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Obama's Fateful Indecision

By       Message Robert Parry     Permalink
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Reprinted from Consortium News

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The foreign policy quandary facing President Barack Obama is that America's traditional allies in the Middle East -- Israel and Saudi Arabia -- along with Official Washington's powerful neocons have effectively sided with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State out of a belief that Iran represents a greater threat to Israeli and Saudi interests.

But what that means for U.S. interests is potentially catastrophic. If the Islamic State continues its penetration toward Damascus in league with Al-Qaeda's Nusra Front and topples the Syrian government, the resulting slaughter of Christians, Shiites and other religious minorities -- as well as the risk of a major new terrorist base in the heart of the Middle East -- could force the United States into a hopeless new war that could drain the U.S. Treasury and drive the nation into a chaotic and dangerous decline.

To avoid this calamity, Obama would have to throw U.S. support fully behind the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, precipitate a break with Israel and Saudi Arabia, and withstand a chorus of condemnations from influential neocon pundits, Republican politicians and hawkish Democrats. Influenced by Israeli propaganda, all have pushed for ousting Assad in a "regime change."

But the world has already had a grim peek at what an Islamic State/Al-Qaeda victory would look like. The Islamic State has reveled in its ability to provoke Western outrage through acts of shocking brutality, such as beheadings, incinerations, stonings, burning of ancient books and destruction of religious sites that the group deems offensive to its fundamentalist version of Islam.

Over the Easter holiday, there were reports of the Islamic State destroying a Christian Church in northeastern Syria and taking scores of Christians as prisoners. An Islamic State victory in Syria would likely mean atrocities on a massive scale. And, there are signs that Al-Qaeda might bring the Islamic State back into the fold if it achieves this success, which would let Al-Qaeda resume its plotting for its own outrages through terrorist attacks on European and U.S. targets.

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Though Al-Qaeda's Nusra Front and the Islamic State have been estranged in recent months, the groups were reported to be collaborating in an assault on the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, south of Damascus. United Nations spokesman Chris Gunness told the Associated Press, "The situation in the camp is beyond inhumane."

The AP also reported that "Palestinian officials and Syrian activists say the Islamic State militants fighting in Yarmouk were working with rivals from the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front. The two groups have fought bloody battles against each other in other parts of Syria, but appear to be cooperating in the attack on Yarmouk."

Syria has become a frontline in the sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shiite Islam, with Saudi Arabia a longtime funder of the Sunni fundamentalist Wahhabism, which gave rise to Al-Qaeda under the direction of Saudi Osama bin Laden. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were Saudi nationals, and elements of the Saudi royal family and other Persian Gulf sheikdoms have been identified as Al-Qaeda's financiers. [See's "The Secret Saudi Ties to Terrorism."]

The Israeli-Saudi Alliance

In seeking "regime change" in Syria, Saudi Arabia has been joined by Israel whose leaders have cited Syria as the "keystone" in the pro-Iranian Shiite "strategic arc" from Tehran through Damascus to Beirut. In making that point in September 2013, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad and the Shiites.

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"We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren't backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran." He said this was the case even if the "bad guys" were affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

In June 2014, Oren expanded on this Israeli position. Then, speaking as a former ambassador, Oren said Israel would even prefer a victory by the Islamic State. "From Israel's perspective, if there's got to be an evil that's got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail," Oren said.

On March 3, in the speech to a cheering U.S. Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also argued that the danger from Iran was much greater than from the Islamic State (or ISIS). Netanyahu dismissed ISIS as a relatively minor annoyance with its "butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube" when compared to Iran, which he accused of "gobbling up the nations" of the Middle East.

He claimed "Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran's aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow. " We must all stand together to stop Iran's march of conquest, subjugation and terror."

Netanyahu's rhetoric was clearly hyperbole -- Iran's troops have not invaded any country for centuries; Iran did come to the aid of the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq in its fight with the Islamic State, but the "regime change" in Baghdad was implemented not by Iran but by President George W. Bush and the U.S. military; and it's preposterous to say that Iran "dominates" Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa -- though Iran is allied with elements in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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