Colin Kahl: he was Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President from October 2014 to January 2017; image via Flickr
Russia will not back down, and neither will its Syrian and Iranian allies on the ground, says a former White House insider.
After the dramatic downing of a Syrian Air Force jet over Raqqa province by a US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet on Monday, a former senior national security advisor to the Obama administration, Colin Kahl, warns that the Washington “cult of credibility” will lead the United States into “quagmire” and “further up the escalation ladder in Syria.”
Kahl’s statement on the incident, issued via Twitter, gives rare confirmation of a hawkish Washington national security culture which dangerously places credibility and political careerism over genuine US interests and defense.
As former Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President specializing in the Levant and Persian Gulf region, Kahl was directly involved in formulating Syria and regional policy in the Obama White House.
Here is Kahl’s statement as published through a Twitter thread [emphasis mine]:
The cult of credibility is as popular in DC as it is dangerous. Watch Syria. The risk of sliding into a big war is rising. For years, hawks have argued that Assad & Iran (& Russia after 2015) were essentially paper tigers in Syria. The Axis of Assad could be backed down & easily deterred if the US just showed some muscle. A few threats, strikes, no-fly zones. Voila! Obama was often criticized for being too cautious & concerned about escalation & quagmire risks in Syria. But consider Team Trump has now: Retaliated vs Assad for CW, Bombed Iranian-backed militia 3 times, Shot down an Iranian-made drone, Downed Syria jet. Yet the regime/Iran/Russia haven’t backed down. They keep pushing, probing, testing, countering. They haven’t been cowed & deterred. Why? Because the terrain they are fighting over, & the US coalition is now operating near, is very important to the Axis of Assad. The days of the ISIS campaign happening in strategically marginal parts of Syria are over. The two halves of the Syrian war are merging. The interests for the US are important; for the Axis of Assad they are vital–& for the regime, they are existential. The asymmetry of stakes means incremental escalation by US side isn’t enough. It just encourages the other side to get more assertive. So we down plane; Russ threatens our planes. We push toward areas in the east the regime covets; Iranian militia & missile strikes surge. That puts the onus back on the Trump administration to go further up the escalation ladder. If the other side doesn’t blink, will Trump de-escalate or get more aggressive? Hawks at the NSC will argue US credibility has now been engaged, so we have to keep punching. So we down more Syrian planes, kill more Iranian proxies & maybe some Hezbollah & IRGC commanders if we’re lucky. Iran retaliates against our exposed forces in Iraq while the Russians & regime play chicken with us near Raqqa. So we have to get tougher still. More retaliatory strikes (maybe into Iran this time!), more US assets & troops for “force protection.” That is the path to quagmire, a possible clash w/Russia & the war w/Iran some in Trump’s administration (& outside think tanks) want. Will cooler heads prevail in Trumpland or will the cult of credibility drag us deeper into the Syrian mess?
<THREAD> The cult of credibility is as popular in DC as it is dangerous. Watch Syria. The risk of sliding into a big war is rising. 1/
Kahl’s examination of the contours of escalation in Syria and the way tensions get incrementally pushed toward breaking point out of mere concern for political reputation (looking “tough”) within the beltway “cult of credibility” is clearly an accurate assessment, also confirmed by other insider accounts.
However, he forgets that the US already enmeshed itself in the Syrian quagmire (and was even a driving force of bloodshed and the further Balkanization of the country) when it took up sponsorship of the armed opposition very early in the conflict (through both political support and covert military aid), and this happened under Kahl’s boss, who as early as August 2011 declared Assad must go.
The covert program that began with weapons shipments ended with literal boots on the ground under Obama. Kahl conveniently forgets that the pieces were put in play under the administration he staffed.
More and more US military involvement in Syria is seen as a foreign occupation.
The US was already very far up the “escalation ladder” the moment it invested itself to the point of having to defend its assets on the ground (whether US-backed fighters, logistical infrastructure, or special forces operating bases).
This is the Obama legacy in Syria inherited by Team Trump: the covert war which is increasingly going overt. Giving in to the hawkish “cult of credibility” is, unfortunately, a great American past time which crosses multiple administrations and largely defines the national security state, and finds encouragement in the media echo chamber.
It’s a familiar pattern by now. From “we’re staying out” to “just some logistical aid to rebels” to “okay, some mere light arms to fight the evil dictator” to “well, a few anti-tank missiles wouldn’t hurt” to “we gotta bomb the new super-bad terror group that emerged!” to “ah but no boots on the ground!” to “alright kinetic strikes as a deterrent” to “but special forces aren’t really boots on the ground per se, right?” And on and on it goes.
As of this week the public is getting a rare glimpse of more USboots on the ground in southern Syria. Not just boots, but a US Special Forces Forward Operating Base, along with evidence of US operational control of a sovereign country’s border crossing.
Photos released by a news outlet affiliated to a Free Syrian Army-branded group show that US special forces have been conducting joint patrols in southern Syria near the Al Tanf crossing. The position of these troops has been the catalyst for US airstrikes against Iranian-backed groups in the area in recent weeks.
Hammurabi’s Justice News, a news outlet affiliated with Maghaweir al Thowra (MaT), has released several photos and videos in recent weeks showing US special forces conducting joint patrols with the group. In addition, several photos show fighters from MaT and American troops guarding the Al Tanf border crossing with Iraq. Special forces from other allied countries are likely featured in some photos, as British and Norwegian special forces are also in the area.
More importantly, upon reviewing the new photos every American needs to recall the history of politicians promising us “no boots on the ground” in Syria.
US covert train and equip programs in Syria (whether Pentagon or CIA) began under the Obama administration, but have more or less continued with some alteration under Trump, especially in southern Syria.
A little over a year ago, the US State Department gave one of the most bizarre and propagandistic Orwellian pressers in recent history concerning the nature of US troop presence in Syria. It is worth revisiting.
Perhaps now the argument would be… when is a special forces base not a “base”? Or, can you have a Forward Operating Base (FOB) with no “boots”?
Last week WikiLeaks released a smoking gun of a document which revealed that US spy agencies closely monitored, and even sought to covertly intervene in France’s 2012 presidential election.
The leaked document is not some State Department cable traffic chatter, nor is it merely the contents of some intelligence bureaucrat’s email – it’s an intelligence directive for a high level operation, which even contained orders for human intelligence gathering (HUMINT). According to the WikiLeaks press release:
All major French political parties were targeted for infiltration by the CIA’s human (“HUMINT”) and electronic (“SIGINT”) spies in the seven months leading up to France’s 2012 presidential election.
Media on our CIA scoop: French? Front page news for top three papers Russian? "Nuclear bomb shell" US? "standard intelligence-gathering"
Usually we hear about such illegal and high level espionage decades after the fact. To have a publicly available leaked intel document in which the operational directives are spelled out, and which involved human spying and human assets, is extremely rare (even in the world of WikiLeaks and Snowden).
But you wouldn’t know any of this following US media. The story headlined across Europe, especially in France, but didn’t survive the weekend in the US. TheNew York Times and Washington Post both did their best to downplay the revelations. Take for example the Post’s brief write-up, which essentially dismissed it as a non-story:
Although WikiLeaks’ publication of a purportedly secret CIA document was striking, the orders seemed to represent standard intelligence-gathering.
If CIA and NSA interference in democratic elections is “standard” then it’s past time to abolish both agencies.
A newly declassified CIA document explored multiple scenarios of Syrian regime collapse at a time when Hafez al-Assad’s government was embroiled in a covert “dirty war” with Israel and the West, and in the midst of a diplomatic crisis which marked an unprecedented level of isolation for Syria.
The 24-page formerly classified memo entitled Syria: Scenarios of Dramatic Political Change was produced in July 1986, and had high level distribution within the Reagan administration and to agency directors, including presidential advisers, the National Security Council, and the US ambassador to Syria. The memo appears in the CIA’s latest CREST release (CIA Records Search Tool) of over 900,000 recently declassified documents.
A “severely restricted” report
The memo’s cover letter, drafted by the CIA’s Director of Global Issues (the report itself was prepared by the division’s Foreign Subversion and Instability Center), introduces the purpose of presenting “a number of possible scenarios that could lead to the ouster of President Assad or other dramatic change in Syria.”
It further curiously warns that, “Because the analysis out of context is susceptible to misunderstanding, external distribution has been severely restricted.” The report’s narrowed distribution list (sent to specific named national security heads, not entire agencies) indicates that it was considered at the highest levels of the Reagan administration.
The coming sectarian war for Syria
The intelligence report’s contents contain some striking passages which seem remarkably consistent with events as they unfolded decades later at the start of the Syrian war in 2011:
Although we judge that fear of reprisals and organizational problems make a second Sunni challenge unlikely, an excessive government reaction to minor outbreaks of Sunni dissidence might trigger large-scale unrest. In most instances the regime would have the resources to crush a Sunni opposition movement, but we believe widespread violence among the populace could stimulate large numbers of Sunni officers and conscripts to desert or munity, setting the stage for civil war. [pg.2]
The “second Sunni challenge” is a reference to the Syrian government’s prior long running war against a Muslim Brotherhood insurgency which culminated in the 1982 Hama Massacre. While downplaying the nationalist and pluralistic composition of the ruling Ba’ath party, the report envisions a renewal and exploitation of sectarian fault lines pitting Syria’s Sunni population against its Alawite leadership:
Sunnis make up 60 percent of the Syrian officer corps but are concentrated in junior officer ranks; enlisted men are predominantly Sunni conscripts. We believe that a renewal of communal violence between Alawis and Sunnis could inspire Sunnis in the military to turn against the regime. [pg.12]
Regime change and the Muslim Brotherhood
The possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood spearheading another future armed insurgency leading to regime change is given extensive focus. While the document’s tone suggests this as a long term future scenario (especially considering the Brotherhood suffered overwhelming defeat and went completely underground in Syria by the mid-1980’s), it is considered one of the top three “most likely” drivers of regime change (the other scenarios include “Succession Power Struggle” and “Military Reverses Spark a Coup”).
The potential for revival of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “militant faction” is introduced in the following:
Although the Muslim Brotherhood’s suppression drastically reduced armed dissidence, we judge a significant potential still exists for another Sunni opposition movement. In part the Brotherhood’s role was to exploit and orchestrate opposition activity by other organized groups… These groups still exist, and under proper leadership they could coalesce into a large movement… …young professionals who formed the base of support for the militant faction of the Muslim Brotherhood; and remnants of the Brotherhood itself who could become leaders in a new Sunni opposition movement… [pp.13-14]
The Brotherhood’s role is seen as escalating the potential for initially small Sunni protest movements to morph into violent sectarian civil war:
Sunni dissidence has been minimal since Assad crushed the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, but deep-seated tensions remain–keeping alive the potential for minor incidents to grow into major flareups of communal violence… Excessive government force in quelling such disturbances might be seen by Sunnis as evidence of a government vendetta against all Sunnis, precipitating even larger protests by other Sunni groups…
Mistaking the new protests as a resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the government would step up its use of force and launch violent attacks on a broad spectrum of Sunni community leaders as well as on those engaged in protests. Regime efforts to restore order would founder if government violence against protestors inspired broad-based communal violence between Alawis and Sunnis. [pp.19-20]
The CIA report describes the final phase of an evolving sectarian war which witnesses the influx of fighters and weapons from neighboring countries. Consistent with a 1983 secret report that called for a US covert operation to utilize then US-allied Iraq as a base of attack on Syria, the 1986 analysis says, “Iraq might supply them with sufficient weapons to launch a civil war”:
A general campaign of Alawi violence against Sunnis might push even moderate Sunnis to join the opposition. Remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood–some returning from exile in Iraq–could provide a core of leadership for the movement. Although the regime has the resources to crush such a venture, we believe brutal attacks on Sunni civilians might prompt large numbers of Sunni officers and conscripts to desert or stage mutinies in support of dissidents, and Iraq might supply them with sufficient weapons to launch a civil war.[pp.20-21]
A Sunni regime serving Western economic interests
While the document is primarily a theoretical exploration projecting scenarios of Syrian regime weakening and collapse (its purpose is analysis and not necessarily policy), the authors admit of its “purposefully provocative” nature (see PREFACE) and closes with a list desired outcomes. One provocative outcome describes a pliant “Sunni regime” serving US economic interests:
In our view, US interests would be best served by a Sunni regime controlled by business-oriented moderates. Business moderates would see a strong need for Western aid and investment to build Syria’s private economy, thus opening the way for stronger ties to Western governments.[pg. 24]
Ironically, the Syrian government would accuse the United States and its allies of covert subversion within Syria after a string of domestic bombings created diplomatic tensions during the mid-1980’s.
Dirty tricks and diplomacy in the 1980’s
According to Patrick Seale’s landmark book, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East, 1986 was a year that marked Syria’s greatest isolation among world powers as multiple diplomatic crises and terror events put Syria more and more out in the cold.
The year included “the Hindawi affair”—a Syrian intelligence sponsored attempt to hijack and bomb an El Al flight to Tel Aviv—and may or may not have involved Nezar Hindawi working as a double agent on behalf of Israel. The foiled plot brought down international condemnation on Syria and lives on as one of the more famous and bizarre terror conspiracies in history. Not only were Syria and Israel once again generally on the brink of war in 1986, but a string of “dirty tricks” tactics were being utilized by Syria and its regional enemies to shape diplomatic outcomes primarily in Lebanon and Jordan.
In March and April of 1986 (months prior to the distribution of the CIA memo), a string of still largely unexplained car bombs rocked Damascus and at least 5 towns throughout Syria, leaving over 200 civilians dead in the most significant wave of attacks since the earlier ’79-’82 war with the Muslim Brotherhood (also see BBC News recount the attacks).
Patrick Seale’s book speculates of the bombings that, “It may not have been unconnected that in late 1985 the NSC’s Colonel Oliver North and Amiram Nir, Peres’s counter-terrorism expert, set up a dirty tricks outfit to strike back at the alleged sponsors of Middle East terrorism.”*
Consistency with future WikiLeaks files
The casual reader of Syria: Scenarios of Dramatic Political Change will immediately recognize a strategic thinking on Syria that looks much the same as what is revealed in national security memos produced decades later in the run up to the current war in Syria.
When US cables or intelligence papers talk regime change in Syria they usually strategize in terms of exploiting sectarian fault lines. In a sense, this is the US national security bureaucracy’s fall-back approach to Syria.
One well-known example is contained in a December 2006 State Dept. cable sent from the US embassy in Syria (subsequently released by WikiLeaks). The cable’s stated purpose is to explore Syrian regime vulnerabilities and weaknesses to exploit (in similar fashion to the 1986 CIA memo):
PLAY ON SUNNI FEARS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE: There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis. Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business.
Another section of the 2006 cable explains precisely the same scenario laid out in the 1986 memo in describing the increased “possibility of a self-defeating over-reaction” on the part of the regime.:
ENCOURAGE RUMORS AND SIGNALS OF EXTERNAL PLOTTING: The regime is intensely sensitive to rumors about coup-plotting and restlessness in the security services and military. Regional allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be encouraged to meet with figures like [former Vice President Abdul Halim] Khaddam and [younger brother of Hafez] Rif’at Asad as a way of sending such signals, with appropriate leaking of the meetings afterwards. This again touches on this insular regime’s paranoia and increases the possibility of a self-defeating over-reaction.
And ironically, Rif’at Asad and Khaddam are both mentioned extensively in the 1986 memo as key players during a speculative future “Succession Power Struggle.” [p.15]
An Islamic State in Damascus?
While the 1986 CIA report makes a case in its concluding paragraph for “a Sunni regime controlled by business-oriented moderates” in Syria, the authors acknowledge that the collapse of the Ba’ath state could actually usher in the worst of all possible outcomes for Washington and the region: “religious zealots” might seek to establish “an Islamic Republic”. The words take on a new and special importance now, after the rise of ISIS:
Although Syria’s secular traditions would make it extremely difficult for religious zealots to establish an Islamic Republic, should they succeed they would likely deepen hostilities with Israel and provide support and sanctuary to terrorists groups. [pg.24]
What continues to unfold in Syria has apparently surpassed even the worst case scenarios of intelligence planners in the 1980’s. Tinkering with regime change has proven itself to be the most dangerous of all games.
*Seale, Patrick. Asad of Syria : the struggle for the Middle East (Berkeley, CA : University of California Press, 1989)p.474.
Michael Tracey of TYTPolitics interviews former U.S. Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul on the good and bad of Trump, his cabinet picks, prospects for continued interventionism, neocons in the deep state, nuclear build-up, resisting the pro-war media, liberty and security, Rand’s resistance to Bolton in the Senate, and constitutionalism vs. empire.
As of a mere few hours being live on YouTube, the interview has over 5000 views and 200+ comments. In this age of political uncertainty, Dr. Paul’s message is refreshingly clear and embodies the best of principled Liberty.
Christopher Davidson’s new book Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East (Oneworld Publications) is an absolute must read. It’s a mammoth of a tome at 528 pages with 119 pages of endnotes, but an addicting read as it thoroughly obliterates the standard narrative on Libya, Syria, Yemen, and other post ‘Arab Spring’ conflicts.
To use the language of the BBC’s Adam Curtis, it goes far deeper than the Hollywoodesque ‘goodies’ and ‘badies’ paradigm of foreign relations the American public is fed a steady diet of through cable news and pseudo-patriotic movies like Zero Dark Thirty.
Rather than upholding the usual assumption that the US and UK are mere benevolent and reluctant humanitarian-minded actors on the sidelines in places like Syria or Yemen, Shadow Wars rightly puts the reckless covert action of the West and its regional allies center stage.
More importantly, it is the first exhaustive work of history by a notable academic which accurately charts the rise of ISIS within the geopolitical chess board that is the Syrian proxy war, as well as assesses the longer history of the US/UK-Saudi alliance going back to the Afghan-Soviet conflict and beyond. Davidson is bold in his assertions, describing ISIS as a “strategic asset” initially utilized by the West as a tool of regime change in Syria.
For those who have followed my own reporting on the 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency ‘salafist principality’ memo, this language might sound familiar. Davidson analyzes this and other recently declassified and leaked documents to unlock a dark history few other academics or media pundits dare to touch, preferring to play it safe within their establishment careers.
But this is what is perhaps most significant about Shadow Wars. Professor Davidson demolishes the mainstream narrative on ISIS, al-Qaeda, and contemporary Middle East conflict while speaking from within the establishment. Listed on Davidson’s bio are names like Cambridge, University of St. Andrews, Oxford, Royal United Services Institute, Bloomberg News, New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Durham University, and others.
Despite such insider credentials and as contributor to premier mainstream publications Davidson doesn’t hold anything back for fear of upsetting the status quo. His book has provocative chapter titles and headings like The Road to al Qaeda – The CIA’s Baby, Allied to Jihad – Useful Idiots, Follow the money – the Islamic State’s funders, and The business of evil – the arms industry bonanza.
Such a hard hitting and well-documented presentation chronicling the facts of the US/UK fueling jihad in Syria and elsewhere, written from within the heart of academia, should be on everyone’s bookshelf.
The Trump administration has put Iran “on notice” over its testing of ballistic missiles. Of course, aggressive posturing against Iran is a great American pastime that all administrations have participated in for decades.
Going after Iran is also low-hanging fruit in terms of domestic politics. As little as the American public knows about the histories of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, or other places where the US has intervened, it knows even less about the modern history of Iran (other that the ’79-’81 embassy takeover and hostage crisis).
So it’s easy for American political leaders to tell the public that each and every test of an Iranian defensive system is some act of naked aggression signalling plans for regional domination. But what of the most formative event in recent Iranian history? What actually drives Iranian thinking?
The below segment of an April 2016 speech by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif provides the answer:
This talk, titled “How can a Regional Accord Help End the War in Syria?” was delivered in May 2014 in Copenhagen, Denmark. While the presentation hasn’t been widely viewed, Nir Rosen’s 55-page written findings were circulated among U.S. government policy officials at the time. Foreign Policy Magazine featured Rosen’s proposal for a locally and regionally driven peace in an article, “Re-writing Syria’s War.”
The still unpublished plan was considered at the White House in 2014, but never enacted. It was (contrary to the author’s desire) leaked widely among policy wonks in D.C.
Rosen’s Copenhagen talk remains one of the best critiques of media coverage of Syria. His proximity to the war – literally spending 5 years on the front lines of the conflict – has made him perhaps the most authoritative voice on Syria today.
He stopped publishing as a journalist a few years ago upon taking a job with an international NGO which specializes in dialogue and reconciliation in the Middle East. He remains on the front lines to this day.
Rosen will one day emerge as a public voice once again. It’s likely we will next hear from him when he publishes the definitive detailed history of the Syrian war. When that book (hopefully) comes, nothing will rival it.
If you’ve not yet obtained a copy of Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein, it is a must read. It is the retrospective of senior CIA analyst John Nixon, who was the first CIA officer to interrogate Hussein over a period of weeks.
The book has received a lot of media attention as it reveals plenty of new shocking details concerning the disastrous US invasion and occupation of Iraq. For starters, Saddam remained aloof from the daily affairs of his own country and was actually writing a novel during the same time period the Bush administration was claiming that Saddam was the #1 threat to the world.
In the coming weeks, I plan to blog about some important passages which have yet to receive much attention.
Here’s a fun passage (from chapter 13), especially considering this is a senior CIA analyst over Iraq affairs… John Nixon makes the case that Bush and Hussein were actually mirror images of one another in terms of character and leadership style:
Both were fairly ignorant of the outside world and had rarely traveled abroad.
Both tended to see things as black and white, good and bad, or for and against, and became uncomfortable when presented with multiple alternatives.
Both surrounded themselves with compliant advisers and had little tolerance for dissent.
Both prized unanimity, at least when it coalesced behind their own views.
Both distrusted expert opinion.
Both had little meaningful military experience and had unrealistic expectations about what force could achieve.
Both made military decisions based on political objectives… Both took countries thatwere enjoying peace and prosperity and drove them into war and debt…
Both considered themselves great men and were determined that history see them that way.
Both confessed to me that they were “gut players,” politicians who trusted their instincts more than their intellect.
Both were isolated from reality during their years in power. While Baghdad was about to fall, Saddam was sending off proofs of a novel he had written. In an interview shortly before he left the White House, Bush said he enjoyed being in the bubble, the cocoonlike existence of the Oval Office that insulates the occupant from the outside world.
—Nixon, John. The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein. New York: Blue Rider Press, 2016.
Chickenhawk: a person who strongly supports war or other military action (i.e., a war hawk), yet who actively avoids or avoided military service.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s crime? She went on a fact finding trip to Syria in order to meet actual Syrians suffering the effects of war. She also met with President Assad in what she describes as an unplanned, impromptu sit down visit. She wants to end US covert participation in the war and prevent any plans for greater direct and overt intervention, something narrowly avoided back in September 2013.
Gabbard is an Iraq War vet and is now an outspoken opponent of what she describes as “regime change wars”. She’s had multiple deployments to Iraq as both an enlisted soldier and officer through her time in the Army National Guard. Her initial deployment was in a combat zone as a medical support specialist with the 29th Support Battalion medical company, where she presumably helped stitch up fellow soldiers suffering gruesome combat wounds.
With her recent multiple network TV appearances shedding light on US criminal policies in the Middle East, she’s really hit a nerve. The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, and other major outlets have unleashed repeated attacks, even getting personal. Josh Rogin just yesterday accused her of being “Assad’s mouthpiece” in a Post op-ed. Rogin has been smearing Gabbard for her stance on Syria since early 2016. Rogin is also on record attacking people for daring to experience Syria first hand all the way back to 2010 (well at least he’s consistent).
Why wouldn’t one want to investigate first hand a country the US has threatened to invade? If only more pundits had known what the hell they were talking about concerning on-the-ground realities in Baghdad prior the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq. But for most chickenhawks, no level of exposure to the people or places they clamor to bomb and invade would matter.
Charles Lister has also repeatedly trashed Gabbard for her visit to Damascus. This is ironic considering Lister is generally hailed as a Syria expert, and presents himself as such, yet there’s no evidence to suggest he’s ever stepped foot in the country of his supposed expertise.
Well, Lister may have visited Syria before as a tourist. During my own recent trip to Damascus I met one of Lister’s fellow think tank colleagues, who said it’s likely Lister once made a very brief visit to Syria while on vacation before the war. The same think tanker also called Lister’s credentials for talking about Syria a joke.
But more importantly concerning the Charles Lister and Josh Rogin types of the world (and they are legion)… they know nothing of war, military service, or the nightmarish consequences for all who would be directly impacted by the foolish and disgusting policies they advocate. While Gabbard, myself, and others were enlisting in the military in the early 2000’s, the chickenhawks were looking for ways to advance their careers while arguing to send others to war. (Rogin, for example, literally got his start interning for the hawkish Brookings Institution).
As they smear Tulsi Gabbard, they should take to heart these words from a US Special Forces combat vet, and know their place. I asked what he thought of Lister and other chickenhawks who are even now on the attack…
Of the writing of many books, there is no end. —Ecclesiastes 12:12
And they’re all pretty terrible. Each time I swing by my local Barnes & Noble it seems there’s a couple new ISIS books on the shelf. They just keep appearing, and with little new to say.
What’s shown above is not all there is. The few Syria war reporting books available are also pretty lousy. They all stay within the conventional narrative one would hear on CNN or NBC. The available ISIS/Syria books in the brick-and-mortar stores swing from a “clash of civilizations” type narrative (Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller neoconish stuff) to a “it’s Saddam and Assad’s fault” narrative (like Hassan Hassan).
One might stumble upon some useful information in these, but the words boring and predictable about sum it up. It took a while, but in the last couple years even the mainstream pundits have acknowledged Syria as an international proxy war. This means analysis of the covert side of this war should take primacy, but one is hard pressed to find this in the local Barnes & Noble.
The exception is Patrick Cockburn’s work – you can occasionally stumble upon his books on ISIS, Syria, and Iraq at your local bookstore. Happily, I did come across this new collection of Cockburn’s war reporting:
Finally 2 years after I first wrote about 2012 DIA ISIS memo, a book appears in my local bookstore that analyzes it. pic.twitter.com/ZOFwj02swI
Unlike the others, Cockburn actually thinks countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the US pouring billions of dollars into the armed jihadi opposition was a huge factor in the rise and strengthening of ISIS. Only now is the mainstream perhaps catching up. The fact that Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard can go on CNN and FOX and openly talk about a US covert war of regime change in Syria is a huge improvement (Jake Tapper just didn’t know what to do!).
But again, this perspective likely won’t show up at the local Barnes & Noble anytime soon.
Who knows if it’ll be any good, but I’ve been working (in fits and starts) on a book about Syria, the rise of ISIS, and the covert war for regime change. The internet has produced endless articles on this (much of it tainted by wild conspiracy and speculation), but I hope to produce something well-documented and professional, that might also say something new.
I’ve teamed up for this project with a close friend who teaches at Baylor University. But all I can really say at this point is we’ll see…
The so-called War on Terror has always had much more to do with duping the domestic population than anything else. It is about control, not security. Of course, this is not uniquely an American thing (nor is it new in history), but America does it best.
I myself was a young conservative patriot who enlisted in the Marine Corps just before 9/11. I bought into the War on Terror myth hook, line and sinker. I discovered by the end of my short military career that the U.S. government often walks hand in hand with terrorists, including radical Islamic terror, when it suits its geopolitical ends.
Recently, I wrote an essay about my journey emerging from the dark cave of the War on Terror myth. Here is a lengthy excerpt from the essay:
…While I remained at my headquarters unit in Virginia, my friend embarked on multiple tours of duty within a short two years as a marine infantryman. I remember even then being surprised and unsettled by how rapidly his overseas deployments came. He was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq on his third deployment overseas prior to his twenty-first birthday. He had selflessly tried to stop a car laden with explosives as it sped into his checkpoint, possibly preventing more deaths among the nearby group of marines wounded in the attack.
Paul Wolfowitz, considered one of the chief architects of the Iraq War, attended my friend’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. More recently, Wolfowitz spent the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on NBC’s Meet the Press shamelessly arguing that he and the Bush administration had done nothing wrong in selling the war and were honest with the American people.
Neither my friend nor I had ever really understood much about the place of his eventual death or the politics of the war. This had been clear during our brief visits together as we reconnected prior to what we didn’t know would be his final deployment to the Middle East. We were never encouraged to learn about the history of Iraq or the Arab world, or to ask too many questions for that matter.
“You’re either with us or against us” was enough for us to want to go out and “win hearts and minds” – a constant refrain in the post-9/11 atmosphere.
As the power of such simple platitudes faded, I began to investigate for myself the history of US involvement in the region. My search began in the library of the Marine Corps University at MCB Quantico, and would later lead to my travelling to Syria after completion of active service.
Few Americans know of the absurd contradictions of our foreign policy in Iraq and other places over the past few decades, yet I soon found that many Iraqis and Syrians know the history well.
The United States, through covert support of the Iraqi Ba’ath Party in the 1960s and 1970s, sponsored Saddam Hussein’s rise to power as a way to combat perceived communist influence and populist national movements in the Middle East. Throughout that time, the CIA-supported Ba’ath engaged in ‘cleansing campaigns‘ which involved door-to-door death squads offing Washington’s enemies, based on questionable lists provided through covert liaisons.
The Murder of George Floyd The police officer who murdered George Floyd has been charged with manslaughter and murder. Derek Chauvin and three other officers were fired after they murdered Floyd. [Link] Will Porter covers the protests, looting, and police brutality....
April 26, 1992. There was a riot on the street, tell me, where were you? I get the feeling the majority of you rioting right now were either too young or not even born yet when that song made its rounds. Didn’t quite have the ability for those events to make their...
The War on Drugs is the immediate cause of, and pretext for, the system of oppression, and police violence and militarization. Ending the War on Drugs is also a project that can unite rather than divide, something that people from different races and different...
As we already knew, the bad part is him trying to get Russia to veto the UNSC Israel-Palestine resolution. The part about the sanctions and avoiding "tough guy" "tit-for-tat" escalation of tensions over Obama's sanctions was perfectly fine if not heroic.
Kenneth Walker clearly had no idea that the men who murdered his girlfriend were members of his local security force. For weeks they called her a "suspect" to dehumanize her -- every single member of local TV news surely went along with this as they always do -- and...
Scott interviews James Bradley about the growing threat of war with China, evinced by political rhetoric, public sentiment, and media coverage. The thing is, Scott and Bradley agree, this threat has no real basis in any bellicosity on China's part. It is mainly the...
Scott talks to Gareth Porter about the decades-long attempt by neoconservative war hawks in the U.S. to link the Iranian government to terrorist activities, most notably those of al Qaeda in Iraq. This was the supposed justification for the killing of Qasem Soleimani...
Braden Chapman discusses his time serving in Afghanistan with Australia's SAS, a special forces unit that worked closely with American troops to go after high profile targets. Chapman has recently come forward with allegations of war crimes by some of his fellow...
Scott talks to Brett Wilkins about Project SHAD, a Cold War era bioweapons test program that exposed thousands of American sailors to chemical and biological weapons. These veterans have been seeking redress for a slew of ailments allegedly caused by exposure to these...
61 Minutes Strong Language Pete invited podcaster and comedian Dave Smith to return to the show. They have a discussion about how the U.S. government continues their technocratic growth by now adding medical health to their list of subjects that are beyond question...
61 Minutes PG-13 Joe Lozito was on a NYC train on a Saturday morning in 2012 when he was violently attacked by a knife-wielding spree killer. He survived, but when all of the information came out it became obvious that the attack could've been avoided. Joe tells Pete...
64 Minutes Safe for Work Amory Devereux is a freedom activist from Great Britain who, after reading Britain's new laws that were passed in response to Covid-19, left the country and declared himself a refugee in Canada. Amory explains the ramifications of the new laws...
61 Minutes Safe for Work Pete invited Scott Horton to return to the show to talk about how he sees the future after the government's response to Covid-19, and to comment on a failed "coup" in Venezuela. Scott Horton is Managing Director of The Libertarian Institute,...
On FPF #495, I discuss the US leaving the Open Skies Treaty. The treaty allows for member states to conduct surveillance flights over each other. The treaty is key to keeping countries informed about each other's military capabilities. Without the treaty in place, war...
US News Senator Rand Paul says no-knock warrants should be abolished. [Link] Sam Jacobs explains how civil asset forfeiture has led to rampant police abuse and policing for profit. [Link] An email from Susan Rice from inauguration day has been released. The email...
On FPF #494, I discuss Trump's decision to fire the State Department Inspector General. At the time the IG was fired, the office was looking into State Department head Mike Pompeo. Pompeo a target because the State Dept continued to push to sell weapons to Saudi...
Will Porter returns to Foreign Policy Focus to explain a rare move the judge made in Mike Flynn's case. The Justice Department has recommended that charges be dropped against Flynn. However, the judge has now appointed a 'third party' to come argue the case against...
https://youtu.be/NHZY17v4hlc ... my basic motivation for being a libertarian had never been economic but moral. ... While I was convinced that the free market was more efficient and would bring about a far more prosperous world than statism, my major concern was...
... the State is the organization of robbery systematized and writ large. Th e State is the only legal institution in society that acquires its revenue by the use of coercion, by using enough violence and threat of violence on its victims to ensure their paying the...
https://youtu.be/ueilf39-YOo Any statute or administrative regulation necessarily makes actions illegal that are not overt initiations of crimes or torts according to libertarian theory. Every statute or administrative rule is therefore illegitimate and itself...
https://youtu.be/hi9b0pddQ5M ... in a world of voluntary social cooperation through mutually beneficial exchanges, where one man’s gain is another man’s gain, it is obvious that great scope is provided for the development of social sympathy and human friendships. It...