Risking a Jihadi Victory in Syria

Exclusive: President Obama’s “regime change” policy in Syria has rested on a hopeful fantasy about the existence of a “moderate” rebel force and a willful blindness toward the jihadists who actually stand to gain power a dangerous mix of make-believe and denial as Ted Snider explains.

By Ted Snider

Attempts at “regime change” always involve three parties: the foreign government that desires to carry out the regime change, the regime that is targeted for changing, and the domestic group meant to replace the current regime or at least facilitate the coup. But regime change is a complex and messy business with the history of attempted American coups littered with disasters that resulted from a favored third party that was as nefarious than the regime it replaced if not more so.

In that way, America’s initial reaction to the attempts by the Islamic State to topple the regimes in Iraq and Syria was bizarre and unexpected. As first “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” and then as “the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (or ISIS), the Islamic State was the very kind of force that the “war on terror” was supposed to eliminate from the region. However, initially as ISIS cut its own state out of the Levant (and especially Syria), America was largely silent.

In ISIS: the State of Terror, terrorism experts Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger say “the Obama administration gave the problem short shrift” and “dismissed concerns about [ISIS] and other jihadists fighting in . . .  Syria.” The authors cite a 2014 interview in which President Barack Obama compared ISIS to a junior varsity team masquerading as major league. His administration seemed not to be noticing the ISIS threat and appeared “caught off guard” by its success and viciousness.

Journalist James Foley shortly before he was executed by an Islamic State operative.

Journalist James Foley shortly before he was executed by an Islamic State operative.

Such a failure of intelligence would be bizarre enough. But it was not an intelligence failure; it was policy. What was truly strange was not that the Obama administration hadn’t noticed but that it had. U.S. intelligence had informed the policymakers about ISIS, and the policymakers chose silence.

So, why would the Obama administration allow the metastasis of the very terrorist force “the war on terror” was committed to cauterizing? Since the United States “the world’s indispensable nation” does whatever it wants, one has to assume that it did not initially oppose ISIS because it chose not to oppose ISIS. And, if it did not want to oppose ISIS, that’s because, somehow, the ISIS advance was considered consistent with U.S. interests, which have been focused on ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in another “regime change.”

In that endeavor, the Obama administration has long claimed to be backing “moderate” Syrian rebels, rather than ISIS or other jihadi groups like Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al Nusra. However, in The Rise of the Islamic State, Patrick Cockburn says that Vice President Joe Biden revealed the lie in that claim when he stated that “in Syria the US had found ‘that there was no moderate middle.’”

Biden’s honest admission came on Oct. 2, 2014, when he also said: “[O]ur allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria.  . . . They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis. . . .

“All of a sudden everybody’s awakened because this outfit called ISIL which was ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq,’ which when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space in territory in eastern Syria, work with Al Nusra who we declared a terrorist group early on and we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.”

But there were lies embedded in Biden’s revelation. It is not true that “all of a sudden everybody awakened” to the Islamic extremists fighting in Syria, and it is not true that America tried but “could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.”

A Prescient Report

The Obama administration did not wake up too late to the reality of ISIS: the U.S. was wide awake but willing to let it happen. It was not that the U.S. government didn’t take ISIS seriously. The reality is worse: America knew the gravity of the situation and allowed it to happen. The U.S. was getting into the mess of another third-party disaster with eyes wide open.

As early as Aug. 12, 2012 a classified Defense Intelligence Agency Information Intelligence Report made the rounds through the U.S. intelligence community, including the CIA, FBI, State Department and CENTCOM, revealing that America knew that, despite its insistence that the Syrian insurgency that the U.S. was supporting was dominated by secular moderates and not jihadi extremists, the insurgency was driven by jihadists.

Point B of the section of the report called “The General Situation” unambiguously declares that “The salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al-Qaeda in Iraq, later ISIS and then the Islamic State] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.”

The DIA report not only reveals that the Obama administration knew that the Islamic State was a major part of the insurgency, but that Washington was well aware of the possible outcome of that support. Section 8.C. of the report astonishingly predicts that “If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

In the preceding section 7.B., the “supporting powers” are identified as “Western countries the Gulf States and Turkey.” Section 8.D.1. of the report goes on specifically to say that “ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”

So the Obama administration knew that the Islamic State was a driving force in the insurgency that the U.S. supported, and U.S. intelligence analysts had a surprisingly accurate idea what the possible outcome of that support would be. It even seems, according to the report, that the West and its Saudi and Turkish allies relished that outcome, relished the birth of an Islamic caliphate, as an instrument for isolating the Assad regime.

It is also not true that the U.S. tried but could not convince the allies to stop supporting and supplying the Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra. Journalist and historian Gareth Porter has reported that when Obama invited the Gulf Cooperation Council to Camp David in May, the Gulf princes smelled an opportunity. Obama was hungry to assuage the Sunni states over his impending nuclear deal with Shiite-ruled Iran and wanted to win their silence and acceptance. The trade-off, it seems, was Syria.

And so, Porter reports, “the Gulf States stopped complaining about the Iran nuclear agreement,” and “no one in the Obama administration said anything about Sunni coalition backing for al-Nusra.” Porter then quotes David Ignatius of the Washington Post, who, Porter says, “had clearly been briefed by his administration sources,” as revealing that “Obama and the other US officials urged Gulf leaders who are funding the opposition to keep control of their clients so that a post-Assad regime isn’t controlled by extremists from Islamic State or al-Qaeda.”

Empty Assurances

Notice that the Obama administration did not try to “convince our colleagues to stop supplying” the jihadi forces, as Biden had earlier asserted. The U.S. accepted the Gulf’s funding of the extremist insurgents for the purpose of “regime change” in Syria as long as the Gulf states somehow could assure Washington that their jihadi clients did not end up running the new regime.

But as the U.S. government has seen in Iraq and Libya “regime change” can be an unpredictable business. If Assad and his military are defeated, there’s no guarantee that the Islamic State or al-Qaeda’s official affiliate (or a combination of the two) won’t be in charge of Syria, in the heart of the Middle East, precisely what the “war on terror” was supposed to prevent.

Thus, one has to assume that the Obama administration allowed the Islamic State to advance because the U.S. was more focused on eliminating Assad’s government than on preventing a major terrorist victory. Only belatedly after the Islamic State’s high-profile decapitations of Western hostages and the public outrage that followed did Obama begin a limited air campaign against Islamic State targets.

Nevertheless, the Islamic State has advanced through Syria and Iraq and has knocked on the door of Lebanon, which is home to Hezbollah, another political force that U.S. and its ally Israel fiercely oppose. Indeed, what Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon have in common is that they are Iran’s three great allies in the region. So, the pattern is not a coincidence. ISIS’s interests coincide perfectly with the U.S.-Israeli-Saudi goal of removing Assad from Syria and isolating Iran.

The overlap of Islamic State and U.S.-Israeli-Saudi interests in this regard is revealed in section 8.C of the DIA report: “there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

In other words, the advance of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria is consistent with the regional interests of the U.S., Israel and the Sunni Gulf states because it cuts off Iran’s geopolitical reach, what former U.S. national security officials Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett have called Iran’s soft, or proxy, power in the region.

But at the beginning of the Islamic State’s push through the Levant, Syria was not even Iran’s greatest ally in the region. By then, that status had been assumed by Iraq’s leader Nouri al-Maliki. But the Obama administration was seeking a change in that regime as well. In pressing for Maliki’s removal, Obama made it clear that Iraq was “going to have to show us that [they] are willing and ready to try and maintain a unified Iraqi government that is based on compromise.” Ultimately, Maliki was replaced by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

This overall pattern suggests that America’s seemingly bizarre initial acquiescence to ISIS and Obama’s subsequent tolerance of Gulf State support for al-Nusra were because ISIS and al-Nusra were simultaneously doing America’s and Israel’s work: advancing regime change in Syria and weakening of Iran’s allies in Iraq and Lebanon.

Notice that America was willing to let the Gulf States support al-Nusra (and to a degree the Islamic State) up to the point that it no longer coincided with U.S. goals, the outright establishment of a terrorist caliphate in the center of the Middle East. “We’re not going to let them create some caliphate through Syria and Iraq,” Obama said. “But we can only do that if we know that we have got partners on the ground who are capable of filling the void.”

In other words, Obama used the threat of the Islamic State as leverage for a leadership change in Iraq. A similar approach is playing out in Syria, where Obama has insisted the “Assad must go.” On the regional chessboard, U.S. policy is to allow Sunni jihadi groups to make gains to ratchet up diplomatic pressure on Iran and to appease Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Israel.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.

10 comments for “Risking a Jihadi Victory in Syria

  1. Chaz
    July 12, 2015 at 20:21

    Speaking of Jihadi victories. There have been three major Jihadi victories. All of which never would of happened with out George W. Bush and the power of the conservative media in the USA.

    1. September 11, 2001
    2. Bush war in Afghanistan
    3. Bush war for oil in Iraqu

    By the way Bin Laden taking a bullet in the head was not a Jihadi victory. You can thank President Obama for that victory.

  2. Abe
    July 12, 2015 at 12:28

    No effort has been made to stem the flow of supplies to ISIS from NATO territory, with the Turkish government officially denying the trucks DW videotaped and reported on even exist. This indicates clear NATO complicity in the arming and supplying of ISIS and other Al Qaeda affiliates who are in fact invading Syria from NATO-territory, as well as from US-ally Jordan.

    For the West, which feigns indignation in the wake of recent ISIS attacks on France, Tunisia, and Kuwait, while posing as the primary force engaged in war with ISIS directly, it would be a simple matter to close the Turkish-Syrian border with NATO troops to ensure ISIS was shut off completely from the supplies it depends on to maintain its fighting capacity. That the borders are intentionally left open for this extensive daily torrent of supplies, weapons, and fighters to pass over unopposed, is proof positive that ISIS is and has been from the beginning a proxy force intentionally created to stoke fear and support at home for unending war abroad.

    Without the threat of ISIS and the chaos it is creating across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the ability for the West to wage war on its enemies and justify extraterritorial meddling would be severely limited. In fact, the very ISIS forces clearly being armed and supplied by NATO directly, are being used as a pretext by US policymakers to execute recently laid plans to incrementally invade and occupy Syria with US military forces.

    The Brookings Institute from which these plans originated, recently used an ISIS assault on Kobani to call for “US boots on the ground” in Syria, an assault which would have been logistically impossible were it not for the daily torrent of supplies the US and its NATO-ally Turkey have themselves intentionally enabled for years to cross into Syria.

    To defeat ISIS, its supply lines must be cut – a simple matter to perform that requires only Turkish and other NATO troops to move in and disrupt overt ISIS logistical networks running within their own territory. Instead, the US State Department and US-operated NGOs have even gone as far as condemning what little attempts have been made to control Turkey’s border with Syria. The US State Department’s Voice of America in their article, “Turkish Border Crackdown Imperils Syrian Refugees,” used the pretext of “human rights” to condemn Turkey for what meager control measures it has attempted to put in place.

    The fact that the US, with a military base in Turkey itself, has elected not to call for or attempt to implement stricter border security to stem the flow of ISIS supplies, and instead has gone as far as bombing Syrian territory in feigned efforts to “fight ISIS,” proves that the terrorist organization is both a proxy and a pretext. No serious military campaign would be launched against an enemy without identifying and cutting off its supply lines, especially when those supply lines run through that military’s own territory.

    TIME Admits ISIS Bringing Arms, Fighters in From NATO Territory
    By Tony Cartalucci

    • Peter Loeb
      July 14, 2015 at 06:31


      The Israelis like their American patrons assume that any
      organization or group they work with will be dependent
      on them and in their control.

      The USA has discovered this presumption to be false
      many times in the past but prefers to forget the lessons of
      its history.

      It is been noted that ISIS attacks on Israel have increased
      dramatically in recent years.These are (it was noted) outside
      of the control of Hamas. I wrote that this was probably because
      many young freedom fighters (aka “militants”) are dissatisfied
      with the inability of Hamas to defeat the juggernaut Zionist

      And so Israel has given support to ISIS.

      If ISIS were to attack Israeli towns and cities one after another
      just as Israel conquered Palestinian towns and villages in
      1948-49, what is to say they would not be successful?
      ISIS seems (from reports) to match Israel in its commitment
      to violence. They could encircle one Israeli town after another
      and depopulate it, massacre its citizens etc. The US could
      feign “shock” as though nakba never happened. The US and
      Israel could resort to its superior technological warmaking
      abilities using even nuclear responses. As we all know, bunker
      busters aside, this would mean considerable “collateral
      damage” and the killing and maiming of many Israelis as well
      (something Israeli governments have accepted in the past
      elsewhere) Israel’s closeness with the US would make it an
      even more “desirable” target for ISIS fighters who fight for martyrdom.

      These are not results one can predict. They merely indicate
      how perilous the US-Israeli support of ISIS and opposition
      to Syria could turn out to be. (Note: The total disintegration
      of say Damascus by US-Israeli bombing would not save
      the lives of many Israelis and keep Israeli communities
      from destruction.)

      The extent of death and suffering on both sides would be
      enormous but the US has inflicted such fates on others often
      in recent history. Having been “winners”, at least for now,
      most of it has gone unreported.

      How would the debate go in the US Congress? Would many
      claim that US “boots on the ground” or a greater air war
      (more drones, unsmart bombs etc.) guarantee an “heroic”
      victory as it inevitably must—always—for the USA??

      —–Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  3. Vega
    July 11, 2015 at 13:40

    CyberBerkut just published this:
    10.07.2015 CyberBerkut: The world should know and see it!

  4. Mark
    July 10, 2015 at 18:08

    Last night Abc “news” mentioned Syria as having more people displaced than any other Mid-East country in turmoil post 9/11.

    They failed completely in crediting the US and supporting allies for creating conditions favoring the manifestation of ISIS and for allowing ISIS to be supplied through Turkey.

    As regime change in Syria is part of the same Israeli plans (Yinon and PNAC plans) that started with overthrowing Saddam Hussein in 2003 and included the eventual overthrow of al-Assad in Syria, as well as creating general chaos and strife among Israel’s neighbors in the Mid-East as well as attacking Iran.

    So when we talk about the US policy in the Mid-East it is in all reality Israel’s policies that the US has been enacting — which found full support from the profit and glory seeking MIC, as well as from some of our natural resource “capitalists” prospecting for foreign oil and minerals

    As partners in crime, it might seem hard to tell who is leading who in the M-E, Israel or the US, but the fact remains these regime change and turmoil creation policies originated and were pushed by Israel on US foreign policy makers through the undue influence of Israel’s AIPAC lobby and dual citizenship Israeli operatives embedded in the US government.

    The most intelligent Mid-East policy the US could have adopted any time over the past 70 years, would have been not to legitimize Zionist terrorism in the first place by recognizing Israel’s creation through terrorism as legitimate, and not to allow Israel to dictate US policy since that time.

    But we do know US policy makers are neither intelligent, nor principled, nor law abiding — they have sold the best interests of the USA to the highest foreign bidder which makes them traitors that have yet to be held accountable for their own decisions…

    • Masud Awan
      July 10, 2015 at 18:51

      Mark, you succinctly placed the responsibility of this criminality where it belongs to.

  5. D5-5
    July 10, 2015 at 17:59

    Creating world chaos is maybe not going to work out so well for your world domination policies. Libyanizing the middle east is not a promising policy so far. Does this man have ANY credibility left? A small related detail. For some years now we’ve been hearing about “arming the moderates” in Syria. The most recent budget request for this was half a billion (whereas Obama himself has said that moderates in Syria against Assad is “a fantasy”). How many moderates have we mustered for this program? The answer came out earlier this week–sixty. Sixty.

  6. Abe
    July 10, 2015 at 17:54

    “This overall pattern suggests that America’s seemingly bizarre initial acquiescence to ISIS and Obama’s subsequent tolerance of Gulf State support for al-Nusra were because ISIS and al-Nusra were simultaneously doing America’s and Israel’s work: advancing regime change in Syria and weakening of Iran’s allies in Iraq and Lebanon.”

    Say it straight: The overall pattern is US/NATO war on Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran, Russia and China with jihadi proxies on all fronts.

    The latest front is Ukraine.

    • Masud Awan
      July 10, 2015 at 18:35

      It’s a great irony to call mercenaries ‘Jihadis’. Jihad is struggle for a just cause, not murdering innocent noncombatants. Actually the pater of murder by these mercenaries is not different from that of their patrons, US/IS.

    • Abe
      July 10, 2015 at 21:29

      Yes, the propagandist programming is pervasive.

      Mercenary terrorist Jihadiâ„¢ forces designate their criminal enterprises Islamic Stateâ„¢, al-Nusraâ„¢ and other Al-Qaedaâ„¢ brand names because their non-Islamic state terrorist (US/Israeli/Saudi/Qatari) paymasters demand it.

      The highly publicized beheadings and other terrorist atrocities provide brand marketing.

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