Neocons’ Noses Into the Syrian Tent

Exclusive: The neocons say the next step in President Obama’s bombing raids inside Syria must be to move from attacking the terrorist Islamic State to destroying Syria’s air force and air defenses, all the better to achieve the neocons’ long-sought “regime change,” reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Now that President Barack Obama has begun airstrikes inside Syria against the terrorist Islamic State — with the tacit but not explicit approval of Syria’s government — Official Washington’s ever-influential neoconservatives hope they can pressure Obama into a major “mission creep,” to also attack and destroy the Syrian air force.

Like the proverbial camel with its nose into the tent, the neocons are trying to push beyond the U.S.-led attacks on the Islamic State and other Sunni extremist groups operating in Syria into a broader “regime change” operation against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who has been a longtime target of the neocons.

Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post.

Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post.

For instance, Jackson Diehl, the deputy editorial-page editor of the neocon Washington Post, called the failure to attack Assad’s military “the hole in Obama’s strategy” and urged that Assad’s air defenses and air power be taken out by the U.S. military as a crucial step toward Assad’s ouster, even though Assad’s military has been the principal bulwark against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s affiliate, al-Nusra Front.

Diehl wrote on Monday: “The problem is that ignoring Assad is likely to lead to even worse consequences. Already, the regime and its spokesmen are exulting in the U.S. bombing raids and doing their best to portray the United States as a de facto ally, while Syrians in rebel-held areas are demonstrating against the U.S. strikes because they are seen to be weakening the resistance to Assad.

“Meanwhile, the regime appears to be stepping up its own bombing raids against the non­-extremist opposition. A failure of the United States to respond could destroy U.S. relations not only with its only on-the-ground allies in Syria but also with the Sunni nations that have joined the campaign against the Islamic State.

“Create a no-fly zone for Syrian aircraft over areas held by the rebels. With U.S. planes already operating in the area, this would be far simpler than it would have been before.”

Of course, much of what Diehl says is untrue. The idea that a viable “moderate” rebel force exists is a fiction. A year ago, many of these “moderate” rebels trained, funded and armed by the CIA and U.S. Arab allies repudiated the Syrian political front that the Obama administration had cobbled together and instead embraced al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front.

Obama himself just last month in an interview with the New York Times dismissed the notion of relying on “moderate” rebels as a “fantasy” that was “never in the cards” as a workable strategy.

But it is a fantasy that the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies have long found useful, portraying the civil war in Syria as a black-and-white conflict between the evil Assad and the saintly “pro-democracy” rebels.

Only in the past year or so as the extremism of the rebel movement became undeniable did the neocons shift their narrative to argue that this radicalization should be blamed on Obama for not having done more to arm the rebels and achieve “regime change” in Syria earlier.

What Happened in Libya?

Though that self-serving neocon narrative has become conventional wisdom in Official Washington, the more likely scenario would have been that the violent overthrow of the secular Assad regime would have led to the formation of a radical Sunni state in the heart of the Middle East.

From nearly the beginning of the conflict in 2011, the toughest anti-Assad fighters were always the Islamist militants who received lucrative backing from wealthy princes in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Persian Gulf oil states.

Also, the neocons’ Syria storyline was tried out — in Libya, where the Obama administration did organize a bombing campaign against Muammar Gaddafi’s military supposedly to protect innocent Libyan protesters seeking “democracy.” But the destruction of Gaddafi’s secular regime simply opened the door for Islamist militants to take over, with the chaos now so severe that the United States and other nations have abandoned their embassies in Tripoli.

The likelihood would have been that a parallel intervention in Syria would have resulted in a similar catastrophe, although arguably worse given Syria’s central location in the region. Al-Qaeda’s flag might very well be flying over Damascus.

However, given the neocon-dominated “group think” of Washington, all the “smart” people endlessly repeat the meme that if only Obama had escalated U.S. military support for the “moderate” Syrian rebels earlier, everything would have worked out just great.

And in the wake of Obama’s decision to use air power against the Islamic State terrorists who are operating across the Syrian-Iraqi border, Diehl and other neocons are dusting off the old narrative. The neocons see Obama’s decision as something that can be stretched from attacking non-state actors into attacking the state of Syria.

Responding to this political pressure last Friday, senior U.S. military officials said such an expansion of the bombing campaign had not been ruled out. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested U.S. openness to a Turkish plan for a no-fly zone over Syria.

“We’ve discussed all these possibilities and will continue to talk about what the Turks believe they will require,” said Hagel. Dempsey added that “a buffer zone might at some point become a possibility,” though he said it was not imminent.

But this mission creep would represent a major escalation of the U.S. involvement and represent a clear case of international aggression. President Obama is on thin enough ice with his rationalization for bombing terrorist targets inside Syria without the government’s explicit permission (although Damascus has raised no formal objections).

If Obama were to order U.S. bombing attacks against Syria’s military, he would have to concoct a new excuse, presumably citing the “responsibility to protect” doctrine which has no standing in international law unless approved by the United Nations Security Council.

The “R2P” claim also would be a poor fit for shielding a rebel army that is engaged in warfare against the established government of a country. In effect, the United States would be intervening in a civil war on the side of rebels whom the U.S. government had recruited, trained, armed and funded. Plus, the likely result of such a direct intervention as with Libya would be a victory not by these “moderates” but by extremist militias.

War-Rationale Sophistry

By destroying the Syrian air force, Obama also would be further discrediting his rationale for bombing terrorist sites inside Syria. The U.S. argument is that the attacks are justified to protect Iraq from cross-border raids that the Assad government has been unable to stop.

There is already plenty of chutzpah in Obama’s legal argument, since the U.S. and its Sunni allies have been fueling the insurrection inside Syria. It’s almost the classic case of children killing their parents and then demanding sympathy as orphans.

Obama, the Saudis, the Qataris and others have sponsored this civil war and now they cite it as an excuse to violate Syria’s sovereignty. But the neocons want Obama to stretch the hypocrisy even further by destroying Syria’s air force to make it impossible for the government to reclaim control of its territory.

The alternative to this destructive downward spiral would have been to seek a practical resolution of the civil war even it required Assad remaining in office for the near future. Based on the results of last June’s election, it is clear that Assad retains the support of a substantial number of Syrians, particularly the Alawite, Shiite and Christian minorities who fear the extremism of the Sunni Islamists.

But Obama and the U.S. State Department have remained firmly in the saddle of their high horse in demanding that “Assad must go.”

It hasn’t helped that the neocon-dominated mainstream U.S. media has slanted its reporting consistently on the Syrian crisis, including a rush to judgment blaming Assad’s regime for a mysterious Sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. [See’s “Fixing Intel Around Syria Policy” and “Was Turkey Behind Syria-Sarin Attack?’]

In his Monday column, Diehl cited the Assad regime’s guilt in that chemical weapons attack as flat fact, much as he and his boss, editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, stated as flat fact that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in 2002-03.

However, since Hiatt, Diehl and pretty much every other Washington neocon survived getting the Iraq-WMD story completely wrong, they are still around a decade later to make arrogant assertions about how the U.S. military must escalate the war in Syria. They are the camel whose long neck has followed its nose deeply into the Syrian tent.

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 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.

16 comments for “Neocons’ Noses Into the Syrian Tent

  1. Kathleen Walsh RN
    September 30, 2014 at 23:08

    The use of the Swastika is not a good option. And the use of the term ‘evil’ isn’t either. What we have here is a snare’s nest created by the Neocons, over decades. Mr. Obama’s mistake was to avoid prosecution of the Neocons-and what would each of you, so remarkably critical, actually do in this mix of terrible situations? We cannot, of course, bomb our way to peace- and the USA has made egregious mistakes. But what is happening now is an echo of an old mix of terrible ideas and decisions-Had Mr. Obama the genuine support of the country, after not one but two elections, we would not be in this mess. But, the Corporations have the country by the throat-and people are dithering. On their phones; shopping; glued to TV screens especially during Gladiator Days (aka) Football.
    We ought not sound just like the Right Wing Hate Groups..and all too often, the heated rheotric does.

  2. Abe
    September 30, 2014 at 15:01

    The immediate “justification” for the U.S. bombing of Syria – the “Khorasans” – is as fake as the Kardashians’ physique.

    Glenn Greenwald, Murtaza Hussain and Justin Raimondo have written must-read stories proving that we were right.

    And Democracy Now – interviewing Hussain – notes that the same “reporter” who broke the “story” of the Khorasan “threat” was recently busted for clearing his stories in advance with the CIA.

  3. Abe
    September 30, 2014 at 13:26

    Reactionary and neocon Republicans of the McCain faction are active behind the scenes in fomenting insubordination and mutiny in the US military, combining their hatred for Obama with their demand for a wider war in the Middle East and in eastern Europe.

    The neocon war party must be thwarted. McCain pals around with terrorists.

  4. Abe
    September 30, 2014 at 12:43

    NATO member Turkey and NATO wannabe Israel
    are directly supporting ISIS and Al Qaeda Terrorists In Syria

    Turkey arms and sends jihadists into Syria. Israel treats ISIS terrorists for free in its hospitals.

  5. MPK
    September 30, 2014 at 10:57

    I think an indispensable overview of the development of the neocon worldview, if I can post a link, is the following – a must read:

    I see what’s going on in Syria/Iraq as merely a continuation of the Oded Yinon Plan – which was merely repackaged for American consumption by Zionist militarists.

  6. Bruce
    September 30, 2014 at 10:15

    NO, the Elephant’s trunk under the tent tried and failed last Fall; this time it’s their Obutt, backing in, DingleBarry first!

  7. onno
    September 30, 2014 at 07:07

    Under Obama there is no leadership and no-decision maker in the White House causing worldwide turbulence. On top of that neocons seem to be in control of foreign policies which again is depending on the defense lobbyists with their deep pocket sponsors, the defense industry which again is financed by US taxpayers.
    The USA is specializing in destabilizing autonomous nations as is proven in the Middle East and Ukraine. By removing/coups and bombing Iraq, Syria, Libya and removing their presidents the USA has now created an explosive situation in the Middle East and Ukraine/Russia and Afghanistan is coming up soon.
    The Americans and especially their politicians don’t understand the strength of a culture, religion and strong leadership even if this means dictatorship. Under dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Gadhafi people were living in relative peace and security. Today more than 220.000 are killed in Syria alone and more than 3 million refugees have lost their homes and livelihood because the USA is financing and arming Assad’s opposition of Muslim extremists.. Children grow up traumatized for life with a hate for the West that create murderers and Muslim extremists who are ready to behead journalists or any other Westerner.
    And western politicians believe they can control this explosion of hate by bombing! This is even more stupid, it will only create more ISIS volunteers from around the world who are ready to create another 9/11 massacre somewhere in USA or Europe. Like always Western politicians will NEVER accept accountability or responsibility for these attacks. Politicians are driven by their own ego’s and excel in lacking knowledge and intelligence to understand culture and religion in this part of the world. Politicians/diplomats have become the TEFLAN people of this world!!!

    • KHawk
      September 30, 2014 at 11:31

      All excellent points except for, as I see it, a false premise you included at the end. Imagine how different all of this seems, and how much more sense it makes (or less for that matter in reality), when you realize that 9/11 itself was a false flag that to this day stands as the basis for all of our actions in the Middle East. The sacrifice of regular folk has become all to easy for those rolling the dice in this giant game of Risk to win hegemony over, and capitalize on, the world’s resources.

  8. Zachary Smith
    September 29, 2014 at 22:28

    Neocon Jackson Diehl: WTH are his motives? From all I could read on the internet tubes, he seems to be totally devoted to the welfare of Israel. After all, taking out Syria can have only one real winner – Israel.

    How does Diehl get away with his blather? Probably because that’s what his new boss wants.

    The Jewish Press site seems to be a genuine one and not an astroturf for nazis or anything. Here is what they wrote when the WP was sold.

    This week’s purchase of The Washington Post by Amazon’s Jewish CEO Jeff Bezos is not the first time a Jew has bailed out the newspaper.

    So it seems a safe guess that the WP is indeed totally devoted to getting for Israel anything that shitty little nation wants. A destabilized Syria would mean many things, but one of those things would be to offer an opportunity for Israel to grab a brand new bunch of land. Turning a whole bunch of new people into helpless Palestinians.

    Will Obama bite? I sort of doubt it. Of course he’s going to do what he’s told, but what will his Banker Bosses tell him? They’re flying high, and would war help their grab for ever more of the world’s wealth? I’ve no inside information, and can’t make much sense out of the news stories I read, but it doesn’t seem likely.

    At the moment Russia isn’t making any waves about the events in Syria. That nation even supported the UN resolution because in the long term it’ll help them. And they got some promises:

    Russian sensitivity about Assad’s fate figured prominently in private discussions between Moscow and Washington in recent weeks, say U.S. officials with direct knowledge of those talks. After President Barack Obama announced airstrikes against ISIS forces in Iraq in August, members of his administration began signaling to Moscow that Syria was next, the officials said.

    They said Secretary of State John Kerry conveyed the message to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Paris on Sept. 15 on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq, attended by U.N. Security Council permanent members, European and Arab states, and representatives of the EU, Arab League and U.N. All pledged to help the government in Baghdad.

    Syria didn’t object. Bad guys on their territory getting bombed isn’t really a bad idea from their standpoint.

    Anyhow, the US seems to me to be overextended. Poking China with those ‘democracy’ protests – did the neocons have to do it NOW? Maybe they did. Or maybe they’re just reckless idiots and don’t care.

    If BHO and his handlers start bombing the government controlled parts of Syria, there is no telling what will happen.

    • Zachary Smith
      September 30, 2014 at 00:25

      I notice I cut/pasted the wrong section from the Lebanon newspaper. Here is the part which ought to have been included:

      At that meeting, Kerry offered assurances that Washington would not directly target Assad or his forces, the officials said.

      A superficial conclusion is that the US is currently satisfied with getting back into Iraq.

  9. Judith L. Osterman
    September 29, 2014 at 20:30

    How dare you insult camels by comparing them to the loathsome neo-cons. What is the reason for Assad’s lack of objection? So far, the US has bombed refineries & grain silos, plus quite a few civilians. If this pattern continues we will have to assume that America has carried out a global coup & that Putin, et al, are afraid to rock the boat. This seems improbable, but I can’t believe Assad is happy to have tomahawk missiles flying around Syria, & I can’t believe that he accepts the US ISIS justification at face value. Next, they will stage a false flag terrorist attack in “the homeland”, or maybe somewhere in Europe, as an excuse to go all out against ISIS. Write to your reps & the pres to obviate such a development.

  10. michael
    September 29, 2014 at 19:03

    That was the aim all along ISIS a manufactured excuse funded, trained and nurtured by NATO to establish the long term goal of bringing down those governments who they don’t want standing in their end game plans!

  11. schmenz
    September 29, 2014 at 18:51

    Can Assad be that stupid, or suicidal, to agree with this? And where is the Pope, who last year led a day of fasting and prayer to prevent the attacks on Syria, and where is Mr Putin, who deftly stopped the USA’s murder raid?

    This sickens me more than I can say.

    • maria
      September 29, 2014 at 19:02

      Totally agree.

      Where is Putin? Is he afraid of the US neocons?
      Or is he playing in the same team, as them? the US – the bad cop, Putin, the good guy…the so called “guided opposition”?
      And behind the curtains all remains in the family: the AIPAC & the jewish lobby in the US and the russian jewish mega oligarchs in Russia? Fostering the same agenda?

  12. jer
    September 29, 2014 at 18:38

    Ongoing attempts by the US to install a compliant client state regime in Syria in place of the popular government of the ‘undemocratic’ (read: non-western stooge) Assad shows that the US is truly a 21st century-remolded fascist state. A fascist state that very insanely hankers for absolute control of our planet in order to accomplish the desired full spectrum dominance, or FSD. So greatly and so very very unspeakably evil.

    • Bruce
      September 30, 2014 at 10:23

      The E卐CES.S. 0f EVIL!

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