Will Obama Succumb to Pro-War Baiting?

The “you’re a weakling” baiting of President Obama to get him to attack the Syrian government is unrelenting, stretching from the neocon Right to some elements of the liberal Left. And, there are doubts he is strong enough to rebuff the warmongers and pursue a path toward a negotiated peace, as Rick Sterling describes.

By Rick Sterling

Recently Counterpunch published an article “Obama’s Legacy: An Abyss Gazing Backwards” by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad. It exemplifies the faulty analysis and conclusions of those advocating direct U.S. military intervention in Syria, from right-wing neoconservatives to liberals and even some self-styled Marxists.

Because of the dangerous consequences of these assumptions and conclusions, it is important that they be critically examined. We can use the above mentioned article as an example. The same article with different title was published one week earlier in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) paper “The National.”  The title was “Obama’s legacy is tarnished as Putin fills the vacuum in Syria.”

Saudi King Salman bids farewell to President Barack Obama at Erga Palace after a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Saudi King Salman bids farewell to President Barack Obama at Erga Palace after a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The Syrian “vacuum” is a popular myth promoted by those who want the U.S. to become more aggressive in Syria. In reality, the U.S. has very actively aided and abetted the violent opposition in Syria from the start.

The Defense Intelligence Agency report from August 2012 confirms that weapons were flowing to the Syrian armed opposition after the overthrow of the Libyan government in fall 2011. The claim that the U.S. was only supplying communications equipment and other non-lethal supplies in 2012 and 2013 was for public consumption and “plausible deniability.” In reality, the U.S. was supplying great quantities of weapons.

The “dark side” included a huge budget for CIA operations including training and arming the Syrian armed opposition. Also, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and UAE were spending billions of dollars annually in support of mercenaries and fanatics trying to overthrow the secular Damascus government.

Contrary to what Ahmad says, the U.S.-backed “moderate” rebels of the Free Syrian Army were largely a fiction. Apart from the Islamic State (also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh), the most effective fighting force was the official Al Qaeda franchise, Jabhat al Nusra, the Nusra Front. Out of the public view, to the extent it existed, FSA was working closely with Nusra/Al Qaeda.

In a confusing use of terms, Ahmad contrasts “counter-terrorism” with “counter-insurgency.” What he means by “counter-insurgency” is regime change via direct intervention or invasion. What he means by “counter-terrorism” is regime change via coup or proxy army.

Pakistan-born Muhammad Idrees Ahmad suggests that President Barack Obama is spineless because he has opted for “counter-terrorism” (proxy armies, drone strikes, etc.) instead of “counter-insurgency” (direct U.S. attacks). This analysis is short-sighted and ahistorical.

There is no public desire for another U.S. invasion of another country in the Middle East. This is partly because the Iraq invasion and the ensuing disaster are still fresh in the public mind. It also follows a pattern from the past:  after the defeat of the U.S. invasion of Vietnam in the 1970s, the U.S. reverted to using a proxy army (the Contras) against Nicaragua in the 1980s.

But warmongers in the media, such as Ahmad, are not the public. More often than not, they reflect the views of their sponsors. It’s no surprise that Ahmad’s article was first published by UAE’s “The National.”  The United Arab Emirates is closely allied with Saudi Arabia and vigorously promotes conflict with Iran.

A recent exposé on the UAE Ambassador to Washington shows the level of corruption in Washington, how easy it is to win influence throwing money around, and the core policy of the United Arab Emirates. This policy is aligned with Israel and opposed to Iran, Syria and Russia. UAE’s celebrity ambassador, Yousef al Otaiba, is vigorously campaigning for the U.S. to intervene or attack Syria directly. The subtitle of the article succinctly describes the UAE Ambassador:

“Yousef Al Otaiba is the most charming man in Washington: He’s slick, he’s savvy and he throws one hell of a party. And if he has his way, our Middle East policy is going to get a lot more aggressive.”

What connects Ambassador Otaiba and writer Ahmad is the tiny wealthy monarchy known as the United Arab Emirates and promotion of U.S. aggression against Syria.

Ahmad says, “Obama betrayed his hand long ago when he failed to match hot rhetoric with even modest action … [when President Bashar al-] Assad brazenly breached his ‘red line’ by using chemical weapons.”

This assertion is standard fare for journalists promoting war. In reality, the accusation has been largely disproved. The Human Rights Watch “vector” analysis — purporting to trace missiles carrying sarin back to a Syrian military base nine kilometers from the impact site — was dubious from the beginning and then entirely discredited when aeronautic experts determined that the one missile found to carry sarin could only fly about two kilometers.

The most thorough investigations concluded that the launch site was in territory held by the armed opposition. American investigative reporters Seymour Hersh, Robert Parry and Gareth Porter, plus former CIA officer Ray McGovern, have all written that the attacks were likely by the armed opposition trying to trick the U.S. into bombing Syrian government forces.

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, like nearly all mainstream journalists promoting the war, ignores this contrary evidence, simply repeating the discredited rush to judgment that followed the sarin attack in August 2013, blaming Assad’s forces.

In tandem with “Obama is weak” goes “Russia is strong” or “Russia looks strong” or “Putin looks strong because Obama is weak.” The media warmongers are like kids on a school playground, trying to egg on a fight. Except in this case it’s not a bloody nose at stake; it’s the lives of tens of thousands of Syrians and potentially millions if not billions in World War III.


Ahmad outdoes himself in the charge for war by claiming “Russian actions in Syria are an act of aggression against the country’s beleaguered people.” In contrast with his assertion, many Syrians are hugely relieved and happy that Russia has started providing air support, modern laser-guided weapons and satellite information to help reverse the tide of Islamist gains.

An American Syrian friend who lives in Latakia recently reported that people in the city were extremely worried in August through mid-September with increasing car bombs and jihadi-fired missiles coming into the city. They are now starting to feel safe again. The mood has dramatically changed for the better.

Another Syrian friend reported that in his home village near Homs, women were ululating in happiness when Russian jet fighters attacked nearby ISIS and Nusra camps.

Those seeking direct U.S./NATO intervention in Syria describe the conflict as “weak Obama vs. strong Putin.” They are unhappy and critical because the proxy rebel army has failed to overthrow the Syrian government. So, they want direct invasion even if it risks world war.

It’s a very dangerous and deluded mindset. Above all it profoundly ignores or distorts the wishes of the Syrian people who have consistently and increasingly made clear they do not support the violent opposition. Two years ago, an assessment by NATO of Syrian public opinion found that 70 percent of the population supported the government, including many Sunnis who had grown disillusioned and fearful of the extremist fighters linked to Al Qaeda.

The conflict in Syria shows what happens when international law is ignored with impunity. Both the UN Charter and customary international law prohibit one country using force, directly or by proxy army, against another.

The Syrian conflict shows what happens when the “rule of the jungle” prevails. The “abyss” is not Syrian government and military getting support from Russia and starting to prevail over mercenaries and sectarian fanatics. The “abyss” is the death and destruction of the cradle of civilization caused by clear aggression.

The Obama legacy significantly depends on whether the President resists or caves in to warmongers such as Muhammad Idrees Ahmad and the Ambassador from UAE.

Rick Sterling is an independent researcher/writer and co-founder of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be contacted at [email protected]

8 comments for “Will Obama Succumb to Pro-War Baiting?

  1. AbdulKhaleq
    October 29, 2015 at 09:32

    Whatever the United States and Russia may say and act in public, they have the same main objective of keeping the Alawite regime, now under Bashar Asad, intact in Syria, but with different objectives in their other details in so far as their own geo-political considerations of are concerned. Iran, of course, though it boils down to the same Russian and American main objective, have their own far-reaching religio-political and nationalistic-hegememoic objectives of surrounding the Sunni Arab World, after having almost achieved Iraq, Syria and Lebanon under its political sphere of influence, for their own end-purpose of advancing their own brand of fanatic Shiite Islam which is also anti-West in its core, but often pursuing diplomacy to achieve its initial objectives towads their final objectives of becoming “the sole Islamic Power” in the Middle East and in the World if they can.

    However, both the U.S. and Russia serve the major Israeli interest of no regime change in Syria in so far as this serves Israeli interests in keeping the Israeli occupied Syrian Golan Heights without any Alawite attempts to either militarily or even peacefully wanting to liberate them now and in the future, considering the requirements of the minority Alawite regime for its survival. For Israel, of course the Alawite Syrian regime is more suited in keeping the current status-quo between Israel and Syria more peacefully than any other regime that might take over Syria whether Islamist or secular democratic, if Bashar’s regime collapses. These are today’s realities. Will they change, only history’s blowing winds will tell.

  2. Nic108
    October 21, 2015 at 21:43

    Why did Counterpunch publish this Neocon twaddle?

  3. Mortimer
    October 20, 2015 at 12:21

    Obama “caved in” to warmongers while studying International Relations under his mentor, Zbigniew Brzezinski at Columbia U.
    Obama is just a pawn in the Grand Chessboard of the New Century Colonialist as was George W. Bush.


    • Mortimer
      October 20, 2015 at 14:12

      “Brzezinski Mapped Out the Battle for Ukraine in 1997”
      (He saw it as a Pivot/Focal Point in the pursuit of US dominance in Eurasia)


    • Abe
      October 20, 2015 at 15:41

      In August 2007, Brzezinski endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. He stated that Obama “recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world.” – also saying, “What makes Obama attractive to me is that he understands that we live in a very different world where we have to relate to a variety of cultures and people.”

      In September 2007 during a speech on the Iraq war, Obama introduced Brzezinski as “one of our most outstanding thinkers”.

      In 2011, Brzezinski supported the NATO intervention against the forces of Muammar Gaddafi in the Libyan Civil War, calling non-intervention “morally dubious” and “politically questionable”.

      On 3 March 2014, between the 22 February ouster of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich and the 16 March Crimean referendum, Brzenzinski authored an op-ed piece for The Washington Post entitled “What is to be done? Putin’s aggression in Ukraine needs a response” He led with a link on Russian aggression; he compared Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “thuggish tactics in seizing Crimea” and “thinly camouflaged invasion” to Adolf Hitler’s occupation of the Sudetenland in 1938.

      Brzezinski’s periodic broadsides at Israel are nothing more than political theater.

      From Ukraine to Syria, both the Neocons and their liberal interventionist doppelgängers have embraced a truly globalist version of the Brzezinski stratagem: make the whole of Eurasia bleed for as much and as long as is possible.

  4. Zachary Smith
    October 20, 2015 at 12:14

    I like essays like this one – they serve to inform me of factors I hadn’t considered. There is some seriously big money at work from the oil-soaked Arab nations. And money is something which gets everybody’s attention in DC.

    Unfortunately, the reason those Arabs are so dedicated to getting what they want is based on religious fanaticism.

    Religion is a factor with the “Christians” in DC as well. Wanting to grease the skids for the “End Times” is the goal of many of these types, IMO. Probably this zeal is reinforced by the wheelbarrow loads of Arab money.

    Hillary wasn’t mentioned in the piece. She and the other “Liberal Hawks” (at least the hawk part is accurate) want to confront Russia. Violently if necessary


    Israel got only one mention. That murderous & thieving little nation is reeling from recent events, and is surely agitating as much as it can to push Obama into doing its will. The place is totally nuts – it’s populated by three generations of spoiled and delusional types who have had their way for decades.

    A warning about the link – the author is probably a bit crazy himself, but he does make some points worth much consideration.

    And we also observe that when Zionists are not willing or able to go to war, they usually endeavor to send other capable and willing nations to war on their behalf. But as noted a few passages above, this is currently impossible under the Obama administration. The dream of Greater Israel remains smashed.

    What to do then? What is the ultimate solution? Would Israel prefer that America directly and militarily confront Russia in the Levant? I call it a yes. Even at the cost of causing World War Three? Yes. Even at the risk of igniting a nuclear war? Yes.

    Yes, yes, and a triple yes. The global Zionist congress pathology shows every indication of this. ‘The tribe above all’ is their core belief. They are Masadian-ISISians in suits with basements full of nukes. Their narcissistic intentions are always clear – their motives and maneuvers are never to be trusted.


    The present situation involves an inflammable mixture of crazy Muslims, crazy Christians, and crazy Jews. What BHO finally decides to do really does matter.

    • Will Toffan
      October 24, 2015 at 15:35

      Another overlooked example of intellectual dishonesty in this article is the author’s statement that the Malaysian Airlines plane shot down in east Ukraine was brought down by Russian backed rebels. There is no credible investigative source for this assertion by the author and his flippant attempt to slip it past the reader. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that it was western Ukraine or its semi-independent oligarchs that were responsible, although nothing presented to date is conclusive either way. This author’s position as a professor at Stirling does not speak well for the university’s hiring process.

  5. Abe
    October 20, 2015 at 12:04

    ISIS Serves US Geopolitical Interests, Threatens Russia’s

    It has become clear that the US’s main objectives in Syria is not their expressed goal of ‘fighting ISIS’, but regime change, isolating Russian influence, the Balkanization and the creation of failed states. US presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself stated that ‘removing Assad is the top priority”.

    The US sees the Syrian state as one of the last spheres of Russian influence beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union, and a threat to its Israeli ally in the region. The presence of ISIS and other terrorists groups serves these interests. The US has a history of using terrorism to topple governments friendly to Russia. Al Qaeda itself was borne of the US objective to topple the Soviet friendly government of Afghanistan. The dismemberment of Russian-friendly Serbia and the creation of Kosovo was done via the same means.

    More recently ISIS was a direct result of the US’s intervention in Iraq, and have only arrived in Libya and Syria in the wake of overt US-backed regime change efforts there. Although Libya and Iraq did not have relations with Russia as strong as Syria’s, Russia was still their main weapons supplier. It is therefore not surprising that since Russia entered the war in Syria, Saudi clerics and the Muslim Brotherhood – both US state assets – declared ‘jihad’ on Russia.

    The former Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) Chief Michael Flynn said in an interview that he believed the US had made a willful decision to allow ISIS to grow in Syria. A 2012 declassified DIA report, wrote if the US and its allies continued to destabilize Syria by arming extremist insurgents “there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria… and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

    The CIA had trained thousand of ‘rebels’, not to fight ISIS, but admittedly to fight the Assad government and Syrian military – showing once again that the real objective behind the US’ involvement is regime change. Media across the West has even admited this, including the Washington Post which would report:

    “…the CIA has since 2013 trained some 10,000 rebels to fight Assad’s forces. Those groups have made significant progress against strongholds of the Alawites, Assad’s sect.”


    Russia has in turn signaled that it may start bombing ISIS in Iraq as well as Syria, with the permission of the Iraqi government. Unlike the US, Russia has not broken international law and has sought permission to enter Iraq and Syria from each respective state’s legitimate government.

    With these actions Russia has called the US’ bluff on fighting ISIS, and is effectively forcing the US to do a better job of convincing the Iraqi government that it is truly fighting ISIS. If Russia does enter Iraqi airspace, it will more easily cross into Syrian airspace to provide supplies to the Syrian government, since the US has bullied many countries in the region to close their airspace to Russian aircraft. Furthermore, if Iraq asks Russia to enter, it is a scenario that would reverse any of the influence the US had gained in Iraq throughout its lengthy occupation of the country since 2003.

    The US has been backed into a corner, and in doing so, has exposed itself and its allies as the source of terrorism, not champions truly fighting it. Terrorism has always been a means by which the US has sought to deconstruct Russian spheres of influences. Ironically over the last decade it has also simultaneously perpetuated the myth that it is actually fighting a war against terror. However as its allied states grow increasingly tired of this game, how long can the US continue to juggle this duplicity, before the entire deck of cards crumbles?

    Why Russia is Serious About Fighting Terrorism and the US Isn’t
    By Maram Susli

Comments are closed.