Courting Catastrophe in Syria

In the 1980s, the U.S. and its Saudi allies teamed up to funnel money and weapons to Afghan Islamists whose bloody “victory” set the stage for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Now, the same team is heading back to work supporting Sunni rebels in Syria, as the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland explains.

By Ivan Eland

The United States and Saudi Arabia appear to be ramping up aid to the Syrian rebels. Here we go again on the road to debacle. Why? The media never holds anybody to either their predictions or their results officeholders, politicians, and of course their own pundits. And it’s a good thing for people like Bill Kristol, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham.

No matter what the overseas “crisis“ or where it is they are gung-ho about sending either U.S. forces or U.S. arms into the fray. Recently, these war hawks have been pounding the drums for U.S. greater intervention in Syria.

CIA-backed Afghan mujahedeen crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan in 1985. (Photo credit: Erwin Franzen)

Their argument isn’t that the Syrian rebellion will fall apart if the United States doesn’t provide arms, it’s that when the insurgents finally take over Syria, the U.S. will won’t have much “influence.“ They argue that militant Islamists among the rebels, who are the most well armed and ruthless fighters, will become dominant if the United States does not arm the more secular and democratic forces.

Yet the war hawks don’t ever ask themselves how the Islamists became the most well-armed groups in Syria, answer: by being the most ruthless. So far, the United States has reportedly helped Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni Arab arms providers to vet the groups to which they are arranging weapons shipments. Yet despite those efforts, media reports indicate that the Islamists seem to be getting the lion share of the weapons anyway. In chaotic war situations, such unintended consequences are usually the rule rather than the exception.

And the situation in Syria may be about to get worse. Media reports indicate that the Saudis have ramped up their arms financing, purchasing and sending to Syria a large shipment of Croatian infantry weapons, a transaction that seems to have been facilitated by the United States.

In addition, the Syrian rebels have extorted pledges of more humanitarian aid from the United States and United Kingdom in exchange for attending a Friends of Syria meeting in Rome. Previously, the U.S. has shipped “non-lethal“ communications and medical supplies to the rebels.

So the public pronouncement that the United States is not arming the rebels is only technically true; the reality is that the U.S. is vetting and facilitating the delivery by other countries of weapons to the insurgents. Even the communications equipment the U.S. sends directly could be used to increase the coordination, and thus effectiveness, of rebel missions.

Is there any crisis the United States can stay out of? With huge federal budget deficits and a monstrous national debt of $16.5 trillion, one would think “conservative“ Kristol, McCain, and Graham would want to at least save some government money. And if they actually looked at the track record of recent U.S. interventions, which wasted taxpayer money on failing enterprise after failing enterprise, they might see that the case for cost avoidance in Syria is even greater.

Since the post-Vietnam return of U.S. interventionism (subdued only in the immediate aftermath of the war during the Ford and Carter administrations) during the Reagan administration and after, very few episodes of overseas meddling have been successful. During the Reagan administration, contrary to popular belief, attacking and bombing Libya only led Muammar Qaddafi to more terrorism, this time aimed U.S. targets.

In Lebanon, U.S. forces turned from neutral peacekeepers to active participants on one side of a civil war and ultimately left with their tails between their legs after the bombing by Hezbollah of the Marine Corps barracks. In a situation similar to today’s Syria, U.S. weapons supplies to Afghan rebels fighting the Soviets went to the most radical groups, leading to the rise of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the 9/11 attacks, and ultimately the Afghan bog in which the United States now finds itself.

Finally, Reagan secretly, illegally, and unconstitutionally funded against the wishes of Congress the thuggish Contra rebels in Nicaragua with the proceeds gained from selling arms to terrorist-sponsoring Iran, thus creating a scandal worse for the Republic than Watergate.

George H. W. Bush, Reagan’s successor, ineptly and unwittingly gave the green light for Saddam Hussein, whom Reagan had supported, to invade Kuwait and then sent U.S. troops to put the Iraqi leader back in his box, creating a cascade of events that later led his son, George W. Bush, to invade Iraq and ensnare the U.S. in a near-decade long quagmire.

Bill Clinton, the modern-day intervention king in pure numbers of incidents, was railroaded out of Somalia by an attack from a Somali warlord trained by Osama bin Laden and also conducted one of the many U.S. military incursions to Haiti, which have only made things worse in that impoverished and corrupt country.

Barack Obama, in addition to continuing and escalating George W. Bush’s tar baby in Afghanistan, has expanded Bush’s air wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, which are all more about creating new enemies than killing any remaining perpetrators of 9/11. Finally, in a predictor of what might loom in Syria, Obama took out Muammar Qaddafi, leading to instability in that country that killed a U.S. ambassador and funneled many Islamists and Qaddafi’s vast liberated weapons stocks to take over northern Mali.

If the rebels do finally displace Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, the subsequent internecine violence could dwarf that of the tribal conflict and instability in post-Qaddafi Libya, because Syria has sectarian tensions, similar to those in Iraq, which Libya does not possess.

Thus, after analyzing and admitting such a record of failed interventions, how can anyone in the United States, with a straight face, advocate wading deeper into the Syrian swamp?

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

9 comments for “Courting Catastrophe in Syria

  1. may
    March 2, 2013 at 02:42

    There is no secular Opposition. It is either Al Queda or Muslim Brotherhood. Saudis are Wahhabis as are Qataris, West knows they are “cash machine” fr terrorists.

  2. Peter Loeb
    March 1, 2013 at 07:01

    When the US –aka “we”, meaning the superior, “civilized” people of the
    world— fail to succeed following UN processes and International Law, ‘COALITIONS” are formed which operate outside of UN rules and yet within
    US control. Remember Wilson? Vietnam?Kosovo? Iraq? Afghanistan? Evidently China, Russia and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperative Organization including over half of the planet’s population) are not “civilized. Nor “superior. Many of them arenot even white. Of course, they would not by (oiur) definition be able
    to care for themselves and incidentally American “interests”.

  3. Ronald Thomas West
    February 28, 2013 at 17:33

    Nicely done homework Rehmat. Much of what is in the article is correct as well, but not mentioned is the fact western democracies para-military intelligence operations have been ongoing in Syria for at least two years, weapons have been laundered to the Salafi militia in Syria on behalf of the CIA by Saudi Arabia quite deliberately, not because the Salafi are the most experienced and disciplined ‘rebel’ force (even though they are) and for far longer than indicated, and the fact Assad’s Syria almost certainly has been ‘modeled’ [war gamed] as required to be neutralized by the Pentagon for purposes of a direct attack on Iran.

    So now what is missing? The worst best kept secret of all; the 15,000 member extreme Zionist “Officer’s Christian Fellowship” whose most senior members run the Pentagon. And this is where you irritate me to no end with the ‘it’s all about the Jews’ attitude that comes across in many of your posts, because it is these ‘Christian Dominion’ neo-cons who believe in a literal Armageddon theology (I call them Christian Al Qaida) that prop up petty fascists like Bibi Netanyahu and no one has done more to expose them than a Jew, Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. It’s not about Jews, it’s about Zionists, whether Christian or Jew. And there are many Christians and Jews who are NOT Zionist and sanity needs them every bit as much as anyone needs you, to try and turn this around-

    • Ronald Thomas West
      March 1, 2013 at 02:49

      Being well informed in certain facets does not necessarily draw an accurate picture, in fact many intelligent people are perfect butt-heads. What you describe may be the intention of some but others will have a different agenda. Anyone incapable of widening their horizons will ultimately be caught with their pants down .. rock on dude

  4. Frances in California
    February 28, 2013 at 16:01

    C’mon, borat! Can you at least TRY to use real citations? Rehmat is – as usual – mopping the floor with you.

  5. Raed Baroud
    February 28, 2013 at 10:19

    It seems that Americans are truly almost all the same – on all ideological sides, you all use the same excuse, ‘radical Islamists’ (just like Assad, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Moscow – your bogeyman Al Qaeda is useful to all oppressive regimes, not only Washington) to justify your inhumanity and your indifference to the slaughter of Muslim men, women and children with warplanes and missiles, whatever government does it, whatever justification it uses.

    There have been good and revolutionary Americans like Malcolm X, who truly stood against injustice and truly supported real freedom for all people, but they mainly seem to be dead. Now all you are interested in is yourselves – you have no concept of universal brotherhood or solidarity with the oppressed, you stand as always with the oppressors on all sides. Stay in your shitty uncivilised country eating McDonalds and watching Oprah, please build a wall round it to stop your infinite cowardice and ignorance infecting the rest of the globe, and leave revolution to the people who are willing to do more than make videos and write articles, who are willing to fight and die to be free of the dictators your government uses to keep us down: that includes the Assads, who have guarded the zionist entity’s border for decades and whose torture cells were used by your government in your ‘War on Terror.’
    Arabs are not illiterate, Muslims are not Al Qaeda; we can read too and we can think, a lot better than Americans, who know nothing about the Middle East but read a few articles or books about it by other Americans then pontificate about it without end; you shame the world.

    • Hillary
      February 28, 2013 at 13:25

      Raed Baroud — an excellent comment and we are “lucky” Consortium has allowed it to be remain posted.
      The US seems to have created “mobile Al Quieda Jihadists” to send to any Muslim country it chooses to create mayhem and death.

    • whisperatnight
      March 3, 2013 at 06:14

      Not all Americans are asleep. But, I totally agree with you. This NWO has been a long time in manipulating and meddling to put themselves in place for a World Government. Once people of the world realize who their true enemies are, maybe we can stop fighting each other and put an end to them once and for all. As it is, a few want to rule us all. And, they will stop at nothing. The cries of woman and children do not move the BEAST GOVERNMENT.

  6. incontinent reader
    February 28, 2013 at 10:16

    The article is correct, but the planners see all of these countries as geopolitical chips with resources and access to resources that the Administration thinks it can control- whether it is Syria’s existing and planned pipelines, Syria’s EEZ, US-NATO hegemony over the Eastern Mediterranean, the Golan Heights with its water, agriculture, (and now, oil and gas), Iran’s alliance with Syria and Hezbollah and its regional influence, Russia’s naval base, China’s influence in the Middle East and Africa, Israel’s eventual expulsion of the Palestinians from the occupied territories, etc.

    As for stopping the conflict by removing the jihadists, or stopping the flow of money (after all they are mercenaries) and arms from the Saudis and GCC, it won’t happen. The U.S. probably thinks that medical and food aid will help stabilize the captured areas and slow down the plunder of the local population by providing the basic minimum for the fighters and “humanitarian aid” for the people, and that over time with captured tanks, armored vehicles and other military equipment and with proper training the tide will change.

    This has become a grand conflict that will continue to bleed Syria that only a new paradigm and sophisticated diplomacy can untangle, something the U.S. has to date seemed to lack and be clueless about.

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