Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 16, 2014

Syria: Arming Insurgents Probably Achieved Its Real Aim

CIA studies, commissioned in 2012 and 2013, found that arming "rebels" in civil wars usually fails. When such operations do somewhat work, like in Afghanistan against the Soviets, the later blowback is hard to avoid. The Obama administration leaked this story now to reject criticism against its current policies in Syria where it has given up on the Free Syrian Army and wants to create another one.

Political scientists have know for quite a while that arming "rebels" is nearly always a bad policy:

In general, external support for rebels almost always make wars longer, bloodier and harder to resolve (..). Worse, as the University of Maryland’s David Cunningham has shown, Syria had most of the characteristics of the type of civil war in which external support for rebels is least effective.

But if the administration knew that arming rebels was bad policy why did the U.S. start in June 2012 to arm them and why does it continue do so? Why does it still allow Israel and Qatar to do so?

Dan Froomkin suggests that it is all about electoral politics. Not arming the "rebels" ..

.. probably would have been cast by the elite media — not to mention Fox News — as surrender, costing the Democrats another few House and Senate races.

It could also have been a policy driven by the neocon/liberal-interventionist urge to just "do something" - i.e. to achieve some self-satisfaction.

Or the plan was never to win. If the aim was and is the "destruction of the infrastructure, economy and social fabric of Syria" then arming all kinds of insurgents was and is a sane and successful policy.

Posted by b on October 16, 2014 at 15:47 UTC | Permalink


US economic hegemony is unsustainable without sustained, it's managed instability in the ME and elsewhere..

Posted by: stephen | Oct 16 2014 16:06 utc | 1

the warmongering nation has a 2 party political system where they are in a perpetual race to show which is better at breaking international law and making war in a faraway place.. the one who wins gets the international bankers and war machines approval. the trick is to do it while still being open to win the peace prize!

Posted by: james | Oct 16 2014 16:19 utc | 2

Great post.

Many on the left tend to think that because Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq did not produce a military puppet like al Sisi, that the war was a failure. But, like you say--"destruction of the infrastructure, economy and social fabric" makes it a "sane and successful policy."

Bottom line: The US wants to eliminate strong, nationalist leaders whatever the cost, even if they reduce the country to ruin.

Nationalist leaders create resistance to occupation, military bases, and resource extraction.

Posted by: plantman | Oct 16 2014 16:24 utc | 3

Another take on this:

Posted by: KMF | Oct 16 2014 16:26 utc | 4

I sense that destabilization was the aim. The White House seems competent in manipulating the general public's understanding of world affairs to the level that they could have convinced the American people they were arming everyone and their pet, all the while channeling those arms elsewhere or into a warehouse in New Mexico.

Posted by: IhaveLittleToAdd | Oct 16 2014 17:02 utc | 5

That destabilization was the aim is, in my book, the obvious answer.

Destabilizing Syria also weakens Iran and, to some extent, Russia.

Upheaval in Ukraine weakens Russia and the EU.

Uprisings in Hong Kong weaken China.

The US sees itself flagging badly in terms of its economical, societal and financial development, and has possibly decided that being the top dog in an ailing world is better than playing the second fiddle in a world that is doing better.

That behavior is not just the behavior of the US and its elites. I have no doubt that China, Russia, the EU or any other imaginable hegemonic contender would act in quite a similar way. Most of us just like to cheer on the underdogs.

Posted by: HnH | Oct 16 2014 17:29 utc | 6

HnH@"That destabilization was the aim is, in my book, the obvious answer". In my opinion destabilization is only the default position, obviously a stable middle east ruled by US stooges i.e, the GCC would be the American's first choice. Agree with the rest of your excellent comment.

Posted by: harry law | Oct 16 2014 17:59 utc | 7

The United States, in keeping with our god-given exceptionalism, likes to project -- for domestic as well as international audiences -- the image of omnipotent power and control over the course of events -- arming "rebels" is just another from of "kingmaking" whether it's done publicly or privately. That USDA stamp of approval. It's classic how to buy or win-friends-and-influence-others network building. Look how useful all shows Cuban refugees have been over the years. It's largely the good-old-boys club from one generation to the next and, god knows, we're happy enough to place bets on both sides.

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Oct 16 2014 18:03 utc | 8

It probably should be noted that as the "#1 arms dealer to the globe" we do this because it's also a win/win for us and, with rare exceptions (Iran/Contra), no one is likely to stop "us" -- notice the utter lack of interest by anyone in government in the alleged Libra --> Turkey --> Syria arms pipeline at a time when we publicly were insisting that NO ONE ADD MORE WEAPONS to the conflict and were really really "angry" about Russian and Iranian aid to Assad.
I'm not sure if it was an "illegal pipeline" since we treat these gifted weapons like disposibles. In fact, I'm pretty sure it has been reported in various conflicts that there is so many weapons, that selling the excess became a "revenue stream -- it seems we make new millionaires regularly in this fashion. Syrian rebels were, however, as I recall, individually chronically short of ammunition. I'd guess leadership doling out the bullets encourages loyalty in conflict zones.
See the recent military transport planes cut up and sold for scrap metal scandal: "U.S. Air Force Questioned for Spending $486M on Planes for Afghanistan, Then Reducing Them to Scrap" hey, we re-cooped $32,000 and Lockheed got the contract for replacement planes.

Posted by: Susan Sunflower | Oct 16 2014 18:19 utc | 9

But if the administration knew that arming rebels was bad policy why did the U.S. start in June 2012 to arm them and why does it continue do so?
It's the The Iron Law Of Institutions. Specifically in this case, the appearance of being tough on national security is important today whereas any future failure is not important today. That explains the long mistaken US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the general instability in MENA prolonged by US actions.

Many people thought that Libya should be bombed for regime change, when they knew or should have known that only chaos would result. Who cares about chaotic Libya any longer? Nobody. It also explains why Hillary Clinton with zero accomplishments as SecState is a leading candidate for US president, with Obama as a model for success. Appearance is all as we 'live in the moment' with high-speed internet connections.

And for the powerful who could quickly fall from grace on the basis of any perceived weakness, appearance is especially important.

The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution "fail" while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to "succeed" if that requires them to lose power within the institution.-- Jonathan Schwarz

Posted by: Don Bacon | Oct 16 2014 18:53 utc | 10

If creating chaos was our aim, we have succeeded. And Washington thinks there will be no repercussions. What are they smoking in DC?

Posted by: Gerry1211 | Oct 16 2014 19:29 utc | 11

@12 FFS.. i agree with you.. the same thing is going on now with usa policy towards syria.. the very same thing.. any of these folks in the us admin care about international law or the independence of nations to decide their own affairs? it appears not.. the exceptional nation thinks it can meddle in others affairs with it's war agenda 24/7 and the sheeple are all cool with this.. clinton is a moron.. send her to the moron ranch where that other former president is at present..

Posted by: james | Oct 16 2014 21:36 utc | 12

@FFS #12
Here we go again...

He's back! This time with concocted "slight variations" which is an un-slight slighting variation.

Anyhow, you are obviously wrong. Politicians have one over-riding goal and that is to stay in office with good publicity. They really don't care about much else, particularly they don't care about anything that might happen in the far future.

The point is that it's NOT an unintended consequence, as you have wrongly twisted my comment to say, but a consequence that they don't care about, and I gave Libya as a prime example. Obama and that French guy wanted to look good at the time, keep their poll ratings, and they did. The ensuing chaos in Libya wasn't "unintended" it was not even a consideration, and still isn't.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Oct 16 2014 21:47 utc | 13

OT speaking of 'made in the usa' morons, here is an article from the kremlin stooge that touches on wesley clark's recent views on ukraine/russia/putin..

Posted by: james | Oct 16 2014 21:47 utc | 14

'Or the plan was never to win. If the aim was and is the "destruction of the infrastructure, economy and social fabric of Syria" then arming all kinds of insurgents was and is a sane and successful policy.'

ive been saying for ages the policy has been to destroy secular arab states using sunni islamic fanatics thru the doctrine of JIHAD. This is waht makes all this an esp ISRAELI policy, with US as junior partner

Posted by: brian | Oct 16 2014 22:34 utc | 15

Posted by: Gerry1211 | Oct 16, 2014 3:29:33 PM | 11

there wll be no repercussions in US...and not even in israel... weve see none so far.

Posted by: brian | Oct 16 2014 22:35 utc | 16

If the goal was to break up Libya into two or three new nations and to break up Syria into maybe three new nations (a nation of Kurds, Eastern Syrian Sunnis and the remainder) then Obama's foreign policy has achieved its goals. Yes, as been pointed out over and over again this sounds like the Yallon plan. However, this was a general strategy inherited from the British -- they were terrified of the prospect of a united Arab republic. But getting back to Obama I really doubt that he (or even Clinton, Power and Rice who pushed these policies) were aware of what their actions would lead to.

It is obvious that there are many power players inside the US government and the affiliated think tanks (especially from the Lobby that dare not speak its name) that desired this chaos but it is most likely that this result is simply an accident because of the fools that somehow assume major policy positions in the US.

Posted by: ToivoS | Oct 16 2014 23:18 utc | 17

@ ToivoS #20
Yes, politicians like Obama & company help create the chaos and then others determine the course which might, as in the ISIS case, provide an opportunity for the politicians to look strong and active. People in Washington have proven over and over that they are (1) good at staying in office despite (2) they are no good at planning and managing. It's The Iron Law of Institution @#10.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Oct 16 2014 23:30 utc | 18

The Formidable Unbeatable Cohesive Conspiracy Advocate sorrentine is resurrected.

HnH@"That destabilization was the aim is, in my book, the obvious answer". In my opinion destabilization is only the default position, obviously a stable middle east ruled by US stooges i.e, the GCC would be the American's first choice. Agree with the rest of your excellent comment.

harry law, you got it, however.

Posted by: truthbetold | Oct 17 2014 0:44 utc | 19

Don Bacon#21

I guess we agree to some extent. US foreign policy is being run by a bunch of political hacks. They do what politicians do and that is appeal to their constituencies. There was a time when foreign policy professionals had some influence those decisions. Over the last half century, the State Department has become less and less influential in policy decisions. There was a time when that department was run by professionals that measured US decisions on the basis of whether or not an action was in the interests of the US. No doubt about it many of those traditional State Dept eople identified with US imperial interests. However, what has been clear to me since the US invaded Iraq is that US imperial interests are not being served.

There have been some positive effects from this. I was sure that Chavas would be toppled in some kind of US coup. It did not happen because US power was occupied in Iraq. US imperialism may have thought they were gaining in the ME but they were losing in South America. And no one doubts that China sat back, very silently, and let the US dissipate their influence in ruinous wars in the ME. And what remains a total puzzle, we are doing it do this day.

Posted by: ToivoS | Oct 17 2014 2:48 utc | 20

Perception management, synthetic reality, propaganda, desinformation, misinformation, hasbara, etc. have been designed to confuse even cleverest minds with out historical conscience. It is not need of great reflection to conclude your last statement is true.

Posted by: Rihard | Oct 17 2014 3:01 utc | 21

If the aim was and is the "destruction of the infrastructure, economy and social fabric of Syria" then arming all kinds of insurgents was and is a sane and successful policy.

I've got a huge problem with using "sane" to describe a nihilistic policy.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Oct 17 2014 3:22 utc | 22

@ ToivoS #26
the State Department has become less and less influential in policy decisions.

Apparently that trend has accelerated recently. News can be obtained, constructed or devised (depending upon the source) and disseminated almost instantly, with the capability to embarrass and/or cripple authorities, the chief one of which is the president. So the US president has taken action to centralize authority in the National Security staff, which apparently has quintupled in size during the last two administrations.

While this trend increases political protection for the president, it naturally as you indicate lessens the effectiveness of government, particularly when we have inexperienced, characterless nincompoops at the highest levels making decisions instead of people who might be more capable and make better decisions. And also as you indicate, a less effective government creates a vacuum for other governments and enables them to promote a more multi-polar world, and contribute to the dispersal of political power to other nations who might appreciate having a say in the way things are done as opposed to taking orders from Washington.

This has been the trend so far, recently with a president who has been less eager to initiate foreign military adventures than previous ones. However we can't expect this situation to hold, and it appears at this early date that any new president might well use the centralization of power in the White House for more nefarious activities.

Finally, I've been trying to make the point that the way the US acts shouldn't be a puzzle. It is a case of people in power totally oriented upon staying in power, rather than on being focused on the long-term often negative results of their self-promotion. They just don't care, as long as they retain their position along with the perquisites and riches that go with it.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Oct 17 2014 3:46 utc | 23

@29 The power of state has always been dependent on the President and his whims going all the way back to conflicts between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. If State operated in a ministerial government, it might have influence, but the President has final say and can easily bypass state with a phone call. Outside of rewarding large donors, our most important allies fall under NATO and Russia has/had observer status. China, Russia, Iran, and India are too important not to reach the President's desk. Our military misadventures fall under DoD. So what is left? Togo's feelings about what World Cup Group they were assigned?

Kissinger was both National Security Adviser and Secretary of State just to give him an official title. Nixon would have blown off any other Secretary for private citizen Kissinger.

Posted by: NotTimothyGeithner | Oct 17 2014 5:34 utc | 24

No sooner after the Turks are laughed out of town for proposing a no-fly zone against the non flying IS, do we hear that IS is apparently now developing an air force. Ludicrous.

Posted by: Pat Bateman | Oct 17 2014 11:51 utc | 25

Bacon@29: "a less effective government creates a vacuum for other governments . . . a president who has been less eager to initiate foreign military adventures”

This is the MSM narrative. But it applies only if one agrees with the re-re-definition of "foreign military adventures" as regular army 'boots on the ground'. Obama has not been shy to exert power via covert action, proxy armies, droning, bombing, supporting coups, sanctions, forcing down the plane of a foreign head of state, etc.

The best government money can buy seems to work very effectively for the owners.

Posted by: Jackrabbit | Oct 17 2014 18:30 utc | 26

This is why the US needs to wipe out ISIL with as little civilian death and destruction possible and return to the "homeland" and mind and tend to its own pressing issues. There are capable actors in the middle east that can handle regional matters politically, socially, economically and if required militarily. The US presence in the middle east is fomenting more hatred and anti-american sentiment with middle eastern population, this is not a good return on investment of US blood and treasure.

Posted by: really | Oct 18 2014 13:06 utc | 27

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