America’s Many Mideast Blunders

Official Washington’s neocon foreign policy establishment looks forward to more “regime change” wars in the Mideast and more “blank checks” for Israel, but ex-Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr. sees such actions as a continued march of folly.

By Chas W. Freeman Jr. (A June 9 speech to the Center for the National Interest, Washington)

I have been asked to speak about the geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East, the realignments occurring among states there, and the prospects for the achievement of renewed stability in the region.  I’m tempted to suggest that you read my latest book, America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East.  So much has gone wrong that it is hard to be either brief or optimistic.

Two hundred and eighteen years ago today, Napoleon was preparing to take Malta.  His purpose was to clear an obstacle to his seizure of Egypt for revolutionary France.  He was able to invade Egypt on July 1, 1798.  Napoleon’s campaign there and in Palestine kicked off a two-century-long effort by the West to transform the Middle East.

Retired U.S. Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr.

Retired U.S. Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr.

European imperial powers and, latterly, the United States, have repeatedly sought to convert Arabs, Persians, and Turks to the secular values of the European Enlightenment, to democratize them, to impose Western models of governance on them in place of indigenous, Islamic systems, and more recently to persuade them to accept a Jewish state in their midst.

This experiment in expeditionary, transformative diplomacy has now definitively failed. The next administration will inherit a greatly diminished capacity to influence the evolution of the Middle East.  Amidst the imbecilities of our interminably farcical election season, it has proven expedient to blame this on President Obama. If only he had bombed Syria, repudiated his predecessor’s agreement to withdraw the U.S. military from Iraq, refused to compromise with Iran on nuclear matters, knuckled under to Netanyahu, or whatever, the old order in the Middle East would be alive and well and the United States would still call the shots there.

But this is nonsense. Our estrangement from the Middle East derives from trends that are much deeper than the manifest deficiencies of executive and congressional leadership in Washington.  Americans and our partners in the Middle East have developed contradictory interests and priorities.  Where shared values existed at all, they have increasingly diverged. There have been massive changes in geo-economics, energy markets, power balances, demographics, religious ideologies, and attitudes toward America (not just the U.S. government).

Many of these changes were catalyzed by historic American policy blunders. In the aggregate, these blunders are right up there with the French and German decisions to invade Russia and Japan’s surprise attack on the United States. Their effects make current policies not just unsustainable but counterproductive.

Blunder number one was the failure to translate our military triumph over Saddam’s Iraq in 1991 into a peace with Baghdad. No effort was ever made to reconcile Iraq to the terms of its defeat. The victors instead sought to impose elaborate but previously undiscussed terms by UN fiat in the form of the UN Security Council Resolution 687 – “the mother of all resolutions.”

The military basis for a renewed balance of power in the Gulf was there to be exploited. The diplomatic vision was not. The George H. W. Bush administration ended without addressing the question of how to replace war with peace in the Gulf.

Wars don’t end until the militarily humiliated accept the political consequences of their defeat.  Saddam gave lip service to UNSCR 687 but took it no more seriously than Netanyahu and his predecessors have taken the various Security Council resolutions that direct Israel to permit Palestinians to return to the homes from which it drove them or to withdraw from the Palestinian lands it has seized and settled. Like Israel’s wars with the Arabs, America’s war with Iraq went into remission but never ended. In due course, it resumed.

The United States needs to get into the habit of developing and implementing war termination strategies.

Blunder number two was the sudden abandonment in 1993 of the strategy of maintaining peace in the Persian Gulf through a balance of power. With no prior notice or explanation, the Clinton administration replaced this longstanding approach  with “dual containment” of both Iraq and Iran.

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton debating with President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton debating with President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

For decades, offshore balancing had permitted the United States to sustain stability without stationing forces other than a very small naval contingent in the Gulf. When the regional balance of power was undone by the Iran-Iraq War, Washington intervened to restore it, emphasizing that once Kuwait had been liberated and Iraq cut back down to size, U.S. forces would depart.

The new policy of “dual containment” created a requirement for the permanent deployment of a large U.S. air and ground force in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar as well as an expanded naval presence in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The political and socioeconomic irritants this requirement produced led directly to the founding of al Qa`ida and the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. “Dual containment” was plausible as a defense of Israel against its two most potent regional adversaries, Iran and Iraq. But it made no sense at all in terms of stabilizing the Gulf.

By writing off Iraq as a balancer of Iran, dual containment also paved the way for the 2003 American experiment with regime removal in Baghdad. This rash action on the part of the United States led to the de facto realignment of Iraq with Iran, the destabilization and partition of Iraq, the destabilization and partition of Syria, the avalanche of refugees now threatening to unhinge the E.U., and the rise of the so-called “Islamic state” or Da`esh.

With Iraq having fallen into the Iranian sphere of influence, there is no apparent way to return to offshore balancing. The U.S. is stuck in the Gulf. The political irritations this generates ensure that some in the region will continue to seek to attack the U.S. homeland or, failing that, Americans overseas.

The United States needs to find an alternative to the permanent garrisoning of the Gulf.

Blunder number three was the unthinking transformation in December 2001 of what had been a punitive expedition in Afghanistan into a long-term pacification campaign that soon became a NATO operation. The objectives of the NATO campaign have never been clear but appear to center on guaranteeing that there will no Islamist government in Kabul.

The engagement of European as well as American forces in this vague mission has had the unintended effect of turning the so-called “global war on terrorism” into what appears to many Muslims to be a Western global crusade against Islam and its followers. Afghanistan remains decidedly unpacified and is becoming more, not less Islamist.

The United States needs to find ways to restore conspicuous cooperation with the world’s Muslims.

Blunder number four was the inauguration on February 4, 2002 – also in Afghanistan – of a campaign using missiles fired from drones to assassinate presumed opponents. This turn toward robotic warfare has evolved into a program of serial massacres from the air in a widening area of West Asia and northern Africa. It is a major factor in the metastasis of anti-Western terrorism with global reach.

What had been a U.S. problem with a few Islamist exiles resident in Afghanistan and Sudan is now a worldwide phenomenon. The terrorist movements U.S. interventions have spawned now have safe havens not just in Afghanistan, but in the now failed states of Iraq and Syria, as well as Chad,  Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Sinai, Somalia, and Yemen. They also have a growing following among European Muslims and a toehold among Muslim Americans. We have flunked the test suggested by the Yoda of the Pax Americana, Donald Rumsfeld. We are creating more terrorists than we are killing.

The United States needs a strategy that does not continuously reinforce blowback.

Blunder number five was the aid to Iran implicit in the unprovoked invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. This rearranged the region to the severe strategic disadvantage of traditional U.S. strategic partners like Israel and Saudi Arabia by helping to create an Iranian sphere of influence that includes much of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

President George W. Bush announcing the launching of the Iraq invasion on March 19, 2003. (White House photo)

President George W. Bush announcing the launching of the Iraq invasion on March 19, 2003. (White House photo)

It showed the United States to be militarily mighty but geopolitically naive and strategically incompetent. Rather than underscoring American military power, it devalued it. The U.S. invasion of Iraq also set off a sectarian struggle that continues to spread around the globe among the Muslim fourth of humanity. The U.S. occupation culminated in a “surge” of forces that entrenched a pro-Iranian regime in Baghdad and that only its authors consider a victory.

The United States needs to deal with the reality and the challenges to others in the region of the Iranian sphere of influence it helped create.

Blunder number six has been to confuse the motives for terrorism with the religious rationalizations its perpetrators concoct to justify its immorality. Many of those who seek revenge for perceived injustices and humiliations at the hands of the West and Western-backed regimes in the Middle East, or who are treated as aliens in their own countries in Europe, give voice to their anger in the language of Islam.

But their political grievances, not heretical Islamic excuses for the mass murders they carry out, are what drive their attempts at reprisal. Islamism is a symptom of Arab anguish and rage. It is a consequence, not a cause of Muslim anger.

Religious ideology is, of course, important. It is a key factor in justifying hatred of those outside its self-selected community. To non-believers, arguments about who is a Jew or whether someone is a true Muslim are incomprehensible and more than a little absurd.

But to the intolerant people doing the excommunicating, such debates define their political community and those who must be excluded from it. They separate friend from foe. And to those being condemned for their disbelief or alleged apostasy, the judgments imposed by this intolerance can now be a matter of life or death.

In the end, the attribution of Muslim resentment of the West to Islam is just a version of the facile thesis that “they hate us because of who we are.” This is the opiate of the ignorant. It is self-expiating denial that past and present behavior by Western powers, including the United States, might have created grievances severe enough to motivate others to seek revenge for the indignities they have experienced.

It is an excuse to ignore and do nothing about the ultimate sources of Muslim rage because they are too discomfiting to bear discussion. Any attempt to review the political effects of American complicity in the oppression and dispossession of millions of Palestinians and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths caused by U.S. sanctions, bombing campaigns, and drone warfare is ruled out of order by political correctness and cowardice.

The United States needs to work with its European allies, with Russia, and with partners in the Middle East to attack the problems that are generating terrorism, not just the theology of those who resort to it.

Blunder number seven was the adoption after the 1973 Yom Kippur War of a commitment to maintain a “qualitative military edge” for Israel over any and all potential adversaries in its region. This policy has deprived Israel of any incentive to seek security through non-military means.

Why should Israel risk resting its security on reconciliation with Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors when it has been assured of long-term military supremacy over them and relieved of any concern about the political or economic consequences of using force against them?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in 2012, drawing his own “red line” on how far he will let Iran go in refining nuclear fuel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in 2012, drawing his own “red line” on how far he will let Iran go in refining nuclear fuel.

Confidence in Israel’s qualitative military edge is now the main source of moral hazard for the Jewish state. Its effect is to encourage Israel to favor short-term territorial gains over any effort to achieve long-term security through acceptance by neighboring states, the elimination of tensions with them, and the normalization of its relations with others in its region. U.S. policy inadvertently ensured that the so-called “peace process” would always be stillborn. And so it proved to be.

Israel’s lack of concern about the consequences of its occupation and settlement of the West Bank and its siege of Gaza has facilitated its progressive abandonment of the universalist Jewish values that inspired Zionism and its consequent separation from the Jewish communities outside its elastic borders. U.S. subsidies underwrite blatant tyranny by Jewish settlers over the Muslim and Christian Arabs they have dispossessed.

This is a formula for the moral and political self-delegitimization of the State of Israel, not its long-term survival. It is also a recipe for the ultimate loss by Israel of irreplaceable American political, military, and other support.

The United States needs to wean Israel off its welfare dependency and end the unconditional commitments that enable self-destructive behavior on the part of the Jewish state.

Blunder number eight has been basing U.S. policies toward the Middle East on deductive reasoning grounded in ideological fantasies and politically convenient narratives rather than on inductive reasoning and reality-based analysis. America’s misadventures cannot be excused as “intelligence errors.” They are the result of the ideological politicization of policy-making. This has enabled multiple policy errors based on wishful thinking, selective listening, and mirror-imaging.  Examples include:

–The conviction, despite U.N. inspections and much evidence to the contrary, that Saddam’s program to develop weapons of mass destruction was ongoing, representing an imminent danger, and could only be halted by his overthrow;

–The supposition that, despite his well-documented secularism, because he was an Arab, a Muslim, and a bad guy, Saddam must be colluding with the religious fanatics of al Qaeda;

–The assumption that the U.S. military presence in Iraq would be short, undemanding, and   inexpensive;

–The belief that the overthrow of confessional and ethnic balances would not cause the disintegration of societies like Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Lebanon or ignite a wider sectarian conflict;

–The spurious attribution to people in Iraq of political attitudes and aspirations found mostly among exiles abroad;

–The ludicrous expectation that U.S. forces invading Iraq would be greeted as liberators by all but a few;

–The unshakeable presumption that Israel must want peace more than land;

–The impulse to confuse mob rule on the Arab street with a process of democratization;

–The confidence that free and fair elections would put liberals rather than Islamist nationalists in power in Arab societies like Palestine and Egypt;

–The supposition that the removal of bad guys from office, as in Libya, Yemen, or Syria, would  lead to the elevation of better leaders and the flowering of peace, freedom, and domestic tranquility there; and

–Imagining that dictators like Bashar Al-Assad had little popular support and could therefore  be easily deposed.

I could go on but I won’t. I’m sure I’ve made my point. Dealing with the Middle East as we prefer to imagine it rather than as it is doesn’t work. The United States needs to return to fact-based analysis and realism in its foreign policy.

All these blunders have been compounded by the consistent substitution of military tactics for strategy. The diplomatic success of the Iran nuclear deal aside, the policy dialogue in Washington and the current presidential campaign have focused entirely on the adjustment of troop levels, whether and when to bomb things, the implications of counterinsurgency doctrine, when and how to use special forces, whether to commit troops on the ground, and the like, with nary a word about what these uses of force are to accomplish other than killing people. When presented with proposals for military action, no one asks “and then what?”

Military campaign plans that aim at no defined political end state are violence for the sake of violence that demonstrably create more problems than they solve. Military actions that are unguided and unaccompanied by diplomacy are especially likely to do so. Think of Israel’s, our, and Saudi Arabia’s campaigns in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and Yemen.

King Salman greets the President and First Lady during a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

King Salman greets the President and First Lady during a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By contrast, military interventions that are limited in their objectives, scale, and duration, that end or phase down when they have achieved appropriate milestones, and that support indigenous forces that have shown their mettle on the battlefield can succeed. Examples include the pre-Tora Bora phase of the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and the first round of Russian intervention in Syria.

The objectives of what was initially conceived as a punitive raid into Afghanistan in October 2001 were (1) to dismantle al Qaeda and (2) to punish its Taliban hosts to ensure that “terrorists with global reach” would be denied a continuing safe haven in Afghanistan. The United States pursued these objectives by supporting mostly non-Pashtun enemies of the mostly Pashtun Taliban who had proven politico-military capabilities and staying power.

A limited American and British investment of intelligence capabilities, special forces, air combat controllers, and air strikes tilted the battlefield in favor of the Northern Alliance and against the Taliban. Within a little more than two months, the Taliban had been forced out of Kabul and the last remnants of al Qaeda had been killed or driven from Afghanistan. We had achieved our objectives.

But instead of declaring victory and dancing off the field, we moved the goal posts. The United States launched an open-ended campaign and enlisted NATO in efforts to install a government in Kabul while building a state for it to govern, promoting feminism, and protecting poppy growers. The poppies still flourish. All else looks to be ephemeral.

Mr. Putin’s intervention in Syria in 2015 relied for its success on ingredients similar to those in the pre-Tora Bora U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. The Russians committed a modest ration of air power and special forces in support of a Syrian government that had amply demonstrated its survivability in the face of more than four years of Islamist efforts to take it down. The Russian  campaign had clear political objectives, which it stuck to.

Moscow sought to reduce the complexities of Syria to a binary choice between life under the secular dictatorship of the Assad regime and rule by Islamist fanatics. It cemented a Russian-Iranian entente. It hedged against the likelihood that the Syrian Humpty Dumpty cannot be reassembled, ensuring that, whatever happens, Russia will not lack clients in Syria or be dislodged from its bases at Tartus and Latakia.

Russia succeeded in forcing the United States into a diplomatically credible peace process in which regime removal is no longer a given and Russia and Iran are recognized as essential participants. It retrained, reequipped, and restored the morale of government forces, while putting their Islamist opponents on the defensive and gaining ground against them. The campaign reduced and partially contained the growing Islamist threat to Russian domestic tranquility, while affirming Russia’s importance as a partner in combating terrorism.

Moscow also put its hands on the stopcock for the refugee flow from West Asia that threatens the survival of the European Union, underscoring Russia’s indispensable relevance to European affairs. It demonstrated its renewed military prowess and reestablished itself as a major actor in Middle Eastern affairs.

And it showed that Russia could be counted upon to stand by protégés when they are at risk, drawing an invidious contrast with the American abandonment of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The cost of these achievements has been collateral damage to Russia’s relations with Turkey, a price Moscow appears willing to play.

But state failure in Syria continues, as it does in Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. Jordan and Bahrain are under pressure. Tunisia and Turkey – once avatars of democratic Islamism – seem to be leaving democracy behind. Israel is strangling Gaza while swallowing the rest of Palestine alive. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain are in a near state of war with Iran, which is in the midst of a breakthrough in relations with Europe and Asia, if not America. Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar are trying to stay out of the fight. Once the region’s Arab heavyweight, Egypt now subsists on handouts from the Gulf Arabs and cowers under martial law. Sudan has been partitioned, sidelined, and ostracized by the West.

The Middle East kaleidoscope has yet to come to rest. We can see that the region’s future political geography will differ from its past and present contours. But we cannot yet say what it will look like.

“More-of-the-same” policies will almost certainly produce more of the same sort of mess we now see. What is to be done? Perhaps we should start by trying to correct some of the blunders that produced our current conundrums. The world’s reliance on energy from the Gulf has not diminished. But ours has. That gives us some freedom of maneuver. We should use it.

We need to harness our military capabilities to diplomacy rather than the other way around. The key to this is to find a way to reenlist Iraq in support of a restored balance of power in the Gulf. That would allow us reduce our presence there to levels that avoid stimulating a hostile reaction and to return to a policy of offshore balancing.

This can only be done if Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Sunni states rediscover the differences between the varieties of Shi`ism in Iraqi Najaf and Iranian Qom. The shi`ism of Najaf tends to be fatalistic and supportive of Iraqi nationalism. The shi`ism of Qom is more assertively universalistic and activist. The Saudis and their allies need to make common cause with Shi`ite Iraqis as Arabs rather than castigate them as heretics.

The limited normalization of Iranian relations with the West, including the United States, is an inevitability. The strategies of our Arab partners in the region need to anticipate and hedge against this. And we need to prepare them to do so.

Such an adjustment will take some very tough love from the United States. It will require the Saudis and their allies to back away from the policies based on Salafi sectarianism they have followed for the better part of this decade and reembrace the tolerance that is at the heart of Islam. It will also require some measure of accommodation by them with Iran, regardless of the state of U.S.-Iranian relations.

Without both a turn away from sectarianism and the achievement of a modus vivendi with Iran, the Saudis and their allies will remain on the defensive, Iraq will remain an extension of Iranian influence, and the region will remain inflamed by religious warfare. All this will spill over on Americans and our European allies.

Islamism is an extreme form of political Islam – a noxious ideology that invites a political retort. It has received none except in Saudi Arabia. There a concerted propaganda campaign has effectively refuted Islamist heresies. No effort has been undertaken to form a coalition to mount such a campaign on a regional basis.

Billionaire and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

But such a coalition is essential to address the political challenges that Muslim extremists pose to regional stability and to the security of the West. Only the Saudis and others with credibility among Salafi Muslims are in a position to form and lead a campaign to do this. This is an instance where it makes sense for the United States to “lead from behind.”

For our part, Americans must be led to correct our counterproductive misunderstanding of Islam. Islamophobia has become as American as gun massacres. The presumptive candidate of one of our two major parties has suggested banning Muslims from entry into the United States. This is reflective of national attitudes that are incompatible with the cooperation we need with Muslim partners to fight terrorist extremism. If we do not correct these attitudes, we will continue to pay not just in treasure but in blood. Lots of it.

Finally, the United States must cease to provide blank checks to partners in the region prone to misguided and counterproductive policies and actions that threaten American interests as well as their own prospects. No more Yemens. No more Gazas or Lebanons. No more military guarantees that disincentivize diplomacy aimed at achieving long-term security for Israel.

The obvious difficulty of making any of these adjustments is a measure of how far we have diverged from an effective approach to managing our relations with the Middle East and how impaired our ability to contribute to peace and stability there has become. Our mainstream media is credulous and parrots the official line. Our politicians are devoted to narratives that bear almost no relation to the realities of the Middle East. Our government is dysfunctional. Our politics is … well, … you pick the word.

Frankly, the prospects that we will get our act and our policies together are not good. But history will not excuse us for acting out Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing more of the same and expecting different results. We won’t get them.

Ambassador Freeman chairs Projects International, Inc. He is a retired U.S. defense official, diplomat, and interpreter, the recipient of numerous high honors and awards, a popular public speaker, and the author of five books.

20 comments for “America’s Many Mideast Blunders

  1. Madhu
    June 17, 2016 at 10:11

    Rereading, this sort of thing irritates:

    This can only be done if Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Sunni states rediscover the differences between the varieties of Shi`ism in Iraqi Najaf and Iranian Qom. The shi`ism of Najaf tends to be fatalistic and supportive of Iraqi nationalism. The shi`ism of Qom is more assertively universalistic and activist. The Saudis and their allies need to make common cause with Shi`ite Iraqis as Arabs rather than castigate them as heretics.

    The limited normalization of Iranian relations with the West, including the United States, is an inevitability. The strategies of our Arab partners in the region need to anticipate and hedge against this. And we need to prepare them to do so.

    What the heck does he mean by all of this? This sounds like Vali Nasr on Pakistan. Somehow, by interacting with the Saudis, we are going to change their very society and calculus. How exactly is this going to happen?

    I reread this because I was so irritated by the State department “leak” to pressure the president on Assad. Timed for that Saudi prince’s visit so maybe it’s meant to be placating toward him, or a one two punch by arabists aimed at DC decision makers and the President.

    How do people take this seriously.

  2. Peter Loeb
    June 17, 2016 at 07:38


    Thanks to Abe and Madhu’s perceptive responses to Charles
    Freeman’s points. Ambassador Freeman is extremely slick
    in his cascades of facts without dealing with the essense of
    what is happening…particularly from the US point of

    One example (of many): The UN Security Council passed
    UNANIMOUSLY a resolution urging help for the Syrian
    Government in fighting terrorists. That is, the US supported
    this resolution. (No referral to the UN’s “Title VII” for
    action, but still a strong statement by all.)

    Within a week the US was lambasting the Syrian
    Government for the very self-defense the US had supported
    only days before. That UN resolution was thrown “down the
    memory hole.”

    Secretary of State John Kerry refused Russia’s invitation
    to join in a coalition to, in effect, implement the unanimous
    Security Council decision as well as to protect US weaponry from
    injury etc.

    The US is backing al Queda affiliates (See many
    Consortiumnews articles) thus increasing the
    danger of conflict between Russia and the West.

    The US wants its cake (defeat Assad) and wants
    to eat it too.

    And so on and so forth.

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  3. Madhu
    June 16, 2016 at 09:16

    I always find Chas Freeman’s soft spot for Saudi Arabia hard to take. I don’t know why he gets a pass on it:

    The United States needs to deal with the reality and the challenges to others in the region of the Iranian sphere of influence it helped create.

    Sorry, we do too much of this already (Yemen, arms sales, whatever the CIA is doing in Syria, etc.) You can look through old WMREA articles from the 90s and find Chas Freeman arguing that if the US was closer to Saudi Arabia, why, we’d have more trade (including defense trade?).

    Sorry, can’t take it seriously.

    I wonder if this is one reason East West Accord doesn’t get as much hearing as it should.

    The Nation types have their little pet feelings about this and that, and it doesn’t help.

  4. Abe
    June 14, 2016 at 18:03

    ISIS is literally being reinforced from Turkey – a NATO-member since the 1950’s which hosts a US Air Force base at Incirlik, and who has allowed US, British, French, and Persian Gulf state intelligence agencies and special forces to operate along its border with Syria with impunity since the conflict began […]

    The Foreign Minister of Turkey admits that ISIS forces – fighters, weapons, and equipment – are pouring out of Turkey’s own territory “bound for Raqqa,” but never explains how the most notorious terrorist organization of the 21st century could move enough men and materiel through a NATO-member state to wage an entire war with, without being stopped before reaching Syria. Also not explained is where ISIS is procuring the weapons that it is moving through Turkey.

    It is a reality that directly and damningly implicates Turkey and its allies as state sponsors of terrorism, and calls into question both the legitimacy and relevance of NATO itself. At the very least – NATO is exposed as a military alliance so impotent that it cannot even secure its own territory from being used as a springboard for full-scale ISIS military operations.

    US-NATO Harbored, Protected ISIS for Years

    It should be noted that as a “collective act” by NATO, at one point in the conflict, the United States and Germany would even place Patriot missile systems along the Turkish-Syrian border to discourage Syrian aviation from approaching too close – a strategic reality that did not shift until Russia began its own direct military intervention in the conflict on Damascus’ behalf, as Defense News reported at the time.

    In retrospect – it appears that both the US and Turkey were complicit in ensuring Syrian efforts to interdict terrorists including ISIS were ineffective – establishing what was essentially a defacto buffer zone inhabited by among other groups – Al Qaeda’s Al Nusra Front and ISIS itself.

    NATO Exposed as ISIS Springboard into Syria
    By Tony Cartalucci

  5. Rube Vogel
    June 14, 2016 at 09:15

    In this piece, Chas W. Freeman Jr. describes and then continues the great US tradition of totally not understanding Islam, Arabs and the Middle East.

    Obama had this to say to Netanyahu: “Bibi, you have to understand something, I’m the African American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House. I managed to get elected president of the United States. You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do.”

    In Obama’s mind, being the African American son of a single mother means that Netanyahu, who has fought for 50 years for his countries survival against numerous attempts by Arab neighbors to erase the Jewish state , has nothing to teach him on the Middle East.

    Mr. Freeman is guilty of the same hubris and “expertise” that speaks from ignorance and/or projection of his own personal experiences. He has also left out the biggest US failure of M.E. policy of the past decade, the failure of the US to do everything in its power to make that great Israeli step towards peace known as the Gaza withdrawal a success. Instead the US allowed Gaza to become a Hamas missile base that proved to all Israelis that the Palestinians prefer missiles over peace.

    • Dave J
      June 14, 2016 at 10:46

      There is no “great Israeli step towards peace” and there never will be without great coercion, as you doubtless know. Israel is essentially a fascist state, and ironically became that way in the same way that Germany gave up social democracy in 1933: because its population had been misused, became convinced of its superiority, and elected warmongering demagogues.

      The error of Israel is well shown in your remark “numerous attempts by Arab neighbors to erase the Jewish state.” You admit that it is an ethnically-defined state. It was set up by terrorism against the illegitimate British mandate, which had foolishly allowed mass immigration there of extremists, and by bribery of the US to force a UN decision, despite its refusal to obey any UN decision since. It was expanded by aggressive war, and continues to betray its former friend the US, and to instigate war among its opponents.

      You know as well as everyone here that Israel’s problems were created and are continued by its racist ideology of theft of land on the usual fascist pretext of deserving its neighbor’s property. Israel will eventually get what it deserves, and very few will pity the bastards. It didn’t have to be this way, but now it does. That is entirely the fault of Israel: it is a fascist state and has no excuses.

      Once I pitied you folks; but as an adult I learned what a damned conspiratorial bunch of fascists and thieves your right wing is, not only a threat to yourselves but a plague upon the United States. Only a fool of your propagandists among the fundamentalists would be fooled. The rest of us will shed crocodile tears when you are gone. Your dreams of empire and savage thievery will not be missed from this planet.

    • Anthony Shaker
      June 14, 2016 at 12:19

      In the grand scheme of things, Netanyahu is just a fly in the soup, to be discarded with a flick of the finger.

      What you are “teaching” is inspired by the same racist drivel by which Zionists want the world to imagine Jews as being above all law and morality, that one race has a divine right over another, and that crimes committed in Europe should be paid by the Palestinians. This is an abomination not just against humanity, but also against the Jewish people themselves.

      What you say has nothing “Jewish” about it. You forget that the Zionist movement and its race theories took over Jewish communities in America during WWII, before the full brunt of the camps or the camps themselves were revealed. These camps filled by prisoners of every persuasion.

      Read Kaplan’s “Judaism as a Civilization” and you will understand where Zionists stood relative to Jews in America before the war. What happened after that has been a tragedy of epic proportions for Jews around world, because it means that traditional Jewish values have been on their deathbed ever since. They would have been stamped out completely had it not been for the lone Jewish voices, now becoming a torrent, against Israeli Apartheid. These voices are both religious and secular.

      • Peter Loeb
        June 15, 2016 at 07:05


        Ambassador Freeman makes some excellent points many of which
        in the current political environment will not see any impeimentation
        in the forseeable future.

        In the traditional Ambassadorial manner, His Excellency sees
        problems from an American position. It is what we should have,
        could have done.

        [Full disclosure: I have known some Ambassadors. My father
        was one.]

        In between the cascade of details, the wish list which
        some call “breathtaking” etc. there remains lurking the
        ever predominant role of the US to change policies.
        While correct, it is in most cases not quite relevant
        in 2016 and beyond.

        If Syria received the COOPERATIVE support from the US
        in fighting its invasion by foreigners ,many of
        whom have been encouraged by the US. would it
        have been a “failed state”? Instead the US continues
        to oppose Syria by supporting organizations affiliated
        with al Queda. Syria has asked for support in UN
        resolutions supported by the US and attacked within
        a week.

        What is wrong with Iran’s increasing alliance
        with Iraq? Historically, these areas have
        always been more together than apart.(Separation
        was, as Ambassador Freeman knows, a product of
        imperial designs. So too was the “creation” of Israel
        to make it a racially pure, Jewish-only nation in
        a land previously occupied by Muslims.

        On and on. There are courageous prescriptions for
        a world organized by the US which seem (to
        put it lightly) unlikely to say the least..

        To commenters and readers, do not be deceived by
        well stated opinions. Many have bits and pieces
        of truth if one could start over. They can be

        Other writers for Consortium provide excellent
        reporting in many of these areas.

        My apologies to the Ambassador for sections which
        time did not permit me to analyze in detail.

        —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

    • NBrady
      June 14, 2016 at 21:07

      Rube Vogel, take your zionist, racist, supremacist BS elsewhere. There is no place for that propaganda here. That crap may fly with the uninformed minions who buy the corporate MSM, which is exactly what CN is not. You can choose to believe whatever you like, it makes zero difference to us until you attempt to shove your crap into our faces. Mr Freeman is guilty of nothing close to ignorance on this topic; the ignorance is your own. Here is why your twisted ideology is egregious: the zionist apartheid state illegally occupied Gaza initially and therefore made no legitimate concession for peace to anyone. It simply withdrew in accordance with international law because it was a quagmire that was too costly to maintain. Regarding Hamas, it was initially funded and supported by the zionists until it became counterproductive to do so. That is the bed you sleep in. Your inaccurate zionist rhetoric won’t work with informed readers of Consortium News, and I suspect you are simply a zionist troll. Zionism is racism as it has always required displacement and genocide of the indigenous population, from its inception. Find another site to propagandize on.

  6. Antiwar7
    June 13, 2016 at 21:46

    One might add: we should wean the US neocons from the American commitment to militarily dominating the entire Earth, to force them to come to a modus vivendi with the human race.

    • Dick Gabrio
      June 14, 2016 at 16:30


  7. Bill Bodden
    June 13, 2016 at 19:12

    Why should Israel risk resting its security on reconciliation with Palestinians and its other Arab neighbors when it has been assured of long-term military supremacy over them and relieved of any concern about the political or economic consequences of using force against them?

    There is speculation that Netanyahu is trying to extort a raise from $3 billion to $5 billion a year in military aid from Barack Obama. If Obama doesn’t deliver and Hillary Clinton becomes president, Netanyahu can send her and the military-industrial complex an email for his extended shopping list.

  8. Erik
    June 13, 2016 at 13:55

    Very well written and well-reasoned. Truly the US needs “fact-based analysis and realism in its foreign policy.” It does not have that due to executive group-think, political demagoguery, and control of elections and mass media by money. Also because neither the executive nor Congress have ever been good at rational debate.

    This is why I advocate, and am pursuing, a College of Policy Analysis to textually debate every major policy area in every region among experts, preserving all significant viewpoints, and invalidating arguments based solely upon assumptions and ungrounded similes. The College should be a branch of government able to check and balance the others. With such commented debates broadly available by internet, foolish or biased politicians and propaganda can be better evaluated by those who care to read what is readily available.

  9. Joe B
    June 13, 2016 at 13:40

    An excellent article. Indeed the US has been fighting its own interests so that politicians can get Israeli bribes, fighting “the political effects of American complicity in the oppression and…deaths…” There is no “political correctness” there, it is treason.

    With no US interests in the Mideast other than the supply of oil, which it can buy from whomever has it, there was no need for US “balancing” policy there. The US politicians were instead inciting Sunnis and Shiites against each other with intent to weaken and murder them to get Israeli bribes. If the US had sought balancing it would have embargoed Israel long ago and forced a two-state solution. So the shift to “dual containment” as a “defense of Israel” simply reflected a new strategy of US politicians to get bribes, due to changes in the Iran-Iraq situation. That is not US policy, it is conspiracy against humanity for personal gain, it is complicity in the Israeli economic war against the US, and it is treason.

    The US is not “stuck in the Gulf” it is stuck in corruption. Without bribes, it can withdraw any time and let Iraq & Iran enforce the UN resolutions against Israel if need be. That will stabilize the Mideast very nicely, and if we later decided to prevent a genocide against Israel, there might at last be some rational basis for it.

    But with Israel having destroyed the foundations of democracy in the US with its bribes and control of mass media, I don’t know why we would bother, frankly. Good riddance of Israel, they won’t be missed ever. The long term violence level will be less if we abandon Israel completely, and even join forces with Iran in subduing them.

    Along with that, every US politician who has accepted campaign bribes from AIPAC etc should be in Guantanamo until rendered to Iran or the ICC.

  10. rosemerry
    June 13, 2016 at 13:37

    If only the USA would make use of its diplomatic expertise (such as we see in Chas Freeman’s always thoughtful articles) and consider what the “other side”, the adversary, the enemy needs and wants, and try to achieve aims rather than force everyone else to “our” point of view. To hear Mrs Clinton, or Pres. Obama, or almost every US spokesperson, denigrate every aspect of Russian behavior and leadership and assume Russia is an enemy (which has no basis in fact) is very sad.
    To see the state of the USA, the ignorance about the real dangers to its future, and to pretend “Islamist terror” is the main problem, is almost laughable. Thousands of people killed by guns, including shot by their own toddlers, yet Muslims are considered an existential danger to the USA by some.

  11. Anthony Shaker
    June 13, 2016 at 13:28

    Ambassador Freeman’s geopolitical assessment has a razor-sharp accuracy to it that is truly breathtaking. I was especially struck by his historical analogy, intended to summarize in a nutshell the subthemes discussed in the rest of his article. He writes that “these blunders are right up there with the French and German decisions to invade Russia and Japan’s surprise attack on the United States.”

    Prevailing in many battles does not a war win.

    Ever since Mubarak’s fall, I have been arguing that all the debating between the morally outraged vs. the moral double-faced will make no difference as to the outcome in the Middle East. This outcome, whatever it will be, was determined long ago by England and France when they first set foot in the heartland of a world civilization which, we forget, had lain the foundations of every major branch of knowledge we have today.

    The immorality of the present world order, on which the supremacists in the West (US, England and France) insist with rising rage, is not just unsavory to the moral palate. One may look at the immorality of human behavior with realism, too, the way we have for at least 10,000 years. You see, immoral behavior reflects something that that has disconnected the human being from him- or herself, and therefore from reality. I believe the ambassador used the word “fantasy” several times in relation to foreign policy and its makers.

    What I am, and I think the ambassador too appears to be, saying is that the present course is leading to unmitigated disaster for America, but undeservedly also for the peoples of the Middle East, because it is based on longstanding illusions. It doesn’t take a prophet then to predict the outcome, just Mr. Freeman’s cold, razor-sharp discerning. And I am tired of hearing liberal moralizers rail against a human-rights violation one day and pat the sponsors of blood-swilling Wahhabi terrorists, who specialize in turkey runs against civilians in Syria. The same terrorists of Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham parade people in cages to “put pressure on the Syrian government” and massacre entire families in the village of al-Zara, and then fly off to Geneva demanding the resignation of the “tyrant Assad” as a precondition to “peace negotiations.”

    So far, that has been an easy game for them and Saudi Arabia to play.

    But at the core of the wider catastrophe that is equally looming around the corner, given the possible repercussions for the world, is the Jewish-only race colony in Palestine. I have the sense that the West elites have already come to regret the unconditional recognition of the Zionist movement’s unilateral declaration of “independence” in 1947.

    That decision was “logical,” just like every current blunder logically that leads to another blunder…until the pilot wakes up. It was logical at the UN in Israel’s case because England had done everything it could between the two world wars (costing nearly 90 million lives) to encourage the creation of this colony. It is said that if the Zionist movement had not taken over Jewish communities in America, England would have invented one. England’s star had been falling even though it had just climbed the full height of its dominance as a colonial power just a moment before.

    I know that the West will regret this abomination against humanity–i.e., giving away a people’s land to another under any pretext, much less for Nazi crimes committed elsewhere and for a biblical fairy tale of chosenness and racial exceptionalism. And I know that the Middle East as a whole will suffer horribly from the fallout, as well. But I don’t know it for moral reasons alone.

    Sir, let us wake to the incontournable fact that Israel will never survive as an Apartheid state, which is what it is. Whether of the left- or right-wing brand, Zionism means and will always mean only one thing to the peoples of the Middle East: theft based on empty, pseudo-religious clap-trap. Instead of seeking peace to come to terms, Israel’s leaders have engaged in repeated campaigns of mass murder in Palestine and Lebanon, parts of which it continues to occupy.

    There was a time when something could have been done by the United States and western Europe to mitigate the enormity of this crime. Unfortunately, as you said, borderless Israel is now “swallowing the West Bank alive.” The clock has stopped, and it is up to the American people to decide where they want to go next, because they have allowed their country to be entangled in a dirty mess they have mistaken for a just cause.

  12. Bart Gruzalski
    June 13, 2016 at 13:18

    A tremendous article (and speech too). Thank you.

    I see three people aiming to become POTUS: Clinton, Trump, and Sanders. For reasons I’ve articulated in some of my comments over the past week or so, I think that Sanders actually has a better chance of being the Democratic candidate for POTUS than Clinton. But since Clinton is the designated presumptive candidate, how would you assess her?

    I don’t think that she would be able to accept the new normal: “The next administration will inherit a greatly diminished capacity to influence the evolution of the Middle East.” She will insist on US hegemony. Her election would be a further source of moral hazard for Israel. Clinton will press Russia to such an extent that a shooting war which could involve tactical nuclear weapons would be very likely—and at that point there’s only one mistake to bring on a full-fledged nuclear WWIII.

    Those are a few brief thoughts about why I think it is essential that we do what we can to derail the Clinton Coronation Express. I think we can succeed, though that is a different story.

    Sanders is the only candidate who will do what you kinda suggest: create a New NATO that includes Russia. This New NATO will take over the responsibility to go after terrorists if they can’t be “defeated” by diplomacy.

    You are absolutely right when you say that the United States needs to get into the habit of developing and implementing war termination strategies. It’s interesting the philosophers who write about just war theory are very comfortable with jus ad bellum and jus in bello rarely write about jus post bellum. In fact, I think most of them do not realize that jus post bellum is as an important part of just war theory as jus ad bellum and jus in bello. So both politicians and ethicists suffer the same blindness: wars are supposed to end and what is a just ending?

    Items beyond the horror of a Clinton presidency.

    (1) Do you think the adoption of the policy of “dual containment” was an instance of the US dancing to the beat of the Israelis and AIPSC?

    (2) I found very clear the way you showed that the mantra of Bush II– “they hate us because of who we are” — is the opiate of the ignorant as well as a self-expiating denial of past and present actions by Western powers. At that point we in the West can stupidly scratch our heads and ask “what else then their hatred of our values and lifestyles could be motivating terrorism–is it wanting to get to a heaven with lots of virgins?”
    (3) I have a different perspective on the Iraq ward: Iraq indeed had WMDs, but they were not the “killing” military weapons, instead Sadam Hussein was selling oil in Euros which was the beginning of the erosion of the value of the dollar which will eventually topple the dollar as the sole currency of international trade. The same comment applies to Libya: Gaddaffi was going to sell oil in gold dinars which would also have undermined the petrodollar and also diverted some of the profits from the US to the poor countries in North Africa.

    (4) Back to Clinton. If she were to become POTUS, US foreign/military policy would undoubtedly continue to fit Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing more of the same and expecting different results.

    Thanks for sharing your speech. If you had time to address the current race for POTUS I’d appreciate it.

    In conclusion, if Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic candidate, which is the only Democratic choice that offers us a chance to abandon the suicide of our insane foreign/military policies, I hope you join his team.

  13. bobzz
    June 13, 2016 at 12:41

    Great piece. My comment is indirectly related. Whether Isis was organically connected to the Orlando shooter is unknown, at least to me, at this point. They are taking credit for it; be that as it may, the shooting is attributable to the aggressive, fulminating stupidity of our foreign policy in the Middle East since the fifties. But we will deny the role of our policy—as Israel denies their policy to oust Palestinians from their land has nothing to do with individual Palestinian violent acts of protest—the mosquito harassing the bear. The Orlando event illustrates once again what so many on this site know and have said: our military efforts overseas to make us safer here at home is not just wrong but pathological. We created this problem, but in our hubris, we will continue to pursue the path of Einstein’s definition of insanity.

    • Chet Roman
      June 14, 2016 at 09:34

      While I agree with the general thrust of the comments, all indications are that the perpetrator of the Orlando shooting was more motivated by self hate than political ideology. He frequently visited the gay nightclub and his wife and close friends suggested that he had gay tendencies, something his father said god would punish. Of course the killings will feed into the Islamophobia that is the current rage in Zionist and right wing circles.

  14. dahoit
    June 13, 2016 at 11:49

    Excellent over view of our catastrophe.
    I have a better idea,shorter and more succinct;Yankee come home,stop supplying weapons and funding,stop giving gulf states license to instigate terror,and make Zion make peace and justice,which is the wellspring from which all this shite emanates.

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