Friday, September 5, 2014

America, ISIS, and Syria: We have to bomb the jihadis in order to save them

Does it take more than one full minute of thought to see what’s going on here?

The short version:
  • ISIS is the product of years of American military intervention in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. ISIS is the creature of an imperial enterprise—a global effort to bring down the Syrian state using jihadi proxies that included the U.S and its allies--Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, and Israel, at least—that could only have proceeded, “at the bidding of,” and managed by, the imperial center. It was by surfing the American-directed “cataract” of weaponry and funds directed against Syria that ISIS became an international jihadi movement surpassing Al-Qaeda itself. Without that American intervention, there would be no ISIS.

  • In this regard, ISIS is only the latest in a series of worst-ever takfiri groups that has been cooked up in the stew of jihadi proxy fighters the U.S. and its allies have been serving up since the its holy war in Afghanistan in 1979—the one where Zbigniew Brzezinski told Bin Laden’s jihadis, “God is on your side.”1 As Gilbert Mercier quipped, “Just like al-Qaeda, ISIS is the secret love child of United States imperialism and the kings and sheiks of the Gulf states.”2
  • An American (“coalition”) military attack on Syria will not destroy ISIS, and will not have the primary purpose of destroying ISIS; it will target and degrade the Syrian military, and its primary purpose will be to destroy the Syrian state’s capacity to resist the onslaught of jihadi rebels, including ISIS—a “rebellion” which hasn’t been going so well recently. The Obama administration knows, and says, that an American military attack will not defeat ISIS. It also knows, and says (sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, depending on the audience), that its main objective will be to help the jihadi onslaught succeed. “A­ssad must go” is still the prime directive; the jihadis are still the most effective instrument for that. ISIS changes nothing, except to help sell military intervention to the Western publics. In a number of ways, ISIS has intervened to save the jihadi rebellion from defeat. It’s the reverse of the Vietnam rule: We have to bomb the jihadis in order to save them.

For those who want the details, the long version:

I started this blog two years ago, on August 23, 2012, with a post on Syria, and have written eight posts touching on the Syrian situation. My penultimate post on Syria, was on August 30 of last year, in the midst of the “Syrian chemical weapons attack” hysteria.  Donning his best rhetorical Sunday suit of moral outrage, and in full warpaint, Obama was ready to do a Libya on Syria. Just before I published, the British parliament had voted against joining the attack, but I still felt 100% certain that Obama would proceed, with or without Congress, within a few days.  In my last Syria post, on September 11, I was happy to have been wrong about that absolute certainty and that timing. It was clear by then that the American people overwhelmingly opposed intervention, and, just as I was publishing that post, the Russians came up with the plan to destroy Syrian chemical weapons. It seemed that the path to war on Syria was becoming more complicated than Obama and the whole bipartisan, neocon/neoliberal humanitarian/military interventionist complex (i.e. the imperialist U.S. government) had hoped, but I still held that there was a 95% probability that the United States would attack Syria.

Since then, I have sat on my itchy fingers regarding the subject. It was clear to me that there were now serious impediments to launching an American military attack on Syria. There was too much popular resistance, in Europe and America, against another expensive, wasteful, and seemingly (from the perspective of political rationality) pointless war; there was too much knowledge about the increasingly jihadi, and increasingly savage,3 Syrian “rebels” (including their almost certain responsibility for the “chemical weapons” attack Obama and Kerry so self-righteously blamed on Assad); there was too much awareness that the overthrow of the Syrian government by American intervention would have the same disastrous results as Iraq and Libya: replacing a coherent, if authoritarian, polity with a field of rampaging sectarianism and jihadi violence.  On the other hand, the U.S. and its allies—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Israel—never gave up on supporting the Syrian and not-so-Syrian “rebels,” and on their insistence that “Assad must go.” And it should be clear to everyone that they do not care if Syria becomes a chaotic jihadi playground—that, in fact, that is the goal. (See those eight posts.)

Not for a second, during the past year, was I tempted to put my lips together and whistle the happy tune that Obama had really, truly, turned the corner into his real, true, progressive non-interventionist self. As a conscientious steward of imperialism and Zionism (the latter, as indicated below, being a lot of what any Syrian policy is about), the Obama administration cannot renege on the policy commitment it has so forcefully and repeatedly made (In whose interest?) to destroy the Syrian state. Obama is smart enough to realize that, in order to avoid the shitstorm of resistance in Europe and America that he encountered last year, and to maintain not further shred the threadbare ethical-political credibility of the U.S. in the world, any outright American attack on Syria will require something that can pass (for the happy tunesters, at least) as an urgent, inescapable, “humanitarian” justification. The “chemical weapons” pretext that the Russians so rudely snatched from his trigger fingers last year is gone and, revealed as completely phony in the first place,4 ain’t coming back. What’s a poor, lost liberal imperialist to do?


What better enemy could we hope for? Seeming (to deliberately mis-informed Americans) to appear suddenly out of nowhere, led by a mysterious Rolex-wearing Islamic fundamentalist villain, armed and financed to the teeth, not only fanatic but disciplined and well-trained—ISIS has been rampaging through Iraq and Syria, defeating conventional armies, seizing town after town after military base, proclaiming—and establishing credible authority over—an Islamic caliphate covering more territory than Great Britain, and, all the while, butchering anyone who stands in its way.5 Fair game for ISIS execution are all Shia and any other Muslim who deviates from its strict Sunni takfiri dogma, anyone who is of another faith, anyone it considers an “infidel”—hell, anyone at all it feels like killing. Along the way, it proudly advertises its exploits and its brutality in well-produced social media spots. All of this culminating—for Americans and Europeans, in the same month our ally Saudi Arabia beheaded 19 people, and our ally Israel killed 500 children—in the brutal beheading of two American reporters.

Hell, who wouldn’t want to destroy these guys? I sure do.

And that is exactly what Obama is counting on: Now, I can go to the people, now I can go the Congress, and show them the evil we must eradicate. It has an easy-to-remember/catchy name; it has a violent TV show; it has an ugly, bearded face; It has the head of James Foley in its bloody hands. Everyone will understand. This evil, we must eliminate. We just must. We must bomb them in Syria, where they have established strong bases of operation, as we are now doing in Iraq.

In a cute bit of political alchemy, “chemical weapons” have become ISIS.

It Depends on What IS is

Might we pause for a moment, however, to consider where these guys came from? Because they did not appear out of the desert sand a month ago. And ISIS sure qualifies as one of those “if it didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it” phenomena.

Starting with Iraq, let’s remember that the American invasion of that country destroyed a coherent, secular, relatively advanced Arab state, and gave rise to a previously unseen Sunni-Shia sectarianism—including, predictably, a previously unseen al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). In 2010, after the Americans had killed off most of the leadership of that organization (that hadn’t existed before the American intervention), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who had been a deputy in AQI, emerged from five years in an American prison to become its new leader.6

Seeing the opportunities provided by the Syrian civil war, al-Baghdadi established a Syrian Al-Qaeda franchise, Jabbat al-Nusra. When tensions broke out with al-Nusra, al-Baghdadi rebranded AQI as ISIS (or ISIL, now IS)—an international jihadi movement that would seek to subsume or defeat all other Syrian jihadi groups (including al-Nusra).

As the civil war in Syria heated up, ISIS was nourished by the U.S.-directed (by CIA Director David Petraeus and “senior White House officials”) “cataract” of weaponry, funds, and radical Islamist fighters that poured into the Syrian civil war through the good graces of the Gulf States and Turkey. Not to mention England and Croatia. (Croatia?! Arms were pouring in from everywhere.) The Telegraph described just the little-known Zagreb hub of this effort thusly: “The United States has coordinated a massive airlift of arms to Syrian rebels from Croatia with the help of Britain and other European states, despite the continuing European Union arms embargo,” an enterprise “paid for by Saudi Arabia at the bidding of the United States.”7

Oh, and don’t forget Libya, where the real Benghazi backstory was about the re-gifting of arms supplied to the jihadis there to those in Syria. Retired Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney says, flat out: “Some of those weapons from Benghazi ended up in the hands of ISIS. So we helped build ISIS.”8 And Israel, which, you might think, would recoil from supporting such crazy Muslims, actually runs field hospitals for jihadi rebels in the Golan Heights, where the Golani Brigade “maintain[s] heavy security around the Syrians in order to maintain their anonymity and thus ensure their safe return” (to combat, of course).9

So claims that the American-managed flood of weaponry, money, intelligence, etc, only went to properly “vetted,” “moderate,” only kinda-sorta-jihadi rebels in Syria are patently ridiculous. No matter how good the initial “vetting,” who can stop the Free Syrian Army “good rebel” who has been armed and trained by the CIA in Jordan from walking across the wadi—alone or with his whole brigade—to officially join the ISIS “bad rebels,” alongside whom he has been fighting already, and who are now winning all the battles? Nobody has,10 and nobody will.

Further, as William Engdahl reports, citing “informed Jordanian officials,” “key members of ISIS” may have been “trained by US CIA and Special Forces command at a secret camp in Jordan in 2012, … the j US training camps in Jordan and elsewhere have trained perhaps several thousand Muslim fighters in techniques of irregular warfare, sabotage and general terror. The claims by Washington that they took special care not to train ‘Salafist’ or jihadist extremists, is a joke. [sic] How do you test if a recruit is not a jihadist? Is there a special jihad DNA that the CIA doctors have discovered?”11

Fact is, in Syria, as veteran reporter Patrick Cockburn knows, the U.S. and its allies “claim they are training and funding a ‘moderate’ military opposition but this no longer exists in any strength on the ground.”12 Obama himself has complained about the “difficulty [of] finding, training and arming a sufficient cadre of secular Syrian rebels.” saying it’s “always been a fantasy” that any such force would defeat Assad.13

As for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is supposed to be that secular alternative—well, it’s more of a Captive American Army: “The leadership of the FSA is American,” says [a] veteran officer …“The Americans are completely marginalizing the military staff.” It’s also demoralized and in disarray, its arms-length Syrian commanders afraid of “Going ‘back to Syria,’ as [Chief of Staff Gen. Abdul-Ilah al Bashir]  calls the plan,…If air cover is not provided by the United States and its allies,…[because] they will be targets for Assad’s air force.” So the West’s hand-picked secular leaders are afraid to set foot in their own country except under the umbrella of American bombs. The Caliph don’t get no air support. Yet there he is, in thick of it. Who do you think will end up winning “on the ground” if Assad goes?14

As one Syrian rebel, who had, unsurprisingly, fought in Afghanistan, said: “Syria . . . will be an Islamic and Sharia state… We will not accept anything else. Democracy and secularism are completely rejected.”15

Regarding its unique sources of arms and financing: Until recently ISIS has been getting its weapons and money from the same source as every other Syrian rebel group. And, if ISIS now has tons of advanced American weaponry taken from the pride of the new Iraqi army, hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Mosul’s banks (a city that was “handed over” to ISIS by Iraqi army commanders), and a cadre of experienced officer’s from Saddam’s army, all of which provide significantly more fighting power and financial autonomy—well, that’s the fruit of American democracy-building invasion, too, is it not?16 Since June, Obama, so concerned about radical Islamists, has been asking for another $500 million17 for Syrian “rebels,” a significant chunk of which, any fool knows, is going to end up at the disposal of ISIS.

Earlier this year, before ISIS’s sudden and dramatic capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, caused the Western media to notice, the UN special envoy to Iraq stated the obvious: that the civil war in Syria was "affording terrorist networks the occasion to forge links across the [Iraq-Syria] border and expand their support base."18 It’s thanks to the determination of the United States and its allies to destroy the last bastion of secular nationalism in Syria that, over the past eighteen months,  ISIS has been able to inexorably absorb or defeat most of the other jihadi groups fighting against Assad, and, concurrently, win and hold towns and territory in both Syria and Iraq, with the ambition of creating a new Caliphate encompassing the entire “Levant.”

Understanding all this, after about a minute of thought: “it should be evident to even the most uninformed, that US meddling in the Middle East has led directly to the regional chaos now unfolding, and that the last possible option for defeating jihadism in the region is for the US to continue meddling.”19

And after another half minute, it should be obvious that ISIS is not the primary target of proposed American military attacks in Syria.

Isn’t it amazing that, during the past two years, al-Baghdadi has been able to move his forces freely back and forth between Iraq and Syria, wheeling around the deserts in long convoys of white pickups, obtained below-invoice from Petraeus Toyota, the only dealership in town? He was able to capture important territory, from oil fields in Syria to Fallujah in Iraq—a city that was the scene of the most high-drama, high-carnage battle of the American invasion. He was able to command and televise the beheading of legions of Syrian and Iraqi soldiers and civilians. Did all of this pass unremarked by state-of-the-art American satellites overhead, and surveillance stations all around? Was the NSA too busy listening to Americans’ phone sex chats?  And the American media, too busy watchdogging the Kardashians? There was certainly no alarm raised from the U.S. government and press about the evil “beyond anything that we've seen…. an imminent threat to every interest we have,…anywhere.”20

And there was no threat of American military action, during any of this, not even when ISIS took control of Syrian oil-producing areas, and profited from selling oil to all takers, including the Syrian government. It was only when Erbil and the Kurdish oil fields were threatened by ISIS—and not primarily to save the Yazidis, who were mostly rescued by Syrian Kurds—that the U.S. began bombing ISIS forces in Iraq.21

It’s important to note that, during the last two years, the Syrian army was engaged in fighting and winning its war against other jihadi groups. Don’t take my word for that: In March, the Washington Post headlined: “Assad is steadily winning the war,” and in June 6—four days before ISIS seized Mosul—the Times of Israel headlined: “Syria's Assad Has Won Civil War,” noting that he had secured control of “70-80 percent of essential Syria.”22 Only after its recent string of brutal conquests of Syrian military bases, does ISIS now fully control Raqqa province (the Syrian government still controls all others), and threaten the strategic city of Aleppo.23 ISIS to the rescue.

In Iraq, much has been made, rightly, I think, about the extreme Shia sectarianism of the al-Maliki government, which certainly has been a factor that led Sunni officers to join, and Sunni towns to welcome, ISIS forces.  Of course, the growth of Sunni-Shia sectarianism in Iraq was a predictable—and, arguably, deliberate—result of the American-enforced “regime change,” and Maliki was the preferred American candidate eight years ago. Nor is it clear that the new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, “the United States’ preferred candidate since late June,” who is from the same Shia Islamist party as Maliki, will be any less sectarian. It may be more important to note that Maliki—who spent his years in exile in Syria, Jordan, and Iran—had encouraged Iraq’s rapprochement with Iran (also a predictable result of "regime change"). Extremely wary of the possible spillover effects of the jihadi war in Syria to Iraq, he also, much “to U.S. dismay,” tolerated the flow of arms to the government of Syria.”24 Regarding Abadi, who spent over twenty years in exile in London, where his family still lives, “Iran was said to be worried about his Western background, and Iranian leaders have not had the close working relationship with Mr. Abadi that they have had with other Iraqi Shiite leaders over the years.”25

The point: Whatever the U.S. says it is doing with its military attacks in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is not the primary enemy. Syria and Iran are.

If ISIS, or the fanatical jihadism it represents, were the main enemy, the most effective strategy would be for the most powerful countries in the world to simply stop arming and funding jihadi armies, starting in Syria. If the United States were more interested in stopping the rampage of ISIS than in destroying the secular Syrian state, it would, as the imperial power, order the other countries that do its bidding to close the pipeline that is feeding the beast. It would coordinate its efforts with the countries in the region—Syria, Iran, and Iraq—best situated to mount an effective military, political, and social offensive against the takfiri jihadism that threatens them most of all.

It does not take too many minutes of thought to figure this out.

But the U.S. will not do that, because defeating jihadism is not the American priority.

So we now get what seems a ludicrous mishmash of contradictory initiatives, designed to attack worst-ever-imminent-threat-to-everything ISIS in one spot, while continuing to support their fight in another. Patrick Cockburn accurately describes it this way: “In Iraq, the West supports the government in Baghdad and its counterparts in … Kurdistan … in their battle to stop Isis. But in Syria Western policy is to weaken and displace Assad, though his government is the only force in Syria capable of battling Isis successfully.” And we have what David Stockman calls the “odd/even day plan” to bomb both sides in Syria, as reported by The Onion AP: “In an effort to avoid unintentionally strengthening the Syrian government, the White House could seek to balance strikes against the Islamic State with attacks on Assad regime targets.”26

To non-Hobbesian reasonable minds, who might think America’s goals in the region are something like removing fanatical jihadi groups like ISIS, and promoting peace and stability, this all seems barking mad.

But there is a logic at work here, though it’s based on entirely different priorities. One understands nothing about ISIS, Syria, Iraq, or Washington, D.C., unless one understands the genealogy, and consistency, of the policy in play.  We’ve mentioned America’s “God is on your side” policy in Afghanistan, where, in order to defeat “godless communism,” the U.S. created a jihadi army with global ambitions. This army was the original ancestor of all significant jihadi movements since. I’s children are seeded through every one, and are the fathers of most. Afghanistan begat Al-Qaeda, which begat Al Qeada in Iraq, which begat Al-Nusra in Syria, which begat ISIS.

Closer to the present, we can see an upgrade of America’s policy of jihadi instrumentalism, now targeted at destroying states throughout the Arab and Muslim world that are resistant to the hegemony of the United States and its various allies. This is the policy that, in his important 2007 article, Seymour Hersh called  “the redirection” (though, by that time, it was really a recommitment)—namely, the United States’ turn to “bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.” The U.S., he emphasizes, has adopted the position that “the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies,” and has committed to “clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah,” and are “aimed at Iran and its ally Syria.” Hersh attributes this strategic redirection to “the Saudis and some in the Administration,” calling it “a victory for the Saudi line.”27

Now Hersh is surely correct that the Saudis encouraged this embrace of Sunni radicalism—which they no doubt assured the Americans they would help pay for and control—as the “lesser evil” to Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. But sentient political beings, looking at that list of “greater evils,” will understand that “some in the Administration” were much more likely promoting the “line” of another country than Saudi Arabia.

Here, for example, is the Israeli line, as given by its outgoing ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, last year:
“The initial message about the Syrian issue was that we always wanted [President] Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran,” he said.
This was the case, he said, even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated to al-Qaida. 
“We understand that they are pretty bad guys,” he said, adding that this designation did not apply to everyone in the Syrian opposition. “Still, the greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc. That is a position we had well before the outbreak of hostilities in Syria. With the outbreak of hostilities we continued to want Assad to go.28
And here  are excerpts from an article quoting from Sima Shine, of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs:
“Israel’s main strategic threat is Iran. … Therefore, strategically, Israel should examine things from the perspective of what harms Iran and what serves Israel’s agenda in confronting it. If Bashar remains in power, that would be a huge achievement for Iran…”
Those sentiments echo the outlook sounded by former defense minister Ehud Barak, who in an interview with CNN in May 2012 said that Assad’s fall would deal a severe blow to his allies Iran and Hezbollah. … 
“Bashar Assad must not remain in power. Period. What will happen later? God only knows.” 
The alternative, whereby [Assad falls and] Jihadists flock to Syria, is not good. …. But Assad remaining along with the Iranians is worse. His ouster would exert immense pressure on Iran.”29
The Saudi line is the Israeli line is the American line. You decide which of the first two “won” the third.

Of note, regarding the Israeli field hospitals mentioned above: Shine also “hoped the Syrian rebels were being assisted, though was cautious in admitting Israel was indeed providing any such aid….In an event, Israel would not publicly admit assisting the rebels for fear of harming their domestic posture. [She said] ‘That would be bad for the rebels themselves. They do not want to be perceived as being supported by Israel, which — as the occupier of the Golan Heights — is the enemy.’” And it’s equally important for Israel that it not be perceived (By whom?) as anything but the enemy of jihadis.

The net result: The U.S. and its allies prefer the jihadis, with all of their chaotic brutality, to the “greater evil” stable secular state of Syria—and to a list of players who just happen to be the most resistant to Israel. (Please don’t trot out “democracy” or “humanitarian.” Did I mention Saudi Arabia?)

It may be that, with ISIS, the U.S. is now confronting a crisis within this strategy—if not, finally, its inevitable breakdown. I do not think that the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia control as much of this game as they think they do, and ISIS is a dangerous player. Still, I suspect they remain arrogantly (and overly) confident that they can control it, or crush it if need be—and that the Sunni radicalism that ISIS represents remains a “lesser evil,” and a useful vehicle for their deep policy goals.

If those goals involve, as the principals state, the destruction of the remaining coherent states and movements that have enough regional political and military power to significantly resist the particular monarchical-Islamist agenda of Saudi Arabia and the particular Zionist colonialist agenda of Israel, one might well ask why the hell the United States is playing with this fire. Even as an imperialist power, the U.S. could surely come up with a strategy for protecting its influence over the region and its resources that doesn’t require creating failed states. Syria, for example, went right along with the American invasion of Iraq in 1991, and was quite helpful in receiving and torturing rendered “terrorism” suspects on America’s behalf after 9/11.

Saudi Arabia and Israel might have their reasons for wanting jihadis to replace Assad, but what are ours? Do you think it’s because our government consistently adopts the Saudi line? Perhaps the ISIS horror will reveal, to a few more people who think on these questions, how particularly pointless and dangerous it is for America to be playing this game, whoever’s it is.

To evoke yet another stated policy for which today’s jihadis are conveniently helpful, we should recognize that ISIS is finishing off the destruction and breakup of the Iraqi state that the U.S. began with its invasion in 2003. In Iraq, ISIS is executing an American plan, proposed by Joe Biden and Leslie Gelb in 2006, and endorsed by the U.S. Senate in 2007, to split the country into three parts—Sunni, Shia, and Kurd.30

That plan is itself uncannily similar—pure coincidence, I am sure—to an Israeli plan, The Yinon Plan of 1982, which “stipulates that Israel must reconfigure its geo-political environment through the balkanization of the surrounding Arab states into smaller and weaker states….[and] called for the division of Iraq into a Kurdish state and two Arab states.” Which also means ISIS is executing an Israeli plan. Yinon-to-Biden-to-Baghdadi, a triple play in which there’s no Chance for Iraq.31  Remember that the U.S. sat back while ISIS put the finishing touches on the Sunni-Shia split in Iraq, and only intervened when ISIS threatened the already effectively-independent Kurds—who are very close allies of the U.S. and Israel.32

Once Iraq is, like Gaul, divided into three parts, the jihadis can move on to help with the Syrian extension of that plan, “Syria’s fragmentation into provinces,” as gleeful predicted by former Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, who also suggested that “the Arab world is passing through a phase that will restore it back to the way it was before World War I ….[ruling] out the possibility of the emergence of an Arab alliance that would stand in opposition to Israel in the next 10 to 15 years.”33

So, if ISIS has overturning Sykes-Picot on its agenda, it’s finishing off what the U.S. and Israel started. Justin Raimondo catches the point well: “We abolished Sykes-Picot by effectively putting an end to Iraqi statehood…. ISIS didn’t blast Sykes-Picot to pieces: we did, and now we must live with the consequences.”34

Wake-up Call?

We’ll see soon what the U.S really wants, whose program it’s really following.

In Iraq, if the interested in defeating ISIS (and in preserving some semblance of unity), it will support a cooperative endeavor that includes the neighboring regional power—Iran—that, everyone knows, would be the most capable and effective weapon against ISIS. On the other hand, if the U.S. prefers a weak and divided Iraq—even partly overrun by ISIS, as long as it’s by all means kept out of a partnership with Iran—then the U.S. will use its own bombs. It will do this, even knowing it cannot destroy ISIS, but at best keep it within bounds, and knowing that, as ISIS “blends in” with the population, its Western bombs will inevitably “include[e] the possibility of high civilian casualties,” and inevitably create more anti-American jihadis. If it does this, it will be because, for somebody, ISIS is preferable to Iran.35

If the U.S. is truly horrified of ISIS, and wants to destroy it in Syria, it will stop the flow of arms and funds to the Syrian rebels, implicitly acknowledging that this aid inevitably feeds ISIS and other jihadi groups and that jihadis are now the backbone of the Syrian opposition. It will coordinate whatever it does with the Syrian government, which is the most powerful weapon against ISIS, and which has already indicated it is willing to cooperate with the U.S. in fighting ISIS. Nothing would be more effective, and everybody knows it. If, on the other hand, continuing on the Saudi/Israeli “redirection” line, the U.S. prefers jihadis to the Assad government, it will carry out its own military attacks in Syria. These will be directed against both ISIS—again to contain but not destroy it—and against Syrian military targets, in order to make the Syria state more vulnerable to jihadi attacks. Not only will the U.S. play the odd/even day bombing game, it will also pour even more arms and money into the Syrian jihadi rebellion. That is actually what’s presented as the preferred, bipartisan, “tough-guy” solution of the American political and media elites. (Because they follow the Saudi line?)  All of this will hasten the day that Syria devolves into a jihadi playground, and everybody knows it.  And it will turn out that ISIS emerged to save the rebellion from defeat.

The possibility of the United States doing the right thing here—that is, the most effective thing for the purpose of defeating ISIS and reinforcing the stability of the region, is virtually nil. It would require implicitly admitting that the whole strategy of America’s fomenting the jihadi feeding frenzy during the past four years was not only a crime, but an error—an error that Western military attacks would only compound. It would involve at least implicitly partnering with Syria and Iran, and breaking sharply from that Saudi/Israeli-jihadi/Zionist line. Not likely.

Most liberal-minded Americans think they know what the Saudis want, and recognize its dangers: the elimination of secular Arab nationalism and republicanism, the defeat of Iran and the crushing of the organized Shia community in the region, and the ascendance of their brand of fundamentalist, Wahhabi Islam. ISIS and the jihadis serve those purposes well, and the Saudis are convinced they can control their spigots.

Most liberal-minded Americans still don’t want to recognize, to perceive, what the Israelis are after: 1) The destruction and “balkanization” of every state in the region that materially supports the Palestinian struggle and is capable of putting up effective resistance to Zionist colonialism, and 2) The continued support of the Western, and especially American, liberal-minded publics for that colonialism, whose past and present savagery is becoming more apparent. Being surrounded by increasingly brutal gangs of jihadi beheaders, to whom they can associate the Palestinian people, serves that purpose well. It will, they hope, allow for the increased ethno-supremacist violence—the killing and/or forced expulsion of not hundreds, but tens of thousands of Palestinians—that Israel thinks will bring its colonial project to a settled finish. Israel is not after jihadis; it is after your perception. As the Association of Arab-American University Graduates said, commenting on the Yinon plan, “the Zionist hope is that sectarian-based states become Israel's satellites and, ironically, its source of moral legitimation.”36

For Israel, all kinds of policies that create and support these jihadis serve these purposes very well. Israel knows what kind of radicalism the young of Gaza, who saw their families blown apart around them, might be prone to. And Israel knows that the American bombing of Syria, and the overthrow of the Syrian state, is inevitably going to mean even more “jihadists flocking to Syria.” And that’s fine with them. They really think they can control that with their, and our, weapons of destruction and distraction.37

Because at least one of these “lines” has a tenacious grip on our foreign policy in the region, it is very likely that any American actions against ISIS in Syria—almost inevitable, at this point—will involve military attacks, launched without even the implicit consent of the Syrian government—acts of war, designed to degrade the Syrian army and undermine the coherence of the Syrian state.

This time I won’t give a percentage, and I still hope I am wrong, but I don’t think enough Americans have yet gotten the wake-up call.  Working the magic that “chemical weapons” couldn’t, ISIS, I’m afraid, will be the excuse for escalating the war we are already waging on Syria, and will produce the same result American interventions have produced time and time again in the region.  Unfortunately, American foreign policy has been aptly summed-up by the other villain of the day: "No matter where the US gets involved, they always achieve the same result: Libya."38

Related posts:
Notes and Links

37 As I said in my first post, it is virtually impossible to think the United States would have undertaken such a radically destabilizing campaign in Syria without assuring Israel that it would have a free hand to deal with whatever threats it perceives in post-Assad Syria.


  1. I think your remarks are right on target about the present Administration favoring radical jihadists over Assad. I believe it is all part of a grand strategy favoring radical Islamists over secular or moderate authorities--Ghadaffi, the current regime in Egypt, Hussein, and Assad, all under the guise of trying to bring about democracy.

    I would however like to see a follow up article about what you think should be done about the crimes against humanity, particularly the religious persecutions, in which ISIS is deeply implicated. While I deplore the cynical reasons for the bombing of the jihadists, I cannot help being it is taking place, even though it is too little, too late, and only helps the persecuted to a limited extent.

  2. I. certainly agree that ISIS is committing, and should be punished for, crimes against humanity. One big problem now is that the US has so undermined and discredited the structures of international law that are supposed to deal with such things that it's hard to see a process unfolding that would have the confidence of the world (especially the Arab and Muslim world). If American and Israeli (and maybe Saudi, for that matter) war criminals aren't put in the dock, the process would have no credibility.

  3. Excellent. I came here via a NYTimes comment and glad I did. This whole thing has stunk since first mention of worst-ever-omg ISIS began, our fingerprints all over it. Counterterrorism, our policy of late in Iraq in Afg, is still terrorism, and we're teaching it--quite well it appears, plus the PR arm.
    Tonight Obama's speech didn't mention Iran. Thank you for spelling it all out and including important links.

  4. Thanks, Julie. It's getting depressing, seeing the same nonsense played out over and over again.


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