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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/15/14

Why Take the Neocons Seriously?

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Cross-posted from Consortium News

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
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As President Barack Obama ponders whether the United States should respond militarily to advances into Iraq by Sunni extremists, the more pertinent question may be why does the mainstream U.S. news media give so much attention and credence to the neocons who laid the foundations for this disaster a decade ago.

It seems that the go-to guys for commentary continue to be the likes of Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of the horsemen of this apocalypse, while many of the same editorial writers at the Washington Post and elsewhere who paved the way to this Iraqi hell still chastise Obama for pulling out the U.S. troops in 2011 and demand that he reinsert the U.S. military now.

Overall, Official Washington's commentary on the advance by several thousand fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has bordered on the hysterical, with the panic being used to push Obama to commit U.S. air assets to Iraq and to expand U.S. intervention into Syria.

That's the case although the ISIS offensive could be explained as more the result of the group facing pressure inside Syria from President Bashar al-Assad's rejuvenated military and from al-Qaeda-backed militants of the rival Nusra Front than some "breakout" of the ISIS goal of carving a fundamentalist caliphate out of Syria and Iraq.

ISIS may simply have concluded that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's poorly led army was an easier target. Still, ISIS appears to have been surprised by how quickly several divisions of the Iraqi army fled the northern city of Mosul and other positions on the road to Baghdad.

Nevertheless, the result is that we are back to the neocon agenda of "regime change" across the Middle East, ousting governments that Israel finds objectionable, a strategy that evolved in the 1990s and led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. If the Iraq War had not gone so badly, it was expected to set the stage for additional interventions in Syria and Iran.

To burnish their tarnished reputations, the neocons now promote a narrative that treats the Iraq invasion as a stunning success though they acknowledge that the ensuring occupation was poorly managed. But this narrative insists that those mistakes were rectified by President George W. Bush heeding neocon advice to "surge" U.S. troops in 2007, achieving "victory at last" by 2008.

According to the neocons, President Obama then squandered this "victory" by not extending the U.S. military occupation of Iraq indefinitely -- and they assert that he also failed by not intervening more directly in Syria to overthrow President Assad.

A common refrain -- even among liberal war hawks, like the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- is that Obama should have done much more to arm and train "moderate" rebels in Syria, although it's never entirely clear who these "moderates" are and whether they have any significant base of support inside Syria.

But the useful myth is that somehow these muscled-up Syrian "moderates" would have prevailed in a two-front war against Assad's army and the Islamic militants who have been strongly supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Sunni oil sheikdoms.

The more likely outcome would have been that the "moderate" fighters would have only contributed to the violent chaos that has engulfed Syria and thus made an outright victory by the Sunni extremists more likely, not less.

A Sunni extremist victory in Syria also could have been aided by the U.S. hawks' desire last summer to have Obama launch a massive bombing campaign against Assad's forces after a disputed Sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.

Though pro-war advocates, including Secretary of State John Kerry, rushed to pin the blame on Assad -- despite his denials and indications that the rebels may have released the Sarin as a "false-flag" provocation -- Obama veered away from the Syrian bombing at the last minute. Then, with help from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad was convinced to surrender all his chemical weapons.

But that deal only fed the neocon narrative that Obama was weak and indecisive, while the liberal hawks kept embracing the dreamy alternative of the "moderate" rebels somehow winning their two-front war. Having never been fully tested and thus never fully disproved, this hypothetical outcome has remained an easy way to bash Obama.

Extrapolating from the "moderate rebel" myth, the U.S. hardliners argue that Obama is now responsible for the recent successes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in its drive into central Iraq because -- if it weren't for Obama's unwillingness to plunge into the Syrian civil war -- Syria would not have become a staging base for ISIS, the argument goes.

The ISIS Offensive

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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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