The NYT published a genuinely fascinating story the other day.
It discusses a CIA study (to which Obama once made oblique public reference) on the usefulness of an "astroturf" rebel army, in those cases when the American government wishes to see a foreign government toppled and replaced. The CIA admits that this gambit rarely succeeds.
The still-classified review, one of several C.I.A. studies commissioned in 2012 and 2013 in the midst of the Obama administration’s protracted debate about whether to wade into the Syrian civil war, concluded that many past attempts by the agency to arm foreign forces covertly had a minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict. They were even less effective, the report found, when the militias fought without any direct American support on the ground.
The findings of the study, described in recent weeks by current and former American government officials, were presented in the White House Situation Room and led to deep skepticism among some senior Obama administration officials about the wisdom of arming and training members of a fractured Syrian opposition.
May I ask the obvious question? If the trick rarely works -- if the CIA told Obama "Don't expect this trick to work" -- then why did we fund a rebel army in Syria?
(Actually, many reports hold that the rebels were funded by our allies, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. But those nations would not have acted against our will; they may even have functioned as middle-men for our CIA.)
One exception, the report found, was when the C.I.A. helped arm and train mujahedeen rebels fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan during the 1980s, an operation that slowly bled the Soviet war effort and led to a full military withdrawal in 1989. That covert war was successful without C.I.A. officers in Afghanistan, the report found, largely because there were Pakistani intelligence officers working with the rebels in Afghanistan.
But the Afghan-Soviet war was also seen as a cautionary tale.
Like, duh. If the creation of Al Qaeda counts as success
, I'd hate to see failure
Nevertheless, we (defining "we" broadly) did indeed create a rebellion against Assad. We made sure that these rebels got stores of weapons from Qaddafy's Libya. We trained them in Jordan. We allowed all sorts of assorted maniacs to hop aboard commercial aircraft and fly to the war zone, even though these clowns should have been on the "no fly" lists. We never complain when Israel works with the Nusra front
, the Syrian variant of Al Qaeda. Whether or not we intended ISIS to become what it has become, the fact remains that they got their mitts on a whole lot of American weaponry. And they'd use it to blow us
away, if given the chance.
So why did we do it
? The CIA said "Don't do it!" -- yet we did it. Why?
Assad is a dictator, sure -- but he's no worse a dictator than the guys running Saudi Arabia, and we think they
are just peachy. Assad was not directly threatening our interests. He let the Christian community in Syria live in peace. Looking at the situation from a "What's in it for us?" viewpoint, I see no upside for America (not even for corporate
America) when it comes to this government's mania for toppling Assad.
Moon of Alabama
It could also have been a policy driven by the neocon/liberal-interventionist urge to just "do something" - i.e. to achieve some self-satisfaction.
Or the plan was never to win. If the aim was and is the "destruction of the infrastructure, economy and social fabric of Syria" then arming all kinds of insurgents was and is a sane and successful policy.
In other words, Washington no longer wants to see certain countries ruled by pliant dictators. We would rather see mere anarchy loosed upon the world.
Maybe we really have become the military arm of a Saudi/Israeli alliance. They say "jump" and we jump. They say "bomb" and we bomb. They say "create a rebel army" and we create a rebel army. In Steinbeckian terms, they are George and we are Lenny -- the big, strong goombah who does whatever the smart guy says.
Future generations will see the supreme irony of this situation: Roughly a dozen years after 9/11, we have become the financial angels and weapons dealers to Al Qaeda, or at least to the maniacs who have inherited the Al Qaeda movement.
And guess what? We are making the same mistake all over again
John Allen, the retired Marine general in charge of coordinating the U.S.-led coalition’s response to the Islamic State, confirmed Wednesday what Syrian rebel commanders have complained about for months – that the United States is ditching the old Free Syrian Army and building its own local ground force to use primarily in the fight against the Islamist extremists.
“At this point, there is not formal coordination with the FSA,” Allen told reporters at the State Department.
This time, Allen said, the United States and its allies will work to strengthen the political opposition and make sure it’s tied to “a credible field force” that will have undergone an intense vetting process.
Uh huh. Over the past couple of years, haven't journalists been telling us that we were "vetting" the Free Syrian Army? Readers of the NYT and the WP got the impression that we were vetting the hell
out of those guys.
Have you noticed what's missing in the current scenario?
of things are missing: Rationality, hope, peace, democracy... But I'm referring to something else, something that used to be an important ingredient in the familiar American "regime change" recipe.
There's no false leader. No Syrian pseudo-messiah. No "our guy." No poster-boy. No one to fight for
In the old days, we would pick "our guy" and build him up -- and if he later got too big for his britches, we would tear him down. Think: Ramon Magsaysay, Ferdinand Marcos (and later Corazon Aquino), Anwar Sadat (and later Hosni Mubarak), The Shah of Iran, Carlos Castillo Armas, Augusto Pinochet, Boris Yeltsin. Fidel Castro? Yep, he belongs on this list. Osama Bin Laden? Yes, him too. Some puppets snip the strings early on.
We tried the "false Messiah" trick one last time in Iraq, but Ahmed Chalabi never could pass the laugh test.
Is there a Syrian analog to Ahmed Chalabi? I don't see one. Well, there's the leader of ISIS, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi -- whoever the hell he really is. But I don't think that our intelligence community ever wanted him
to rule huge chunks of Syria.
Here's a weird thought. Had history gone just a bit differently, the lovely "Syrian Girl"
might have made for an interesting Joan of Arc figure. Her family was prominent in Syria, and had come afoul of Assad in years past. (I don't yet know the full story.) But "Mimi" (as she sometimes calls herself, although that is not her real name) has taken a resolutely anti-American position. And who can blame her? Hers is the only reasonable position to take, given the fact that America has been backing Al Qaeda in her native land.
At any rate, for all of the planned training and vetting and vetting and training of the New and Improved Free Syrian Army, everyone in the world knows that the true leader of the New and Improved Free Syrian Army will be the President of the United States. I don't think that many Syrians want to fight and die for Uncle Sam.