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.
“Sirte is located mid-way between Tripoli and Benghazi; its loss will be a psychological blow for Qaddafi.”
—Hillary Clinton intelligence briefing, 2011
“In the Libyan capital, Tripoli, Mr. Kobler exchanged views with members of the General National Congress (GNC) group, and discussed the situation in the town of Sirte, where the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has asserted control.”
—United Nations report, 2015
Note: For more on the CFA franc, used in 14 African nations and backed by the French Treasury, see here.
Throughout the Libyan War there were widespread reports of field executions and torture of black Libyans carried out by militias aligned with the National Transition Council (some NTC aligned fighters shown above; Source: Wikimedia Commons).
New Emails Expose Hillary’s Dirty War in Libya
The New Year’s Eve release of over 3000 new Hillary Clinton emails from the State Department has CNN abuzz over gossipy text messages, the “who gets to ride with Hillary” selection process set up by her staff, and how a “cute” Hillary photo fared on Facebook.
But historians of the 2011 NATO war in Libya will be sure to notice a few of the truly explosive confirmations contained in the new emails: admissions of rebel war crimes, special ops trainers inside Libya from nearly the start of protests, Al Qaeda embedded in the U.S. backed opposition, Western nations jockeying for access to Libyan oil, the nefarious origins of the absurd Viagra mass rape claim, and concern over Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves threatening European currency.
Hillary’s Death Squads
A March 27, 2011 intelligence brief on Libya, sent by long time close adviser to the Clintons and Hillary’s unofficial intelligence gatherer, Sidney Blumenthal, contains clear evidence of war crimes on the part of NATO-backed rebels. Citing a rebel commander source “speaking in strict confidence” Blumenthal reports to Hillary [emphasis mine]:
Under attack from allied Air and Naval forces, the Libyan Army troops have begun to desert to the rebel side in increasing numbers. The rebels are making an effort to greet these troops as fellow Libyans, in an effort to encourage additional defections.
(Source Comment: Speaking in strict confidence, one rebel commander stated that his troops continue to summarily execute all foreign mercenaries captured in the fighting…).
While the illegality of extra-judicial killings is easy to recognize (groups engaged in such are conventionally termed “death squads”), the sinister reality behind the “foreign mercenaries” reference might not be as immediately evident to most.
While over the decades Gaddafi was known to make use of European and other international security and infrastructural contractors, there is no evidence to suggest that these were targeted by the Libyan rebels.
There is however, ample documentation by journalists, academics, and human rights groups demonstrating that black Libyan civilians and sub-Saharan contract workers, a population favored by Gaddafi in his pro-African Union policies, were targets of “racial cleansing” by rebels who saw black Libyans as tied closely with the regime.
Black Libyans were commonly branded as “foreign mercenaries” by the rebel opposition for their perceived general loyalty to Gaddafi as a community and subjected to torture, executions, and their towns “liberated” by ethnic cleansing. This is demonstrated in the most well-documented example of Tawergha, an entire town of 30,000 black and “dark-skinned” Libyans which vanished by August 2011 after its takeover by NATO-backed NTC Misratan brigades.
These attacks were well-known as late as 2012 and often filmed, as this report from The Telegraph confirms:
After Muammar Gaddafi was killed, hundreds of migrant workers from neighboring states were imprisoned by fighters allied to the new interim authorities. They accuse the black Africans of having been mercenaries for the late ruler. Thousands of sub-Saharan Africans have been rounded up since Gaddafi fell in August.
It appears that Clinton was getting personally briefed on the battlefield crimes of her beloved anti-Gaddafi fighters long before some of the worst of these genocidal crimes took place.
Al-Qaeda and Western Special Forces Inside Libya
The same intelligence email from Sydney Blumenthal also confirms what has become a well known theme of Western supported insurgencies in the Middle East: the contradiction of special forces training militias that are simultaneously suspected of links to Al Qaeda.
Blumenthal relates that “an extremely sensitive source” confirmed that British, French, and Egyptian special operations units were training Libyan militants along the Egyptian-Libyan border, as well as in Benghazi suburbs.
While analysts have long speculated as to the “when and where” of Western ground troop presence in the Libyan War, this email serves as definitive proof that special forces were on the ground only within a month of the earliest protests which broke out in the middle to end of February 2011 in Benghazi.
By March 27 of what was commonly assumed a simple “popular uprising” external special operatives were already “overseeing the transfer of weapons and supplies to the rebels” including “a seemingly endless supply of AK47 assault rifles and ammunition.”
Yet only a few paragraphs after this admission, caution is voiced about the very militias these Western special forces were training because of concern that, “radical/terrorist groups such as the Libyan Fighting Groups and Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are infiltrating the NLC and its military command.”
The Threat of Libya’s Oil and Gold to French Interests
Though the French-proposed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 claimed the no-fly zone implemented over Libya was to protect civilians, an April 2011 email sent to Hillary with the subject line “France’s client and Qaddafi’s gold” tells of less noble ambitions.
The email identifies French President Nicholas Sarkozy as leading the attack on Libya with five specific purposes in mind: to obtain Libyan oil, ensure French influence in the region, increase Sarkozy’s reputation domestically, assert French military power, and to prevent Gaddafi’s influence in what is considered “Francophone Africa.”
Most astounding is the lengthy section delineating the huge threat that Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves, estimated at “143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver,” posed to the French franc (CFA) circulating as a prime African currency. In place of the noble sounding “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine fed to the public, there is this “confidential” explanation of what was really driving the war [emphasis mine]:
This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA).
(Source Comment: According to knowledgeable individuals this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya.)
Though this internal email aims to summarize the motivating factors driving France’s (and by implication NATO’s) intervention in Libya, it is interesting to note that saving civilian lives is conspicuously absent from the briefing.
Instead, the great fear reported is that Libya might lead North Africa into a high degree of economic independence with a new pan-African currency.
French intelligence “discovered” a Libyan initiative to freely compete with European currency through a local alternative, and this had to be subverted through military aggression.
The Ease of Floating Crude Propaganda
Early in the Libyan conflict Secretary of State Clinton formally accused Gaddafi and his army of using mass rape as a tool of war. Though numerous international organizations, like Amnesty International, quickly debunked these claims, the charges were uncritically echoed by Western politicians and major media.
It seemed no matter how bizarre the conspiracy theory, as long as it painted Gaddafi and his supporters as monsters, and so long as it served the cause of prolonged military action in Libya, it was deemed credible by network news.
Two foremost examples are referenced in the latest batch of emails: the sensational claim that Gaddafi issued Viagra to his troops for mass rape, and the claim that bodies were “staged” by the Libyan government at NATO bombing sites to give the appearance of the Western coalition bombing civilians.
In a late March 2011 email, Blumenthal confesses to Hillary that,
I communicated more than a week ago on this story—Qaddafi placing bodies to create PR stunts about supposed civilian casualties as a result of Allied bombing—though underlining it was a rumor. But now, as you know, Robert Gates gives credence to it. (See story below.)
Sources now say, again rumor (that is, this information comes from the rebel side and is unconfirmed independently by Western intelligence), that Qaddafi has adopted a rape policy and has even distributed Viagra to troops. The incident at the Tripoli press conference involving a woman claiming to be raped is likely to be part of a much larger outrage. Will seek further confirmation.
Not only did Defense Secretary Robert Gates promote his bizarre “staged bodies” theory on CBS News’ “Face The Nation,” but the even stranger Viagra rape fiction made international headlines as U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice made a formal charge against Libya in front of the UN Security Council.
What this new email confirms is that not only was the State Department aware of the spurious nature of what Blumenthal calls “rumors” originating solely with the rebels, but did nothing to stop false information from rising to top officials who then gave them “credence.”
It appears, furthermore, that the Viagra mass rape hoax likely originated with Sidney Blumenthal himself.
 The most comprehensive and well-documented study of the plight of black Libyans is contained in Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa (publ. 2012, Baraka Books) by Maximilian Forte, Professor Anthropology and Sociology at Concordia University in Montréal, Québec.
Above: Ben Swann covered the Pentagon report for CBS46 News in Atlanta the same week the NYTimes referenced it. The below article was originally prepared for AntiWar.com
I’ve written before about the way news of the declassified 2012 Defense Intelligence report spread: throughout early summer it headlined around the world especially in Britain, Germany, and Russia; yet there was complete mainstream media silence in the U.S. even as (according to a Daily Beast article) it “ate the web.”
While the document was referenced and analyzed in literally hundreds of independent/alternative and foreign media reports, major U.S. news maintained its silence, even after Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (Ret.), head of the DIA at the time the report was prepared, confirmed its accuracy and importance in an Al Jazeera interview with Mehdi Hasan.
Even with Flynn’s public and unambiguous confirmation of the document, the American public remained largely in the dark as to the document’s existence.
While the rest of the world had easy access to the interview which featured lengthy discussion of the document with a man who was in 2012 and prior one of the top three highest ranking intelligence officials in Washington, it did not air on Al Jazeera America, and the program itself remains geo-blocked for Americans wishing to access it through Al Jazeera’s official YouTube channel.
The New York Times has finally acknowledged the 2012 DIA report a full six months after its release through FOIA , including new statements confirming its high importance, in a lengthy investigative piece about the rise of ISIS. To my great surprise the article sources my initial reporting of the Pentagon document [emphasis mine]:
Since last spring the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has been expanding beyond its local struggle to international terrorism. In the last two weeks, it did that in a spectacular way, first claiming responsibility for downing a Russian planeload of 224 people, then sending squads of killers who ended the lives of 43 people in Beirut and 129 in Paris. As the world scrambles to respond, the questions pile up like the dead: 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.”
The syndicated NY Times article hit newsstands in multiple U.S. cities over the past weekend. For most Americans who rely exclusively on major corporate media for news of the world, this will be the first they’ve heard of the bombshell Pentagon report.
The single American news organization that has stood at the forefront of consistent and unapologetic coverage of the DIA report over the course of the last six months is Antiwar.com, featuring it in countless articles by numerous authors.
While larger, corporate organizations with vast resources wouldn’t touch it, Antiwar.com considered the document an essential source for understanding the geopolitics behind the rise of ISIS.
“Agenda-setting” organizations like The New York Times are just now catching up.
by Robert Barsocchini
Here, I wrote that these documents “may” say the US/West wanted/want a Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria, because the declassified docs 1) say “Salafist, Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria”; 2) in the next sentence, the doc defines the “The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey” as the countries that “support the opposition”; 3) they later say the “opposition forces are trying to control the Eastern areas”, where Syria borders Iraq, and, specifically of this control of Eastern areas, say the “Western Countries, the Gulf States, and Turkey are supporting these efforts”. 4) In a section about “effects on Iraq” the docs say that “there is a possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria…”, then say “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”
However, while the document begins by stating that “The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey support the opposition”, the document, as noted, also defines other groups, which could be considered “powers”, as either components of or supporters of the opposition: Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI. The report states: “AQI supported the opposition from the beginning…”
While the FSA is defined as “opposition”, Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are initially described as “the major forces driving the insurgency”, not as “the opposition”. It could be that the document means that the FSA is “the opposition” and the West, its allies, and the Islamic groups are simply all supporting them, but with different individual goals. However, AQI is also directly described as “opposition” to Assad: “AQI declared its opposition of Assad’s government because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis.”
In the section that says “there is a possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in Eastern Syria…”, then that “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want”—this section of the doc defines the opposition forces controlling the Iraq/Syria border as “Syrian Free Army”, the FSA, and says the FSA will try to take “advantage of the sympathy of the Iraqi border population”.
It then says that “If the situation [likely meaning FSA control of the border] 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, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).” (The US obviously opposes Iranian expansion and sides with the Sunnis, but the last part of this sentence, as it is framed in terms of Shia expansion, may suggest that here the “supporting powers to the opposition” may be referring not the sentence stating “The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey support the opposition”, but to earlier sentences stating “AQI supported the opposition from the beginning…” and “AQI declared its opposition of Assad’s government because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis.”
Thus, perhaps this is simply unclear writing, or too much is censored, and what this really means is that while both AQI and “The West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey” support the “opposition” (and AQI also comprises the opposition), only the AQI part of that support for the opposition would want a “Salafist Principality” to be established. This is clearly stated regarding the effect on Iraq. However, the US/West do strongly support existing Salafist Principalities, as noted above, including the most ideologically expansionist one, Saudi Arabia. Thus, supporting a Salafist Principality, and annexation of territory (Israel, Cuba, Diego Garcia, etc.), is something the US already does currently. (International relations scholar Dr. Nafeez Ahmed notes that a RAND corp report previously advised the US “to capitalise on the Shia-Sunni conflict by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes in a decisive fashion and working with them against all Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world.”)
The doc says the above-noted “deterioration”, likely referring to the ‘unravels’ term above, “has dire consequences on the Iraq situation.” It continues that this “deterioration” would give more momentum to terrorist groups and could allow them to declare an “Islamic state”, “which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.” (A study out of British universities noted that US government/media did not report on ISIS publicly until it began to seize oil fields. Then, the study shows, the US sent drones to try to stop ISIS.)
The last uncensored sentence of the doc says that the third consequence of the “deterioration of the situation” (‘the situation’ likely meaning the FSA control of the border region) would be terrorist elements from all over the Arab world “entering into Iraqi arena.”
The rest of the document is censored, as are some sections before this.
Overall, what we can see in the document clearly states that a Salafist Principality is not desired by the West in terms of the Iraqi situation, but may or may not suggest that this principality is desired in terms of isolating Assad, which is a stated goal of the West and its allies (not just isolating, but removing). However, it is also a goal of AQI and its allies, which are defined both as supporting “the opposition” and having “declared its opposition of Assad’s government”. While this group and its affiliates could be viewed as a strategic asset for isolating Assad, they could also be viewed as a third party outside the wider global contest between West and East, which is opposed to either. However, a group in Syria opposed to both sides could be seen as preferable to having a group allied with the East and opposed to the West.
International security scholar Dr. Nafeez Ahmed analyzes these documents and concludes the US practices a policy of “sponsoring Islamist terrorism for dubious geopolitical purposes.”
“According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of this strategy, and warned that it could destabilize Iraq. Despite anticipating that Western, Gulf state and Turkish support for the “Syrian opposition” — which included al-Qaeda in Iraq — could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the document provides no indication of any decision to reverse the policy of support to the Syrian rebels. On the contrary, the emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliated “Salafist Principality” as a result is described as a strategic opportunity to isolate Assad.”
“The secret Pentagon document thus provides extraordinary confirmation that the US-led coalition currently fighting ISIS, had three years ago welcomed the emergence of an extremist “Salafist Principality” in the region as a way to undermine Assad, and block off the strategic expansion of Iran.”
“The establishment of such a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria, the DIA document asserts, is “exactly” what the “supporting powers to the [Syrian] opposition want.” Earlier on, the document repeatedly describes those “supporting powers” as “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey.”
Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism intelligence officer, said (noted by Ahmed) that the documents “raise vitally important questions of the West’s governments and media in their support of Syria’s rebellion.”
“Throughout the early years of the Syria crisis, the US and UK governments, and almost universally the West’s mainstream media, promoted Syria’s rebels as moderate, liberal, secular, democratic, and therefore deserving of the West’s support. Given that these documents wholly undermine this assessment, it’s significant that the West’s media has now, despite their immense significance, almost entirely ignored them.”
Ahmed quotes a former US Marine: “US intelligence predicted the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but instead of clearly delineating the group as an enemy, the report envisions the terror group as a US strategic asset.”
Ahmed concludes: “The rise of a Salafist quasi-state entity that might expand into Iraq, and fracture that country, was therefore clearly foreseen by US intelligence as likely — but nevertheless strategically useful — blowback from the West’s commitment to “isolating Syria.”
What the docs establish beyond doubt is that, in 2012, when they were written, the US saw the likelihood of a “Salafist Principality” or “Islamic State” being established, and was fully aware the insurgency in Syria was mainly driven by Islamic groups, who were fighting Assad and also supporting the FSA, which itself has been shown to have Islamic tendencies. For example, an FSA commander is on video saying he would want to implement Sharia law. But the West and its allies continued their support, as FSA members openly shared their US supplies with the ISIS-related groups, and even converted to ISIS.
As Ahmed puts it, “the Pentagon continued to support the Islamist insurgency, even while anticipating the probability that doing so would establish an extremist Salafi stronghold in Syria and Iraq.”
This “entire covert strategy was sanctioned and supervised by the US, Britain, France, Israel and other Western powers.”
“As Shoebridge told me, ‘The documents show that not only did the US government at the latest by August 2012 know the true extremist nature and likely outcome of Syria’s rebellion’ — namely, the emergence of ISIS — ’but that this was considered an advantage for US foreign policy. This also suggests a decision to spend years in an effort to deliberately mislead the West’s public, via a compliant media, into believing that Syria’s rebellion was overwhelmingly ‘moderate.’”
Ahmed quotes a former MI5 officer explaining that after Libya and other such projects by the West, we see in this behavior towards Syria “part of an established pattern. And they remain indifferent to the sheer scale of human suffering that is unleashed as a result of such game-playing.”
What we already knew before these docs is that the US and West strongly support extremist Salafist states as part of their strategy of eating away at the parts of the world not under the US thumb, the “East”: Syria, Iran, Russia, and China. The US and West themselves are built on and continue to support and commit theft and annexation of territory, and support, commit, or ignore (if they are not politically helpful) all kinds of mass killings, including by groups worse than ISIS; these have included the Khmer Rouge, the Suharto Regime, and the US itself: the establishment of the USA and the building of it into a superpower was a process that involved crimes worse than anything ISIS will ever accomplish.
Further, ISIS, as pointed out by Kofi Annan and many others, arose as a consequence of the illegal US invasion of Iraq, motivated largely by Bush Jr.’s religious fanaticism, an invasion the international community tried and failed to prevent, which, the most recent and comprehensive report finds, has killed about 1 to 2 million or more people, another feat ISIS will never accomplish.
While studies and many official statements make clear, and it is obvious to any minimally non-US-brainwashed individual, that the invasion was largely about oil, even if we disregard that, ignore the rest of US history, and declare the US had/has “good intentions” regarding Iraq, that puts us at the level of of Japanese fascists, who believed in their “good intentions” regarding their invasions of China and elsewhere.
People with too much power always declare good intentions, and are often sincere, as they get god-complexes and view themselves as humanity’s benevolent saviors. But the reason war (including supporting warring proxies) is outlawed as an instrument of policy is that it has disastrous consequences, as we are seeing, even for the sincerely well-intentioned.
It should be stressed that clearly admitting the West would “want” a Salafist principality in Eastern Syria is not generally the kind of statement people in governments would make of themselves, even in private, hence makes it less likely here that the West is being referred to specifically by that statement, as does the inclusion of the phrase “if the situation unravels” (meaning FSA control of the East) an Islamic state could result. However, it is noteworthy that the West and the Islamists are so easily conflated in this document (this conflation may well be intentional as a way of discussing benefits without clearly stating that they might be desired), as they are clearly delineated as both being opposed to the Assad government, and for similar reasons – opposing Iran and the Shia, backed by Russia and China, the latter part being of greater import to the West. The doc also makes very clear that the FSA was/is being supported by AQI and its Islamist affiliates, and that those Islamists were known to be “the major forces driving the insurgency”. It has long been known that FSA shares its US/Western/Gulf/Turkish supplies with and converts to Islamist groups, and AQI, the ISIS precursor, has always been known as particularly aggressive. And as Dr. Ahmed points out, the document nowhere suggests ending aid to the opposition due to its being driven by AQI and affiliates, and only frames the potential creation of the “Islamic state” as a bad thing in relation to Iraq. In relation to Syria/Assad, it is not framed as a bad thing, but as something that would be seen to “isolate” Assad, a goal shared by the West and the Islamist groups. So, these documents may well be an example of discussing a strategy while attempting to maintain some degree of “plausible deniability”.
It must also be remembered that the US and West not only support extremist Salafi/Wahhabi/Sharia established states, but have on numerous occasions worked with, backed, aided and/or paralleled some of the goals of non-state groups such as the Mujahedin and al Qaeda (in Afghanistan – see Brzezinski, Bob Gates; Bosnia, Kosovo – on these see Fulton in scholarly journal Global Security Studies), including under Obama in relation to Libya. In US support for the Mujahedin in Afghanistan and then the Taliban, the support was not even seen as a means to an end, but a completely acceptable end in itself: the US was fine with the Taliban taking power and staying in power, as long as it cooperated with the US. That is the bottom line. As soon as it proved uncooperative, the US “discovered” the Taliban human rights violations that non-governmental US monitors had been decrying for years, while the US was supporting the Taliban (here). And, as noted, abhorrent behavior is not a deterrent to US support. The US has committed far worse crimes than ISIS and supported groups far worse than ISIS. Only those unfamiliar with history and glued to US TV can think ISIS is some new level of evil in the world, or at least one not seen for a long time. The only qualifier for US support is whether the group in question is willing to cater to US business and strategic interests.
“I don’t want the U.S. government to provide weapons to Al-Qaeda…it’s a very simple concept in my mind.”
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is a rare voice of sanity in the public arena. Her perspective on U.S. policy in Syria is not one you’ll often find on CNN but is one I encounter frequently among veterans and even the few intelligence analysts that I know. She boldly states that in the attempt to overthrow the Assad government of Syria, the U.S. and CIA armed and supported our enemies.
She is an Iraq war veteran and is fully aware that Al-Qaeda in Iraq, at the point it crossed into Syria and joined the fight against Assad, was used of the CIA and State Department to wage proxy war as a U.S. strategic asset against the Syrian Arab Republic.
ISIS would not be the massive terror army it is today without such U.S. covert support to the rebels in Syria.
Is Congresswoman Gabbard correct?
The below video provides airtight proof of the truthfulness of her statements. The primary raw footage was confirmed by the New York Times in 2013. The video montage and translation was authenticated by the top academic Syria expert in the United States, Joshua Landis.
The video is accompanied by an article I wrote which originally appeared in Foreign Policy Journal and was featured on AntiWar.com. I offer it as a tribute to my fellow veterans as well as active service members struggling to come to grips with the facts of our nation’s criminal actions in Syria…
“Iraq, ISIS, and The Myth of Sisyphus”
“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.”
–Albert Camus, THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS
As the world reacts to President Obama’s announcement of a multi-front air and ground proxy war—on the one hand, bombing ISIS inside Iraq and Syria, and on the other, ramping up arms and training for the vaguely defined Syrian “opposition”—we as a nation should reflect upon the Myth of Sisyphus.
I joined the Marine Corps as an idealistic eighteen-year-old in 2000, with a firm resolve, as I enthusiastically told my recruiter shortly before leaving for boot camp, to “fight evil in the world”—a resolve rooted more deeply in my veins after the 9/11 attacks. Slogans such as “let’s roll!” echoed in my ears, and my fervor for “the mission” influenced others to follow my path of military service. While stationed in Quantico providing post-9/11 “first responder” security to headquarters assets in the area, I became close friends with a young local college student, also just out of high school, and I encouraged him to join up.
My friend embarked on multiple tours of duty within a short two years as a Marine infantryman, and was killed by an IED in Iraq on his third tour prior to his twenty-first birthday. He understood little about the place of his eventual death, as had been clear during our brief visits together as we reconnected between his deployments. We were never encouraged to learn about the history of Iraq or the Arab world, or to ask too many questions for that matter. “Let’s roll” was enough for us as we set out to “win hearts and minds.”
Uncovering Absurd Contradictions
As the power of such simple platitudes faded, I began to investigate for myself the history of U.S. involvement in the region: this search began in the library of Marine Corps University at MCB Quantico and led to my traveling to Syria upon completion of active service.
Few Americans know of the absurd contradictions of our foreign policy in Iraq and other places over the past few decades, yet I found that many Iraqis and Syrians knew the history well. The United States, through covert support of the Iraqi Ba’ath in the 1960’s and 1970’s, sponsored Saddam’s rise to power as a way to combat perceived communist influence and populist national movements in the Middle East. Throughout that time, the CIA-supported Ba’ath engaged in “cleansing campaigns” which involved door-to-door death squads offing Washington’s enemies based on questionable lists provided through covert liaisons.
Upon Saddam’s rising to the presidency in 1979, and while the Iranian Revolution drove forward just across the border, the United States encouraged Saddam to invade Iran, kick-starting the most devastating war in the region’s history. Most Americans still haven’t seen the easily accessible archive footage of Reagan’s then special envoy to the Middle East, Donald Rumsfeld, shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983, in what was clearly a warm and cordial visit.
Saddam would go on, during the course of a war that took over a million lives (1980-1988), to frequently employ chemical nerve agents against Iranian troop movements; later into the war this occurred with the assistance of the CIA and DIA. By the time of the 1988 gas attack against the Kurds of Halabja, U.S. covert assistance to Iraq’s military was established and routine.
And yet, Saddam soon became the new super-villain of the 1990’s and 2000’s, the very image of evil incarnate in the world—though his dictatorial and brutal rule had undergone no change from when he was the CIA’s man in Baghdad—only American perceptions of him did. The United States had helped to create the monster that in 2003 it was telling young men and women to travel across the world to destroy. Ironically, one of the main moral justifications for going after “the evil tyrant” was his gassing of the Kurds of Halabja.
Uncovering such an absurd contradiction of recent history made me feel like Sisyphus in Albert Camus’ famous essay. Sisyphus, condemned by the gods to his fate of pushing his boulder up the hill, must ever repeat the same process after it inevitably rolls back down the hill; he eventually becomes conscious of the futility of his action. We can imagine such tragic Sisyphean moments of realization in the minds of hundreds of thousands of veterans as they watched ISIS tear through places like Fallujah and Northern Iraq over the course of this past half year.
The Rock is Still Rolling
And yet, ISIS too, is a monster the United States helped to create.
Instead of two decades for the contradictions to come full circle, as was the case with the creation and destruction of Saddam Hussein, ISIS has gone from friend to monster within only two years. The U.S. armed forces, told by the White House of a minimal three-year long campaign to destroy ISIS, have barely recovered from the now seemingly futile burden of wars in post-Saddam Iraq and forgotten, ongoing Afghanistan.
As if the absurdity of the task of a renewed Iraq campaign mandated by the “gods” in Washington weren’t enough, we will now bomb ISIS locations in Syria while increasing the training and equipping of Syrian rebels. If there are military members and veterans out there, still not conscious that “there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor,” then I suggest watching the above video. The video gives insight into the Sisyphean task ahead of us as a nation: a never-ending cycle, old-yet-new, already set up for futility and failure.
Amazingly, the video, titled, “US Key Man in Syria Worked Closely with ISIL and Jabhat al Nusra,” has not yet had widespread distribution, even though it has been authenticated by the top Syria expert in the U.S., Joshua Landis, of the University of Oklahoma, and author of the hugely influential Syria Comment. Using his Twitter account, Dr. Landis commented (8/27): “in 2013 WINEP advocated sending all US military aid thru him [Col. Okaidi]. Underscores US problem w moderates.”
The video, documenting (now former) U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford’s visit to FSA Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi in Northern Syria, also shows the same Col. Okaidi celebrating with and praising a well-known ISIS commander, Emir Abu Jandal, after conducting a joint operation. In an interview, the U.S. “key man” at that time (2013), through which U.S. assistance flowed, also praises ISIS and Al-Qaeda as the FSA’s “brothers.” The video further shows Okaidi proudly declaring that al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda in Syria) makes up ten percent of the FSA.
I can think of no greater absurd foreign policy path to follow than to continue arming one wing of Syria’s rebels (only until very recently directly allied with the new “enemy”), while at the same time bombing another, and all the while declaring the necessity of continued “war on terror.”
Albert Camus concludes the myth thus, “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again.”
Screenshot of Russian Mi-24P Hind Attack Helicopters filmed operating over Syria
The following was first published to Sic Semper Tyrannis. It is republished here with permission of the author. Dr. Michael Brenner is Professor Emeritus of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh and Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS-Johns Hopkins (Washington, D.C.). He was the Director of the International Relations & Global Studies Program at the University of Texas until 2012. He writes a column for The Huffington Post which can be found here.
The Middle East almost always has been near the top of the American foreign policy agenda. Balancing commitment to Israel’s welfare with the high value placed on support for oil-rich Arab states has been one challenge. Reconciling rhetorical dedication to democracy promotion and human rights with a pragmatic recognition of friendly despotisms has been another. Hostile relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran added one more stressful element. Then the rise of radical jihadist movements and the phenomenon of transnational terrorism came to the fore. That turbulent mix has been stirred into a maelstrom by dramatic events – some initiated by the United States itself. Occupation of Afghanistan in response to 9/11, invasion and occupation of Iraq, the region-wide Global War on Terror, the Arab Spring, and capped by the unprecedented menace of ISIL.
Consequently, Washington officials face a uniquely complex policy field that places extraordinary demands of a strategic and diplomatic nature.
Surveying the present state of affairs, the observer is struck by the elements of contradiction in objective conditions and in the American policies intended to address them. Indeed, contradiction is the outstanding feature of the United States’ engagements in the Middle East. The swift Russian intervention into Syria exacerbates every one of the contradictory elements in Washington’s various, unintegrated Middle East policies. That is one reason the unexpected moves by Putin are deeply unsettling. They not only add a major variable, but that factor also involves a self-willed player ready and able to take initiatives which are not predictable or easy to counter. An already fluid field of action, thereby, is rendered even more turbulent by orders of magnitude.
Another, related reason is that since the United States has no comprehensive strategy, the repercussions of the Russian actions, military and political, are generating a piecemeal reaction that finds it difficult to gain any intellectual or diplomatic traction in each policy sphere. Theoretically, these developments should highlight the need for such an overarching strategy by underscoring the costs of not having one. There is no evidence, though, of that happening within the Obama administration – or within the American foreign policy community generally. Why? In addition to the manifest lack of aptitude for such an undertaking, the kinds of conceptual adjustments indicated by the Russian intervention touch on highly sensitive questions of America’s status and mission in the world which its political elite is unprepared to engage.
Let us look first at the specific, practical effects on those problems with which Washington already is struggling. In Syria itself, the ambiguous Obama approach of “patience and persistence” is now fully exposed as the empty slogan that it always has been. Its basic flaws lie in the elementary failure to identify your enemy (ies), your allies, the nature of the threat and your objectives. No one has been able to say – from the President on down. Very early in the multi-party civil war, there was a recognition of their being two enemies: 1) the Assad government which President Obama vocally proclaimed “must go;” and 2) the diverse jihadist movements, declared foes of the West and their friends in the Islamic world, who rapidly became the dominant opposition force. The latter have subordinated “moderate” groups – both secular and Islamic – to a secondary status, with their very existence now being at the sufferance of al-Nusra (primarily) and ISIL. The former, in turn, is at war with ISIL for leadership of the Islamist cause – a conflict that creates incentives for it to tolerate tacit forms of cooperation with the “moderates” so as to facilitate the continued flow of assistance from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf statelets, Turkey and the United States itself (via the “moderate intermediaries” who “reverse launder” them).
American policy-makers have sought to avoid the painful choice of selecting a “preferred enemy” by concentrating their rhetorical fire on ISIL while, at the same time, trying to square the circle by building a “third force” of politically congenial elements who would fight, and defeat, both ISIL and the Damascus regime. That latter initiative has failed ignominiously and was officially suspended on October 9 by the Pentagon. Unofficially, it never was viewed as the panacea. I was told by a State Department official who works on Syria, a year ago, that it was generally understood that the training project was just political window dressing. No one in the administration (except for a few incurable innocents) believed in it or thought that it could have any practical results. Oddly, Obama himself stated as much in an interview with Thomas Friedman last summer. That’s $50 million worth of window dressing. It seems that the other $450 million was spent mainly by the CIA to continue supplying their tacit allies up North, i.e. remnants of the Free Syrian Army and their associates which include parts of the al-Nusra apparatus. It has become public knowledge that that program dates from 2011, allowing for a slowdown, if not complete break, in 2012 when Obama rejected a formal proposal from CIA Director David Petraeus to expand it. In practice, much of the sophisticated equipment simply passed through the administrative hands of validated “good guys” directly into the hands of the “bad guys.”
The logical contradiction between the White House’s lack of conviction in successive programs in support of “moderate” elements of the Syrian opposition, on the one hand, and the persistence in pursuing one ill-fated venture after another became publicly manifest when Obama’s Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the President had backed the now discarded training program only because he had been pressed to do so by critics in Congress and the media. Hence, he did not judge its termination as a failure of his administration’s judgment. This is a first.
Never before has a sitting President admitted that he had taken a risky foreign policy course without conviction in its value but strictly as an expedient gesture to domestic forces whom he was not prepared to confront. To disown so cavalierly what was rolled out with fanfare, and cited routinely as the foundation stone of American strategy in Syria, is high-level fecklessness without precedent.
That politically circuitous route has been supplemented by direct supply routes from the Gulf and Turkey into the inventories of al-Nusra and its affiliates. By implication, but not in declaration, Washington therefore has been drawing a clear line of differentiation, for some time, between ISIL and al-Nusra – despite the latter’s being an acknowledged affiliate of al-Qaeda. A great anomaly of the situation, of course, is that al-Qaeda has been figured as the “Great Satan” against which America has been fighting a global war since 2001. Yet, there is no political reaction to this extraordinary policy turn – whether by politicians, the media or the unofficial foreign policy community.
There is more than a touch of absurdity in this. Just last week, the White House justified its policy reversal in regard to the maintenance of a substantial troop presence in Afghanistan to counter a persistent al-Qaeda and ISIL threat. (Where the Taliban fit into the picture is conveniently left obscure). Yet far more formidable units of the latter, which are operating close to American strategic interests in the region of Syria and Iraq, are being treated as tacit allies of the United States. In addition to indirect arms supplies via other members of the Army of Victory, they are immune to American airstrikes. Even ISIL gets less attention from the United States Air Force than do the Taliban around Kunduz. Over the past month, it has flown fewer missions in Iraq and Syria combined than the Russians have flown in one day.
As far as the Obama people are concerned, this oddity owes in part to the premiums placed on maintaining close relations with traditional allies in the Gulf and with Turkey who view all Islamist forces in Syria as the key to toppling Assad. He bulks largest in their strategic thinking due to his Iranian ties at a time when, for them, the Sunni-Shia civil war within Islam eclipses all else. It also owes in part to the administration’s independent judgment that Iran is the region’s greatest menace insofar as American interests are concerned. In part, it further reflects Israeli strategic thinking that parallels that of Riyadh and the GCC minnows, with political resonance domestically. In part, there is the simple inability of the White House and associates to devise a strategy of a subtlety that matches the complexity of the situation – or to make the tough decision to scale back objectives in recognition of the severe limits on American influence.
This last has been underscored by the Russian intervention. Official Washington was caught by surprise – once again. Intelligence failed in terms of foreseeing the scale of the operation, of properly estimating Putin’s will and nerve, of appraising Russian military capabilities for swift action, and of readying a set of possible responses. Consequently, a pre-existing state of intellectual and diplomatic disarray has now degenerated into general disorientation and confusion.
The ad hoc response is characterized by these elements. One is a definition of the crisis mainly in terms of a Russo-American contest. Hence, the talk is of a second “Cold War”, of a “test for NATO” that includes beefing up Nordic defense; rejecting if not ignoring out-of-hand Putin’s proposals for cooperation in finding a formula for stabilizing Syria; edging even closer to Turkey and the Saudis; and envisaging an entirely fresh approach to creating another version of a “third force” that would join the Syrian Kurds of the YPG with disparate splinter groups, who have given themselves the acquired surreal name of The Euphrates Volcano. They, in fact, are the flotsam and jetsam of the four year civil war: displaced locals, brigands, Turcomen recruited by Ankara from Syria, Iraq, the Caucasus or Central Asia. This last is strictly a public relations gesture whose accompanying rhetoric betrays the undercurrent of desperation in Washington. The Kurds of the Kobane region (Rojani) will not fight for anything more than their homes and fields – most certainly not for some abstract Sunni cause or to satisfy the ambitions of outside powers to unseat Assad with whom they long had reached a modus vivendi. As for the Euphrates Volcano, their loyalty as well as capacity for sustained military action is viewed as a very dubious commodity everywhere but in Langley, Virginia. They are no more the solution than have been the petty warlords and bandit militias in Afghanistan – another CIA and Special Forces creation.
Another sign pointing in the same direction is provided by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, among others, referring hopefully to the Russians experiencing another Afghanistan-like quagmire in Syria, of heavy casualties eroding Putin’s popularity and maybe even leading to his unseating (a la Kiev). Frustration over being outmaneuvered, of its less than serious campaign against being exposed for the pretentious failure it has been, of muscular Russian military performance – all are irritating that nerve of insecurity that runs through America’s body politic these days.
The most radical move, one with far-reaching complications, is to solidify what has been the tacit and partial understanding between the United States (pressed by Turkey and the KSA) and the al-Nusra dominated alliance renamed the Army of Victory (al-Burkan Furat) which also includes the radical Islamist group Ahrar – al-Shams. The implicit sanitizing of al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise entails the following steps: insistence on using the innocuous term “rebels” to refer in aggregate to all non-ISIL opponents of the Assad government – terminology that has been universally adopted by the media under administration pressure; denunciation of the Russians for striking al-Nusra and associates as well as ISIL; continued abstention from any American air strikes against even unmistakable al-Nusra sites; a pledge to bolster material support to groups operating under the Army of Victory umbrella without noting its essentially jihadist identity; and keeping up the drumfire of virulent criticism of the Iranian campaign to destabilize the Middle East – Syria nominated as the central front.
More serious is the ramping up of the CIA’s program to provide sophisticated armaments likely to strengthen the al-Nusra inventory. They include TOWs to counter the government’s armor and rockets that could threaten Russian bases. Director John Brennan visited the region early in October to forge a pact with the Saudi government to expedite the TOW shipments. The possibility exists that this step represents a desire on the part of the Obama administration, or at least certain elements of it, to exploit its links with the recently constituted al-Nusra led Army of Victory that could transpose the second “Cold War’ onto the Middle East in response to the dramatic Putin initiative.
In short, insofar as Syria is concerned, we are observing Washington’s progressive adoption of the Israeli cum Saudi perspective. There is no indication that the Obama White House recognizes that the Russia factor has made that perspective academic and the chances of realizing its objectives nil. The potential implications are profound.
Cossetting the royal family and passive tolerance for all their weeks; ignoring the KSA as the source and abettor of radical Wahhabi movements; all-out backing for the assault on the Houthis in Yemen; refusing to cooperate on a tactical basis with Tehran despite manifest convergent interests – an attitude expressed with vehemence even after the nuclear accord; failure to confront Erdogan for his support to ISIL and al-Nusra; and fostering the Israeli-Saudi de facto diplomatic alliance. At no time have we heard an explanation of why we have taken these missteps or a recognition of their net effect. The Russian intervention in Syria (and Iraq) has highlighted the full geo-strategic implications of that strategic blindness. Our alignment with a self-conscious Sunni bloc (anti not just Shia but any non-Sunni Muslims, e.g. Alawite, Zaidi) is an enormous burden in an already flawed campaign against ISIL and AQAP. That is becoming evident in Baghdad as well as elsewhere.
The errors of American policy in the Middle East over the past fourteen years are legion – as anyone paying attention knows. Those errors are conceptual, analytical and operational – at both the diplomatic and military plane. To this sorry record now has been added the macro error of choosing sides in Islam’s sectarian civil war. It should have been obvious to even the novice that any contribution to its exacerbation was detrimental to the United States’ interests and to those of the region as a whole. Instead, we have jumped in like fools where angels dare not tread. It is apparent that the implications of incremental decisions made disjointedly over time never were thought through – if thought about at all.
An ancillary error, as highlighted in this discussion, is the elementary mistake of having “chosen” the “wrong” side. By this I mean that it is a basic principle of realpolitik that an outside power that seeks (for sound reason or other) to intervene in such a situation to its advantage should not associate itself with the weaker side, as a matter of principle. The reasons are too obvious to cite. It is hardly surprising that the maladroit Obama crowd should add this misjudgment its long list of tragic mistakes.
Elsewhere in the region, the reverberations from the Russian intervention are also being felt. The most immediate effects are to diminish Israeli and Turkey hopes for using the civil war to advance their own ends. The Saudi royal family, enmeshed in a succession crisis and stressed by its imperial war in Yemen, is unprepared to change course and instead will persevere in its self-defined mortal combat with Iran and its Syrian ally. As to Iraq, the equivocations and incompetence of the United States over the past year have made the al-Abadi government sympathetic to the arrival of Russia on the scene. It strengthens their hand in playing off Washington, Teheran and now Moscow while adding a powerful military ally in the fight against ISIL. That is why they have gone so far as to join the Russian sponsored alliance and welcomed establishment of an intelligence and planning cell in Baghdad. This ‘4 + 1’ unit registered its first success on October 11 when it prompted an Iraqi airstrike that killed a number of Daesh leaders on a road near Ramadi and injured al-Baghdadi himself.
A paradoxical twist is the opening of a divide in the Sunni bloc. Egypt and Jordan within days expressed their backing for the Russian military campaign. Al-Sisi in Cairo made it clear that the Islamists of all stripes (including the offshoots and residue of the Mother Brotherhood who play a minor role in the ranks of the opposition) are politically haram. He sees them as a menace to his rule which, as such, must be crushed. That takes precedence over removing Assad or curtailing the Shi’ite bloc. So strong is this conviction that al-Sisi saw fit to break with the Saudis on this issue despite Egypt’s critical dependence on the KAS’ financial largesse. As far as the American view is concerned, he continues to discount it in the aftermath of what he views as Washington’s betrayal in its acceptance of the Morsi government.
A similar line of thinking prevails in Amman where King Abdullah is well aware that both al-Nusra and ISIL have his monarchy in their sights. Moreover, he is more vulnerable in terms of geography and the fragility of Jordanian national identity. Defection of Egypt and Jordan jeopardizes the informal coalition of status quo powers that the United States has sought to reconstitute in the wake of the Iraq and Arab Spring upheavals. That odd-fellow grouping brought together the KSA, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and, implicitly, the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority. Their common enemies were radical Islam, Iran and its allies, and popular democracy.
It remains to be seen whether the fissures created by the Russian intervention will endure. One consequence is that it provides a further incentive for the U.S. to tighten its embrace of the Saudis and the Gulfies as staunch allies. That conclusion does mean overlooking their financial and material backing for Islamist extremists and their reckless assault in Yemen. Obama’s overriding concern to placate them in the aftermath of the Iranian nuclear deal, which they ardently opposed, is cited as the principal motivation behind this policy of concession and deference.
Another factor is the high value that Washington places on the military bases they make available. The Pentagon has pressured the White House hard to avoid doing anything that might call into question current arrangements. So long as some possible hot war with Iran is contemplated, they retain significant value for both the defense establishment and the President. Indeed, so long as the American military strategy aims at maintenance of “full spectrum dominance” in that part of the world, basing rights will trump other considerations no matter what path relations with the IRI take.
Taken together, these developments associated with the sudden entry of Russia into Syria, reestablishing itself as a Middle East power, have the net effect of weakening the American position. Since its loosely drawn goals remain maximalist and constant, the discrepancy will bedevil Washington policy-makers who already manifestly lack the adequate talents to manage the maelstrom of forces at work in the region.
In the broader perspective, Russia’s move into Syria has overturned some central pillars of the American worldview. As Alistair Crooke has written, since the Cold war’s end “NATO effectively has made all the decisions about war and peace. It faced no opposition and no rival. Matters of war were effectively a solely internal debate within NATO — about whether to proceed or not, and in what way. That was it. It didn’t matter much about what others thought or did. Those on the receiving end simply had to endure it.” That manifestly is no longer the case – whether in Europe or in the Middle East.
What irritates Washington more than anything else is the display of Russian military prowess thought relegated to history. Moreover, it has been done with impressive speed and efficiency. The unipolar moment that lasted for a quarter of a century is gone. America resists accepting that new reality. Hence, the denigration of Russia simultaneously with steps to impede its efforts in Syria rather than to form a tacit partnership.
These compounded frustrations lie behind the incandescent outrage at Russia’s temerity by American officials and the entire commentariat. The latter category includes highly regarded veteran “Sovietologists” like Strobe Talbott (former high official and now head of the Brookings Institution) and David Remnick (author of excellent books on the break-up of the Soviet Union and now editor of The New Yorker) whose supposed intimate knowledge of Russia is belied by the tenor of their emotional anti-Putin diatribes at once simplistic and at variance with the facts. Americans are reacting erratically to omens of the country’s mortality as global hegemon.
One never should underestimate the extent to which belief in American exceptionalism/superiority sustains collective and individual self-esteem.