“Facts are stubborn things,” John Adams once observed. No matter how much you wish they’d go away, yet they continue squatting in the middle of the road, like some angry wildebeest, refusing to budge. In view of Obama’s upcoming speech on ISIS and the general rush to war, here are a few unbudgeable facts that have come to light in recent weeks and are all but guaranteed to make mincemeat of his foreign policy:
- Steven Sotfloff, the freelance journalist beheaded last week, turns out to have been sold to ISIS by U.S.-backed rebel forces in Syria. As a family spokesman put it, “We believe these so-called moderate rebels that people want our administration to support – one of them sold him probably for something between $25,000 and 50,000 and that was the reason he was captured.”
- A field report by Conflict Armament Research, a private study group in the UK, has reported that much of military hardware intended for “moderate” Syrian rebels has wound up in the hands of ISIS, either because ISIS captured it or, according to The New York Times, because they were “sold or traded to ISIS by corrupt members of the rebel ranks.”
- Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem has made it clear in an interview in late August that any attempt by the U.S. to bomb ISIS forces in his country would be viewed as an act of aggression unless Syria’s gives its specific approval, something it is unlikely to grant as long as the United States funds the on-going civil war.
- A new book says CIA commandos sent to rescue U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012 were ordered to hold off so that friendly local forces could do the job instead. Yet the commandos suspected throughout that their so-called friends were really working for the other side. “What’s the difference between how Libyans look when they’re coming to help you versus when they’re coming to kill you?” one joked. “Not much.”
- A Norwegian TV news team has brought back footage of members of the Azov Battalion, one of a number of far-right volunteer outfits fighting against Russian separatists in the eastern Ukraine, sporting helmets adorned with swastikas and SS insignias.
What does it all mean? Simply that much as the Obama administration wishes that the facts would just go away, they insist on doing otherwise. The president has asked for $500 million in military aid for pro-U.S. rebels on the premise that the hardware will be carefully targeted to insure that none of it winds up in the hands of ISIS or other such groups. Yet, as the Conflict Armament Research report show, such assurances are meaningless. The idea that the U.S. can distinguish so-called moderate rebel forces from the hard-line holy warriors of ISIS and Al-Nusra is no more believable today than in Benghazi in 2012. The notion that the rebels fall neatly into two groups, secularists and fanatics, is also absurd. After three years of civil war, the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army has all but collapsed while the remaining forces have been marked by a pronounced ideological convergence. Whether or not they fly the ISIS flag, they all believe in more or less the same thing, i.e. militant Sunni Islam, holy war, the imposition of shari’a, and a genocidal hatred for Shi‘ties, Alawites, Christians, and all other “idolators” and “apostates.”
Equally nonsensical is the idea that the U.S. can field an anti-Assad force while simultaneously waging war against ISIS. If it bombs ISIS, then Syrian government forces will advance to fill in the vacuum. In the highly unlikely event that the Free Syrian Army succeeds in pushing Assad back, then ISIS will be only a step or two behind. If Assad’s government was to suddenly collapse, then ISIS would almost certainly come out on top not only because it is better armed and more experienced than the FSA, but because its militant Sunni politics mesh far better with those of the bulk of the anti-Assad forces. After all, if you were a Sunni fundamentalist with an RPG on your shoulder and a Qur’an in your back pocket, who would you support, the new Sunni caliphate that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has declared or a group that, as Patrick Cockburn reports, is little more than a front for the CIA?
The U.S. has set itself two contradictory goals, the overthrow of Assad on one hand and the destruction his archenemy ISIS on the other, which is why it will almost certainly fail in either or both. Three years ago, Obama was riding high after the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Now Al Qaeda and its various offshoots are metastasizing from Nigeria to Iraq. Simultaneously, the president finds himself mired in a civil war in the eastern Ukraine in which the official fiction that groups like the Azov Battalion are nothing more than liberal patriots is becoming harder and harder to maintain. As neo-Nazis and white supremacists from as far away as Sweden flock to Azov with its swastikas, “wolfsangels,” and SS insignias, a fascist army has been raining down rockets and shells on a major European city (as Robert Parry reports in Consortiumnews.com) for the first time in seventy years. Yet the U.S. cheers from the sidelines. It’s a situation that even the lapdog press is unable to cover up, which is why alarming news stories have been finding their way into the Guardian, Foreign Policy, and even (if only in the tiniest dribs and drabs) The New York Times.
Referring to the Azov Battalion as “openly Nazi,” FP, for one, declared:
Pro-Russian forces have said they are fighting against Ukrainian nationalists and “fascists” in the conflict, and in the case of Azov and other battalions, these claims are essentially true.
In other words, it’s Russia that’s telling the truth and the U.S. that is participating in a cover-up. Rather than learning from his mistakes, Obama seems determined to repeat them — in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and undoubtedly other areas as well. On Monday, The Times reported that Obama was calling in a group of well-known Middle East “experts” to advise on his next move, prominent Bushies like Stephen J. Hadley and Richard N. Haass as well as Democrats like Samuel R. Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Strobe Talbott, and Jane Harman. With the exception of Brzezinski, all are hardliners who backed Dubya’s 2003 invasion of Iraq to the hilt and were hence party to one of the most disastrous decisions in U.S. military history. Asking such people for advice is rather like asking an arsonist to help put out a raging house fire. As a critic of the 2003 invasion, Obama was elected to clean house, yet he has done nothing but sit back while neocons and neolibs strengthen their grip on the Pentagon and Department of State. The more Obama tries to be both a good antiwar liberal and a hard-nosed neocon, the more confused and muddled his foreign policy becomes. He wishes reality would allow him to have it both ways, but reality refuses to comply.