U.S. intelligence followed many of these developments in real time. According to a Defense Intelligence Agency report from August 2012, "AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media. ... AQI declared its opposition of Assad's government because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis."
In other words, Assad's early complaint about "terrorists" having infiltrated the opposition had a basis in fact. Early in the disorders in 2011, there were cases of armed elements killing police and soldiers. Later, there were terrorist bombings targeting senior Syrian government officials, including a July 18, 2012 explosion -- deemed a suicide bombing by government officials -- that killed Syrian Defense Minister General Dawoud Rajiha and Assef Shawkat, the deputy defense minister and Assad's brother-in-law.
By then, it had become clear that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other Sunni-ruled countries were funneling money and other help to jihadist rebels seeking to oust Assad's regime, which was considered a protector of Christians, Shiites, Alawites and other minorities fearing persecution if Sunni extremists prevailed.
As the 2012 DIA report noted about Syria, "internally, events are taking a clear sectarian direction. ... The salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria. ... The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China, and Iran support the regime."
The DIA analysts already understood the risks that AQI represented both to Syria and Iraq. The report included a stark warning about the expansion of AQI, which was changing into the Islamic State or what the DIA referred to as ISI. The brutal armed movement was seeing its ranks swelled by the arrival of global jihadists rallying to the black banner of Sunni militancy, intolerant of both Westerners and "heretics" from Shiite and other non-Sunni branches of Islam.
As this movement strengthened it risked spilling back into Iraq. The DIA wrote: "This creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi [in Iraq], and will provide a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy, the dissenters [apparently a reference to Shiite and other non-Sunni forms of Islam]. ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory."
Facing this growing Sunni terrorist threat -- which indeed did spill back into Iraq -- the idea that the CIA or the U.S. military could effectively arm and train a "moderate" rebel force to somehow compete with the Islamists was already delusional, yet that was the "group think" among the Important People of Official Washington, simply organize a "moderate" army to oust Assad and everything would turn out just great.
On Oct. 2, 2014, Vice President Joe Biden let more of the cat out of the bag when he told an audience at Harvard's Kennedy School: "our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria ... the Saudis, the emirates, etc., what were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of military weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world." [Quote at 53:20 of clip.]
In other words, much of the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition actually has been involved in financing and arming many of the same jihadists that the coalition is now supposedly fighting. If you take into account the lost billions of dollars that the Bush administration dumped on Sunni fighters starting in 2006, you could argue that the U.S.-led coalition bears primary responsibility for creating the problem that it is now confronting.
Biden made a similar point at least in reference to the Persian Gulf states: "Now all of a sudden, I don't want to be too facetious, but they have seen the lord. ... Saudi Arabia has stopped funding. Saudi Arabia is allowing training [of anti-Islamic State fighters] on its soil ... the Qataris have cut off their support for the most extreme elements of terrorist organizations, and the Turks ... [are] trying to seal their border."
But there remain many doubts about the commitment of these Sunni governments to the cause of fighting the Islamic State and even more doubts about whether that commitment extends to Al Qaeda's Nusra Front and other jihadist forces. Some neocons have even advocated backing Al Qaeda as the lesser evil both vis-a-vis the Islamic State and the Assad regime.
Yet, the Times editorial on Monday blamed Putin for a big chunk of the Syrian mess because Russia has dared support the internationally recognized Syrian government in the face of vicious foreign-supported terrorism. The Times casts no blame on the United States or its allies for the Syrian horror.
The Times also hurled personal insults at Putin as part of its equally one-sided narrative of the Ukraine crisis, which the editorial writers have summarized as simply a case of "Russian aggression" or a "Russian invasion" -- ignoring the behind-the-scenes role of neocon Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland in orchestrating the violent overthrow of Ukraine's elected President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.
In Monday's editorial, the Times reported that President Barack Obama "considers Mr. Putin a thug," though it was President Obama who boasted just last month, "I've ordered military action in seven countries," another inconvenient fact that the Times discreetly leaves out. In other words, who's the "thug"?