Reprinted from Consortium News
Official Washington's narrative about Syria's civil war is that innocent "pro-democracy" protesters were driven to violence because the Syrian government cracked down harshly -- and that if only President Barack Obama had armed the protesters and supported "regime change" at the beginning, the current crises in Syria and Iraq could have been averted.
But the storyline was never that black and white. Though there surely were many Syrian protesters in 2011 simply seeking the end of President Bashar al-Assad's rule and political reform, there were also extremist elements in their ranks from the start, including "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" terrorists, as a Defense Intelligence Agency report describes...
"'AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media,' the DIA wrote in a partially redacted classified report from August 2012 that was released to Judicial Watch in response to a court case over the Benghazi controversy. '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 wasn't entirely false, although it was often treated that way by the mainstream U.S. news media. Even 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 relatively secular regime. Assad is an Alawite, a branch of Shia Islam, but he also drew strong support from Christians, Shiites and other minorities fearing persecution if Sunni extremists prevailed.
As the 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 situation has sharpened further since 2012, as Al-Qaeda's affiliate, the "salafist" Nusra Front, emerged as a dominant element in the rebel force. Another key player -- "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" -- was Al-Qaeda's hyper-violent affiliate that arose in resistance to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and later rebranded itself the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" or simply the "Islamic State."
By the time of the DIA report -- in August 2012 -- the 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 has since splintered from Al-Qaeda central over the issue of whether territory should be held and an Islamic caliphate declared. Al-Qaeda central opposed that approach and considered AQI's (or the Islamic State's) tactics excessively brutal and divisive.
But AQI (or the Islamic State then referred to as ISI) was finding 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, where AQI had originated. In mid-summer 2012, 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."
In that climate of a growing Sunni terrorist threat, the idea that the CIA could effectively arm and train a "moderate" rebel force to somehow compete with the Islamists was already delusional, yet that was the dominant argument among the Important People of Official Washington, simply organize a "moderate" army to oust Assad and everything would turn out just great.
At the time, the neocons and their junior partners, the "liberal interventionists," were in full rhetorical battle garb, their usual attire. They had prevailed upon President Barack Obama to support a similar "regime change" in Libya where dictator Muammar Gaddafi also had cited terrorist Islamist networks -- operating in eastern Libya -- and vowed to crush them.
Instead, brushing aside Gaddafi's terrorist warnings and vowing a "responsibility to protect" -- an "R2P" mission to save -- "innocent civilians," the United States put together an international force to bomb Gaddafi's troops as they tried to regain control of the Benghazi area of eastern Libya. The destruction of Gaddafi's military enabled his various enemies, including Al-Qaeda-connected extremists to seize much of the country, including the capital of Tripoli.
On Oct. 20, 2011, Gaddafi was hunted down in the city of Sirte, beaten, sodomized with a knife and then murdered. Upon the news of Gaddafi's death, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exulted, "We came. We saw. He died."
However, events turned less happy in the wake of Gaddafi's murder. As he had warned, Islamic extremists were becoming a serious threat. As the jihadists expanded their reach inside the post-Gaddafi power vacuum power, Libya descended into a bloody civil war.