiracy theory, long ago debunked by real experts).

Orton’s NYT bio is nice and official sounding: “Kyle W. Orton, a Middle East analyst, is an associate fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based foreign policy think tank.”  But a rebuttal of Orton’s NYT piece written in Foreign Policy has it right when it leaves him simply as “blogger Kyle W. Orton.” The FP article authors Samuel Helfont and Michael Brill used their knowledge of…ya know…Arabic to analyze Iraqi archives and quickly proved Orton’s claims to be baseless:

These depictions are inaccurate and dangerously misleading, as documents in the Iraqi archives and at Hoover Institution’s Ba’ath Party records make clear. Our rigorous study of those records has found no evidence that Saddam or his Baathist regime in Iraq displayed any sympathy for Islamism, Salafism, or Wahhabism.

I too was at first under the impression that Orton must have some level of serious training or knowledge of Syria or Iraq until I realized he’s stepped foot in neither country (which he in so many words admitted to me directly).

Orton’s own bio on his blog includes the following: “After a misbegotten degree in zoology (biology), I completed a social science Masters in Humanitarian Studies at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine…”. Little more needs to be said, other than the good news for anyone with aspirations of being published in the New York Times: at present they must be desperate for contributors, or at least writers that can tow the line. Again, one need not leave their couch.

I admit that finding in Orton a prime example of Stephen Kinzer’s fundamental point is perhaps going after “low hanging fruit” but I’ve encountered this too many times in Syria discussions (though the most absurd case confirming Kinzer’s article is “Rocket Man” Elliot Higgins…and yes the following are real sentences about him written in The New Yorker, not The Onion: “Although Higgins has never been to Syria, and until recently had no connection to the country, he has become perhaps the foremost expert on the munitions used in the war… When he doesn’t recognize a weapon, he researches it, soliciting information from his many followers on Facebook and Twitter.”).

I’ll leave off with the below exchange I had with Orton, wherein I realized that he was making simple mistakes for lack of direct experience that would be impossible to make for even the casual backpackers who used to fill up the youth hostels of Damascus back in better days. Anyone who has spent even as little as a week in Syria anytime in the past decade (or more) knows of a certain long-standing custom of the Syrian presidency on all major religious holidays like Christmas and Easter.

When I realized Orton’s confusion came from never having stepped foot in Syria, I said: “[You] Would know this if you had experienced Syria”…Orton of course changed the subject. And nothing more needs to be said.

 

 

Newly Translated WikiLeaks Saudi Cable: Overthrow the Syrian Regime, but Play Nice with Russia

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1f/Bashar_al-Assad_in_Russia_(2015-10-21)_06.jpg(Image Source: Wiki Commons)

IT IS NO SECRET that Saudi Arabia, along with its Gulf and Western allies, has played a direct role in fueling the fires of grinding sectarian conflict that has kept Syria burning for the past five years. It is also no secret that Russian intervention has radically altered the kingdom’s “regime change” calculus in effect since at least 2011. But an internal Saudi government cable sheds new light on the kingdom’s current threats of military escalation in Syria.

Overthrow the Regime “by all means available”

A WikiLeaks cable released as part of “The Saudi Cables” in the summer of 2015, now fully translated here for the first time, reveals what the Saudis feared most in the early years of the war: Russian military intervention and Syrian retaliation. These fears were such that the kingdom directed its media “not to oppose Russian figures and to avoid insulting them” at the time.

Saudi Arabia had further miscalculated that the “Russian position” of preserving the Assad government “will not persist in force.” In Saudi thinking, reflected in the leaked memo, Assad’s violent ouster (“by all means available”) could be pursued so long as Russia stayed on the sidelines. The following section is categorical in its emphasis on regime change at all costs, even should the U.S. vacillate for “lack of desire”:

The fact must be stressed that in the case where the Syrian regime is able to pass through its current crisis in any shape or form, the primary goal that it will pursue is taking revenge on the countries that stood against it, with the Kingdom and some of the countries of the Gulf coming at the top of the list. If we take into account the extent of this regime’s brutality and viciousness and its lack of hesitancy to resort to any means to realize its aims, then the situation will reach a high degree of danger for the Kingdom, which must seek by all means available and all possible ways to overthrow the current regime in Syria. As regards the international position, it is clear that there is a lack of “desire” and not a lack of “capability” on the part of Western countries, chief among them the United States, to take firm steps…

Amman-based Albawaba News—one of the largest online news providers in the Middle East—was the first to call attention to the WikiLeaks memo, which “reveals Saudi officials saying President Bashar al-Assad must be taken down before he exacts revenge on Saudi Arabia.” Albawaba offered a brief partial translation of the cable, which though undated, was likely produced in early 2012 (based on my best speculation using event references in the text; Russia began proposing informal Syrian peace talks in January 2012).

Russian Hardware, a Saudi Nightmare

Over the past weeks Saudi Arabia has ratcheted up its rhetoric on Syria, threatening direct military escalation and the insertion of special forces on the ground, ostensibly for humanitarian and stabilizing purposes as a willing partner in the “war on terror.” As many pundits are now observing, in reality the kingdom’s saber rattling stems not from confidence, but utter desperation as its proxy anti-Assad fighters face defeat by overwhelming Russian air power and Syrian ground forces, and as the Saudi military itself is increasingly bogged down in Yemen.

Even as the Saudi regime dresses its bellicose rhetoric in humanitarian terms, it ultimately desires to protect the flow of foreign fighters into Northern Syria, which is its still hoped-for “available means” of toppling the Syrian government (or at least, at this point, permanent sectarian partition of Syria).

The U.S. State Department’s own 2014 Country Report on Terrorism confirms that the rate of foreign terrorist entry into Syria over the past few years is unprecedented among any conflict in history: “The rate of foreign terrorist fighter travel to Syria – totaling more than 16,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 90 countries as of late December – exceeded the rate of foreign terrorist fighters who traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, or Somalia at any point in the last 20 years.”

According to Cinan Siddi, Director of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Georgetown’s prestigious School of Foreign Service, Russian military presence in Syria was born of genuine geopolitical interests. In a public lecture recently given at Baylor University, Siddi said that Russia is fundamentally trying to disrupt the “jihadi corridor” facilitated by Turkey and its allies in Northern Syria.

The below leaked document gives us a glimpse into Saudi motives and fears long before Russian hardware entered the equation, and the degree to which the kingdom utterly failed in assessing Russian red lines.

For the first time, here’s a full translation of the text

THE BELOW original translation is courtesy of my co-author, a published scholar of Arabic and Middle East History, who wishes to remain unnamed. Note: the cable as published in the SaudiLeaks trove appears to be incomplete.


 

[…] shared interest, and believes that the current Russian position only represents a movement to put pressure on him, its goals being evident, and that this position will not persist in force, given Russia’s ties to interests with Western countries and the countries of the Gulf.
If it pleases Your Highness, I support the idea of entering into a profound dialogue with Russia regarding its position towards Syria*, holding the Second Strategic Conference in Moscow, working to focus the discussion during it on the issue of Syria, and exerting whatever pressure is possible to dissuade it from its current position. I likewise see an opportunity to invite the head of the Committee for International Relations in the Duma to visit the Kingdom. Since it is better to remain in communication with Russia and to direct the media not to oppose Russian figures and to avoid insulting them, so that no harm may come to the interests of the Kingdom, it is possible that the new Russian president will change Russian policy toward Arab countries for the better. However, our position currently in practice, which is to criticize Russian policy toward Syria and its positions that are contrary to our declared principles, remains. It is also advantageous to increase pressure on the Russians by encouraging the Organization of Islamic States to exert some form of pressure by strongly brandishing Islamic public opinion, since Russia fears the Islamic dimension more than the Arab dimension.
In what pertains to the Syrian crisis, the Kingdom is resolute in its position and there is no longer any room to back down. The fact must be stressed that in the case where the Syrian regime is able to pass through its current crisis in any shape or form, the primary goal that it will pursue is taking revenge on the countries that stood against it, with the Kingdom and some of the countries of the Gulf coming at the top of the list. If we take into account the extent of this regime’s brutality and viciousness and its lack of hesitancy to resort to any means to realize its aims, then the situation will reach a high degree of danger for the Kingdom, which must seek by all means available and all possible ways to overthrow the current regime in Syria.
As regards the international position, it is clear that there is a lack of “desire” and not a lack of “capability” on the part of Western countries, chief among them the United States, to take firm steps […]

*[in the Arabic text: Russia, but this is a typo]

https://www.wikileaks.org/saudi-cables/pics/f93dc529-7eff-43ea-87f3-7ec121b906fc.jpg

How the CIA Helped Fuel the Rise of ISIS: Guest Analysis by Jeremy R. Hammond

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b5/Cia-lobby-seal.jpg(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Jeremy R. HammondJeremy R. Hammond is an independent political analyst and a recipient of the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism. He is the founding editor of Foreign Policy Journal and the author of Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman: Austrian vs. Keynesian economics in the financial crisis and The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination: The Struggle for Palestine and the Roots of the Israeli-Arab Conflict. His forthcoming book is Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. This article first appeared at his blog JeremyRHammond.com and is used with permission of the author.

*****

THE NEW YORK TIMES HAS HABITUALLY DOWNPLAYED the early role of the CIA in coordinating the flow of arms to armed rebels in Syria in furtherance of the US policy of overthrowing the regime of Bashar al-Assad. By doing so, the Times hence also whitewashes the US role in the rise of the Islamic State (or ISIS).

The Media’s Longstanding Propaganda Narrative

I have written repeatedly about how the Times‘ reporting serves as propaganda, manufacturing consent for a US interventionist policy in Syria, as the Times has repeatedly advocated.

For instance, in “NYT’s Bill Keller’s Propaganda Case for War with Syria” (May 2013), I wrote:

I find myself commenting again and again and again and again and again on how the U.S. media (following the lead of America’s “newspaper of record”) is being willfully dishonest with the public and attempting to whitewash the actual U.S. role in the Syrian conflict by tossing relevant facts down the memory hole; namely, the facts that (1) the CIA has already been coordinating the flow of arms to the rebels, and (2) most of those arms have indeed ended up in the hands of Islamic extremists.

My post “NYT Continues to Downplay How CIA-Funneled Arms to Syrian Rebels Helped Strengthen Jihadists” (October 2013) began:

As usual, the New York Times is spinning information to willfully obfuscate the role of the U.S. in arming Syrian rebels whose ranks include al-Qaeda-affiliated and other Islamic extremist groups, with most of the arms falling into the hands of the jihadists.

In “NYT Whitewashes US Support for Syrian Armed Rebels (Again)” (February 2014), I explained:

The reason the Times does not disclose this to readers is because it would undermine the obligatory propaganda narrative designed to manufacture consent for U.S. interventionist foreign policy. According to this narrative, the mess that Syria has become is a consequence of a lack of U.S. intervention. This is nonsense, of course. Precisely the opposite is true.

Still At It…

The Times‘ recent report, “U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels” pretty much follows the same script. While in some respects, this is great journalism, offering heretofore unknown details about US policy (such as the name of the CIA’s operation there: Timber Sycamore), it also maintains the obligatory propaganda narrative.

The article opens by reminding us what we already knew: that “President Obama secretly authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to begin arming Syria’s embattled rebels in 2013”.

Further down the page, the Times adds (emphasis added):

When Mr. Obama signed off on arming the rebels in the spring of 2013, it was partly to try to gain control of the apparent free-for-all in the region. The Qataris and the Saudis had been funneling weapons into Syria for more than a year.

A little further on, the Times does acknowledge:

The C.I.A. helped arrange some of the arms purchases for the Saudis, including a large deal in Croatia in 2012.

Yet it continues:

By the summer of 2012, a freewheeling feel had taken hold along Turkey’s border with Syria as the gulf nations funneled cash and weapons to rebel groups — even some that American officials were concerned had ties to radical groups like Al Qaeda.

The C.I.A. was mostly on the sidelines during this period, authorized by the White House under the Timber Sycamore training program to deliver nonlethal aid to the rebels but not weapons. In late 2012, according to two former senior American officials, David H. Petraeus, then the C.I.A. director, delivered a stern lecture to intelligence officials of several gulf nations at a meeting near the Dead Sea in Jordan. He chastised them for sending arms into Syria without coordinating with one another or with C.I.A. officers in Jordan and Turkey.

So there you have it. Early on, throughout 2012, the CIA, apart from helping arrange arms purchases and delivering nonlethal aid, was just sitting “on the sidelines” as US Gulf allies — predominantly Saudi Arabia and Qatar — funneled weapons to the Syrian rebels despite the risk of the arms falling into the hands of extremist groups. It wasn’t until “Months later” that “Mr. Obama gave his approval for the C.I.A. to begin directly arming and training the rebels from a base in Jordan, amending the Timber Sycamore program to allow lethal assistance” (emphasis added).

Which brings us to what’s wrong with this report. The key word in that last quote is “directly”. As is so often the case, the real story is in what the Times leaves out.

How the CIA Armed Extremist Groups in Syria

So what is it that the Times is leaving out? Well, as the Washington Post reported in May 2012 (emphasis added):

Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials.

A senior State Department official told the Post, “we continue to coordinate our efforts with friends and allies in the region and beyond in order to have the biggest impact on what we are collectively doing”.

We learned that “Opposition figures said they have been in direct contact with State Department officials to designate worthy rebel recipients of arms and pinpoint locations for stockpiles” — and that “the United States and others are moving forward toward increased coordination of intelligence and arming for the rebel forces.”

The following month, in June 2012, the Wall Street Journal filled in more of the story, enlightening that the CIA and State Department had begun stepping up their coordination with the Free Syrian Army in March 2012 in furtherance of the US goal of regime change. The Journal reported:

As part of the efforts, the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department—working with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and other allies—are helping the opposition Free Syrian Army develop logistical routes for moving supplies into Syria and providing communications training….

The U.S. in many ways is acting in Syria through proxies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, say U.S. and Arab officials….

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are providing the funds for arms….

So, again, the CIA was helping to coordinate the flow of arms to the rebels despite concerns about “some rebels’ suspected ties to hard-line Islamists, including elements of al Qaeda.”

Little more than a week later, the New York Times itself reported:

A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.

The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said.

So there you have it from the Times itself: the CIA was coordinating the flow of arms from the US’s Gulf allies to the Syrian rebels, ostensibly in part to prevent them from falling into the hands of extremist groups.

In July, Reuters revealed that the “nerve center” of the arms-funneling operation was Adana, Turkey — a city that is “also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.”

Among the arms allegedly supplied to the rebels were shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, or MANPADS.

So what was the result of the US’s intervention in Syria, ostensibly in part to prevent these arms from falling into the wrong hands?

The Rise of ISIS

As first reported in May 2015 by Brad Hoff of The Levant Report, on August 12, 2012, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) warned in a memo that

If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime….

Not to be unclear, the DIA specifically noted that “the supporting powers to the opposition” included “The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey”.

And, indeed, as we learned in October 2012 from no less impeccable source than, again, the New York Times itself:

Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists….

That report even noted that the US had been helping to organize the flow of arms.

And yet despite that acknowledgment, the article seeded the propaganda narrative that the problem in Syria is too little US intervention:

American officials have been trying to understand why hard-line Islamists have received the lion’s share of the arms shipped to the Syrian opposition through the shadowy pipeline with roots in Qatar, and, to a lesser degree, Saudi Arabia. The officials, voicing frustration, say there is no central clearinghouse for the shipments, and no effective way of vetting the groups that ultimately receive them.

Those problems were central concerns for the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, when he traveled secretly to Turkey last month, officials said.

This despite officials from countries in the region telling the Times that Petraeus himself had been “deeply involved in trying to steer the supply effort”.

One Middle Eastern diplomat who has dealt extensively with the C.I.A. on the issue said that Mr. Petraeus’s goal was to oversee the process of “vetting, and then shaping, an opposition that the U.S. thinks it can work with.”

It wasn’t long before the narrative that the chaos in Syria was in no small part due to the Obama administration’s unwillingness to intervene came to dominate the media.

The head of the DIA at the time of its warning foreshadowing the rise of the Islamic State, Michael Flynn, later said that the Obama administration did not “turn a blind eye”, but rather made “a willful decision” to coordinate the flow of arms to Syrian rebels with full knowledge that the weapons were ending up in the hands of extremist groups.

Seymour M. Hersh followed up, and in the London Review of Books wrote:

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the DIA between 2012 and 2014, confirmed that his agency had sent a constant stream of classified warnings to the civilian leadership about the dire consequences of toppling Assad. The jihadists, he said, were in control of the opposition. Turkey wasn’t doing enough to stop the smuggling of foreign fighters and weapons across the border. ‘If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic,’ Flynn told me. ‘We understood Isis’s long-term strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria.’ The DIA’s reporting, he said, ‘got enormous pushback’ from the Obama administration. ‘I felt that they did not want to hear the truth.’

Half a year after Brad Hoff broke the story of the DIA memo, the New York Times finally got around to reporting on it:

Who are they? What do they want? Were signals missed that could have stopped the Islamic State before it became so deadly?

And there were, in fact, more than hints of the group’s plans and potential. A 2012 report by the United States Defense Intelligence Agency was direct: The growing chaos in Syria’s civil war was giving Islamic militants there and in Iraq the space to spread and flourish. The group, it said, could “declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”

“This particular report, this was one of those nobody wanted to see,” said Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who ran the defense agency at the time.

“It was disregarded by the White House,” he said. “It was disregarded by other elements in the intelligence community as a one-off report. Frankly, at the White House, it didn’t meet the narrative.”

Conclusion

Likewise, while inconvenient facts occasionally manage to slip through the cracks, the New York Times, as in its recent report on the US-Saudi alliance against the Assad regime, routinely whitewashes the US role, and, namely, the fact that the US had a policy dating to early 2012 of coordinating the flow of arms to Syrian rebels with full knowledge that the arms were winding up in the hands of extremist groups and despite warnings from the intelligence community that this would fuel the rise of the movement we know today as ISIS.

Such truths are tossed down the memory hole because, at the New York Times, it just doesn’t meet the narrative.

Examining the Syria War Chessboard

The above interview with Dr. Vijay Prashad draws our attention to the parallel conflicts of Libya and Syria, as well as the way the two wars directly intersected in 2011-2012 (weapons shipments from Libya to Syria, now fully documented via USG declassified reports).

One of the more interesting points comes when Dr. Prashad speaks about ISIS presence in Sirte, Libya. He claims that just as many former Ba’ath officers in Iraq, after having been sidelined by U.S. intervention, joined ISIS, so are former Gaddafi loyalists joining Libyan ISIS in Sirte.

While it’s unclear whether or not there is actual evidence for this it is a worrisome and fascinating theory. Prashad is the only analyst I’ve heard propose this.

I would highly recommend his book Arab Spring, Libyan Winter. The above interview is a must-see.

On the Effort to Exonerate Team USA for the Rise of ISIS: Guest Analysis by David Mizner

Photo: An Islamic State fighter using the US-made BGM-71 TOW in Damascus countryside in 2014. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies funded “Long War Journal” has confirmed many instances of AQ and ISIS use of the TOW. 

David Mizner is a novelist and freelance journalist who writes about US foreign policy, with a focus on the Middle East. This article was first published at his blog, Rogue Nation, and is reproduced here with permission of the author. His writings can be found at Jacobin, Salon, The Nation, and other publications.

*****

ASSAD IS PRIMARILY RESPONSIBLE for the rise of ISIS. No one else is even close, with the possible exceptions of former Iraqi presidents Maliki and Hussein. That’s the predictable message of the State Department and its proxy reporters at outlets like Vox and Buzzfeed. The propaganda can be crude to the point of absurd. In Mad Max’s world, Iran bears more blame than the United States for ISIS, and George W. Bush would surely take comfort in analysis like this.

But on the question of Assad’s responsibility and the corresponding responsibility of his imperial opponents, there’s apparently a real debate to be had among thinking humans. In Jacobin and Salvage, leftists go a long way toward siding with State and the BuzzVoxxers.

While more or less holding the United States to account for its ISIS-creating actions in Iraq pre-2011, they exonerate the US and its regional allies for ISIS’s emergence as a force in Syria, which they attribute solely to Assad. In so doing they erase the war on Syria, which honest analysts would acknowledge even if they believe Assad to be a monster of Hitlerian proportions.

Both Jacobin and Salvage claim that Assad’s releasing jihadists from prison in 2011 contributed mightily to the rise of ISIS. Salvage, the magazine founded by Richard Seymour and his comrades, says Syria’s ex-prisoners are one of the three primary forces within IS, along with Iraqi Baathists and foreign fighters. It didn’t deign to provide any evidence, so I went looking for some.

This post by Kyle Orton says that, “In May and June 2011, the regime turned loose from its prisons violent jihadists.” But he links to two articles covering the Syrian’s government granting of general amnesty, which the press depicted at the time as an attempt to placate the opposition. The opposition itself received it as such. “Too little too late,” said one member of the opposition.

Nonetheless, Orton goes on to say that in 2011 the Syrian government released future jihadist leaders Abu Musab, Hassan Abboud, Zahran Alloush, and Ahmed Abu Issa. I suppose I’ll take his word for it, but these bad men didn’t join ISIS. They joined Al Qaeda, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Sham, and Suquor a-Sham, respectively. These groups are indeed brutal and reactionary—and they are proxy forces of US client states trying to overthrow the Syrian government.

This article at Huffington Post — “There Would Be No ISIS Without Assad” — likewise promises to establish a connection between Syria’s ex-prisoners and ISIS but manages only, via a link to a Politico piece, to connect them to Al Qaeda.

I’m not saying ISIS contains no people released from prison by the Syrian government, but if they made up a significant part of its leadership or rank-and-file — if they represented, as Salvage alleges, one leg of the stool supporting ISIS — evidence would surely be easier to come by. Aron Lund, who seems to be one of the more independent-minded of the popular Syria analysts, has this to say:

We know, by contrast, that all 12 of the judges who preside over ISIS’s court system in Raqqa are Saudi. They’re perhaps some of the hundreds of extremists Saudi Arabia has allowed to fly to Syria out of the Riyadh airport. (The Kingdom also reportedly sent more than a 1,000 death row inmates to go fight in Syria in exchange for commutations.) ISIS also includes many fighters from the Caucasus, Afghanistan, North Africa, and Europe, and that many, if not most, of these have entered Syria through Turkey.

Yet the ISIS-creation stories from Jacobin and Salvage include none of this. Not only do these leftist outlets pass along imperialist propaganda about Assad’s “giving” ISIS hundreds of fighters by opening his prisons; they ignore the role of US allies in funneling ISIS-bound fighters into Syria.

In fact, the words “Turkey” and “Saudi Arabia” appear nowhere in the Salvage piece. In Jacobin, Adam Hanieh, who elsewhere has written solid stuff, doesn’t mention Turkey’s role and dismisses the idea that “ISIS is a tool of the Gulf States,” because “there is little convincing evidence that ISIS is directly funded, or armed, by Saudi Arabia or any other Gulf state.” Leaving aside the fact that if Saudi Arabia directly supported ISIS, it would do so covertly (“ISIS, in fact, may have been a major part of Bandar’s covert-ops strategy in Syria,” writes Steve Clemons), there are other steps Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey have taken with the encouragement of the United States to strengthen ISIS.

There is, in fact, a fairly impressive compilation of evidence pointing to the role of Turkey in the rise of ISIS. It includes video and audio evidence of a meeting of an ISIS affiliate in Istanbul and allegations from an array of sources—opposition politicians in Turkey, intelligence services of other countries, and Kurdish officials in Syria—who claim that Turkey has allowed ISIS militants and weapons to go back and forth across the border and even directly armed and trained ISIS fighters. The case is circumstantial in places, to be sure, but compared to the case against Assad, it’s a smoking gun.

And it’s a fact that, on top of the aforementioned funneling of militants into Syria, US client states allowed wealthy individuals to fund ISIS. Did the governments themselves finance ISIS? In 2014, once ISIS had become a force, General Dempsey, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that, yes, US allies had directly funded ISIS — as assessment that Lindsay Graham seconded. In any case, the funding was no secret — Kuwait was a hub for ISIS financing — and US allies didn’t little to nothing to crack down on it.

These governments also sent in weapons that ended up the hands of ISIS. Was the arming direct? Regardless, to send weapons to the opposition was to arm ISIS, both because ISIS routed groups and took their weapons and because early on opposition groups collaborated with ISIS.

Aping US government officials, who barely mentioned ISIS until mid-2014, US press accounts of the group’s rise in Syria tend to ignore its formative months (although they flashback to 2011 for the purpose of indicting Assad.) They pick up the narrative when the groups officially backed by the United States and its allies were fighting ISIS. To read the BuzzVoxxers, or some socialist outlets, you’d have no idea that ISIS ascended in Syria partly due to the collaboration and conciliation of other opposition groups. Joshua Landis’ analysis site Syria Comment details these alliances and calls them the “real” reason for ISIS’s rise in Syria:

The most prominent case-in-point is Colonel Oqaidi, who used to head the Aleppo FSA military council. Oqaidi constantly downplayed the idea that ISIS constituted a threat, describing his relations with ISIS as “excellent”…The other rebel groups that assisted ISIS in the wider conflict here included Liwa al-Tawhid, Ahrar ash-Sham, Suqur ash-Sham, and FSA-banner groups such as Liwa al-Hamza, Ibn Taymiyya (both Tel Abyad area) and Liwa Ahrar al-Jazira al-Thawri…Contrary to what ISIS members and supporters claim, there was no pre-planned ‘sahwa’ against ISIS. Till the very end of 2013, IF and its constituent groups tried to resolve problems with ISIS peacefully.

The FSA, remember, was the official American proxy so the United States was arming a group that it knew was collaborating with ISIS. In 2013, ISIS leader Abu Atheer told Al Jazeera that his group had cordial relations with the FSA and bought weapons from them.

Yet in popular ISIS creation narratives the myth of American innocence persists. The more intrepid western reporters will touch on the role of US client states yet exonerate the United States, as if Saudi Arabia and co. act wholly independently of the world’s most powerful country. And even if you believe that clients states have the desire and capacity to go rogue, there’s no evidence suggesting that US government officials tried to deter their ISIS-empowering actions during the group’s all-important early months in Syria. Biden’s tepid yet much-discussed criticism of allies for supporting ISIS came late in 2014 when ISIS was replacing the government as the primary, official rationale for US military action in Syria. As Biden was traveling around to apologize for his remarks, engaging in client management, no reporter thought to ask why no US official had said or done anything about their empowering of ISIS in the months and years prior.

The media complicity persisted despite last year’s declassification of a 2012 military intelligence memo showing that the United States had determined both that its allies sought to create a “Salafist principality in eastern Syria” and that sectarian reactionaries — “The Salafist, The Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI” — were the “driving forces” in the opposition. Apologists responded predictably to the document: they challenged the most expansive interpretations and ignored the smaller yet still-damning ones.

It’s not so much the memo itself that exposes US culpability but the memo combined with the subsequent actions (and inactions) of the United States vis a vis its allies and the Syrian opposition. More confirmation than revelation, the memo shows what was already clear: 1) that the United States was content for its allies to try to destroy Syria by fueling the most extreme elements of the opposition, including ISIS, 2) that because extreme elements dominated the opposition, to support it was to empower these elements, including ISIS, and 3) that the United States, no bystander to this effort, contributed to it.

It’s not hard to understand why the BuzzBeasters exonerate the United States, even if doing so means ignoring reports in their own publications. The motive of socialists is a little harder to discern. Or perhaps not. Their purpose, it seems, is to pin all the blame on Assad, not just for ISIS but for all of it: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, the millions of refugees, the staggering suffering. The true story of the rise of ISIS, in context, exposes the degree of aggression against Syria, and once that comes to light, it’s hard to cling to the view that this war is, at its core, a battle between a tyrant and a progressive revolution.

RT News Coverage of Hillary Intel Email on Gaddafi’s Gold and Plans for African Dinar

And consider the below RT News broadcast from 2011 as the Libyan conflict was in its opening stages. What was at that time informed speculation is now confirmed with documented proof. Find the State Dept. source document here.

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