Friday, December 11, 2015

Those on the receiving end of Islamic State attacks tend to agree. Asked what could be done to help Iraq following the group’s lightning assaults in the summer of 2014, an Iraqi diplomat replied: “Bomb Saudi Arabia.”
Andrew Cockburn: The United States is teaming up with Al Qaeda, again
Earlier in the Syrian war, U.S. officials had at least maintained the pretense that weapons were being funneled only to so-called moderate opposition groups. But in 2014, in a speech at Harvard, Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that we were arming extremists once again, although he was careful to pin the blame on America’s allies in the region, whom he denounced as “our largest problem in Syria.” In response to a student’s question, he volunteered that our allies
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.
Biden’s explanation was entirely reminiscent of official excuses for the arming of fundamentalists in Afghanistan during the 1980s, which maintained that the Pakistanis had total control of the distribution of U.S.-supplied weapons and that the CIA was incapable of intervening when most of those weapons ended up with the likes of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Asked why the United States of America was supposedly powerless to stop nations like Qatar, population 2.19 million, from pouring arms into the arsenals of Nusra and similar groups, a former adviser to one of the Gulf States replied softly: “They didn’t want to.”

...Two years later, Washington’s capacity for denial in the face of inconvenient facts remains undiminished. Addressing the dominance of extremists in the Syrian opposition, Leon Panetta, a former CIA director, has blamed our earlier failure to arm those elusive moderates. The catastrophic consequences of this very approach in Libya are seldom mentioned. “If we had intervened more swiftly in Syria,” Gartenstein-Ross says, “the best-case scenario probably would have been another Libya. Meaning that we would still be dealing with a collapsed state and spillover into other Middle Eastern states and Europe.”

Even as we have continued our desultory bombing campaign against the Islamic State, Ahrar al-Sham and Nusra are creeping closer and closer to international respectability. A month after the London Eleven meeting, a group of scholars from the Brookings Institution published an op-ed making the case for Ahrar al-Sham: “Designating [the] group as a terrorist organization might backfire by pushing it completely into Al Qaeda’s camp.” (The think tank’s recent receipt of a multiyear, $15 million grant from Qatar was doubtless coincidental.)

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