Simplistic Second-Guessing on ISIS

Official Washington’s neocons, the mainstream U.S. media and Donald Trump are on the same page at least in blaming President Obama for ISIS, a case of all three parties being wrong, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

A recurring feature in criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy, particularly in referring to strife-torn Syria and Iraq, is the notion that if only the United States had followed some different course, bad things in such overseas places would not be happening.

The dominant variant of such criticism asserts that if only the United States had somehow used more military force in those lands, then somehow the strife there would be less than it is. This variant gets repeated so often that it is already acquiring the status of conventional wisdom.

President Barack Obama meets with his National Security Staff to discuss the situation in Syria, in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 30, 2013. From left at the table: National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; Attorney General Eric Holder; Secretary of State John Kerry; and Vice President Joe Biden. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama meets with his National Security Staff to discuss the situation in Syria, in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 30, 2013. From left at the table: National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; Attorney General Eric Holder; Secretary of State John Kerry; and Vice President Joe Biden. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Even the usually sensible Nicholas Kristof, for example, in a recent column writes that “allowing [sic] Syria’s civil war and suffering to drag on unchallenged” has been Mr. Obama’s “worst mistake”.

Kristof acknowledges that “we don’t know whether the more assertive approaches favored by Hillary Clinton, Gen. David Petraeus and many others would have been more effective” — an admission that should vacate the judgment he had just made about a presidential mistake.

After all, how can we assess whether any given course of action is a mistake if we do not weigh it against the available alternatives? What we are seeing here is a difference between policy-makers who have to come up with real policy that works, and critics who don’t have to come up with anything but criticism.

To the extent that alternatives get assessed at all, a major asymmetry usually makes those assessments faulty. The real policy, warts and all, is put up against reality, with all of the policy’s limitations exposed for us to see. But the hypothetical alternatives are not similarly exposed; whoever suggests an alternative can just assume that the alternative would have worked the way it was intended to work.

Moreover, when facing a genuinely bad situation — such as the deadly imbroglios in Syria and Iraq — there is a natural tendency to think that different courses of action would have yielded a less bad situation. Such a tendency is a psychological frame-of-reference effect, not a product of hard analysis of how specific alternatives would have worked.

Most commentary that tosses up hypothetical alternatives — and sometimes proposes such alternatives as something that could yet be undertaken, not just as an opportunity missed in the past — deals in general concepts and spares us the details. But many devils reside in the details, and may make the proffered alternative worse than the policy it would replace.

We often hear, for example, the concepts of “safe zones” or no-fly zones. We hear hardly at all about the details necessarily associated with any such zones: of who does the fighting to maintain a desired state of control on the ground, the size of the required U.S. force commitment, the prospects for further escalation of the conflict, and so forth.

One Dimensional

Similarly, the suggester of a hypothetical alternative can focus on just a single dimension on which the alternative could reasonably be expected to have worked while leaving unstated all the other dimensions involving costs, risks, and deleterious side-effects. The equivalent approach as applied to an actual policy is what we hear from die-hard defenders of the 2003 invasion of Iraq when they ask, “Is the world better off with or without Saddam Hussein?”

President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his "Mission Accomplished" speech about the Iraq War.

President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his “Mission Accomplished” speech about the Iraq War on May 1, 2003.

Well, if that were the only question and the question really were that simple, then the answer would be that we are better off without him. But it was all those other costs, risks, and deleterious side-effects that made the policy disastrously bad.

Underlying the defective and asymmetry-laden analysis is the strongly held American exceptionalist tendency to look at problems around the world as America’s problems, to think that the United States ought to be able to solve them, and thus to see any persistence of a problem overseas as due to faulty U.S. policy.

This tendency imposes an unrealistic standard on real policy, because the United States is not actually capable of solving many of those problems overseas. By keeping the hypothetical alternatives vague and uni-dimensional, the alternatives are not held up to the same unrealistic standard.

Regarding Syria, Juan Cole provides a useful corrective to the flawed coulda shoulda criticism with a discussion of what he calls the “top seven reasons the US could not have forestalled the Syrian civil war”. It is even clearer that the Obama administration could not have forestalled the violent conflict we all abhor in Iraq.

The coulda shoulda criticism applied to the administration’s policies on Iraq have always had a strange quality given that the main thing the critics are knocking the administration for is the implementation of a troop withdrawal agreement that had been negotiated by the previous administration. If, as has been charged, the Obama administration did not “try hard enough” to modify that agreement, then this must mean that the Bush administration did not “try hard enough” to get a different agreement in the first place.

The biggest historical fact that is ignored by those who like to fire historical hypotheticals at the Obama administration is that a much more muscular military approach has already been tried in Iraq and failed. U.S. military strength in Iraq peaked at 166,000 troops in October 2007, 4½ years after the initial invasion. If a U.S. force of this size failed to provide lasting security in Iraq, to create an environment in which contending Iraqi factions would reconcile their differences, or to destroy the group we now know as ISIS — and it failed to accomplish any of these things — then why should we expect anything more from the smaller force that is talked about by those who criticize Mr. Obama for implementing the troop withdrawal?

The Maliki Factor

One variant on the line of criticism involved is the idea that former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose authoritarian ways had a lot to do with instability and rancor in Iraqi politics, somehow could have been turned into a different sort of political animal if U.S. troops had been in the vicinity. How exactly was this supposed to work? That GIs would march into his office and give him an ultimatum to be a nicer and more conciliatory guy? Is that the way it worked when we had the 166,000 troops there? No, the problem is rooted in Iraqi political culture and political demography, not the location of U.S. troops.

President George W. Bush meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in June 2006

President George W. Bush meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in June 2006

Other variants focus more on ISIS. Here the central historical fact that too often is left unsaid is that the group came into existence as a direct result of the conflict and disorder that the 2003 invasion ignited and that the group has had, under different names, a continuous existence — including through the U.S. troop “surge” — ever since.

Some military action has hurt ISIS but other military action has had the opposite effect. When group leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006, this made possible the emergence of the more capable Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, under whom the group would make its most dramatic territorial gains.

The criticism that keeps trying to tell us that things in that part of the world would have been better if only President Obama had followed a different course says much less about any mistakes by Mr. Obama than about the badly flawed mode of analysis the critics are using.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)


32 comments for “Simplistic Second-Guessing on ISIS

  1. Zachary Smith
    August 15, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    Regarding Syria, Juan Cole provides a useful corrective to the flawed coulda shoulda criticism with a discussion of what he calls the “top seven reasons the US could not have forestalled the Syrian civil war”. It is even clearer that the Obama administration could not have forestalled the violent conflict we all abhor in Iraq.

    So far as I’m concerned, Juan Cole’s blog piece was mostly crap. Example:

    6. Bashar al-Assad is a war criminal and his regime is known for mass torture of prisoners. It would be better for everyone if he stepped down.

    George Bush was a war criminal too, and his regime was also known for the mass torture of prisoners. In fact, wasn’t he the same fellow who utilized Assad’s torture expertise to send a Canadian citizen to Syria for torture?

    I don’t know why Mr. Pillar is making excuses for Obama in Iraq. His ‘regime’ was the one which made sure Iraq had no air force at all when ISIS struck. And like with the Turkish coup, if the US wasn’t in on the ISIS advance, it sure as hell knew it was coming. Obama could have warned the Iraqi government about the coming ISIS offensive and the help it was going to get from “somebody” in bribing the Iraqi officers to high-tail it out of Dodge. How many units in any army in the world are likely to stay and fight when 1) they don’t have any leadership and 2) they don’t have any air support and 3) the oncoming enemy is a pack of bloodthirsty head choppers and cannibals?

    My conclusion is that the US of A neocon establishment welcomed the ISIS offensive and helped it in every way possible. A totally destabilized Iraq, Libya, and Syria are safeguards to the little shithole which is also called Israel. Regime change is simply a distracting canard – the necons want death and destruction. And that’s what Obama has given them at every turn.

    • HenryHogan
      August 17, 2016 at 12:37 pm

      How can we believe anything the CIA says?

    • Rubicon
      August 17, 2016 at 7:33 pm

      Yea, I don’t think much of Juan Cole. Much of the time he appears totally out of the loop with ME issues.

      As for all this analysis posed by Mr. Pillar – get down to the nuts & bolts of American “policies” around the world. It’s called “wanting to make a buck.” In the ME, its oil and other resources. In Africa, it’s minerals.

      ALL of these disastrous foreign policies has at its roots: corporate entities wanting to make a few million or billion $$$s.
      Plain and simple.

    August 15, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    “the United States is not actually capable of solving many of those problems overseas”


    And that is why we should not be involved. That is what the UN is for – if they want to be a world governing body then they should actually do something. The problem with the UN is that they do nothing except write edicts about what should occur and then use manipulation via countries and corporations and others (e.g. group-think tanks) to obtain their ends – generally with terrible outcomes (e.g. sending in peace keepers that rape children; immigration polices that are destroying standards of living in developed countries and creating a rape culture – Sweden, Germany, etc.).

    To make this better this is what should occur:
    1. Our government should insist that the UN do something about Iraq. We should not be involved and should never have been in Iraq in the first place – based on the false narrative of WMD – from the likes of Dick Cheney and his Halliburton friends seeking oil pipeline plans. If the UN will not or cannot solve this problem – then the UN is useless and the UN needs to go.
    2. Our government should insist that the UN do something about Syria. Like Iraq, we do not need to be involved. This issue in Syria is due to another oil pipeline plan – to both bolster US/European industries and to stop Russia in its oil-plan tracks. If the UN will not or cannot solve this problem – then the UN is useless and the UN needs to go.
    3. The US should not be funding any actions in Syria or fomenting or supporting wars in the Middle East.
    4. The US should not be aligning itself with the likes of Saudi Arabia or Turkey – both of these “countries” are NOW nothing more than dictatorship terrorist totalitarian regimes disguised as countries – that aid and fund terrorists. To hell with Saudi Arabia. We (US) never should have had a partnership with a country that decapitates women and gays and that is an abomination to human rights. This catering to Saudi Arabia is condoning evil – there is NO OTHER INTERPRETATION for a democratic country like the US. You cannot have it both ways boys – you cannot say you champion the rights of women and minorities while condoning the likes of these barbarians.
    5. The US should reign in the Federal Reserve and should remove itself from BIS. These central bankers and their ilk are destroying this country and its citizens through monetary policy. The same is occurring globally. Whoever is in charge of these systems clearly has one goal in mind – and it is not the elevation of people due to work – it is the destruction of econonmic prosperity and the fall of millions into poverty while central bankers are elevated and get to continue their fraud.
    6. Bascially, all of these “global” or regional organizations or deals – the UN, the World Bank, the Bank for International Settlements, the International Monetary Fund, NATO, TTP, TTIP, NAFTA, etc. are all a failure and they all need to go. Every country needs to on its own: a) make sure poverty is annilated in its OWN COUNTRY for 100% of its population based on national programs and b) construct systems that enhace upward economic movement for its own citizens.

    I am really quite tired of all of these people in DC. They simply can NO LONGER claim to care about people and prosperity with the millitary, economic, and social models that they are allowing to continue under this DISASTEROUS GLOBALIST MODEL!

    Apparently, those of you that are “in the know”, many of you with your educations from Ivy League universities, do not understand big picture thinking or were never able to put puzzles together as children.

    So, take some advice from me – a master puzzle solver – if you really want to solve these problems you will stop trying to use INTERNATIONAL BODIES to SOLVE THEM. IT WILL NOT WORK!

    The reason we now have SO MANY PROBLEMS in this country that are growing OUT OF CONTROL (e.g. lowest worker participation rate in decades, lowest home ownership rate in decades, IMF complaining about US poverty, social unrest via Black Lives Matter and others) is because those of you “in the know” in DC have focused more attention on problems that YOU CANNOT SOLVE – instead of working to solve problems in this country that you can solve.

    In other words, you have abdicated your responsibility to the people of this country in your positions in government.

    Many of you are just incompetent and although I am sure that some of you are nice people, many of you are just not smart enough to think logically through complicated problems. I wish there was another explanation – but there’s not.

    Most of you “elites” in government should just do yourself and the people of this country a service and just resign. Its for the best.

    • dave
      August 16, 2016 at 12:19 am

      So we should insisit the UN “do something” even though we should “stop trying to use INTERNATIONAL BODIES to SOLVE [these probelms]”?

      You do realize that the UN has no real power, except through the Security Council, right? And that the US has vetoed more SC resolutions than all the other permanent members combined, making it historically the biggest *obstacle* to the UN “doing something”, right?

      But, hey, what do I know? I’m not a “master puzzle solver”.

      • HAL-9000
        August 16, 2016 at 1:42 am

        Ha! That retort almost caused me to reconsider the whole pod bay door issue!

      • THE DOCTOR
        August 16, 2016 at 2:34 pm

        Some people have difficulty processing scarcasm. I get that. But my post was not for you.

        To those working in higher levels of government:


        Our country is falling apart because you “leaders” have involved us in the stupid UN and other globalist bodies – and these bodies solve nothing – they only create more problems and make problems worse – case n point:

        UN peacekeepers in South Sudan ‘ignored rape and assault of aid workers’ –

        New Zealand’s most shameful secret: ‘We have normalised child poverty’ –

        When you can wrap your mind around that – then you will be able to understand this – THE US IS A RIDDLE WRAPPED IN A MYSTERY INSIDE AN ENIGMA!




        To you boys in the CIA or others in the Illuminatti/Initiated that may be reading this – how long do you think “God” is going to run this experiment before the clock gets re-set for another billion years?

        You globalist warmongers are on the wrong side. Haven’t you figured that out yet? If not, you are not reading the signs very well. So let me sum this up for you as simply as I can – Your systems are evil. You are killing and destroying millions and you are making God angry.

        This is NOT GOD’s work – GoD’S WoRK… –
        And do not pretend that you don’t know what I am talking about.

        has igitur habentes promissiones carissimi mundemus nos ab omni inquinamento carnis et spiritus perficientes sanctificationem in timore Dei
        II Corinthios 7:1

        • dave
          August 16, 2016 at 9:40 pm

          Ah, the Trump defense: “I was just kidding!” Well played, sir.

          Still, I’m not sure I get it. It must be too subtle for my feeble sub-master puzzle solver intellect!

          • THE DOCTOR
            August 17, 2016 at 1:05 pm

            No – you do not get it. Reading would help you understand:
            To “get up to speed” these are some things I suggest:
            1. Search for oil pipeline plans in Syria and Iraq – any search engine should lead you to the right place if you know how to do research.
            2. Read UN Agenda 21 and 2030 and learn about the plans for world government.
            3. Learn something about how the financial markets operate – I suggest underground sites like wallstreetformainstreet, X22, Greg Hunter, Gregory Mannarino, Rob Kirby interviews – all available on youtube.
            4. Learn about the occult – the Nazi’s and Hitler and cult-like practices in high levels of government and secret groups and organizations.

            After you do all of that, then you will be able to talk to me with the required knowledge.

            As for the Trump defense – it is sarcasm because those in DC that know about #1-4 know good and damn well that they are practicing propaganda and evil and deceit on a regular basis, and that they are murderers. They are responsible for the deaths of millions due to their domestic policies (e.g. food stamps only when you have a job when they propagate LIES about the unemployment rate and the ability of those with poor credit and/or petty criminal records to obtain work – while letting criminal bankers and rating agencies who propped up triple A rated paper only to watch it crash the economy off scott free).

            But here is what they don’t know for certain – there is a higher power in this universe. And that higher power is more moral than anyone on this planet. And that higher power will destroy this planet if these evil governments and globalists continue their evil. This world is a matrix that is encoded. Once you actually listen to God and learn to care about others – it is easy to spot evil. Many of our leaders are evil. And they will be brought to perdition. The veil is breaking. Use your brain and God will help you see.

    • Brad Owen
      August 16, 2016 at 11:53 am

      Globalization, in general, is the problem; you are right. Globalization is a euphemism for EMPIRE. Empires are “glorified” looting systems for the benefit of an imperial ruling class. Nations, Tribes, and such are always traditionally a threat to the imperial ruling class, so any SERIOUS attempt at problem-solving on a national basis (a mere, threatening Province within an EMPIRE) will meet with furious resistance (Lincoln, JFK, RFK, MLK, Bernie, Kucinich, etc…). The imperial ruling class WANTS the citizens of all nations to be despairing members of the “Precariat”…preoccupied with their own troubles so as not to become a troublesome threat to THEM. This particular problem will probably need solving from a higher authority than humanity can muster. A paradigm-shifting Zeitgeist needs to take root in the heart & minds of the imperial ruling class and the “Precariat” tobreak the impasse.

  3. Joe Tedesky
    August 15, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    I agree with Zachary and the Doctor, smart comments for sure.

    The U.S. should ask Putin how Russia won over the terrorist in Chechnia, that would be a logical starting point where to get advise. Quit selling arms to Saudi Arabia, and declare war on the Wahabi, and recruit the rest of the Muslim world, who suffer even more so than the West, from these barbarian head choppers. Lastly, disengage from our Israeli/Neocon masters, and watch peace unfold as a result. Bottom line, tell Israel to fight their own wars.

    • Joe Tedesky
      August 15, 2016 at 11:08 pm

      I’m providing a link to one of the better stories where I have learned to what caused the Syrian war. I can only urge you all to read it. Oh, it would be a great read to share with your brother in law who thinks your crazy, and that you are an Assasd lover, or a Putin lover.

    • dave
      August 16, 2016 at 12:35 am

      “I agree with Zachary and the Doctor, smart comments for sure.”

      Zachary maybe, but I think THE DOCTOR is off his meds!

      • Joe Tedesky
        August 16, 2016 at 1:01 am

        Dave, now be kind. Picking on a fellow American for the Meds they take, is like living in a glass house and being a professional rock thrower. This whole damn country’s population has an overloaded medicine cabinet, and the price for these pharmaceutical cures far out paces the average Americans wages.

        When it comes to ‘the Doctors’ comments regarding the UN, I thought he gave himself enough of wiggle room where he said, if the UN could not or would not solve the problem, then UN needs to go. The Doctor in my way of interpreting his words, wasn’t that absolute with his references to use the UN. The country who has managed to negate the UN the most, is the U.S.. So the cure to fix the UN may need a home cured remedy, and there in lies the problem. Is there a Doctor in the house?

  4. Gregory Herr
    August 15, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    “Moreover, when facing a genuinely bad situation — such as the deadly imbroglios in Syria and Iraq — there is a natural tendency to think that different courses of action would have yielded a less bad situation.”

    Particularly when the “bad” situation is the direct and intended result of your own prior courses of action (otherwise known as murder, mayhem, deception, and deceit). I should think one would be reasonably inclined to think so. Oh sorry, Assad didn’t go down quite as expected…so some unintended results must be acknowledged.

    The so-called Syrian civil war is not a civil war at all….the so-called “uprising” was instigated (replete with snipers and mercenaries) from without. The U.S. played and plays a big part in this.

    Pillar at least makes a good point about the irrelevance and non-contextual idiocy of the “world better off without Saddam” apologists. But Mr. Pillar, can we do away with the “political culture” blame game on Iraq? The people of Iraq had their country destroyed. The “rebuilding” was outsourced and criminally mismanaged and misappropriated. Economic and social viabilities were neglected. The professional class had little choice but to leave (if they could). There was little, if any, judiciousness in the way the general population was treated, including being jailed, having your home torn up, and far worse. Sectarian divisions were instigated for nefarious exploitation. How about never invading, killing, and occupying in the first place? The corruption of the “political culture” that ensued is hardly to be thought of as something the Iraq people brought upon themselves (I hate the implied inferiority here…perhaps Pillar should look at the “political culture” here at home a bit more closely).

    • Franklin Benjamin
      August 17, 2016 at 10:12 am

      Turkey – Nato

      Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and US (through the so called Syrian Free Army) – Funding and Guns.
      Will someone show us a ‘democratic’ Syrian terrorist?

      ISIS uses American weapons and a substantial percentage of foreign fighters.

      US Air Force bombs Syrian infrastructure (oh yes Iraq too).

      The case is closed. Obama is guilty.

      Haven’t even related this to the overthrow of Quadafi, and gun running there.

      A Clinton administration will bomb and overthrow Assad. And ISIS will take over Syria too.
      ISIS is a surrogate for American troops. Let’s make no mistake.

      The US secret state needs to work with Russia, not align itself with ISIS.

      They prefer to attack Russia, Syria, and Iran instead. Obama is not for freedom, he is for US hegemony. No mistake here.

  5. Abe
    August 15, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    “As Syrian forces fight to wrest control of their country back and restore order within their borders, the myth of the “Syrian civil war” continues on. Undoubtedly there are Syrians who oppose the Syrian government and even Syrians who have taken up arms against the government and in turn, against the Syrian people, but from the beginning (in fact before the beginning) this war has been driven from abroad. Calling it a ‘civil war’ is a misnomer as much as calling those taking up arms ‘opposition.’ It is not a ‘civil war,’ and those fighting the Syrian government are not ‘opposition.’

    “Those calling this a civil war and the terrorists fighting the Syrian state ‘opposition’ hope that their audience never wanders too far from their lies to understand the full context of this conflict, the moves made before it even started and where those moves were made from […]

    “The Muslim Brotherhood and its Al Qaeda spin-off were present and accounted for since the word go in 2011. By the end of 2011, Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise (Al Nusra) would be carrying out nationwide operations on a scale dwarfing other so-called rebel groups. And they weren’t this successful because of the resources and support they found within Syria’s borders, but instead because of the immense resources and support flowing to them from beyond them.

    “Saudi Arabia openly arms, funds and provides political support for many of the militant groups operating in Syria since the beginning. In fact, recently, many of these groups, including allies of Al Qaeda itself, were present in Riyadh discussing with their Saudi sponsors the future of their joint endeavor.

    “Together with Al Nusra, there is the self-anointed Islamic State (IS). IS, like the Syrian conflict itself, was portrayed by the Western media for as long as possible as a creation within a vacuum. The source of its military and political strength was left a mystery by the otherwise omniscient Western intelligence community. Hints began to show as Russian increased its involvement in the conflict. When Russian warplanes began pounding convoys moving to and from Turkish territory, bound for IS, the mystery was finally solved. IS, like all other militant groups operating in Syria, were the recipients of generous, unending stockpiles of weapons, equipment, cash and fighters piped in from around the globe.

    “The Syrian conflict was borne of organizations created by centers of foreign interests decades ago who have since fought on and off not for the future of the Syrian people, but for a Syria that meshed more conveniently into the foreign global order that created them. The conflict has been fueled by a torrent of weapons, cash, support and even fighters drawn not from among the Syrian people, but from the very centers of these foreign special interests; in Riyadh, Ankara, London, Paris, Brussels and Washington.”

    Syria: It’s Not a Civil War and it Never Was
    By Ulson Gunnar

    • jo6pac
      August 16, 2016 at 1:58 pm

      Thank You

  6. Monteg3534
    August 16, 2016 at 12:04 am

    I used to look forward to reading articles written by Paul Pillar, but I could not even finish this latest offering because it is so misinformed and misguided. The author attacks a succession of straw-man arguments and totally misses the central problem. Obama and Hillary are the creators of the ISIS phenomenon, not by accident but by design.

    ISIS first made it’s debut in a miles-long caravan of heavily armed Toyota pickup trucks.
    Did Santa bring those vehicles and weapons for Christmas? Did our massive orbital surveillance fleet suddenly go blind as the caravan paraded south through Syria to the Iraq border, the North to attack and conquer Mosul? Was our state department ignorant of the trafficing of stolen Syrian oil to our NATO ally Turkey, thence to the port of Ceyhan and then to our ally Israel? Were they ignorant of aerial medevac services provided by Israel to the Jihadis on the battlefield? Is the US Air Force so senile and blind that they had no effect on the Jihaddis in a year and a half of bombing, while Russia rocked them back on their heels in the first month of their involvement? And who was that who was running the infamous rat line of Jihadis and weapons to Syria via Turkey from a destabilized Libya after the removal (murders and rapes) of Ghadafi and ambassador Stevens – wasn’t that Hillary Clinton?

    The central problem is that ISIS/Al Queda/Al Nusra/Al Sham/etc are (just like NATO) a proxy army for the US against Assad. Obama refuses to team with Russia, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah to eliminate ISIS because they are “our bastards”, doing our dirty work. To get rid of the terrorists, all we have to do is stop paying them (most of them are mercenaries), stop air-dropping supplies to them, stop sending weapons and reinforcements via turkey and Jordan, and let the Russians, Syrians, Iranians and Hezbollah (and Iraqi’s) do their job. They’ll do just fine (better actually) without our help/interference.

    • incontinent reader
      August 16, 2016 at 9:55 pm


  7. Winston
    August 16, 2016 at 1:04 am

    Please read this:
    WikiLeaks Reveals How the US Aggressively Pursued Regime Change in Syria, Igniting a Bloodbath

    And this:
    “Secret cables and reports by the U.S., Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies indicate that the moment Assad rejected the Qatari pipeline, military and intelligence planners quickly arrived at the consensus that fomenting a Sunni uprising in Syria to overthrow the uncooperative Bashar Assad was a feasible path to achieving the shared objective of completing the Qatar/Turkey gas link. In 2009, according to WikiLeaks, soon after Bashar Assad rejected the Qatar pipeline, the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria. It is important to note that this was well before the Arab Spring-engendered uprising against Assad.”
    Why the Arabs don’t want us in Syria
    They don’t hate ‘our freedoms.’ They hate that we’ve betrayed our ideals in their own countries — for oil.

    • August 17, 2016 at 6:47 am

      The last two words in the post by Winston is what is behind all the different opinions posted here on “Consortium News” whether the writers realize it or not: “for oil”

      • dahoit
        August 17, 2016 at 11:32 am

        Yeah,oil has a marker in the game,but Israel is the reason we get away with this nonsense of game of thrones BS,as they provide the consent through their lock hold,even here,on our info.

  8. Dtizkrieg
    August 16, 2016 at 6:46 am

    Pillar’s articles are getting increasingly unreadable, and as another poster pointed out, full of fallacious reasoning. We can’t even get past the first sentence without one of his heroic straw man attacks:

    “A recurring feature in criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy, particularly in referring to strife-torn Syria and Iraq, is the notion that if only the United States had followed some different course, bad things in such overseas places would not be happening.”

    I don’t know anyone who’s suggesting that “bad things in such overseas places would not be happening” if the US were not involved. The point is that the US should not make itself a partner in the bad things happening in the first place. Then, amazingly enough, we would not be involved, we would not have targets on our backs, and we would not be paying the hefty price tag that we pay to build things to destroy things. It really isn’t that difficult to understand if one isn’t spending too much of his time trying to make excuses for people who don’t deserve them.

    • Gregory Herr
      August 16, 2016 at 4:44 pm

      Operation Mockingbird is alive and well.

  9. Brad Benson
    August 16, 2016 at 9:10 am


    Normally I respect your work, which is why I turned to this story even though the headline didn’t grab me at first. I stopped reading as soon as you referred to faux progressive, pro intervention, pro WAR CRIMES CIA Asset, Professor Juan Cole. Cole is a liar and a pernicious propagandist for all of our Middle East Wars. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what others have written about him.

    Juan Cole is a CIA Asset—once a member of the family, always a member.

    “An Open Letter to Juan Cole” by Bill van Auken of the World Socialist Web Site

    Letters to Bill van Auken following his “Open Letter” to Juan Cole

    Juan Cole celebrates the murder of Gaddafi

    Here’s what I have written about him at another “progressive” site, which frequently publishes his pro-war propaganda.


    Ladies and Gentlemen:

    XXXX is, by far and away, my favorite blogsite and has been for more than a year. However, it is painful to see this otherwise superb site continually publish the mendacious manure, which is published under the byline of the sleazy CIA Asset who calls himself “Juan” Cole.

    It is one thing for a progressive website to support mostly Democratic Candidates and thus publish articles by DC Beltway-Insiders and Faux Progressives like Eugene Robinson, Robert Reich and E.J. Dionne. It is quite another for the site to continually publish what can only be described as blatant lies and pro-war propaganda, much of which is produced by CIA and Pentagon Psy-ops Ghostwriters.

    If I were the only reader that complained about these articles, it would be perfectly understandable to ignore my criticisms. However, there is not a single Juan Cole Article that has been published on this site in the last year that has not been met with criticism by nearly everyone that has taken the time to comment. In fact, I would challenge the XXXX Staff to review all of the Juan Cole Articles to see if they can find a single positive comment.

    XXXX cannot call itself a progressive site so long as Juan Cole is permitted to continue to push war, torture, murder and mayhem, while posing as a progressive college professor from a small Michigan Campus. Any man who cites International Law as the reason that we were not allowed to stay in Iraq, but then completely chooses to ignore that very same law when lauding US Military involvement in Syria, is either a liar, a hypocrite or both.

    In this latest installment, Juan is right about the Status of Forces Agreement being the reason for the elected Iraqi Government to throw us out. Understandably, the democratically elected government of Iraq thought that they ought to have the right to enforce their own laws against US Forces operating within their territory. As a result, they refused to sign an agreement, which would have given US Forces Carte Blanche to commit WAR CRIMES. He is also right about the fact that the Bushies could not obtain this Carte Blanche Agreement, but managed to push the final withdrawal date into the term of the next administration.

    What Cole fails to mention in this particular retelling of history is that we have since overthrown the democratically elected government of al Maliki and replaced that government with one that is more to our liking. Moreover, we are back in Iraq with more US Troops under Obama and therefore the whole SOFA Argument is ludicrous (i.e., we had to follow the law then, but we don’t have to follow it now). Finally, Cole himself has written one laudatory screed after another in praise of the third siege of Fallujah, which happens to be a city in Iraq, is yet another brutal WAR CRIME, and which cannot be justified—with or without a SOFA Agreement.

    Further, if there is any doubt as to Juan Cole being a pathological liar and pernicious propagandist, one need only look at the following sentence in which he ignores the fact that the “civil war” in Syria resulted directly from the US/NATO overthrow of Gaddafi and that Hillary Clinton, Obama’s Secretary of State, engineered that overthrow.

    “In 2011 when the civil war broke out in Syria, the elements of the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ that had evolved out of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia went to fight in Syria. Obama had nothing to do with that development.”—Juan Cole

    Finally, “it is rich” for Juan Cole to criticize Trump for blaming Obama for the failures of the past eight years—many of which he and his CIA Handlers have actively promoted in these columns.

    In view of the above, I respectfully request that the editors of XXXX take a serious look at this individual and recognize his articles are wholly inappropriate for a progressive website. Your own reputation depends upon it.

    Thank you for your consideration of this request. I sincerely hope that it won’t get me banned, but it had to be said.

    • Zachary Smith
      August 16, 2016 at 1:44 pm

      I’ve never read the Truthdig site, so I looked it over. First impression it is “progressive” on every topic except Israel. I’m going to put it on a probationary status for a while.

  10. exiled off mainstreet
    August 16, 2016 at 11:58 am

    Though Isis may have formed during the Bush years, it gained solid power as a result of the yankee destruction of the Khaddafi regime and the sluicing of its arms to Syria where they were provided to the Jihadi element to destroy civilization there. Obama has admitted that he thinks the Libya destruction, which he was convinced to agree to primarily by Clinton, was the biggest mistake of his career. The fact is, the yankee state is responsible for Isis becoming a powerful actor in the middle east, so, therefore, the criticisms of the harpy for being essentially the midwife of Isis and terrorist power in Syria and Iraq are accurate. Those arguing against this reality are themselves hoping in some way to profit from it.

    • Gregory Herr
      August 16, 2016 at 4:48 pm

      And don’t forget the Queen of Chaos characterizes Iraq as “a business opportunity”.

  11. Richard Steven Hack
    August 16, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    OK, Paul, how is THIS a “simplistic scenario”? This is what I’ve posted elsewhere which completely explains the Syria crisis:

    Actually the reason why Israel never attacked Iran (with the intent of dragging
    a compliant US into the war to do the real heavy lifting) is why the Syrian
    crisis exists.

    Back in 2006 Israel was being pushed by Dick Cheney to attack Iran. He got
    Israel another $30 billion in foreign aid as a bribe to do so.

    However, Israel’s strategists were aware that an attack on Iran could bring in
    Hizballah in Lebanon with their – at the time – 15,000 rockets and missiles. It
    could also conceivably bring in Syria with its missiles. While neither was
    certain, no strategist could ignore the possibility. The effect of both
    Hizballah and Syria coming into the war would be that Israel’s citizens would be
    forced to live in bomb shelters for a good part of every day during the war.
    This would cause economic dislocations and possibly a bad outcome for the ruling
    party in the next elections.

    So Israel in 2006 decided to take out Hizballah. As we all know, they failed
    miserably due to lack of commitment of ground troops and the extensive
    preparations Hizballah had made for such an attack. The reason for lack of
    ground troops was that Israel wanted a “cheap” war – exactly the same reason
    they attacked Hizballah – they wanted a “cheap” war with Iran.

    Subsequently Hizballah, aided by Iran, built up its missile arsenal until it is
    now allegedly over 50,000 rockets and longer range missiles that allegedly can
    hit any part of Israel.

    In addition, the 2007 Iran National Intelligence Estimate undercut Bush’s desire
    to attack Iran.

    At the time, Colonel Pat Lang, a retired military expert on the Middle East,
    pointed out that the only way Israel could possibly successfully attack
    Hizballah would be through the Bekaa Valley, as this areas is Hizballah’s
    “defenses in depth.”

    However, this would require Israeli forces crossing Syrian territory to make a
    flanking attack on the Bekaa Valley, rather than going through the heavily
    defended southern Lebanon. That would require Israeli forces to engage the
    Syrian military directly, probably resulting in a “two-front” war which is never
    a good idea, especially if you want a “cheap” military victory.

    That’s where things stayed until the Libya crisis. At that point, someone in
    Israel and/or the US got the bright idea that if a civil war could be started in
    Syria, with the intent of dethroning Assad, then the US and NATO (and perhaps
    Israel and Turkey) could engage in an air campaign to destroy Syria’s missiles
    and degrade its military’s ability to engage Israel in an attack on Hizballah.
    This would allow Israel a fairly cheap corridor to attack Hizballah while
    simultaneously removing Syria as an effective actor in an Iran war.

    And that’s why the Syria crisis exists. Unfortunately for the plan, Assad’s
    forces have been more effective than expected in keeping the West’s forces – Al
    Qaida and ISIS – at bay. In addition, attempts to justify a US/NATO attack on
    Syria have failed. First they had the insurgents fire at Turkey and Turkey
    firing back at Syria forces in order to provoke a Syria/Turkey war. That failed
    because Assad did not take the bait. Then they tried the same trick with Israel
    which also failed. Then came the “chemical weapons” false flag – which brought
    Obama to within 24 hours of attacking Syria. That failed when Russia’s Putin
    convinced Assad to get rid of his chemical weapons. (Although the US has
    repeatedly complained about “chlorine barrel bombs” and the like continuously
    since then.)

    The proof that the US wants to attack Syria is that in every one of three UN
    Resolution drafts promoted by the US there was Chapter 7 language which could be
    used to authorize such an attack. Each Resolution was vetoed by Russia and China
    who saw how the same language used in the Libya crisis could be used to justify
    a war with Syria.

    The stalemate in Syria is why there has been no Iran war. The rise of ISIS has
    been an attempt to break that stalemate.

    The story isn’t over despite the Iran deal. Should Syria fall to Al Qaeda and
    ISIS, you can count on Israel immediately attacking Lebanon again. And after
    that, the US administration – whoever it may be, Democrat or Republican – will
    green light an Israeli attack on Iran. And the US will join that war.

    And then we will have another decade-long war in the Middle East which will
    consume Lebanon, Syria, Iran at a cost of millions dead, thousands of US troops
    dead, and a cost that will be at least four times the cost of the
    Iraq-Afghanistan war – profits for the military-industrial complex.

    In addition, here we have the very smart Hassan Nasrallah explaining WHY Obama and Clinton created ISIS using the debris left behind by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and the neocons:

    Hezbollah Leader reveals WHY the US created Daesh (ISIS) – English Subs

    Nasrallah gets it absolutely right. ISIS is just like AlQaeda – a TOOL created and used by the West as a proxy army to disrupt and control the Middle East.

    • Gregory Herr
      August 16, 2016 at 4:56 pm

      To his credit, Putin will not allow Syria to fall. So will Clinton risk that confrontation? That’s the million dollar question, and I’m afraid the answer is not good.

  12. John P
    August 16, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    I find Winston’s and Richard Steven Hack’s comments very interesting. Firstly, I did read an article in the Asian Times many years ago which gave an explanation of why the US forces suddenly changed from taking on al Qaida to taking on the Taliban. It said that the US had hoped to remove Russian influence from Afghanistan, and build a pipeline from the Black Sea down through Afghanistan and Pakistan. They however found a memo at an al Qaida base showing that the Taliban were sharing this pipeline info with al Qaida. The US wanted to control the oil, and prevent China and Russia from building pipelines across the continent. During the Iraq war too, there was an episode where US troops were ordered to guard the oil ministry in Baghdad but no order was given to protect the museums and much art and historical material was lost.
    During one of the Israeli wars on Lebanon one or two Palestinian refugee camps were reported infiltrated by Arabs who were in fact Wahhabi from Saudi Arabia. They must have been working in concert with Israel to knock out Hizballah. From what I’ve read, Hizballah has only attacked once outside Lebanese territory and that was on the Israeli border when they tried to capture some Israeli soldiers to use as payment for a prisoner swap (Hizballah prisoners had been kept for an inordinate length of time). It has been that they were involved in an incident in Eastern Europe and also in Argentina but in the first no evidence was found and in the second the evidence was very dicey. Saudi Arabia was out to nullify Shia forces and Israel was out to destroy a problem in their path to Greater Israel.

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