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.

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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.

New Hillary Emails Reveal Propaganda, Executions, Coveting Libyan Oil and Gold

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.[1]

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.

 

[1] 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.

Moscow Nights in Latakia: Guest Post by Michael Brenner PhD

New Video Emerges Of Russian Attack Helicopters Opening Fire Over Urban Syria  Screenshot of Russian Mi-24P Hind Attack Helicopters filmed operating over Syria

MbrennerThe 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.