Rick Sterling's research
deserves wide attention. But before we get to his findings, let's have a refresher course in the basics. (Feel free to skip the next few paragraphs if you already know this stuff.)
As most of you know, "the West" -- which means, in this case, the US, Israel, the UK and (weirdly) the Saudis -- has long sought the removal of Bashar Assad of Syria. "The West" therefore funded and armed a rebellion against Assad. Our proxy warriors were split into three main factions: The Nusra front (Islamic jihadis), ISIS (even worse Islamic jihadis) and the Free Syrian Army (alleged moderates). These three rebel factions have often worked together, but have also fought many vicious turf battles among themselves.
Obama likes to pretend that we have aided only the FSA, not the jihadis. That claim isn't true. We helped the Islamic religious maniacs for one simple reason: They're badasses. They like to kill people. In a war, killers are useful. Meanwhile, the moderates in the FSA have often displayed backbones streaked with cadmium yellow.
Despite all the help "the West" gave to its proxy armies, Assad's forces were on the verge, last year, of winning the Syrian civil war. At that point, the fundamentalist Sunni zealots who run ISIS sensed weakness to the south. They went marauding into Iraq, routing the hapless Iraqi army and conquering an astonishing amount of territory in record time. The rest of the world was appalled by the outrageous atrocities which this newborn theocracy has committed against non-Sunnis.
The ISIS invasion of Iraq indicates that "our" jihadis have slipped out of our control. Thus, the American military has returned to the region to strangle the Islamic State in its crib. At the same time, Obama promised to train and "vet" the Free Syrian Army. (They've been vetted before. This time, the administration has promised to give them a really, really good
vetting. We're gonna vet the hell
out of 'em.) In the near future, we are told, the FSA and only
the FSA will lead the fight against Assad.
Alas, there are many problems with this scenario. First: The line separating FSA and ISIS is actually quite indistinct.
Sterling has uncovered photographic and video evidence which demonstrates that Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi -- one of "our" top moderates in the FSA -- is very close to ISIS. In fact, he is so close as to be a member of the team.
The image to the right shows Okaidi (in camo gear) with ISIS fighters. That's ISIS leader Abu Jandal in the center. Compare this picture to the one above, which shows Okaidi meeting with the American ambassador.
(By the way: What kind of "ambassador" openly meets with a rebel leader trying to conquer the country in which that ambassador serves? I can't think of a single precedent for this situation. Can you?)
Who is the puppet, and who holds the strings?
Some say that ISIS has no independence of movement or thought. Some say that ISIS began life as an American marionette and continues to perform that function.
But there are other ways to interpret the evidence. One such explanation comes to us by way of Flynt Leverett, the former CIA analyst who was censored by the Agency when he argued for a change in US policy toward Iran.
In a recent piece published in The Consortium
, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett argue that ISIS is now manipulating the United States. The jihadi plan is to goad us into overreaction: They know that American intervention in the region only increases the appeal of Islamic extremism.
The Leveretts believe that the popularity of ISIS continues to grow within the Sunni world:
In July 2014 — that is, before the United States began its current air campaign against Islamic State targets in Iraq — a poll by the (Saudi-owned) pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat showed that 92 percent of Saudis believe that the group “conforms to the values of Islam and Islamic law.”
In Jordan and Kuwait, Facebook posts by the Islamic State draw tens of thousands of likes in just a few hours; Twitter feeds and other social media suggest that there is a considerable reservoir of popular support for the movement among Jordanians, Kuwaitis, Saudis and other Arab populations. Saudi Arabia and Jordan have generated large contingents of young men who have left their home countries to fight with the Islamic State, which draws holy warriors from across the Sunni world.
Under these conditions, U.S. military action against the Islamic State will once again play into the jihadi grand strategy: to draw “crusaders” (the West, embodied in the United States) and “infidels” (Shi’a) into battle against Sunni holy warriors, thereby rallying support for them across the Sunni world.
So which is it? Is ISIS the puppet of America, or the puppeteer
of America? Can we reconcile Leverett's analysis with what we've learned from Rick Sterling (not to mention lots of other people)?
First, let's restate the obvious: The neocons built up ISIS to function as a proxy army against Syria. It is also reasonable to suspect that the neocons wanted, at some later date, to use this army against Iran.
But was the ISIS incursion into Iraq
part of the plan?
Sorry, but I just can't buy into that idea. Obama had zero
reason to want to be dragged back into that morass. Despite his many faults, the President knows that most Americans would have preferred never again to hear any mention of Iraq.
Thus, I would characterize ISIS as a former
puppet which has snapped its strings and turned on the puppeteer.
Meanwhile, the Israelis may be rethinking their foolish policy of preferring Sunni maniacs to the existing governments of Syria and Iran. We've explored this possibility in previous posts.
So, yes: It is true that ISIS once received aid and weaponry from us -- or at least from our Saudi/Qatari/Turkish allies, who no doubt acted with America's blessing and encouragement. But we can recognize this fact of history while also admitting that ISIS has morphed into a genuine foe of the United States.
The Bin Laden precedent.
The Leveretts lose me when they bring Osama Bin Laden into the discussion:
In effect, the Islamic State is continuing the strategy pioneered by bin Laden 13 years ago, daring Washington to escalate U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria.
Did Bin Laden do that? Did Bin Laden predict that Bush would use the 9/11 attack as an excuse for attacking Saddam Hussein?
If your answer is "yes," can you prove your contention by pointing to a specific Bin Laden statement? I'm looking for something he said in the days before
it became it obvious that Bush would go into Iraq.
Although no-one can deny that our invasion did
spread radicalism throughout the region (there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq before we showed up), the question is: Did Bin Laden know what Bush would do? Where's the proof
that Bin Laden knew what Bush would do?
Please understand: I'm open to the Leverett theory, but I also know the difference between theory and proof.
Give peace (with Assad) a chance.
Fortunately, the Leveretts shift to a stronger argument:
The proposition that there is a moderate Syrian opposition with enough military potential and — even more importantly — popular support inside Syria to overthrow the Assad government is a myth. To claim in addition that these mythical moderate oppositionists can take on and defeat the Islamic State is either blatantly dishonest or dangerously delusional.
To have even a token chance of dealing effectively with the Islamic State, Washington needs to acknowledge the mistaken premises of its Syria policy — that Assad has lost the support of most Syrians and can be overthrown by externally-supported oppositionists — and recognize that ending the anti-Assad insurgency is essential to cutting off the Islamic State’s base in northeastern Syria.
Just so. There can be no war against Sunni radicalism unless this country gives up its mad crusade to topple Bashar Assad's secular government.
I cannot understand why we have pursued a policy which encourages the ancient Sunni-Shiite conflict to spiral out of control. Why? Why on earth would we want to transform this religious division into a worldwide conflagration, with America backing the Sunnis and Russia backing the Shiites?
The Sunni regimes we have befriended (especially that of Saudi Arabia) tend to be run by despots who make Bashar Assad look like a bunny rabbit. Why would we side with such people?
A real regional strategy against the Islamic State would necessarily include Russia, Iran and Syria’s Assad government — in leading positions. For those actors are all essential players in any serious effort to contain and roll back the multifaceted challenged this movement poses.
Yet senior Obama administration officials have ruled out working with either Iran or the Assad government, and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, complains that the administration’s dialogue with Moscow about the Islamic State — if it can appropriately be called “dialogue” — is much more pro forma than substantive.
Why are we doing what we are doing?
Isn't it time to admit our error? Bashar Assad is indeed a bastard; I've read no arguments in his favor. Even his fellow Alawites tend to despise him. But the harsh reality is that we cannot make war on both ISIS and the enemy of ISIS at the same time. We must choose. Why can't we come to our senses and make peace -- perhaps a temporary peace, a tactical peace -- with the present government of Syria?