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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/19/14

Blocking a "Realist" Strategy on the Mideast

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Cross-posted from Consortium News

President Barack Obama talks with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker following a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 18, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
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Just last month President Barack Obama dismissed the idea of arming "moderate" rebels in Syria as a "fantasy" that was "never in the cards" as a workable strategy, but now this scheme has been dealt back into the middle of the U.S. war against the Islamic State, winning approval from solid majorities in Congress.

Perhaps the only explanation for this apparent folly is that this implausible notion retains overwhelming support among Washington's political/pundit class because it creates the appearance of being "tough" and "doing something" -- allowing politicians to pretend to address a problem even if the approach might make matters much worse.

There's also the other finicky little problem that the action of arming and training rebels and unleashing them against a sovereign state is an act of aggression (if not terrorism depending on what they do), similar to what U.S. officials have piously condemned the Russians of doing in Ukraine.

But this hypocrisy is never acknowledged either by U.S. policymakers or the mainstream U.S. press, which has gone into Cold War hysterics over Moscow's alleged support for embattled ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine on Russia's border -- while demanding that Obama expand support for Syrian rebels halfway around the world, even though many of those "moderates" have allied themselves with al-Qaeda terrorists.

In a sense, this hypocrisy is nothing new. During much of Syria's three-year civil war, the Obama administration has been covertly supporting the rebels with light weapons and military training while other U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states, have funneled huge sums of money to the cause of overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad's relatively secular government. Assad has been a longtime "regime change" target of American neoconservatives and Israel.

Though it's been known for quite a while that the Syrian civil war has degenerated into a sectarian conflict with mostly Sunni rebels battling the Alawites, Shiites, Christians and other minorities who form the base of support for Assad, the fiction has been maintained in Washington that a viable and secular "moderate opposition" to Assad still exists.

The reality on the ground says otherwise. For instance, in Friday's New York Times, an article by correspondent Ben Hubbard described the supposed Syrian "moderates" who are receiving CIA support as "a beleaguered lot, far from becoming a force that can take on the fanatical and seasoned fighters of the Islamic State."

But the situation is arguably worse than just the weakness of these "moderates." According to Hubbard's reporting, some of these U.S.-backed fighters...

"...acknowledge that battlefield necessity had put them in the trenches with the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, an issue of obvious concern for the United States. ...

"Lt. Col. Fares al-Bayyoush, the former aviation engineer who now heads the Fursan al-Haq Brigade, acknowledged that his men had fought alongside the Nusra Front because they needed all the help they could get.

"Sometimes, he said, that help comes in forms only a jihadi group can provide. He cited the rebel takeover of the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun, saying that the rebels were unable to take out one government position until the Nusra Front sent a suicide bomber to blow it up. In another town nearby, Nusra sent four bombers, including an American citizen.

"'We encourage them actually,' Mr. Bayyoush said with a laugh. 'And if they need vehicles, we provide them.'"

An Al-Qaeda Victory?

The "moderate" rebels also don't share President Obama's priority of carrying the fight to the Islamic State militants, reported Hubbard, "ousting Mr. Assad remains their primary goal."

This dilemma of the mixed allegiances of the "moderates" has been apparent for at least the past year. Last September, many of the previously hailed Syrian "moderate" rebels unveiled themselves to be Islamists who repudiated the U.S.-backed political opposition and allied themselves with al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front. [See's "Syrian Rebels Embrace Al-Qaeda."]

In other words, the just-approved congressional action opening the floodgates to hundreds of millions of dollars more in military aid to Syrian "moderates" could actually contribute to al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate gaining control of Syria, which could create a far greater threat to U.S. national security than the consolidation of the Islamic State inside territory of Syria and Iraq.

While the Islamic State brandishes its brutality as a gruesome tactic for driving Western interests out of the Middle East, it has shown no particular interest in taking its battle into the West. By contrast, al-Qaeda follows a conscious strategy of inflicting terrorist attacks on the West as part of a long-term plan to wreck the economies of the United States and Europe.

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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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