Cross-posted from Consortium News
Now that President Barack Obama has begun airstrikes inside Syria against the terrorist Islamic State -- with the tacit but not explicit approval of Syria's government -- Official Washington's ever-influential neoconservatives hope they can pressure Obama into a major "mission creep," to also attack and destroy the Syrian air force.
Like the proverbial camel with its nose into the tent, the neocons are trying to push beyond the U.S.-led attacks on the Islamic State and other Sunni extremist groups operating in Syria into a broader "regime change" operation against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who has been a longtime target of the neocons.
Diehl wrote on Monday:
"The problem is that ignoring Assad is likely to lead to even worse consequences. Already, the regime and its spokesmen are exulting in the U.S. bombing raids and doing their best to portray the United States as a de facto ally, while Syrians in rebel-held areas are demonstrating against the U.S. strikes because they are seen to be weakening the resistance to Assad.
"Meanwhile, the regime appears to be stepping up its own bombing raids against the non -extremist opposition. A failure of the United States to respond could destroy U.S. relations not only with its only on-the-ground allies in Syria but also with the Sunni nations that have joined the campaign against the Islamic State....
"Create a no-fly zone for Syrian aircraft over areas held by the rebels. With U.S. planes already operating in the area, this would be far simpler than it would have been before."
Of course, much of Diehl says is untrue. The idea that a viable "moderate" rebel force exists is a fiction. A year ago, many of these "moderate" rebels -- trained, funded and armed by the CIA and U.S. Arab allies -- repudiated the Syrian political front that the Obama administration had cobbled together and instead embraced al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front.
Obama himself -- just last month in an interview with the New York Times -- dismissed the notion of relying on "moderate" rebels as a "fantasy" that was "never in the cards" as a workable strategy.
But it is a fantasy that the neocons and their "liberal interventionist" allies have long found useful, portraying the civil war in Syria as a black-and-white conflict between the evil Assad and the saintly "pro-democracy" rebels.
Only in the past year or so as the extremism of the rebel movement became undeniable did the neocons shift their narrative to argue that this radicalization should be blamed on Obama for not having done more to arm the rebels and achieve "regime change" in Syria earlier.
What Happened in Libya?
Though that self-serving neocon narrative has become conventional wisdom in Official Washington, the more likely scenario would have been that the violent overthrow of the secular Assad regime would have led to the formation of a radical Sunni state in the heart of the Middle East.
From nearly the beginning of the conflict in 2011, the toughest anti-Assad fighters were always the Islamist militants who received lucrative backing from wealthy princes in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Persian Gulf oil states.
Also, the neocons' Syria storyline was tried out -- in Libya, where the Obama administration did organize a bombing campaign against Muammar Gaddafi's military supposedly to protect innocent Libyan protesters seeking "democracy." But the destruction of Gaddafi's secular regime simply opened the door for Islamist militants to take over, with the chaos now so severe that the United States and other nations have abandoned their embassies in Tripoli.
The likelihood would have been that a parallel intervention in Syria would have resulted in a similar catastrophe, although arguably worse, given Syria's central location in the region. Al-Qaeda's flag might very well be flying over Damascus.
However, given the neocon-dominated "group think" of Washington, all the "smart" people endlessly repeat the meme that if only Obama had escalated U.S. military support for the "moderate" Syrian rebels earlier, everything would have worked out just great.