Syria: Another Pipeline War
Rand recommends using “covert action, information operations, unconventional warfare" to enforce a “divide and rule" strategy. “The United States and its local allies could use the nationalist jihadists to launch a proxy campaign" and “U.S. leaders could also choose to capitalize on the sustained Shia-Sunni conflict trajectory by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes against Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world ... possibly supporting authoritative Sunni governments against a continuingly hostile Iran."
WikiLeaks cables from as early as 2006 show the U.S. State Department, at the urging of the Israeli government, proposing to partner with Turkey, Qatar and Egypt to foment Sunni civil war in Syria to weaken Iran. The stated purpose, according to the secret cable, was to incite Assad into a brutal crackdown of Syria's Sunni population.
As predicted, Assad's overreaction to the foreign made crisis—dropping barrel bombs onto Sunni strongholds and killing civilians—polarized Syria's Shia/Sunni divide and allowed U.S. policymakers to sell Americans the idea that the pipeline struggle was a humanitarian war. When Sunni soldiers of the Syrian Army began defecting in 2013, the Western Coalition armed the “Free Syrian Army" to further destabilize Syria. The press portrait of the Free Syria Army as cohesive battalions of Syrian moderates was delusional. The dissolved units regrouped in hundreds of independent militias most of whom were commanded by or allied with Jihadi militants who were the most committed and effective fighters. By then, the Sunni armies of Al Qaeda Iraq (AQI) were crossing the border from Iraq into Syria and joining forces with the battalions of deserters from the Free Syria Army, many of them trained and armed by the U.S.
Despite the prevailing media portrait of a moderate Arab uprising against the tyrant Assad, U.S. Intelligence planners knew from the outset that their pipeline proxies were radical jihadists who would probably carve themselves a brand new Islamic caliphate from the Sunni regions of Syria and Iraq. Two years before ISIS throat cutters stepped on the world stage, a seven-page Aug. 12, 2012 study by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), obtained by the right wing group Judicial Watch, warned that thanks to the ongoing support by U.S./Sunni Coalition for radical Sunni Jihadists, “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI (now ISIS), are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria."
Using U.S. and Gulf State funding, these groups had turned the peaceful protests against Bashar Assad toward “a clear sectarian (Shiite vs Sunni) direction." The paper notes that the conflict had become a sectarian civil war supported by Sunni “religious and political powers." The report paints the Syrian conflict as a global war for control of the region's resources with “the west, Gulf countries and Turkey supporting [Assad's] opposition, while Russia, China and Iran support the regime."
The Pentagon authors of the seven-page report appear to endorse the predicted advent of the ISIS caliphate:
“If the situation continues unravelling, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor) and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want in order to isolate the Syrian regime." The Pentagon report warns that this new principality could move across the Iraqi border to Mosul and Ramadi and “declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria."
Of course, this is precisely what has happened. Not coincidentally, the regions of Syria occupied by ISIS exactly encompass the proposed route of the Qatari pipeline.
But then in 2014, our Sunni proxies horrified the American people by severing heads and driving a million refugees toward Europe. “Strategies based upon the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend can be kind of blinding," says Tim Clemente, who chaired the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force between 2004 and 2008 and served as liaison in Iraq between the FBI, the Iraqi National Police and the U.S. Military. “We made the same mistake when we trained the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. The moment the Russians left, our supposed friends started smashing antiquities, enslaving women, severing body parts and shooting at us."
When ISIS' “Jihadi John" began murdering prisoners on TV, the White House pivoted, talking less about deposing Assad and more about regional stability. The Obama Administration began putting daylight between itself and the insurgency we had funded. The White House pointed accusing fingers at our allies. On Oct. 3, 2014, Vice President Joe Biden told students at the John F. Kennedy, Jr. forum at the Institute of Politics at Harvard that “Our allies in the region are our biggest problem in Syria." He explained that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were “so determined to take down Assad" that they had launched a “proxy Sunni-Shia war" funneling “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons to Jihadists of the al-Nusra front and al-Qaeda"—the two groups that merged in 2014 to form ISIS.
Biden seemed angered that our trusted “friends" could not be trusted to follow the American agenda. “ISI[S] is a direct outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion," declared Obama, disassociating himself from the Sunni rebellion, “which is an example of unintended consequences which is why we should generally aim before we shoot." As if to demonstrate their contempt for America's new found restraint, our putative allies, the Turks responded to the U.S. rebukes by shooting down a plane belonging to our other putative ally, the Russians—probably to spoil a potential deal between Russia and the U.S. that would leave Assad in power.
Across the Mid-East, Arab leaders routinely accuse the U.S. of having created ISIS. To most Americans immersed in U.S. media perspective, such accusations seem insane. However, to many Arabs, the evidence of U.S. involvement is so abundant that they conclude that our role in fostering ISIS must have been deliberate. On Sept. 22, 2014, according to the New York Times, Iraqi leader, Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told Baghdad demonstrators that “the CIA created ISIS." Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Bahaa Al-Araji, echoed al-Sadr's accusation. “We know who made Daesh," Iraq's Treasury Secretary, Haidar al-Assadi, told the Digital News Aggregate, “The Islamic State is a clear creation of the United States, and the United States is trying to intervene again using the excuse of the Islamic State."
In fact, many of the ISIS fighters and their commanders are ideological and organizational successors to the Jihadists that the CIA has been nurturing for 30 years. The CIA began arming and training the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in 1979 to fight the Soviets. Following the Soviet withdrawal, the CIA's Afghan Mujahedeen became the Taliban while its foreign fighters, including Osama bin Laden, formed Al-Qaeda. In 2004, then British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the House of Commons that Al-Qaeda took its name—meaning “database" in Arabic—from the voluminous CIA database of Jihadists—Mujahedeen foreign fighters and arms smugglers trained and equipped by the CIA during the Afghan conflict.
Prior to the American invasion, there was no Al-Qaeda in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Bush destroyed Saddam's secularist government and his viceroy, Paul Bremer, in a monumental act of mismanagement, effectively created the Sunni Army, now named ISIS. Bremer elevated the Shiites to power and banned Saddam's ruling Ba'ath Party laying off some 700,000, mostly Sunni, government and party officials from ministers to school teachers. He then disbanded the 380,000 man army, which was 80 percent Sunni.
Bremer's actions stripped a million of Iraq's Sunnis of rank, property, wealth and power; leaving a desperate underclass of angry, educated, capable, trained and heavily armed Sunnis with little left to lose. General Petraeus' decision to import dirty war tactics, including torture and death squads, from the CIA's El Salvador conflict in order to shock and awe the Sunni resistance, instead ignited a shockingly bloody spiral of sectarian violence that devolved quickly into escalating atrocities topped finally by the Sunni Army signature head cutting. The Sunni insurgency named itself Al-Qaeda Iraq (AQI).
Beginning in 2011, our allies funded the invasion by AQI fighters into Syria. In June 2014 having entered Syria, AQI changed its name to ISIS. According to the New Yorker, “ISIS is run by a council of former Iraqi Generals ... many are members of Saddam Hussein's secular Ba'ath Party, who converted to radical Islam in American prisons." The $500 million in U.S. military aid that Obama did send to Syria almost certainly ended up benefiting these militant Jihadists. On Sept. 16, 2015, incredulous senators from the Armed Services Committee listened to U.S. General Lloyd Austin, Commander of the U.S. Central Command, explain that the Pentagon had spent $500 million to train and arm “moderate" insurgents in Syria and had only “four or five reliable moderate fighters" to show instead of the promised 5,000. The remainder apparently deserted or defected to ISIS.
Tim Clemente told me that the incomprehensible difference between the Iraq and Syria conflicts are the millions of military aged men who are fleeing the battlefield for Europe rather than staying to fight for their communities. “You have this formidable fighting force and they are all running away. I don't understand how you can have millions of military aged men running away from the battlefield. In Iraq, the bravery was heartbreaking—I had friends who refused to leave the country even though they knew they would die. They'd just tell you it's my country, I need to stay and fight," Clemente said.
The obvious explanation is that the nation's moderates are fleeing a war that is not their war. They simply want to escape being crushed between the anvil of Assad's Russian backed tyranny and the vicious Jihadi Sunni hammer that we had a hand in wielding in a global battle over competing pipelines. You can't blame the Syrian people for not widely embracing a blueprint for their nation minted in either Washington or Moscow. The super powers have left no options for an idealistic future that moderate Syrians might consider fighting for. And no one wants to die for a pipeline.