The Myth of “Moderate” Syrian Rebels
It was only in late 2013, after Obama failed to rally the American people to support U.S. air strikes directly against Assad’s regime, that the rhetoric shifted. The American people finally learned about Islamic State. Anti-Assad militants suddenly fell into two camps, “moderate” rebels versus terrorist groups, most importantly ISIS. The U.S. would continue to support the “moderate” rebels’ fight against Assad. Air strikes were now justified not in the name of humanitarianism, but to fight the War on Terror.
By returning to Bush era talking points, Obama has put himself into the untenable position of seeming to work at cross purposes. The U.S. continues to wage war against Assad by proxy while, at the same time, claiming to wage an air war against a significant percentage of the forces fighting against his regime.
Are we to believe the administration had a sudden change of heart about supporting anti-Assad militants it knew were Islamic terrorists at least going back to 2012? Are the newly deemed “moderate” rebels really that different?
(A colonel in the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the principal “moderate” rebel group backed by the U.S., discusses the FSA’s “brotherly” relations with ISIL and describes the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra as “heroic.” Video footage shows ISIL and FSA fighters joining in prayer after combining forces with Al-Nusra and other militants to take control over the Menagh airbase in August of 2013.)
U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces reportedly held American Journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley hostage for months before finally handing them over to IS militants. Videos appeared on the internet soon afterwards which appear to show their beheadings. This provoked widespread outrage in the United States and other Western nations.
Yet it’s not as if the the FSA doesn’t routinely engage in beheadings of its own. (**WARNING: The following link contains graphic content inappropriate for children. WARNING**) Here, the FSA forces a child to hack a prisoner’s head off, human rights activists allege. Among many other outrages, the “moderate” rebel group intentionally destroys essential civilian infrastructure and imposes harsh Sharia Law. Even though over 70 percent of Syrians share a belief in Sunni Islam with the FSA, ISIS, and other militant forces, Sufism has been the dominant way in which the faith is practiced – a much gentler form of worship that the Salafist jihadists consider blasphemous. Human rights activists accuse the FSA of a wide range of war crimes, from shootings of unarmed civilians to using those who don’t show up for daily prayers as human shields.
Significant quantities of armaments the US. provides to the FSA end up in the hands of IS. “Probably 60 to 80 percent of the arms that America shoveled in have gone to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates,” says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. Since so many FSA fighters “vetted” by the U.S. as “moderate,” – and then U.S. trained, supplied, and armed – end up defecting to ISIL, is it any wonder? Now the U.S. has given up vetting the rebel fighters entirely, and recently dropped 50 tons of ammunition to unvetted forces near ISIS positions.
The Russian bombing campaign against ISIS and other anti-Assad Salafist militants in Syria has accomplished more in two months than the U.S.-led military coalition has in almost two years.
And in light of that, why haven’t Western coalition forces stepped aside to allow the Russians and Syrian army to finish their good work? Why put American boots on the ground after all this time, especially now that the terrorists are on the run?
Or does the West consider it more important, even in the wake of the Paris attacks, to topple Assad than to fight Islamic State?
Opposition to Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria is the Real Agenda
In 2007, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersch wrote of a Westernrealignment in foreign policy. After coalition forces toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, the U.S. and its allies in the region were appalled that the majority Shiite Muslim population ultimately not only gained control over Iraq’s government, but developed close ties with Iran. Saddam, a Sunni Muslim who governed a secular state, had provided a counterbalance to Shiite theocracy Iran’s influence in the Middle East.
Hersh explains how Saudi Arabia and Israel, the United States’ most important allies in the region, have been brought into close alliance out of shared existential fear of a perceived Shiite threat. Shiite Hezbollah militia forces had just dealt Israel a humiliating defeat in Lebanon only a year before Hersh wrote the article. Saudi Arabia is concerned that its significant Shiite minority, who live mostly in the oil-rich region along the Persian Gulf, might gain assistance from the Iranians to secede. Or even that numerically superior Iranian forces might invade, especially if fears of a nuclear-armed Iran came true.
Israel is concerned about the potential unimpeded flow of munitions and other assistance from Iran, through its allies in Iraq and Syria, and into the hands of Hezbollah fighters. Israel now admits to providing medical care for wounded Salafist jihadists opposing Assad, regardless of their faction.
According to Hersh, part of the new strategy of redirection is for “the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval,” to “provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria.” Vali Nasr, a Brookings Institute Middle East expert explained, “The Saudis have considerable financial means, and have deep relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis. The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can’t put them back.”
A U.S government consultant related to Hersh what highly placed Saudis had told him. “We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”
Has the change in U.S. leadership in 2009 altered this dynamic?
That brings us back to the assessments and fateful predictions of the recently declassified 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency document.
Nothing as is as simple as it appears in what power-behind-the-throne Zbigiew Brzezinski refers to as the “grand chessboard” of empire and global realpolitik.
The next installment will delve deeper into many important issues, including the competing economic interests which make the conflict in Syria a potential flash point for World War III.
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