Gah! I’m super late with today’s video! Just like 40 minutes shy of the deadline! So I’m not going to do the half-assed ruminating I was planning. But it gives me an opportunity to ask an important question. Does anybody read these things? I put time and effort into these blog posts every week, and I’m not sure anybody even looks at them. So do you look at them? Let me know, either in the comments or on twitter if you’re not down for the Disqus. Many thanks…
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there, today I would like to talk about one of the most pernicious and widespread myths about the Obama administration’s policy in Iraq. Those who are trying to keep US troops in Syria rely heavily on This myth. It is central to the foreign policy ideas of both parties, and the ideology and future plans of the entire US foreign policy establishment. Its also 95 to 99% bullshit. Today we will show that no, it was not Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq that led to the creation of the Islamic State.
Now I say 95% to 99% bullshit because I guess it is conceivable that if US soldiers were still in Iraq they could have maybe stopped ISIS in 2014, but I dont think its all that likely. I suspect that the end of the first Iraq insurgency in 2008 and 2009 had a lot more to do with the the fall of oil prices after the financial crisis than it did with Bush’s troop surge. If Obama had defied the Iraqi government to keep US troops in after 2011, I actually think its just as likely that ISIS would have gotten famous sooner, as the leaders of a new lethal insurgency against US troops in Iraq.
This may seem like idle speculation, but that is kind of my point. Nobody can know what the result of a longer US occupation of Iraq would have been. Just assuming a never ending Iraq occupation would have gone well strikes me as a lot sillier than thinking it would have been a disaster. How is the never ending occupation of Afghanistan doing? How did the first Iraq occupation go before the deadline for withdrawal was set by Bush in 2008? This fantasy that never ending US troops in Iraq would have been a good thing is based on absolutely nothing in experience or common sense. But everybody believes it.
So at this point you may be thinking, gosh, I miss Obama, and it sure is nice to hear Rob trying to defend him. Well, I hate to disappoint You, but this is not that video. In fact I do believe that Obama bears the majority of the responsibility for the rise of the Islamic State in 2014. But vitally, it wasn’t about what he didn’t do In Iraq, it’s about what he did do In Syria.
The Obama administration’s creation of the Islamic State is not about withdrawal, it is about the very active, very expensive, and very destructive intervention in Syria undertaken between 2011 and 2017. I have explained this a couple times now, in a couple different ways, but let’s give it another whirl to try to make it stick. First off, despite what the New York Times Opinion page will tell you, it’s not that “Obama didn’t do enough in Syria” the United States tried very, very hard to overthrow Assad.
In fact, it is New York Times reporters that describe the anti-Assad plot as “one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the CIA”. Timber Sycamore is estimated to have cost over a billion US dollars directly and it coordinated untold billions more in support from Saudi Arabia and other countries. This was going on from 2012 if not earlier, and didn’t end until 2017. This program was not about fighting ISIS, this was about destroying the Syrian government, and the strategy was to create large open spaces in Syrian territory for jihadists to exploit. That was the plan.
OK so let’s look at this map of Syria. This is Raqqa, controlled by the Islamic State from 2014 to 2017. It is less than a 4 hour drive from Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city.Though Assad’s government managed to hold the majority of Aleppo for the entire war, it was probably the most famous battleground between 2012 and 2016. Just a little more than an hour’s drive from Aleppo you can find Idlib, the capital of what’s left of our moderate rebels, which is now almost completely controlled by Al Queda. What I want to emphasize here is how tiny this slice of territory is. These three Syrian governorates include less land area than the US State of West Virginia. And literally billions of dollars worth of weapons were poured in to this tiny region by the United States and our allies.
Now a tremendous amount of energy has been put into pretending that this conflict in Syria is more complicated than it is. Think tanks, the US government, our allies, everybody is trying to hide The ball. The Rebels have been encouraged to set up literally hundreds of nominally separate and rebranded groups over the course of the war to confuse the issue. Obama officials will tell you that they very scrupulously avoided giving money and weapons to anybody who represented ISIS or Al Queda. This may be true, or true-ish but only according to ridiculously narrow definitions of rebel groupings that obscure the reality of the conflict.
We had a Tiny section of territory where on one side you had Assad, and on the other you have dozens of groups at any one time. The groups the CIA funded and armed have always worked with Al Queda, nobody seriously disputes that. Before 2014 they worked with ISIS as well. Of course weapons went between these groups. Fighters did too. When you look beyond the US Military Industrial Complex’s myth making about the nature of the divisions between these groups, it becomes very straightforward. Syria disintegrated into an almost decade Long, hellish civil war because the US government paid for and organized that war.
ISIS was one of the first outside groups to grasp the opportunity the US government was providing. It’s power was growing in Iraq, thanks to the Maliki government’s abuse of Sunnis, but it’s bloody insurgency had to be covert, stealthy and underground. After 2012 the Obama administration’s tearing down of Assad in Syria gave ISIS an open playing field. Both the territorial Islamic State and HTS, the Al Queda affiliate that now runs Idlib, were franchises set up by ISIS at the beginning of the war. As Washington DC’s insane and illegal destruction of Syria ramped up , ISIS profited, taking its first big city, Raqqa by the beginning of 2014.
You See, the rise of the territorial Islamic State actually didn’t have much to do with Iraq initially, and if there had been US troops in Iraq they probably would have done what they could to make Syria even more chaotic and open to ISIS expansion. That was US policy.
The fact that the territorial Islamic State started in Syria appears to be something that is quickly being dropped down the memory hole. US government and media has to forget what actually happened to pretend that Obama’s withdrawal from one country was more damaging than his intervention next door. It wasn’t until June of 2014 that the Islamic State announced itself and came rolling into Iraq, but it was the Syrian instability that the US had created through intervention that made the territorial caliphate possible. Without taking Raqqa first, it’s hard to see how ISIS could have taken Mosul.
To be clear, ISIS expansion is probably not what the Obama administration intended, but it is certainly what their policy of intervention in Syria created.
The US government managed, once again, to create a massive wave of terrorism. When we did it in Afghanistan in the 1980s, we were at least trying to defeat the Soviet Union. Washington DC doesn’t have that excuse this time.
Oh, one more thing. The standard Pentagon/MSNBC attack on attempts to withdraw from Syria is to insist that the Islamic State has not yet been defeated. There is something about the timeline here that bugs me. I think it’s been bugging a lot of people, but more respectable news outlets are reluctant to draw attention to something that makes the US military leadership look really, really bad.
Starting from Syria in 2014 the Islamic State took a series of cities. By the beginning of 2014 they had Raqqa, in April of 2014 they launched an offensive to take Deir Ez Zor in Syria, and in June of 2014 they rolled into Mosul in Iraq. Over the course of 2015 and 2016, they were slowly pushed out of cities and countryside across Iraq and Syria, but these three cities remained as the heart of the caliphate. And then in five short months in 2017 they lost them all. After 9 grueling months the Iraqi government finally took Mosul in July of 2017. The US supported Kurdish forces took Raqqa in October of 2017. In November of 2017 Assad’s forces took Deir Ez Zor.
So that was the situation in December 2017, after almost losing it all, Syria, Iraq, and the Syrian Kurds had come roaring back. They had built the war machines they needed, and braved three years of brutal multifront fighting to kick the Islamic State out of every large urban area it controlled.. All that was left was a scattering of ISIS controlled villages and desert strongholds that the US war planes could obliterate with ease. That was the situation in December 2017. And that was somehow still, the situation a full year later in December 2018.
Few people are willing to say This, but it’s blindingly obvious. For the past year, the US military and government has actively impeded it’s main mission in Syria. They can’t yet justify their position in Syria without it, so the US military stopped fighting the Islamic State.
The common excuse here is that our local allies, the Kurds, got caught up in a conflict with Turkey. The fall of Afrin should certainly have caused some delays. But a year, to clear out some villages? And once the Kurds were pushed out of Afrin in May of 2018 there should have been more Kurdish forces available for anti-ISIS operations not less. But the Kurds don’t want the US military out of Syria either.
As much as I would love to pin this fraud on Donald Trump I can’t. He is just as much a target of it as the American Public is. He wants out, and his advisors are manipulating him to keep the war going. Which is easy because he is dumb. In more serious times there would be a word for what Trump’s advisors and generals are doing here. That word would be treason. But we are not living in serious times.
No, this whole ISIS debacle, and US policy in the Middle East over the past 17 years isn’t serious at all. It’s farce. It would be funny if it hadn’t killed over a million people. It’s public relations and media manipulation on a grand scale solely for the purpose of selling weapons. Washington DC isn’t betraying the American Public with its policy in Syria, it’s simply serving it’s true masters. And we in the American Public keep letting them do it.
To be clear, the US government created the Islamic State through intervention in Syria, not through withdrawal from Iraq. It is absolutely perverse that the threat of the Islamic State is now being used to justify the policy of Syrian intervention that created the Islamic State in the first place. But that’s Washington DC conventional wisdom for you. Please don’t let it keep us in Syria.
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