Why Take the Neocons Seriously?

Exclusive: The Sunni extremist offensive into central Iraq appears to have stalled, but the political battle rages in Washington where neocons see an opening to pressure President Obama into recommitting the U.S. military in support of neocon goals in the Middle East, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

As President Barack Obama ponders whether the United States should respond militarily to advances into Iraq by Sunni extremists, the more pertinent question may be why does the mainstream U.S. news media give so much attention and credence to the neocons who laid the foundations for this disaster a decade ago.

It seems that the go-to guys for commentary continue to be the likes of Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of the horsemen of this apocalypse, while many of the same editorial writers at the Washington Post and elsewhere who paved the way to this Iraqi hell still chastise Obama for pulling out the U.S. troops in 2011 and demand that he reinsert the U.S. military now.

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Overall, Official Washington’s commentary on the advance by several thousand fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has bordered on the hysterical, with the panic being used to push Obama to commit U.S. air assets to Iraq and to expand U.S. intervention into Syria.

That’s the case although the ISIS offensive could be explained as more the result of the group facing pressure inside Syria from President Bashar al-Assad’s rejuvenated military and from al-Qaeda-backed militants of the rival Nusra Front than some “breakout” of the ISIS goal of carving a fundamentalist caliphate out of Syria and Iraq.

ISIS may simply have concluded that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s poorly led army was an easier target. Still, ISIS appears to have been surprised by how quickly several divisions of the Iraqi army fled the northern city of Mosul and other positions on the road to Baghdad.

Nevertheless, the result is that we are back to the neocon agenda of “regime change” across the Middle East, ousting governments that Israel finds objectionable, a strategy that evolved in the 1990s and led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. If the Iraq War had not gone so badly, it was expected to set the stage for additional interventions in Syria and Iran.

To burnish their tarnished reputations, the neocons now promote a narrative that treats the Iraq invasion as a stunning success though they acknowledge that the ensuing occupation was poorly managed. But this narrative insists that those mistakes were rectified by President George W. Bush heeding neocon advice to “surge” U.S. troops in 2007, achieving “victory at last” by 2008.

According to the neocons, President Obama then squandered this “victory” by not extending the U.S. military occupation of Iraq indefinitely – and they assert that he also failed by not intervening more directly in Syria to overthrow President Assad.

A common refrain – even among liberal war hawks, like the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – is that Obama should have done much more to arm and train “moderate” rebels in Syria, although it’s never entirely clear who these “moderates” are and whether they have any significant base of support inside Syria.

But the useful myth is that somehow these muscled-up Syrian “moderates” would have prevailed in a two-front war against Assad’s army and the Islamic militants who have been strongly supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Sunni oil sheikdoms.

The more likely outcome would have been that the “moderate” fighters would have only contributed to the violent chaos that has engulfed Syria and thus made an outright victory by the Sunni extremists more likely, not less.

A Sunni extremist victory in Syria also could have been aided by the U.S. hawks’ desire last summer to have Obama launch a massive bombing campaign against Assad’s forces after a disputed Sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.

Though pro-war advocates, including Secretary of State John Kerry, rushed to pin the blame on Assad – despite his denials and indications that the rebels may have released the Sarin as a “false-flag” provocation – Obama veered away from the Syrian bombing at the last minute. Then, with help from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad was convinced to surrender all his chemical weapons.

But that deal only fed the neocon narrative that Obama was weak and indecisive, while the liberal hawks kept embracing the dreamy alternative of the “moderate” rebels somehow winning their two-front war. Having never been fully tested and thus never fully disproved, this hypothetical outcome has remained an easy way to bash Obama.

Extrapolating from the “moderate rebel” myth, the U.S. hardliners argue that Obama is now responsible for the recent successes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in its drive into central Iraq because – if it weren’t for Obama’s unwillingness to plunge into the Syrian civil war – Syria would not have become a staging base for ISIS, the argument goes.

The ISIS Offensive

But there is another way to view the ISIS offensive into Iraq – that it is more a sign of weakness in Syria than strength in Iraq. Inside Syria, these and other rebels have been on the defensive against the Syrian army. ISIS also appears to have lost some financial support from Saudi Arabia as the monarchy has retrenched from its regional proxy wars against Shiite-ruled Iran and Iranian allies, such as Assad.

It appears the waning enthusiasm of the Saudi government for the Syrian adventure has left some of the Sunni militants there in disarray, although the rebels may continue to get significant support from some Saudi princes and other Persian Gulf oil sheiks.

Still, official Saudi adventurism appears to have reached its peak in 2013 under the guidance of then-intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the longtime ambassador to the United States who has been a savvy and ruthless player on the global stage.

Bandar, who worked so closely with President George W. Bush and the Bush Family that he was called “Bandar Bush,” had a geopolitical vision that was complementary to the neocon strategy in Washington. It included an odd-couple alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel in pursuit of their common goals of undermining Shiite-ruled Iran and removing the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Israeli-Saudi Alliance Slips into View.”]

However, Bandar may have overplayed his hand. In a face-to-face meeting with Russia’s Putin last July, Bandar is reported to have implied that Russia’s continued support of Assad might lead Saudi-backed extremists to target the Sochi Winter Olympics with terrorist attacks. That warning prompted a return threat from Putin to hold Saudi Arabia accountable if the Olympics were attacked. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Russian-Saudi Showdown at Sochi.”]

Then, Saudi hopes that Obama would plunge into the Syrian civil war after the Aug. 21 Sarin attack were dashed as Putin helped steer Obama away from that abyss. Putin next assisted in negotiating an interim deal with Iran for restraining its nuclear program, undermining the prospects of a U.S. attack on Iran and solidifying Putin as the new bete noire of the neocons.

With those gambits for reengaging the U.S. military in the Middle East thwarted – and the Saudi hand more exposed than the Saudi monarchy likes – Bandar was sidelined in late 2013 and formally removed from his post on April 15, 2014.

However, I’m told that Bandar’s departure does not mean Saudi money has stopped flowing to the roving bands of Sunni extremists fighting in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere; the financial burden has simply shifted from the Saudi government to individual Saudi princes who have long financed militants with the quiet blessing of the monarchy.

The erstwhile Israel-Saudi alliance also appears to have tumbled along with Bandar’s fall. The cosmopolitan Bandar with his long experience in Washington did not share the hatred of Israeli Jews that is common among the Saudi hierarchy. Thus, Bandar was able to see the value of teaming up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in areas of mutual interest, particularly antipathy toward Iran.

Yet, while that informal Saudi-Israeli collaboration may be in eclipse, the shared interests remain, underscoring why American neocons are so eager to blame Obama for this past week’s offensive by ISIS fighters as they captured Mosul and struck southward toward Baghdad. The offensive revives hope for resuming the neocon strategy of “regime change” in Syria and Iran.

Though now stalled, the ISIS offensive has become the latest rationale for arguing that Obama must recommit the U.S. military behind the neocon agenda. But the bigger question is why any American still takes the neocons seriously.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

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20 comments on “Why Take the Neocons Seriously?

  1. Here is my response via this naval intelligence officer posted article.
    http://www.stonekettle.com/2014/06/absolutely-nothing.html
    Please read it in full and respond ASAP.

    • Joe Tedesky on said:

      Great article Ray. I recommend to everyone Ray’s referenced article is a good read.

  2. F. G. Sanford on said:

    @ Ray-
    Years ago, I had the opportunity to sit in a conference among a staid and stately group of senior Naval Officers. One of them, an old, white-haired, stodgy right wing-nut embarked on a lunatic rant inspired, no doubt, by pride in his non-combat service during Viet Nam and his homoerotic worship of Ronald Reagan. Finally, after enduring this seemingly interminable tirade, another old Captain in the back of the room yelled, “Blow it out your ass, John”. There was a long moment of silence in which the Junior Officers mainly stared at their shoelaces and some of the Senior Officers turned beet red. But there were no repercussions. Somebody needs to read this on the floor of Congress, and finish off with those same words to Mr. McCain: “Blow it out your ass, John”.

  3. The failures of the rule of law in America are so vast as to be almost unfathomable. Shouldn’t their first priority lie there rather than with regime change around the world using violent military intervention by NATO?

    Politicians in Tel Aviv, Washington, and London have no right to pick and choose who leads other peoples’ countries.

    The first priority of the citizens of USA & UK should be to arrest Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz or Blair. Why is nobody in the US & UK attempting to bring these criminals to justice?

    US/UK/ISRAEL are committing genocide against Muslims all around the world. There was no al-Qaeda or Islamist terrorism in Iraq or Syria prior to their regime change policy intervention in these secular countries on false pretexts. The bigger picture is apparently economic and geopolitical destabilization.
    A day of reckoning is a’coming. What we sow we reap.

    If Obama has learned any lessons from Benghazi, he should be deliberating rooftop helicopter evacuations from the US Embassy in the Green Zone of Baghdad…

    On the other hand I’m guessing champagne corks are popping everywhere in the Israeli government right now.

    • All five of these people should be arrested and tried for war crimes by a tribunal similar to those put together post WWII. Might force the next bunch of arrogant hubristic leaders of the US, UK and Israel to think twice before invading other nations. Gen. Curtis Le May, who was Gen. of the Air Force when I was in back in the 60′s, was also responsible for fire bombing Dresden, Germany and a number of major Japanese cities during WWII stated that if we had not won the wars, he would have been tried for war crimes…and found guilty I am sure. Guess it helps to get away with murder if we have the biggest guns in the world.

  4. Joe Tedesky on said:

    Since Iraq is once again a major topic, I suggest this would be another perfect time to bring up criminal charges against those who were responsible for the 2003 Iraq invasion. As they say, ‘timing is everything’.

  5. John Puma on said:

    “Why take neocons seriously”? ” … why does the mainstream U.S. news media give so much attention and credence to the neocons who laid the foundations for this (Iraq) disaster a decade ago?”

    Seriously?

    When you prove that the “mainstream US news media” is independent of the forces that the neocons represent, then your question will be taken seriously.

    Until that proof is provided, I would ask, why do you continue to give so much credence to the purported blamelessness of Obama in these matters?

    Obama’s validation of and corroboration with the the neo-cons, for example, when, in May 2013, he nominated Ambassador (and arch neo con) Victoria Nuland as the next Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs. In less than a year she had engineered the neo-fascist putsch in Kiev.

    Obama was only “unwilling” to have the US bomb Syria. To the extent he has provided assistance, directly and indirectly, to the “moderate rebels,” he HAS fomented that civil war.

    I find the notion of Israeli-Saudi support of (truly) insurgent Sunni’s to foster “antipathy toward Iran” to be very confusing. Was not deposed, minority-Sunni Saddam Hussein the US-Israel-Saudi triumvirate’s strongman who dominated domestic majority (2:1) Shia, fought the proxy war against Shia Iran that we demanded and ruled, relatively peaceably, that massive physical buffer between Iran and Israel?

    Are we to conclude that our honored allies don’t know what they want but we are willing to spend $trillions (and kill/displace millions) to help them figure it out?

    Note that Ms Nuland was, in 2003 to 2005, Principal Deputy National Security Advisor to the VICE PRESIDENT. As such, no doubt she coordinated the third wave (after Bush I & Clinton) of our genocidal destruction of Iraq.

  6. ben noweizer on said:

    Robert , I wish to read from you a single article about the Middle East without you inserting some lies here and there to give better credibility to your essays

    Pity

    • Mindclouds on said:

      Without any specifics your comment is meaningless.

    • Joe Tedesky on said:

      And Robert’s lies are ??????

      If you are going to make accusations then at least reference the authors lies.

    • phreeman on said:

      Yes, please detail precisely everything you claim to be a “lie.”

    • @ ben.
      I present Dr. Stephen Sniegoski’s (author of The Transparent Cabal) comment on Mr. Parry’s analysis, with which I largely agree :
      “Excellent piece by Robert Perry not only in his analysis of Saudi strategy (I have differed slightly here but he provided information that must be taken into consideration as I revise my thinking) and also in his succinct presentation of the current neocon line, which blames everything on the removal of US troops by Obama. Kim Kagan (those Kagans are everywhere—neocons are notorious for having certain reigning families—the Kristols, Podhoretzes, etc.) on C-Span today Kagan got away with claiming that we should not go back to who was responsible for the war in 2003, and the falsehoods they provided, but rather focus solely on the current situation (and maybe blame Obama for what he has done) and then, of course, once again follow the neocons’ advice—that they have always been wrong ( at least in terms of their advice for the US) is just irrelevant. The host never broke in to point out that in real life we must judge people’s advice by what they have said and done in the past—not having crystal balls, we can’t really do otherwise.

      “Best,

      “Steve Sniegoski”

  7. Christina Jonsson on said:

    Regarding this quote from Robert Parry that is very alarming: “A common refrain – even among liberal war hawks, like the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – is that Obama should have done much more to arm and train “moderate” rebels in Syria, although it’s never entirely clear who these “moderates” are and whether they have any significant base of support inside Syria.”
    Hillary Clinton appears to be the most likely next president of the US. I’m not excited about Hillary for several reasons, but she’s better than any of the alternatives, again.
    Hopefully Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and a handful of others can rein her in some on her warmongering tendencies.
    A migration to the left on some of her policies would be very welcome.
    We do not need another Ronald “Ray Guns” Republican or Democrat. I think people will reject more war. Also, can we please stop supplying arms to whoever ends up with them in the middle east and elsewhere. Arms makers, go into another line of work that isn’t meant to kill people or animals. Death does not become us.

  8. F. G. Sanford on said:

    @Christina-
    “I’m not excited about Hillary for several reasons, but she’s better than any of the alternatives, again.”

    Hillary is not an “alternative”. She’s a different horse from the same stable. The Reagan and Bush #1 subversion of democracy through many nefarious schemes including CIA drug running to buy arms, the Iran-Contra Affair, the “October Surprise” and other nefarious crimes against humanity continued under Clinton. Connections to the Medellin Drug Cartel and the Mena, Arkansas airport used to smuggle those drugs made Clinton, willing or not, an accomplice. His willingness to remain silent is what certified his credentials as a candidate acceptable to the machine. If you think that she’s any more innocent than he is, you’re very naive. Your comment is an endorsement of the process that denies you any say in selecting your candidate in the first place.

    • Christina Jonsson on said:

      Regarding this quote from Robert Parry that is very alarming: “A common refrain – even among liberal war hawks, like the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – is that Obama should have done much more to arm and train “moderate” rebels in Syria, although it’s never entirely clear who these “moderates” are and whether they have any significant base of support inside Syria.”
      Hillary Clinton appears to be the most likely next president of the US. I’m not excited about Hillary for several reasons, but she’s better than any of the alternatives, again.
      Hopefully Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and a handful of others can rein her in some on her warmongering tendencies.
      A migration to the left on some of her policies would be very welcome.
      We do not need another Ronald “Ray Guns” Republican or Democrat. I think people will reject more war. Also, can we please stop supplying arms to whoever ends up with them in the middle east and elsewhere. Arms makers, go into another line of work that isn’t meant to kill people or animals. Death does not become us.
      To F.G. Sanford:
      OK then. I am not aware of all the charges you cite. I’ll have to look them up.
      My comment is not an endorsement of anything, it is a reality check that we have a 2 party system and we have to go with the candidate who can win. Hillary is the best one we have, so far, but I am open to other better, more viable candidates, should they decide to run. I have learned that we can’t always have what we want. But if we try sometimes, we just might find, we get what we need.

      • Joe Tedesky on said:

        Christina, love the Rolling Stone ad lib. You could check out what F.G. referenced, then again, “what difference would that make”. Seriously, sit back and take another look at Hillary. I know our options are few, but think twice before just voting for Hillary. Maybe, just stay home and listen to Mick!

    • Well said Sanford. Hillary represents US official hypocrisy at its finest! An unbearable, obscene and obnoxious woman.