Exclusive: As Al-Qaeda forces advance in Syria with the help of the Saudi-Israeli alliance American neocons are shielding themselves from the blame if Damascus falls to the jihadists by preemptively faulting President Obama for not intervening for “regime change” earlier, Robert Parry reports.
By Robert Parry
For the past two decades, American neocons and Israeli hard-liners have targeted Syria for “regime change,” a dream that may be finally coming true, albeit with the nightmarish ending of Al-Qaeda or maybe the Islamic State emerging as the likely winners.
Such an outcome would be disastrous for the millions of Syrian Shiites, Alawites, secular Sunnis and Christians, including descendants of survivors of Turkey’s Armenian genocide a century ago. They would all face harsh repression or, possibly, mass decapitations. An Al-Qaeda/Islamic State victory also would be a major problem for the United States and the West, which would have to choose between a terror central in the center of the Middle East or a military invasion.
So, what we’re now seeing in Official Washington is the beginning of a neocon finger-pointing narrative that promotes the theme that if President Barack Obama had only armed and trained “moderate” rebels and bombed the Syrian military (to create “safe zones” or to punish the government for its alleged use of sarin gas), everything would have worked out just fine.
The reality is far different. Indeed, the neocon baiting of Obama to engage more deeply in Syria was much like the incremental steps that preceded U.S. “regime changes” in Iraq and Libya. First comes the “humanitarian” propaganda portraying the opposition as entirely noble, then there are increasingly coercive demands of the sitting government, followed by military threats and clashes over “no-fly zones,” setting the stage for a violent “regime change” and the murder of the leaders, before the countries descend into bloody chaos as brutal jihadists seize large swaths of territory.
Obama chose not to go down that path in Syria, but he accepted the neocon narrative about the white-hatted “moderate” rebels and black-hatted “evil” government, putting him in a position of calling for “regime change” while dragging his feet on the military component. The reality, as Obama explained to New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman in August 2014, was that the idea that a “moderate” rebel force could achieve much was “always a fantasy.”
The only rational course in Syria and, indeed, in Iraq and Libya would have been to promote realistic negotiations between the existing regime and its political opposition, not simply demands for the government’s capitulation and the leaders, in effect, to sign a suicide pact. Genuine efforts to achieve power-sharing or at least a more diverse governing structure would be imperfect but potentially the most reasonable solution to a fractured society.
While neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies would surely find such an alternative unacceptable, even laughable, these same political actors are selective in their moral outrage. They never seem to seek “regime change” in the corrupt Persian Gulf monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia, nor do they press very hard for Israel to stop the oppression of Palestinians.
But today’s immediate concern for the neocons is to create a framework for the “who lost Syria” blame-game that would surely follow the collapse of the secular government of Bashar al-Assad and its replacement by a coalition of Sunni jihadists led by Al-Qaeda’s affiliate Nusra Front. Since the neocons still dominate the opinion circles of Official Washington, it’s important to get everyone into a “group think” that blames Obama for not intervening militarily earlier.
Making the Case
Thus, The Washington Post, which has become the neocons’ media flagship, launched this narrative shaping on Sunday with a lead editorial that cheered on the rebel advances, which were made possible by new supplies of advanced U.S. weaponry from Saudi Arabia and other hard-line Sunni states. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Climbing into Bed with Al-Qaeda.”]
While excited about the prospects for the neocons’ long-desired “regime change,” the Post noted “it could also lead to disaster, if the crumbling regime is replaced by the jihadist forces of the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, as already occurred in eastern Syria.”
The Post then lashed out at President Obama for his failure to do more on the “regime change” front. “Though it is sponsoring military training for a few thousand Syrians, the Pentagon won’t commit to defending them if they are attacked by the Assad forces. Mr. Obama continues to turn aside proposals for a safe zone in northern Syria where moderate political forces could organize; he ignores the Assad regime’s renewed usage of chemical weapons such as chlorine gas.”
Not that the Post would ever think of showing journalistic fairness by including a denial from the Syrian government, but the regime does deny using chlorine gas and the charge is curious since the cited incidents reveal the allegedly crude chlorine bombs to be largely ineffective in killing enemy combatants. Why the Syrian regime after surrendering its entire chemical weapons arsenal would invite international condemnation for the militarily insignificant use of chlorine is hard to explain, but it has become a top neocon propaganda point.
The Post continues with its blame-Obama editorial: “One consequence of this fecklessness has been the defection of Syrian fighters to jihadist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda. Another has been the apparent decision by Saudi Arabia’s new leadership to join with Turkey in providing new support to rebel groups, rather than continuing to wait for U.S. leadership.
“The rebel advances in northern Syria have been made by a coalition including Jabhat al-Nusra and more moderate factions. Though the Islamists say they will not impose their rule on the captured provincial capital, Idlib, they offer a unpalatable political alternative for the majority of Syrians and for the West. it’s clear that a moderate and credible alternative is desperately needed.
“One big reason previous U.S. efforts to foster one have failed is that it has been impossible for civilian opposition leaders to base themselves and organize inside the country. That’s why a U.S.-backed safe zone, along with an expanded military training program, is needed: not to intervene in the civil war but to make an acceptable solution to it possible. A continued refusal by Mr. Obama to act will only increase the chance that as the Assad regime loses ground, that held by terrorists will expand.”
What the Post leaves out is that to establish a rebel “safe zone” or a “no-fly zone” would require a significant U.S. military intervention to first destroy the Syrian air defenses and then the government’s air force. That, in turn, would allow new offensives by Sunni jihadists, who are the most effective and motivated rebel fighters. They have also subsumed many of the “moderate” rebels who have received U.S. military training and weapons.
The real flaw in Obama’s strategy was his unwillingness to engage in give-and-take negotiations with the Assad regime and its Iranian allies. In the last round of talks a year ago, neocon pressure in Washington forced Secretary of State John Kerry to exclude Iran and transformed the “negotiations” into another round of demands that Assad and his supporters capitulate.
With Saudi Arabia and other Sunni hard-line states now supplying Al-Qaeda fighters with highly accurate TOW missiles and other advanced U.S. military equipment, the prospects for a political resolution of the Syrian civil war appear even dimmer. Even if the Assad regime and the so-called “moderates” could reach an agreement, why would the well-armed and well-funded Sunni extremists accept it?
And with Israel indicating that its primary goal is to overthrow Assad and thus hit back at Iran even if that means a victory by Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State the U.S. political/media opinion circles will continue to push the “Assad must go” theme. But what Official Washington seems most concerned about right now is to make sure that — if Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State wins — Obama gets the blame.
[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Did Money Seal Israeli-Saudi Alliance?”]
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). 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.