Blowback: Paris Terror Suspects Recently Returned from Syria and Demonstrated Military Training


Briefly noted in the third paragraph of a USA Today report about the suspects in today’s Paris terror attack: “Both brothers returned from Syria this summer.”

What would French radical Islamists be doing in Syria around that time? Quite possibly getting training from the US and its allies to fight Assad. And as Ben Swann reports: “Analysts have said that this attack was carried out by men who had formal military training and was carried out by men who acted like a ‘special forces unit’.”

However, such training is by no means certain, for as Mitchell Prothero reports:

“Other evidence suggests they could be linked to a top French al Qaida operative, David Drugeon, who’s been the target at least twice of U.S. airstrikes in Syria over the last four months.”

Yet, even if they didn’t manage to get past U.S. “vetting,” and instead received training from al Qaida alone, the fact that the war they earned their spurs in was persisting at all was due to U.S. aid to the rebels.

This is the kind of blowback that is so quick to follow intervention that Scott Horton incisively terms it “backdraft.”

And once again, just as with Sony and North Korea, the implications concerning empire are getting lost in the hullabaloo over rogue groups allegedly seriously threatening freedom of speech.

Frankensteinian Hubris: Bush’s “Redirection” and the Rise of ISIS

Monster and maker meet again.

As the ISIS Sunni radicals, after proclaiming a new Caliphate, continue to conquer Iraqi towns, and the Al Nusra Front Sunni radicals proclaim a new Emirate in Syria, it is good to remember that the policy that led to this mess was initiated under the Bush Administration, with full cognizance of the possibility that it could result in severe terroristic and destabilizing blowback. It was in 2007 that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia launched what Seymour Hersh, who broke the story in The New Yorker, called “the Redirection.” Under this policy revolution, the U.S. and the Saudis (with Israel’s blessing and prodding) began trying to bolster Sunni radicals in an effort to “contain” the “Shiite resurgence” brought about by the U.S. empowerment of the Shiites in Iraq. It all started in Lebanon (emphasis added):

In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda. (…)

The new strategy “is a major shift in American policy—it’s a sea change,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. The Sunni states “were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq,” he said. “We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it.”

“It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals,” Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, told me. “The Saudis and some in the Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line.”

(As it turns out, as reported by Patrick Cockburn, not all of the Saudis embraced such a blowback-inviting policy, so it would be more accurate to call it a victory for the Prince Bandar bin Sultan line.) The fact that U.S. policymakers concluded that beleaguered Iran, with its long track record of not attacking a single country, is more of a danger than Sunni radicals, like the ones responsible for 9/11 and every other Al Qaeda attack, is an indication of just how little our overlords care about actually protecting us, as compared to pursuing regional power politics.

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Why is Kim Kagan Throwing Young Analyst Under the Bus?

Elizabeth O'Bagy
Elizabeth O’Bagy

By now, if you have been following the political minutiae of the Syria debate in Washington, you know that a young Syria analyst (who turned out to be a pro-opposition advocate) was fired yesterday from her job at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which is run by neoconservative interventionist Kimberly Kagan, for ostensibly lying about having a PhD. There seems to be some confusion about whether Elizabeth O’Bagy, 26, and her newly-minted masters degree at Georgetown University had merely been a candidate for a doctoral degree, or was even registered in any Georgetown PhD program at all. On Sept. 9 she told Politico that she had submitted but not defended her dissertation, while she appears to have said the complete opposite in this Daily Caller piece on the same day. Bottom line: in her numerous media and think tank appearances, as well as a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, and most importantly, on the ISW website, she was listed as Elizabeth O’Bagy PhD. In the Daily Caller interview she told the reporter, “you can call me doctor if you want.”

We care about this even a little because O’Bagy was recently cited by both Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain as a credible source of research on the opposition groups operating on the ground in Syria. O’Bagy’s line jibed well with theirs, that there were enough moderate rebels in Syria to work with the United States toward peace in Syria after U.S. air strikes degraded Assad’s own military capabilities (Read: regime change ). O’Bagy, who reportedly traveled extensively among rebel groups in Syria, was also a key orchestrator of McCain’s secret trip there. Her affiliation with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an opaque pro-strike opposition group run by a guy who fronted a similar pro-strike group during the Libya debate, was never listed in her official bios, nor by the numerous media (FOX News, BBC, etc) she appeared on, nor even the ISW website. Her story began to unravel there.

Kimberly Kagan

What’s most interesting about her final fall, which splashed across the media webzines and Twitter universe yesterday, is that no one seems to wonder how Kagan did not know her primary spokesperson for Syria did not hold a full-fledged doctorate and why Kagan, by all accounts, is now throwing O’Bagy under the bus. Kagan, friend and hagiographer to David Petraeus, counselor to Stanley McChrystal, sister-in-law to Robert Kagan and wife of Frederick Kagan, pro-war hawk and author of the so-called “surge strategy” that convinced a failure-stunned George W. Bush to put 20,000 more troops in harms way in Iraq in 2007, should know better. She has a PhD, right? Simply put, her subsequent interviews with reporters after O’Bagy’s firing Wednesday reeks of something, and it rhymes with CAT.
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Obama Might Unwittingly Lead U.S. to a Decade of Peace

President Obama might have already achieved more for peace and stability in the Middle East than he is actually aware. The public debate on the Syrian Civil War and a possible U.S. strike on the Assad regime has shown that public opinion strongly favors non-interventionism to the neo-conservativism of recent history. More than a decade of warfare and U.S.-led interventions in the Middle East have illustrated that the use of U.S. military in troubled areas does not necessarily lead to stability and peace.

After a bloody decade-long occupation of multiple countries in the Middle East, the emergence of new terrorist groups, and the disaster in Benghazi, two lessons from the past ten years should be that we aren’t able to predict the unintended consequences of war and that “limited” military campaigns rarely actually come with limits.
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The “International Community” is shrinking

As per Prof. Noam Chomsky, now that the U.K. is no longer supporting military action against Syria, "The International Community" is down to three countries: U.S., France, and Turkey.

Prof. Chomsky pointed out that the U.S. defines "International Community" (or "Global Community") as only including countries that agree with the U.S. power structure. Since those ~187 other countries of the world don’t agree to materially support a military strike on Syria, they are no longer included in the “International Community.”

A Slice of the Anti-war/Syria position in NYC

It shouldn’t be easy for a group of writers and supporters to just walk in and dish about foreign policy at the Left Forum, which claims to be the biggest annual convocation of Leftwing activists in the country.

But it was — easy, that is. In fact, some of us probably made it harder for the Leftwing participants at the New York City confab to prove to us that that they weren’t just humanitarian “imperialists” in disguise. Imperialists – that’s a dirty word in these parts, on any side of the aisle.

Which made for an interesting panel discussion on Saturday, moderated by this writer, who was trying to drill down on the question of whether the United States had any moral obligation to intervene in Syria because a) there was (or at least it began as) an organic freedom movement trying to topple a repressive government that had been tacitly supported by America for years, and b) there is a growing human crises that stands to get worse, not just for Syria but for the entire region, which is already fragile from war, refugees and sectarian strife.

This question is particularly salient today because the Obama Administration is expected to “decide” this week whether the U.S will start assisting the rebels with heavy arms (something my co-panelists and many in the audience clearly oppose). And while President Obama has already ruled out “boots on the ground,” there is an ongoing debate about the “less likely” option of helping to impose a no-fly zone and “deploying American air power to ground the regime’s jets, gunships and other aerial assets,” according to an Associated Press report on Sunday.

With help from the Russians and Hezbollah on the ground fighting for Bashar Assad’s Syrian Army forces, the government has in the last week taken back the city of Qusair and is on the march north to recapture Homs and Aleppo, the very source of the rebellion’s strength. The fall of Qusair blocks a strategic supply route for the rebels and the fall of the two other major cities would reopen the government’s access to the coast and a vital corridor of predominantly Shia-Allawite support. In other words, it’s not looking too good for the revolution.

I was joined Saturday to talk about these developments and more by Gareth Porter, John Walsh, Chase Madar, Evan Siegel, and Lorraine Barlett, all of whom who would either consider themselves Left or libertarian, but decidedly anti-war and comfortable working with the Right end of the spectrum on national security issues. All save for Seigel have written for or The American Conservative magazine.

The audience was decidedly Left, and, judging from the exhibition hall downstairs, way more comfortable with Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky than Randolph Bourne or Ron Paul. But judging from many of the knowing smiles and murmurs of agreement throughout the nearly two-hour discussion – surprise – we had a lot in common, at least on foreign policy.

First off – there seemed to be a hard line against intervention in Syria or anywhere else. “Bombs for peace” didn’t hold well with this crowd. “(Intervention) will only complicate and cause more death than help in Syria,” said Siegel, an adjunct professor at the New York City College of Technology and veteran peace activist. “They have to work it out for themselves,” said Walsh, a microbiology professor who co-founded and over the course of his own activism has shifted from Left, closer to libertarianism. He appeared the most unyielding of them all on the panel, saying any move to assist the rebels would be seen as imperialist in nature.

Porter agreed. “Don’t be suckers,” he said simply. A mantra for our times. More seriously, Porter entered into an exposition in which he explained that the National Security State — the Armed Forces, the National Security Council, Joint Chiefs and Pentagon — were disinterested in a Syrian intervention anyway. “It’s not in the interest of the National Security State,” he insisted, “because they believe the cost of war to the National Security State itself would be greater than the benefit to the National Security State. In other words, it’s about their bottom line.”

In that vein, Madar, who has written extensively on recent U.N. Ambassador nominee Samantha Power, said fierce liberal interventionists like her pick and choose their “crises” and show their bias when they conspicuously leave politically unfeasible or inexpedient conflicts off their list of struggles worthy of outside assistance.

When I interviewed a few of the audience members after the session they seemed to share much of the sentiments. “It’s ridiculous to push on one side and not give them the chance to decide for themselves,” said Linda D’Angelo from Ohio. “We can’t put our fingers in all of the dykes.”

Not everyone was digging the tone and direction of the speakers, who were basically asserting that the excuse of “humanitarianism” was often used to meddle, but that the United States has only really intervened for its own interests, and in Syria, there was no interest at stake. Furthermore, whether there was an “interest or not,” all five speakers advocated a consistent hands-off policy. For at least one bespectacled man in the audience who spoke up, this equated with allowing a “slaughter” to continue.

He waited patiently to be called upon and when he was, unleashed a Gatling gun of invectives on the panel, calling them and, “apologists for genocide,” “Islamophobes,” and “crypto-Stalinists.”

Interestingly, after a brief skirmish broke out, with members of the panel and the audience defending the speakers from his accusations, the man abruptly walked out. But not before he was quietly jeered by both sides on his way to the door.

Siegel, Madar, Porter, Walsh & Barlett at LeftForum 2013
Siegel, Madar, Porter, Walsh & Barlett at LeftForum 2013

But the question of whether the U.S might have some obligation to do something in the face of a humanitarian crisis that stands to affect half of Syria’s 20 million population by the end of the year (already, 1.5 million refugees have left Syria, while 4.5 million are displaced inside), still seems to make some uncomfortable. The conversation often drifted toward the history of U.S war policy, empire and the broader principles of anti-interventionism. There seemed to be some consensus around imposing a total arms embargo in order to let both sides fight it out without interference from the Gulf States, Europe, Russia, Iran, U.S.., etc., but then most conceded that it was likely too far gone for that anyway.

Probably the most heartening thing to come out of the 50-minute exchange in that university classroom was the largely positive (not counting the singular fury that left the room) reaction from the audience. One gentleman admitted he had no idea there was this common ground with “the other side” of the political spectrum before.

There were nodding heads all around. Mission accomplished? Perhaps.