Mideast’s ‘Regime Change’ Madness

Hillary Clinton’s “regime change” policies as Secretary of State helped spread the chaos that has turned the Middle East into a killing field and might have done even worse if not for extraordinary obstructions from the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff regarding Syria, as Gareth Porter recounts at Middle East Eye.

By Gareth Porter

Seymour Hersh’s recent revelations about an effort by the U.S. military leadership in 2013 to bolster the Syrian army against jihadist forces in Syria shed important new light on the internal bureaucratic politics surrounding regime change in U.S. Middle East policy. Hersh’s account makes it clear that the Obama administration’s policy of regime change in both Libya and Syria provoked pushback from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

That account and another report on a similar episode in 2011 suggest that the U.S. military has a range of means by which it can oppose administration policies that it regards as unacceptable. But it also shows that the military leadership failed to alter the course of U.S. policy, and raises the question whether it was willing to use all the means available to stop the funneling of arms to al-Nusra Front and other extremist groups in Syria.

Ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shortly before he was murdered on Oct. 20, 2011.

Ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi shortly before he was murdered on Oct. 20, 2011.

Hersh details a JCS initiative in the summer of 2013 to share intelligence on Islamic State and al-Qaeda organizations with other German, Russian and Israeli militaries, in the belief that the information would find its way to the Syrian army. Hersh reports that the military leadership did not inform the White House and the State Department about the “military to military” intelligence sharing on the jihadist forces in Syria, reflecting the hardball bureaucratic politics practiced within the national security institutions.

The 2013 initiative, approved by JCS chairman, General Martin Dempsey, was not the first active effort by the U.S. military to mitigate Obama administration regime change policies. In 2011, the JCS had been strongly opposed to the effort to depose the Muammar Gaddafi regime in Libya, a regime-change effort led by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

When the Obama administration began its effort to overthrow Gaddafi, it did not call publicly for regime change and instead asserted that it was merely seeking to avert mass killings that administration officials had suggested might approach genocidal levels. But the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which had been given the lead role in assessing the situation in Libya, found no evidence to support such fears and concluded that it was based on nothing more than “speculative arguments.”

The JCS warned that overthrowing the Gaddafi regime would serve no U.S. security interest, but would instead open the way for forces aligned with al-Qaeda to take over the country. After the Obama administration went ahead with a NATO air assault against the Gaddafi regime the U.S. military sought to head off the destruction of the entire Libyan government.

General Carter Ham, the commander of AFRICOM, the U.S. regional command for Africa, gave the State Department a proposal for a ceasefire to which Gaddafi had agreed. It would have resulted in Gaddafi’s resignation but retain the Libyan military’s capacity to hold off jihadist forces and rescind the sanctions against Gaddafi’s family.

But the State Department refused any negotiation with Gaddafi on the proposal. Immediately after hearing that Gaddafi had been captured by rebel forces and killed, Clinton famously joked in a television interview, “We came, we saw, he died” and laughed.

By then the administration was already embarked on yet another regime change policy in Syria. Although Clinton led the public advocacy of the policy, then CIA Director David Petraeus, who had taken over the agency in early September 2011, was a major ally. He immediately began working on a major covert operation to arm rebel forces in Syria.

The CIA operation used ostensibly independent companies in Libya to ship arms from Libyan government warehouses to Syria and southern Turkey. These were then distributed in consultation with the United States through networks run by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The plan went into operation within days of Gaddafi’s death on October 20, 2011, just before NATO officially ended its operation at the end of that month, as the DIA later reported to the JCS.

But the result of the operation was to accelerate the dominance of al-Qaeda and their Islamist allies. The Turks, Qataris and Saudis were funneling arms to al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, al-Nusra Front, or other closely related extremist groups. That should not have surprised the Obama administration. The same thing had happened in Libya in spring 2011 after the Obama administration had endorsed a Qatari plan to send arms to Libyan rebels. The White House had quickly learned that the Qataris had sent the arms to the most extremist elements in the Libyan opposition.

The original Petraeus covert operation ended with the torching of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in September 2012 in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed. It was superseded by a new program under which Qatar and Saudi Arabia financed the transfer of weapons from other sources that were supposed to be distributed in cooperation with CIA officials at a base in southern Turkey.

But “thousands of tons of weapons” were still going to groups fighting alongside the jihadists or who actually joined them as Vice President Joe Biden revealed in 2014.

By spring 2013, al-Nusra Front and its Islamic extremist allies were already in control of wide areas in the north and in the Damascus suburbs. The Islamic State had separated from al-Nusra Front and established its own territory south of the Turkish border. The secular armed opposition had ceased to exist as a significant force.

The “Free Syrian Army”, the nominal command of those forces, was actually a fiction within Syria, as was reported by specialists on the Syrian conflict. But despite the absence of a real “moderate opposition,” the Obama administration continued to support the flood of arms to the forces fighting to overthrow Assad.

In mid-2013, as Hersh recounts, the DIA issued an intelligence assessment warning that the administration’s regime change policy might well result in a repeat of what was already happening in Libya: chaos and jihadist domination. The JCS also pulled off a clever maneuver to ensure that the jihadists and their allies were getting only obsolete weapons. A JCS representative convinced the CIA to obtain much cheaper arms from Turkish stocks controlled by officials sympathetic to the CIA’s viewpoint on Syria.

But the JCS failed to alter the administration’s policy of continuing to support the flow of arms into Syria. Did the military leadership really use all of its leverage to oppose the policy?

In 2013, some officials on the U.S. National Security Council staff pushed for a relatively modest form of pressure on Qatar to get it to back off its continued supply of arms to extremists, including al-Nusra Front, by pulling out a U.S. fighter squadron from the U.S. air base at al-Udeid in Qatar. But as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year, the Pentagon, obviously reflecting the JCS position, vetoed the proposal, arguing that the forward headquarters of the Central Command at the airbase was “vital” to U.S. operations in the Middle East.

The political implications of the episode are clear: bureaucratic self-interest trumped the military’s conviction that U.S. security is being endangered. No matter how strongly the JCS may have felt about the recklessness of administration policy, they were not prepared to sacrifice their access to military bases in Qatar, Saudi Arabia or Turkey to pressure their Middle Eastern allies.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This article originally appeared at Middle East Eye, http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/us-military-leadership-s-resistance-regime-change-1343405723#sthash.RtsyxSes.dpuf]

6 comments for “Mideast’s ‘Regime Change’ Madness

  1. Peter Loeb
    January 5, 2016 at 14:25


    In Gareth Porter’s article above one is left with a view
    of a military operating almost (almost) independently
    with regards to issues of war and piece.

    POLICY… (Beacon Press, 1969), the
    late historian Gabriel Kolko argues precisely the
    opposite, especially in Chapter 2, “The American
    Military and Civil Authority” (pp. 27-47).

    Kolko bolsters his argument based on successive
    reorganizations of what is now called “The Defense
    Department”, its relationship to the National Security
    Council (NSC) as well as to overriding civilian power
    residing in the Chief Executive.

    While much has changed since post WWII , it is
    difficult to oppose Kolko’s analysis as a basis for analysis.

    Whatever his personal or political modes of
    operation it still seems that the President has
    the last word.

    If Gareth Porter (Seymour Hersch and others) contest
    Kolko’s argument, their case should be made
    clearly and concisely with regard to power relationships.

    None of this contradicts the essential argument against
    the “Assad Must Go!” policies nor the issues
    regarding the basic “facts” (such as who is supporting
    whom) etc.

    With a new President of any party, similar power relationships
    will obtain.

    Porter’s insight into the development and operation of this
    and similar policies remain relevant and are much appreciated.

    Meanwhile all of us must be reminded each day that people
    are dying and the societies that ought to provide for their
    people’s welfare are crumbling and , as elsewhere, much is due
    to American policies.

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  2. Eddie
    January 4, 2016 at 21:12

    I have to agree with David Smith’s sarcastic message above, and wonder out loud ‘how militaristic HAVE we become in the US if we have to seemingly root for the MILITARY leaders to essentially reign-in the CIVILIAN powers who nominally control them?’ And I suspect that military leaders are essentially uncomfortable with that role – – – after all, they’re ultimately in-place to do destruction/killing/confrontation/etc, they’re not diplomats, so they’re not trained to do peace-making diplomacy. Sad… (and I still have trouble believing that so many of my fellow baby-boomers – – – who lived through/protested/avoided the Vietnam ‘War’ – – – turned out to support the same sort of assholes, like W, et al)

  3. Abe
    January 4, 2016 at 19:54

    The commander of terrorist organization and Al Qaeda affiliate Jaysh al-Islam (the Army of Islam), “Sheikh” Zahran Alloush, was killed in a Syrian airstrike this week in the suburbs of Damascus.

    In a surreal, coordinated propaganda campaign, the Western media sidestepped Alloush’s praise of and coordination with US State Department-listed foreign terrorist organization Jabhat al-Nusra, previously known as Al Qaeda in Iraq – and indeed, the very terrorist organization that the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh) itself sprung up from.

    The West itself has for years now, reported on Jaysh al-Islam’s collaboration with Al Qaeda. A March 2013 Institute for the Study of War report authored by now disgraced “expert” Elizabeth O’Bagy – a paid lobbyist who in fact attempted to lie about the presence of “moderate Syrian opposition,” titled, “The Free Syrian Army” (.pdf) would note regarding the terrorist organization that:

    “Liwa al-Islam [now known as Jaysh al-Islam] is a driving force behind actions in Damascus, and is part of the current multilateral effort, codenamed “Operation Epic in the Capital of the Omayyads,” to gain ground and prepare for later sustained efforts against regime forces in the city. Liwa al-Islam is known to cooperate with Jabhat Nusra and conduct joint operations.”

    Ironically, despite knowing the various affiliations “rebel groups” in Syria have with Al Qaeda, O’Bagy herself, along with the so-called Institute for the Study of War – an arms industry-funded think tank – have attempted to perpetuate Western support of these “rebel groups,” which in turn have perpetuated the deadly conflict raging in Syria. The profitable war, and the US dominated MENA region that would form as a result of its successful execution, helps explain why the West is so interested in portraying terrorists as “moderates,” and going as far as mourning the death of a terrorist leader who openly worked with and praised Al Qaeda […]

    Deceitful articles published by some of the West’s most prominent newspapers and services would attempt to portray Alloush and the terrorist organization he headed as “moderates.” The New York Times in its article, “Powerful Syrian Rebel Leader Reported Killed in Airstrike,” would claim:

    “Analysts said the strikes were in keeping with longstanding efforts by the Syrian government and its allies to eliminate groups claiming to occupy a middle ground between Mr. Assad and the Islamic State. The efforts are part of a broader objective to improve Mr. Assad’s standing among Western governments, which despise him but also see the Islamic State as an increasing menace.”

    In reality, Jaysh al-Islam does not occupy a “middle ground” between the Islamic State and the Syrian government. Regardless of alleged tensions between Jaysh al-Islam and the Islamic State, they pursue the same goals, backed by the same foreign interests, using the same tactics.

    Surreal: West Mourns Death of Al Qaeda Collaborator in Syrian Airstrike
    By Tony Cartalucci

    • Stefan
      January 13, 2016 at 21:00

      O’Bagy also lied about her expertise, she was no “Syria Expert” and she had no phd. She got fired, then immediately hired by McCain to join his staff.

      ISW was founded by the Kagans, is run by the Kagans.
      Yes, THE Kagans.

  4. David Smith
    January 4, 2016 at 16:13

    10-4, message acknowledged. The Joint Chiefs Of Staff are the smartest guys in the room and only need ” Seven Days In May” to straighten out the mess…..

  5. Brad Owen
    January 4, 2016 at 13:00

    Makes me think there is an internal struggle, a covert “Civil War” going on between (Imperial/trans-national) Deep State operatives and bureaucrats of the remaining elements of the traditional Constitutional Republic; and the “Alignment of Forces” of these two opposing sides is very murky, not at all clear. Military CEOs split between both sides; same with intel/Nat’l Sec operatives, civil service bureaucrats, elected pols, media operatives, think tank organizations, in general people with authority and power and influence, etc… even the big money oligarchs are probably split into both camps. What a mess. Who’s been fired the last several years, or protected, or mysteriously promoted, or suffered an airplane “accident”, or “needed to spend more time with the family”, or had a questionable election mysteriously go their way, or against them??? I bet this is the current state-of-mind of a large percentage of the citizens. Maybe I’ve just watched too much Blacklist/Person of Interest/Alias and such.

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