The US Government’s Not-So-Secret Support for al-Qaeda and ISIS
The Biggest State Sponsor of Terrorism of Them All
“9/11: Never forget,” the tee-shirts insisted. “Have you forgotten how it felt that day?” the country crooner warbled. “September 11th… global terrorism!” the candidate for President of 9/11, Rudolph Giuliani, endlessly repeated.
To this day we are bombarded with such reminders whenever reductions of the swollen national security state are proposed and need to be fended off with a fresh round of fear-mongering. And proponents of such reductions are smeared as friends of the terrorists.
And because President Obama is deemed not aggressive enough in pursuing the war on the Islamist movement responsible for 9/11, even he is accused by his loonier critics of being a “secret Muslim” and a “terr-symp” (terrorist sympathizer).
Given all this, you would think right-wing nationalists would be alert to and aghast at abundant reports that their own government has knowingly supported Islamic extremists in Syria (and elsewhere), including al-Qaeda, the very group responsible for 9/11; especially since that support led to the rise of ISIS (formerly al-Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI) and that such a treasonous policy has long occurred under “crypto-Muslim” Barack Hussein Obama. But, oddly enough, they’ve given Obama a pass on this.
Why hasn’t Fox News been blasting alerts like “Obama Backs Muslim Terrorists, Helping to Create the Islamic State” for years? Wouldn’t their xenophobic viewers gobble up such red meat with relish? Couldn’t the Republicans make stacks of political hay with such a talking point?
But, no, apparently bigotry and scaremongering are only to be harnessed to support war, and never to oppose it. The right’s criticism of Obama’s Syria policy has been that he hasn’t supported the al-Qaeda/ISIS-led Syrian opposition enough. Apparently, the lesson of 9/11 is that we must embrace perpetual war, even if it means fighting with the perpetrators of 9/11 in that war.
Washington hawks have deflected such criticism by denying that al-Qaeda and ISIS are all that dominant in the insurgency, or that foreign support of the opposition helped lead to the 2014 rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Such deflections have been made increasingly untenable by mounting evidence, and especially by the recent disclosure of an incredibly damning Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report from August 2012.
That document contained a frank admission that:
“THE SALAFIST[S], THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD, AND AQI ARE THE MAJOR FORCES DRIVING THE INSURGENCY IN SYRIA.”
Investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed excellently summarized what the DIA considered to be the goals and likely consequences of supporting such a Salafist-dominated insurgency:
“In a strikingly prescient prediction, the Pentagon document explicitly forecasts the probable declaration of ‘an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.’
Nevertheless, ‘Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts’ by Syrian ‘opposition forces’ fighting to ‘control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar)’:
‘… there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).’
The secret Pentagon document thus provides extraordinary confirmation that the US-led coalition currently fighting ISIS, had three years ago welcomed the emergence of an extremist ‘Salafist Principality’ in the region as a way to undermine Assad, and block off the strategic expansion of Iran. Crucially, Iraq is labeled as an integral part of this ‘Shia expansion.’
The establishment of such a ‘Salafist Principality’ in eastern Syria, the DIA document asserts, is ‘exactly’ what the ‘supporting powers to the [Syrian] opposition want.’ Earlier on, the document repeatedly describes those ‘supporting powers’ as ‘the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey.’
Further on, the document reveals that Pentagon analysts were acutely aware of the dire risks of this strategy, yet ploughed ahead anyway.
The establishment of such a ‘Salafist Principality’ in eastern Syria, it says, would create ‘the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi.’ Last summer, ISIS conquered Mosul in Iraq, and just this month has also taken control of Ramadi.
Such a quasi-state entity 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. 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 territory.’”
The DIA document was too big an anti-Obama scoop for Fox News not to cover at all. Yet they still managed to give the story a pro-interventionist spin. They did so by focusing on Obama’s alleged low estimation of the threat of ISIS and the Libyan jihadists (especially his reference to ISIS as a “Jayvee team”), and how the predictions in the report belie that low estimation. Yet, they completely glossed over the report’s statement that the predicted rise of ISIS would be a result of support for the Syrian opposition by the west and its allies, since Salafists like al-Qaeda and ISIS were the driving force of that opposition.
As incredible as the DIA disclosure is, its basic import has been an open secret for years.
The general US policy of allying with the Gulf states (especially the Saudis) and Turkey in supporting radical Sunni insurgents to counter the “Shia expansion” was reported by Seymour Hersh back in 2007, shortly after that policy (“the Redirection”) was initiated by the Bush administration.
The Obama administration’s support of the Sunni insurgency in Syria against the Shiite-led regime of Bashar al-Asad following the 2011 Arab Spring was simply a continuation and intensification of that general policy. The administration claimed to be aiming their support at “moderates” and “secular, liberal reformers” in the opposition. But officials of the highest level in the administration have repeatedly betrayed how little they believe their own lie; especially when defending themselves against criticism for not intervening more.
Last year, Hillary Clinton trashed her former boss Obama for not supporting the Syrian opposition enough. But in February 2012, while she was still on the team as Secretary of State and being pressured by corporate media to ramp up intervention, she sang a different tune:
“We know al Qaeda [leader Ayman al-] Zawahiri is supporting the opposition in Syria. Are we supporting al Qaeda in Syria? (…) If you’re a military planner or if you’re a secretary of state and you’re trying to figure out do you have the elements of an opposition that is actually viable, that we don’t see.”
A month later, Obama himself told Jeffrey Goldberg:
“When you have a professional army that is well-armed and sponsored by two large states who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict — the notion that we could have, in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces, changed the equation on the ground there was never true.”
And in June 2012, Obama repeated the same sentiment:
“When you get farmers, dentists, and folks who have never fought before going up against a ruthless opposition in Assad, the notion that they were in a position to suddenly overturn not only Assad but also ruthless, highly trained jihadists if we just sent a few arms is a fantasy. And I think it’s very important for the American people — but maybe more importantly, Washington and the press corps — to understand that.”
If, as Obama and Clinton both admitted, the “moderate” opposition is not viable and is no match for the jihadists, then their policy of toppling Assad in Syria has been, as they implicitly admit, a policy of empowering the jihadists, even if their support for the opposition was not as extensive as many would have liked.
Then in September 2012, Ben Swann, unlike virtually all of his journalistic colleagues, asked Obama a very tough question about his Syria policy when given the chance.
“…you mentioned al-Qaeda in your speech, going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, certainly going after them in Yemen as well. And yet there’s some concern about the U.S. funding the Syrian opposition when there are a lot of reports that al-Qaeda is sort of heading up that opposition, how do you justify the two?”
“Well I share that concern, and so what we’ve done is to say we will provide non-lethal assistance to Syrian opposition leadership that are committed to political transition, committed to an observance of human rights. We’re not going to just dive in and get involved with a civil war that in fact involves some elements of people who are genuinely trying to get a better life but also involve some folks who would over the long term do the United States harm.”
This was doublespeak of Clintonesque proportions. “Assistance,” whether lethal or not, is “getting involved” in the civil war. Helping the allies of al-Qaeda and ISIS predictably helped al-Qaeda and ISIS themselves. Moreover, the assistance had already been lethal at that point, even if covert and indirect.
And aiding their allies not only aided al-Qaeda and ISIS strategically, but also in terms of military power. As Justin Raimondo recently wrote:
“The policy of the Obama administration, and particularly Hillary Clinton’s State Department, was — and still is — regime change in Syria. This overrode all other considerations. We armed, trained, and “vetted” the Syrian rebels, even as we looked the other way while the Saudis and the Gulf sheikdoms funded groups like al-Nusra and al-Qaeda affiliates who wouldn’t pass muster. And our “moderates” quickly passed into the ranks of the outfront terrorists, complete with the weapons we’d provided.”
In spite of all its admissions concerning the risks and limitations of intervention, the Obama administration, along with the US Congress, still pushed for increasing support for the Syrian opposition in 2013.
In May 2013, the Senate tried to pass a law authorizing the direct arming of the Syrian opposition, leading Rand Paul to point out: “This is an important moment. You will be funding, today, the allies of al Qaeda. It’s an irony you cannot overcome.”
And in the summer and fall of 2013, the administration sought to launch air strikes on the Syrian government, leading Dennis Kucinich to ask: “So what, we’re about to become al-Qaeda’s air force now?” Airstrikes would have overthrown Assad in fairly short order, just as it did with Gaddafi in Libya. Then what? By then, had the “farmers and dentists” Obama had derided become so much stronger that they could have taken over? Or would the field have been cleared for al-Qaeda and ISIS to march to the Mediterranean? What else could they have realistically expected but the latter? al-Qaeda’s air force indeed.
It was only after a public backlash against the prospect of another war in the Middle East (and after Russia’s Vladimir Putin offered a face-saving exit) that the administration relented. Although the war party did not get their airstrikes, around that time the CIA began openly and directly sending lethal aid to the insurgency.
In October 2014, after support for the Syrian opposition led to ISIS’s conquest of Sunni Iraq, even Vice President Joe Biden admitted that the “moderates” were still not viable, and that opposition members who do the actual fighting and end up with foreign-supplied weapons are the jihadists. He also admitted that foreign support of the opposition is what led to the rise of ISIS.
Question: In retrospect do you believe the United States should have acted earlier in Syria, and if not why is now the right moment?
Biden: The answer is ‘no’ for 2 reasons. One, the idea of identifying a moderate middle has been a chase America has been engaged in for a long time. We Americans think in every country in transition there is a Thomas Jefferson hiding beside some rock — or a James Madison beyond one sand dune. The fact of the matter is the ability to identify a moderate middle in Syria was — there was no moderate middle because the moderate middle are made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers — they are made up of people who in fact have ordinary elements of the middle class of that country.(…) And what my constant cry was that our biggest problem is our allies — our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends — and I have the greatest relationship with Erdogan, which I just spent a lot of time with — the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world. Now you think I’m exaggerating — take a look. Where did all of this go? So now what’s happening? All of a sudden everybody’s awakened because this outfit called ISIL which was al-Qaeda in Iraq, which when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space in territory in eastern Syria, work with Al Nusra who we declared a terrorist group early on and we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.”
As for the anti-Shia-bloc motivation for this policy cited in the DIA report, President Obama basically admitted to it himself in another interview with Goldberg back in March 2012.
GOLDBERG: Can you just talk about Syria as a strategic issue? Talk about it as a humanitarian issue, as well. But it would seem to me that one way to weaken and further isolate Iran is to remove or help remove Iran’s only Arab ally.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely.
GOLDBERG: And so the question is: What else can this administration be doing?PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, look, there’s no doubt that Iran is much weaker now than it was a year ago, two years ago, three years ago. The Arab Spring, as bumpy as it has been, represents a strategic defeat for Iran, because what people in the region have seen is that all the impulses towards freedom and self-determination and free speech and freedom of assembly have been constantly violated by Iran. [The Iranian leadership is] no friend of that movement toward human rights and political freedom. But more directly, it is now engulfing Syria, and Syria is basically their only true ally in the region.
And it is our estimation that [President Bashar al-Assad’s] days are numbered. It’s a matter not of if, but when. Now, can we accelerate that? We’re working with the world community to try to do that. (…)
GOLDBERG: Is there anything you could do to move it faster?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, nothing that I can tell you, because your classified clearance isn’t good enough. (Laughter.)
And in June 2014, Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the US, provided us with an indication of what may be a main driving force behind this policy.
…what I’m going to say is harsh, perhaps a little edgy, but if we have to choose the lesser of evils here, the lesser evil is the Sunnis over the Shiites. … It’s an evil, a terrible evil. Again, they’ve just taken out 1700 former Iraqi soldiers and shot them in a field. But who are they fighting against? They’re fighting against a proxy with Iran that’s complicit in the murder of 160,000 people in Syria [NOTE: Here, he ridiculously blames one side of the conflict for all of its deaths]. You know, do the math. And again, one side is armed with suicide bombers in Iraq and the other side has access to nuclear military capabilities. So from Israel’s perspective, you know, if there has got to be an evil that is going to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail….
Recently, it has been revealed that Israel has also been providing direct aid to al-Qaeda in Syria.
Again, the DIA report is useful confirmation, but the truth about Washington’s Syria policy has long been out there for anyone outside the DC bubble to see.
Now, thanks to ongoing US-led support for the insurgency, the Syrian government is widely thought to be on its last legs; members of the regime are already making arrangements to flee. As it turns out, the march of al-Qaeda and ISIS to the Mediterranean may have merely been postponed a couple years. Pity the “apostates” and “infidels” that will be in their path. And won’t you feel so much safer once these Islamist terrorists have Assad’s seaports and military hardware?
The Syrian regime has never attacked America; neither is any other part of the dreaded “Shia Crescent” a threat to Americans. Syrian al-Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra) on the other hand, is sworn loyal to Ayman al-Zawahiri: the butcher of New York, responsible for 9/11. And yet our government’s bi-partisan alleged strategy for “keeping us safe” has been to topple the former and ally with the latter; even when it knew that doing so would lead to a “Salafist Principality” ruled by bin Ladenites.
If that doesn’t explode the myth that the government serves as our “security force,” I don’t know what can.
Thank you for reading. I work at the Mises Institute where I run the Mises Academy, an e-learning program for Austrian economics and libertarian political philosophy. I am a columnist for Antiwar.com and my essays have appeared at Mises.org, LewRockwell.com, The Ron Paul Institute, and David Stockman’s Contra Corner. I have given lectures and conducted interviews for the Mises Institute and appeared on The Scott Horton Show and The Tom Woods Show. You can find all of my essays, lectures, and interviews at DanSanchez.me, you can follow me via Twitter, Facebook, TinyLetter, and Medium, and you can email me at dan-at-mises.org.