If you want to know why our “war on terrorism” has failed so miserably – if you want to understand how and why the harder we fight the more enemies we have to face – then read this recent piece in the Wall Street Journal on the evolution of the Syrian civil war, which opens with this startling query:
“In the three-way war ravaging Syria, should the local al Qaeda branch be seen as the lesser evil to be wooed rather than bombed?”
How can such a question even be conceived, let alone asked? After all, wasn’t the whole purpose of the nearly fifteen-year US military campaign in the region supposed to have been the eradication of Al Qaeda? Aren’t we being constantly reminded of the fact that another 9/11 may well be in our future if we don’t destroy “the terrorists,” denying them safe havens and pursuing them to the ends of the earth? And wasn’t it Al Qaeda that conceived, planned, and carried out the attacks that changed our world on that fateful September day?
Oh well, never mind that – don’t be so closed-minded! – because “This is increasingly the view of some of America’s regional allies and even some Western officials.”
As to how one could possibly justify a deal with such a devil, we are told that the Syrian war has killed 230,000 people, and 7.6 million have been forced to flee. The Journal is taking the numbers of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-rebel group, as definitive, yet others put the figure lower, ranging from roughly 140,000 to 215,000 killed. Left unsaid (by the Journal) is who did all that killing, although the clear implication is that Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad is the culprit. And while Assad’s forces have done their share of slaughtering, they have suffered a little less than 85,000 dead, at this point. The rebels, on the other hand, have seen a little over 100,000 killed. To say nothing of civilians caught in the middle….
The assumption that we have to “do something” – even something so downright crazy as allying with Al Qaeda – in order to pull off a “humanitarian intervention” flies in the face of the facts. Both sides are mass murderers. I say both sides – as in two sides – in spite of the Journal‘s insistence that this is a three-sided war:
“The three main forces left on the ground today are the Assad regime, Islamic State and an Islamist rebel alliance in which the Nusra Front – an al Qaeda affiliate designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and the United Nations – plays a major role.
“Outnumbered and outgunned, the more secular, Western-backed rebels have found themselves fighting shoulder to shoulder with Nusra in key battlefields. As the Assad regime wobbles and Islamic State, or ISIS, gains ground in both Syria and Iraq, reaching out to the more pragmatic Nusra is the only rational choice left for the international community, supporters of this approach argue.”
How do we differentiate the “pragmatic” Nusra Front – the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda – from ISIS, otherwise known as the “Islamic State”? The adjective “pragmatic” gives us a clue: it’s a tactical difference, not an ideological one. They share the same ideology – a fanatical variety of Sunni fundamentalism, which seeks to take Syria back to the 12th century and eradicate all unbelievers – but differ on the means. And what does this strategic or tactical difference consist of? The Islamic State has declared its implacable hostility to the US, while, according to the Journal, the Nusra Front has allied itself with the Saudis, the Turks, and the Qataris in order to achieve their goals – and is now pressuring their Arab patrons to involve the United States.
The mind reels. But that’s nothing compared to this:
“‘It does say something when suddenly Nusra become a lot more tempting. It speaks volumes as to the severity of the situation,’ said Saudi Prince Faisal bin Saud bin Abdulmohsen, a scholar at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh. ‘At this point we must really differentiate between fanaticism and outright monstrosity.'”
If we’re differentiating between fanaticism and outright monstrosity, then one wonders which side of the equation the Saudis come out on. Here is a regime that routinely beheads unbelievers, which is carpet-bombing a defenseless country on its southeastern border, and which has been strongly implicated in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. If this isn’t “outright monstrosity,” then one wonders what would qualify.
We are told that the Saudis were “reluctant” to work with Al Qaeda, but with the ascension of the savage King Salman to the throne – he’s been beheading people left and right – the alleged fact that Al Qaeda is “an avowed enemy of the House of Saud” has been impatiently brushed aside.
The truth is that the 9/11 hijackers were funded and facilitated by the Saudis, as several members of Congress who have seen the 28 redacted pages of the Senate and House intelligence committee report on 9/11 have all but come out and said: for all intents and purposes, Al Qaeda has been a wholly owned subsidiary of the House of Saud since its inception. The only reluctance involved in this relationship has been its covert nature: with King Salman in the saddle, however, the Saudis are coming out of the closet as the world’s number one sponsor of terrorism.
It seems incredible that any American commentator, let alone a newspaper that has been one of the main cheerleaders of the “war on terrorism,” would take this “lesser evil” argument seriously, and yet here we see what the attraction is:
“In recent months, however, Saudi Arabia’s new King Salman has moved to work much more closely with Doha and Ankara in supporting the Islamist-dominated rebel alliance that includes Nusra, diplomats and officials in the region say. These countries see the suffering inflicted on Syria by the Assad regime as the main reason for Islamic State’s emergence in the first place, and they prefer to see Nusra and its allies, rather than Islamic State, move into territory surrendered by Damascus.”
On this the Saudis and the neoconservatives who ginned up the Iraq war agree: it wasn’t the invasion and destruction of Iraq that unleashed ISIS – it’s all Assad’s fault!
Yet it wasn’t Assad who created the power vacuum in the region that the “caliphate” is rapidly filling. It wasn’t Assad who disbanded the Iraqi military and installed a Shi’ite majority regime in Baghdad. It wasn’t Assad who decided it was time to “drain the swamp” of the Middle East in response to the 9/11 attacks. These acts were carried out by the US government – and the Islamic State is a classic case of “blowback,” i.e. of the unintended consequences of a supremely wrong-headed policy.
It’s fairly obvious why the terrorist-supporting Saudis would want to sanitize Al Qaeda, their longtime sock puppets, but who are the US officials who back this lunatic policy?
One of them is Robert Ford, former US ambassador to Syria and now at the Middle East Institute, a Saudi front group with substantial funding from Big Oil and the major weapons manufacturers. Ford avers:
“The Turks, the Saudis and the Qataris have decided that the problem above all is to get rid of Bashar al-Assad, and the Americans don’t have leverage over them to change what they are doing. Those countries are willing to use even the extremist groups like Nusra to bring down Assad, and that determination came out of the failure of the United States to provide a viable alternative to those extremists by ramping up substantially support for more moderate groups.”
The idea that we don’t have any leverage over our Gulf allies is a joke: none of these countries would lift a finger to help the Nusra Front without the okay from Uncle Sam. If the US wanted to stop them, it would be easy enough to do so: lifting the guarantee of US protection against Iran would do the trick, not to mention the withdrawal of substantial military sales and a diplomatic freeze-out. It’s laughable to imagine that any of these states would continue to exist in their present form if the American shield was lifted.
In fact, the Saudis and their Turkish and Qatari allies are doing precisely what the US wants them to do: engaging in a regime change operation in Syria designed to overthrow Assad and usher in … a nightmare.
The virtues of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front are paraded so brazenly by the Journal that it almost reads like advertising copy:
“Unlike Islamic State, Nusra is largely composed of Syrians, and its religious views, though certainly radical, aren’t nearly as extreme. While it has refrained from attacking Israel despite controlling towns along the demarcation line in the Golan Heights, the group has taken on Islamic State and has been willing to work with non-Islamist rebels.”
They’re homeboys, they’re relatively moderate, and – here’s a big one – they haven’t attacked Israel, although they’re in a good position to do so. These are jihadists after own own heart!
And every advertising campaign has to feature a few endorsements. Here’s one from another former Obama administration official, who was once the President’s liaison to the Syrian rebels:
“‘Nusra has been a real magnet for young Syrian fighters who don’t have any particular jihadist or even radical sectarian agenda,’ said Frederic Hof, who served as President Obama’s envoy to the Syrian opposition and is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington. ‘They have found in Nusra two things. It is well-resourced…And Nusra seems to have been willing to fight the regime and not to engage in some of the corrupt activities and warlordism that you would find elsewhere within the panoply of Syrian opposition.'”
We’ve sure come a long way from “you’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.”
Another American fan of Al Qaeda is Adm. James Stavridis, former NATO supreme allied commander:
“It is unlikely we are going to operate side by side with cadres from Nusra, but if our allies are working with them, that is acceptable. If you look back to World War II, we had coalitions with people that we had extreme disagreements with, including Stalin’s Russia. I don’t think that is a showstopper for the US in terms of engaging with that coalition.”
The Journal reports Stavridis as saying “Washington is likely to go ‘pretty far’ in tolerating the budding collaboration between its regional allies and Nusra.” As US military equipment continues to show up in Nusra’s arsenal – and in the hands of ISIS – Washington’s game isn’t too hard to discern.
It isn’t just the Saudis, the Turks, and the Qataris who have decided that Assad is the main enemy – indeed, the only enemy – in Syria. When President Obama failed to convince the country bombing Syria was such a great idea, the regime-changers in Washington decided to farm out the job to their regional clients.
Now the real objective of our post-9/11 military rampage through the Middle East stands revealed: destroying the secular regimes that kept the Islamists in check. Instead of going after bin Laden, who stayed free under the protection of our Pakistani allies, we went after Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Instead of preventing the Islamist takeover of Libya, we facilitated it by overthrowing Qaddafi. And now we’re repeating that scenario in Syria, taking out Israel’s longtime enemy in Damascus – with more than a little help from our terrorist friends.
Those who invoke the murder of 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, to rationalize a system of universal surveillance are now collaborating with the murderers. This isn’t merely utter madness: it’s a consciously developed policy of treason.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.