Syria Unedited

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a bloody war going on in Syria which has killed almost half a billion people since 2011 and has created the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II .  The war in Syria will be the most significant foreign policy challenge that the next US president will face, yet it has barely been discussed in the 2016 Presidential race outside of who to blame for creating ISIS.

Unfortunately this conflict has been going on so long that many now do confuse the war in Syria as simply our battle against ISIS, rather than just the latest chapter of the war between the Syrian government and its people. A war where there is still no end in sight. 

While the national media coverage of the Syrian war will squeeze in a few devastating images of the carnage and death every now and then between Donald Trump gaffes, there is very little understanding amongst most people I know as to WHO is fighting, WHY they are fighting and HOW we have let the situation get this bad.

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The war in Syria is one of the most complex geopolitical conflicts in modern history. It has pit the world’s great powers against one another in a convoluted, constantly changing global chess game that has made it increasingly difficult to find out who is even fighting who and why.

The battle in Syria is ultimately represented by two sides: Syrian president Bashar al-Assad vs. Rebel groups trying to overthrow the government. 

As nation’s around the world have taken sides on who they support, the conflict has undeniably brought out the worst in humanity – the sponsoring radical of terrorism on both sides which eventually led to the formation of ISIS, the use of chemical weapons

people are dying every day in Syria and we need to figure out what the hell we’re doing.

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Table of Contents

Introduction/Summary of Conflict

(2011): The Arab Spring and the Start of the Syrian Revolution

(2011-2012): Armed Opposition Groups Form and Syria Descends Into Civil War

(2011-2012): How the United Nations and International Diplomacy Failed To Prevent the Syrian Bloodbath

(1945-Present): What Is At Stake for World Powers in Syria – Another War for Oil

(2012): Operation Zero Footprint: Benghazi and the Covert Arming of Syria’s Rebels

(2013): Who’s Sarin? Chemical Warfare and Obama’s Red Line That Wasn’t

(2014): A Rebel Group Goes Rouge – The Birth of ISIS and Jihad’s Global Divorce

(2015): Russia Enters the War and the Two-Front Battle Against Assad and ISIS

(2016-Present): The Siege of Aleppo, the Islamic State and the Refugee Crisis

**2016 Election – Hillary Clinton v.s. Donald Trump on Syria** 


Introduction/Summary of the Syrian War

Who is on which side of the war?

In fact there are so many events happening on the news that implicate the Syrian conflict that you may not even realize it. For example, the recent failed-coup attempt in Turkey along with Turkish President Erdogan’s

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Who is fighting who in Syria?

However, the five-year civil war in Syria has ballooned beyond just these two sides as numerous other players have now gotten involved. Here’s who has fallen on each side as of today.


Pro-Assad Side:                                         Anti-Assad Side:

Russia and China                                        United StatesUK and France

Iran                                                                 Saudi ArabiaQatar and Kuwait

Iraq                                                                 Turkey

Terror Groups: Hezbollah                          Terror Groups: ISISAl Qaeda

–                                                                      Kurdistan


A couple things that may have popped out at you from this list –

1 – ISIS and Al Qaeda are fighting on the same side as the US against Assad??

This is partly what makes the Syrian war so complicated. ISIS and Al Qaeda originally emerged in Syria as rebel groups fighting to topple the Assad regime and establish Syria as an Islamic nation governed by sharia law. The US wants Assad gone, but it doesn’t want Al Qaeda or ISIS to assume power. US foreign policy in Syria is now caught between fighting the Assad government AND fighting radical terrorists who are ultimately helping us a lot in the fight against Assad. The picture is even more complicated because ISIS is also fighting with the other Syrian rebel groups who are trying to oust Assad.

Until the United States and its allies pick one enemy to fight, I believe the war in Syria will not have an end in sight for years to come. At this point, we either need to support (or not oppose) a president who uses chemical weapons on his own people, or get behind a group that’s beheading people in the streets and burning them in cagesGreat options, I know. 

3 – What’s Kurdistan? 

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This is a country you’ve never heard of because it’s not even a real country yet! The Kurdish people are an ethnic group spread across the region with their own language, culture and national identity. They wish to form their own autonomous nation, but their desired borders currently overlap with Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The Kurds in Syria see the chaos as their chance to form their own country. The Kurds are an incredibly important player in this conflict, and have a very complex relationship with Turkey, a US ally. Though I have placed the Kurds on the “anti-Assad” side, they are undeniably fearful that whoever would come after him could be even worse for the Kurdish struggle for independence.

Here are two important images to digest:

First – Who is Fighting Who 

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 10.52.35 PMSecond – Who Controls What Part of Syria

Third – The Battle for Aleppo, Syria’s largest city

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Turkey switches sides to Russia

Iran and Russia working together to bomb ISIS

Why is each side fighting?

The conflict goes well beyond deciding to topple Assad or not, there are now a range of regional disputes being settled.

There are the four wars currently happening in Syria – the first two have more basic premises and outcomes and the second two are larger philosophical wars that our world has been engaged in for decades and even centuries.

War #1  – The War for Who Governs Syria

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

This war is being fought between the Syrian government and the rebel groups who seek to create a new government. Those who support Assad believe that he is the legitimate ruler of the Syria and better than

The outcome will either be a continuation of Assad’s government or a new government that comes to power (either through an election or military force).

This battle is happening in the northern, southern and western half of Syria, closer to the Mediterranean.

War #2 – The War to Re-Draw National Borders in the Middle East

isis20flag-isis20propaganda20video_0   File photo of a Kurdish Peshmerga soldier holding a Kurdistan flag during a deployment in the area near the northern Iraqi border with Syria, which lies in an area disputed by Baghdad and the Kurdish region of Ninawa province                 Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh)                              Kurdish soldier

This war is happening in two separate veins and both groups are trying to topple Assad.

a. ISIS vs. Everyone – ISIS wants to erase all borders and establish an Islamic caliphate  across the Middle East and parts of Africa, Europe and Asia. The US is not supporting them (publicly).

b. Kurdistan vs. Basically Everyone – the Kurds want to establish an autonomous Kurdish nation in the Middle East. They want current governments in the region and ISIS to cede parts of their land to form this new state. The United States is supporting the Kurds because they are fighting ISIS

These battles are happening in the eastern half of Syria, including spilling over into its neighboring country Iraq.

The outcome is either the establishment of an Islamic caliphate controlled by ISIS or the establishment of some form of a new Kurdistan in the Middle East. Or neither happens and we let these issues fester for decades, because why try and actually solve any problem in the Middle East?

Interestingly, the most important player in War #2 is Turkey.

War #3 – The War for Islamic Influence in the Middle East 

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The Sunni-Shiite split has existed for centuries since the death of the prophet Muhammad and is an integral part of almost every modern day conflict in the Middle East. The ancient schism in Islam between is represented today by the Sunni-led kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Shia-led clerics of Iran.

President Assad and the ruling Syrian government are primarily Alawite Muslims, a sub sect of Shia Islam. Thus the other Shiite powers in the region like Iran and Iraq have thrown their support behind him, while Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states oppose Assad and would rather have a Sunni-led Syrian government in power.

But mixed into all of this has been the modern rise of a particularly violent form of Islam – Salafism. Salafi’s are a sect of Sunni Islam but adhere to a far more conservative and puritanical interpretation of Islam.

The origins and development of these rivalries in Islam will be discussed along with its implications for US strategy in the region. Suffice it to say, the failure of world powers over decades to properly account for the religious power dynamics in the Middle East has perpetually led to failed interventions, sectarian civil wars and the modern day rise of radical Islamic terrorism. 

War #4 – The War for American Influence in the Middle East 

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Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama

This is a proxy war being fought primarily between the United States and Russia. 

For many, US involvement in the war is seen simply as a human rights issue to respond to the atrocities of war carried out by Assad and the resulting refugee crisis that has spilled into Europe. While that may be true at some level, America has a range of vital interests in the Middle East that are threatened if the instability in Syria consumes the whole region. These include:

(1) Securing affordable energy resources (Sustaining the “petrodollar” system)

(2) Maintaining the security of critical waterways for international commerce (Suez canal, Persian gulf, Mediterranean Sea)

(3) Fighting the spread of Islamic terrorism and weapons proliferation (ISIS, Al Qaeda and its affiliates)

(4) Protecting Israel

If the United States is doing something in the Middle East, it’s likely to advance one or more of these goals. Russian interests in the region mirror some of these but is at odds with others – both sides have strategic interests at stake in Syria. I’ll get into how the objectives outlined above are present in Syria’s now five-year civil war.


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So how did this war even start?  Let’s turn back the clock to my junior year of high school – February 2011.

(2011) – The Arab Spring and the Start of the Syrian Revolution

While I was busy watching the Packers beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, the first demonstrations against Syrian government were being held. These demonstrations demanding political reform were part of a series of uprisings happening across the region at the time – most notably in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya and Yemen. These uprisings were largely born out of discontent with high unemployment, restrictions on free speech corruption in the government, poverty and increasing food prices. This revolutionary wave across the Middle East and North Africa between 2011-2012 was dubbed the “Arab Spring“.

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Anti-Assad protestors in Syria 

The causes for revolution in Syria vary. The most popular belief has been that the uprisings were inspired by the political revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia in fighting against deep rooted corruption in the Syrian government along with a lack of political freedoms. But one far less talked about factor, and perhaps the largest force behind the uprising, was that the country was in the midst of an economic devastation as a result of a severe drought from 2006-2010. In what would be reminiscent of America’s 1930s “Dust Bowl”,  Syria’s agriculture industry collapsed, skyrocketing food prices and put millions in poverty. These factors combined to create pockets of protests against the Assad government in late February 2011. 

The Assad family has ruled Syria for 46 years. Beginning in 1970, Syrian military general Hafez al-Assad led a military coup to overthrow the sitting government and became the sole ruler of Syria with a single-party government, the Ba’ath Party.

Hafez al-Assad’s oldest son Bassel al-Assad was expected to succeed him until his death in a car accident in 1994. As a result, after Hafez’s death in 2000 the torch was passed to his second son with no political experience and who was training to be an ophthalmologist in London at the time – Bashar al-Assad. In Bashar’s 11th year as President, the Arab Spring came to Syria.

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The Assad Family – Hafez sitting down, Bashar is the tallest son

These protests for reform first escalated in the city of Daraa, a suburb of the capitol, Damascus.

On March 6th, 2011 fifteen teenagers were arrested for writing “the people want the regime to fall” on walls across the city. Their arrest and alleged torture by the Syrian military police led to demonstrations and protests around Daara. However, these peaceful demonstrations were met with violent crackdowns from Assad’s government – which feared for its survival as the governments of Tunisia and Egypt had just been toppled. On March 18th, 2011 government security forces opened fire for the first time on protestors in Daara killing six people. And then shit hit the fan.

“They used live ammunition immediately, no tear gas or anything else,” said the witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

After the deaths in Daara, large scale protests broke out across other major Syrian cities. Clashes between protestors and military police escalated violently with deaths on both sides. Alleging that the violence was instigated by protestors, Assad’s forces began imprisoning hundreds of protestors, outright killing many and even firing on their funeral processions. At a rally in April 2011, 72 protestors were shot and killed by Assad’s forces, shocking many around the world. This marked a turning point in the war –  what started out as demonstrations for democratic reform in Syria now changed to demanding the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.  

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How the Assad government chose to respond to at this crucial point in April-May 2011 would set the stage for why the current situation in Syria looks the way it does. Before the unrest escalated into the five year civil war that Syria has become, Assad tried to do the following things:

1 – Double-down on brutally suppressing protests to stomp out the opposition 

The Assad government has maintained from the beginning that the Syrian uprising was one instigated by “foreign saboteurs” seeking to undermine the country’s security and stability. It would later characterize the opposition as  “foreign-backed armed gangs” and “terrorist groups” and will continue to violently suppress them until “security and order are restored.” As a result, the brutal crackdowns continued and by the end of May 2011 over 1,000 Syrian protestors had been killed. 

“The Syrian authorities, in order to preserve the security of the country, citizens and the governmental and services establishments, will confront these people and those behind them according to the law, which specifies the conditions for using weapons.” – Syrian Ministry of Interior, April 8th, 2011

If you’re wondering why the Syrian government would start massacring its own people because of protests, an important part of understanding the Syrian war is that Bashar al Assad’s violent response to the uprising was not just a random crackdown but a continuation of the Assad’s regime’s policy toward civil uprising that began with his father, Hafez al Assad.

In 1976, Hafez al-Assad had Syrian forces intervene in Lebanon’s civil war, on behalf of Lebanese Christian groups who were fighting Muslim groups. The Muslim Brotherhood, a political party, and many other Syrian Sunnis saw this as heresy and launched a six year civil uprising against the Assad government. 

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Hafez al-Assad quashed the uprisings in a particularly brutal fashion. In 1982, the Syrian government nearly leveled the city of Hama, where the opposition was strongest, slaughtering thousands of civilians in an indiscriminate barrage in what is now called the Hama Massacre.  The regime learned from this experience that mass violence was a successful response to popular unrest — a lesson that was applied particularly brutally in 2011, but this time with less success. 

The lesson of Hama must have been at the front of the mind of every member of the Assad regime. Failure to act decisively, Hama had shown, inevitably led to insurrection. Compromise could come only after order was assured. So Bashar followed the lead of his father. He ordered a crackdown.

2 – Make concessions to the opposition (while still suppressing protests). 

As the crackdowns failed to intimidate or quell the popular unrest, Assad began to slowly making concessions to the opposition. Assad promised a constitutional referendum allowing a multi-party system along with other proposed democratic reforms like greater press freedom. The government issued a decree to cut taxes and raise state salaries by 1,500 Syrian pounds ($32.60) a month.

However, these promises were largely dismissed by the opposition and international community as they were criticized as too little too late following violent crackdowns and were simply vague proposals with no concrete action.

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3 – Release political prisoners…..and terrorists. 

At the end of May 2011

Assad began releasing prisoners as a sign of good will in loosening his grip on the crackdowns. But in reality, the prisoners he was releasing were not those taken in from the demonstrations, but known Islamic jihadists that were being held in the infamous Sedanya Prison (think Syria’s Guantanamo).

Assad’s decision to release jihadists from prison was intended to tinge the opposition with extremist elements to make it harder for Western powers to support any rebel group against his government. If the opposition to Assad became a regime of radical terrorists then he would seem like the least bad option of all those fighting in Syria. Some of these released prisoners would go on to help form ISIS as well as Ahrar ash-Sham, two of the most prominent jihadist rebel forces on the ground in Syria. As we will see, emboldening the extremist element of the opposition is a tactic Assad will use throughout the five year civil war.

Some critics of the regime now claim that by releasing the jihadists from prison, Assad’s intention was to quickly radicalize the opposition, discrediting it in the process.

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Palestinian protestors cross the Syria-Israel border – May 2011

4 – Try and stoke an Israeli-Palestinian conflict to distract the international community from Syria’s own internal turmoil. 

According to this May 2011 email between Clinton Foundation employee Sidney Blumenthal and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Assad began allowing/busing Palestinian protestors to Syria’s southern border and march into disputed territory in Israel on “Nakba Day” in May 2011. This caused the Israeli military (IDF) to fire upon, and kill 13 Palestinian protestors. As a result, simultaneous protests broke out along Israel’s Syria, Lebanon and Gaza borders resulting in severe crackdowns from the IDF.

This was allegedly an attempt on Assad’s part to fracture the fragile Fatah-Hamas reconciliation process and prod Israel into a conflict in the contested Golan Heights – thus moving the international community’s spotlight away from Assad’s own internal turmoil in Syria.

Unfortunately none of these tactics ultimately worked. As the opposition to Assad began to grow violent, Syria seemed headed for out civil war.

(2011-2012) – Armed Opposition Groups Form and Syria Descends Into Civil War

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Air Force Col. Riad al-Assad – announcing his defection on YouTube to form the Free Syrian Army

Turn to guns

In July 2011, two months after 70+ protesters were killed in Daara, a group of officers led by a colonel in the Syrian Air Force named Riad al-Assad (not related to Bashar) defected from the national Syrian army. They created the first organized rebel group against the government – the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

In a YouTube video announcing their defection, they declared the primary aim of the FSA was to protect unarmed protesters and to “bring down the regime.” They seek to replace Assad’s government with a secular, free democracy. Following Riad and his group’s defection, thousands of Syrian military officers began deserting President Assad’s army and joining the rebellion.  By December 2011, it was reported that close to 10,000 officers defected to the FSA. 

Jake Sullivan email – Contact said they had a chance to spend some time with a RIA-Novosti reporter in Damascus who is an Arabist and has been there for a dozen years. This reporter noted that Assad is widely despised across Syria, though support in Damascus is fairly strong and there is a lot of fear of Syria descending into a hellish civil war along sectarian lines. Ria reporter compared situation there with Russia, saying many want change, many hate their leader (Syrians hate Assad, Russians despise Putin), but few want revolutionary change; they want reform.

However, the Free Syrian Army was not the only resistance group that emerged to remove Bashar al-Assad from power – enter Al QaedaThe infamous Islamic terror group, which was previously led by Osama bin-Laden and was responsible for the 9/11 terror attack, saw the chaos in Syria as an opportunity to gain powerAl Qaeda created a branch in Syria called Jabhat al-Nusra or the al-Nusra Front. 

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Al Qaeda’s al-Nusra fighters

Syria is composed of a majority Sunni Muslims, but the Assad’s are Alawaites,

The land that makes up Syria has been fought over by foreign empires for centuries – from the Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, Macedonian Greeks, Romans and Mongols to the more modern history of control by the Turks, British, and French. The Umayyad Caliphate in the 7th and 8th centuries left Syria with its Islamic heritage with a majority of its population today practicing Sunni Islam (~74%). However, the “leftovers” of all of these invasions also left Syria with a sizable minority of Christians, Catholics, Jews, Kurds, Druze and assorted sects of Shia Islam like Ismailis and Alawites.

The important point is this – Syria is a nation with many different religious sects, a majority of which are Sunni Muslims, but the group which controls the Syrian government and the military are a minority group who only make up 12% of the population – the Alawites. 

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Alawites consider themselves to be sub-sect within Shia Islam, but that idea itself is subject to intense debate amongst Islamic scholars because of some unconventional beliefs Alawites hold (notably the incorporation of the “trinity” from Christianity, celebration of Christmas, consecration of wine etc). Many Sunni Islamic scholars have in fact issued “fatwas”, or religious rulings, which declare Alawites to be heretics, non-Muslims and have even urged violence against them.

Understandably you have a predicament where the religion of the ruling party is considered to be invalid by the religious authorities of the majority population. While the Syrian government

It is this fundamental religious tension in Syria that has been driving a five-year bloody civil war in Syria more so than any real political differences.

Because both President Bashar al-Assad and his father before him gave special priority, power, and benefit to Syria’s small Alawite minority while excluding the Sunni majority from resources and power, the nature of the country’s problems—and thus now the war—is infused with religion. It is true that oppositionists went to the street out of political, not theological, differences, but the fact that the political imbalance was drawn along religious lines put these religious identities at the heart of the fight.

Unfortunately I wish I could just claim that these are the only two rebel groups fighting Assad’s government, but they were just the first.

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Hezbollah fighting in Lebanon border

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Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters

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(2011 – 2012) – How the International Community Failed To Prevent the Syrian Bloodbath

Starting from the modest protests against Assad to the violent uprising and formation of armed opposition groups, world powers have kept a close eye on the events unfolding in Syria. But I think it is clear to everyone now in 2016 that a diplomatic solution was not achieved in the early stages which has allowed one of the greatest human disasters in history to spread through the Middle East and now spill into Europe.

Understanding why international diplomacy did not work in Syria may actually be the most important lesson in this article because it illuminates what the international objectives in the Middle East are and the constraints the US faces in shaping the world order the way it deems necessary. Perhaps more importantly is seeing who was involved in why diplomacy failed because most of these people still hold their positions and will shape international politics in the future.

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United Nations News Centre – San Francisco, CA

Before I look at how diplomacy unfolded, there are two overarching themes that defined the international negotiations to get a peace deal in Syria.

First, the United States is not an ally of Bashar al-Assad. We have historically had a very strained relationship with Syria with regards to combating terrorism, human rights and Israel. This included a complete severing of diplomatic ties in 1957 after the CIA attempted to oust Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli. Russia on the other hand is one of Assad’s historically strongest allies. Syria is largely considered a “client-state” of Russia due to a decades long economic and military alliance worth billions which is cemented by Russia’s only warm-water naval port outside the former Soviet Union hosted in the Syrian city of Tartus. This Cold War rivalry between the US and Russia will play a central role in the Syrian conflict.

Second, the international community was just coming off the fall of three other governments in the region: Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, Ben Ali’s regime in Tunisia, and the U.N.-led fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya. It was a crazy time to say the least.

Both Libya and Syria’s revolutions started at the same time in February 2011, inspired by those in Egypt and Tunisia. In Libya however, the United States, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pushed the United Nations to impose a No Fly Zone after Gaddafi refused to step down (what a No Fly Zone is). After the UN approved a No Fly Zone in March 2011 they proceeded to green-light a NATO-led military intervention which ousted / killed the Libyan dictator by October 2011. Though starting at the same time, Libya’s revolution was all said and done in 8 months while Syria’s war has dragged on for 5 years. The UN’s method of action in dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Libya as well as the state of the country post-Gaddafi would cast a long shadow over the negotiations with Syria.

Alright now let’s dive in.

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Obama and Clinton announce the NATO mission against Libya – March 2011

While NATO was accelerating its airstrikes against Gaddafi in June-July of 2011, the protests against Assad in Syria began to grow seriously violent leading up to the Free Syrian Army being formed. A month later in August 2011, the US and it’s allies officially made their position clear  – Bashar al-Assad must go. But the implementation of that declaration is what has marred Obama’s legacy as having one of the most ineffectual foreign policy decisions.

By October 2011, 2700 people had died in Syria and there was no sign Assad intended to step down from power. Meanwhile, the NATO mission against Gaddafi was entering its final stage as they had just captured the city of Tripoli. The United Nations Security Council convened for the first time in October 2011 to come to a solution in Syria. It was there that Russia and China vetoed the first of three UN Security Council resolutions between 2011-2012 to respond to the Syrian conflict.

For those who don’t know how the United Nations takes action, on any resolution there has to be unanimous consent amongst the five permanent members of the Security Council called the P5. The P5 include the US, Russia, Britain, France and China. If even one member vetoes a resolution then nothing goes in effect.

When the UN Security Council voted to impose a No Fly Zone in Libya back in March 2011, Russia and China abstained from the vote thus allowing it to pass. Seven months later in October 2011, Russia and China would use their veto power to prevent the UN from taking action in Syria. The October veto would even lead Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, to walk out in protest.

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Russia and China veto UN Security Council resolutions on Syria – October 2011

UN Security Council Resolution 612 was largely a condemnation of Assad and simply demanded an end to all violence and accountability for human rights abuses. It was a fairly bland resolution, but it did included this stipulation:

11. Expresses its intention to review Syria’s implementation of this resolution within 30 days and to consider its options, including measures under Article 41 of the Charter of the United Nations;

The resolution carried the threat of Article 41’s arms embargo and economic sanctions on Assad if he did not abide by the terms in the resolution. Although this language in the resolution was carefully negotiated to avoid a veto by saying the UN would only “consider” sanctions against Assad, Russia and the other so-called BRICS nations didn’t buy it.

According to the New York Times,  Russia along with Brazil, India, China and South Africa objected to even the idea of sanctions against Assad because the UN Security Council’s resolution on Libya, which only authorized “humanitarian assistance“, had been twisted to encompass a NATO war to overthrow the Libyan government. Russia and other major powers were determined not to repeat that by supporting any UN resolution that could leave the door open to a military intervention. They insisted that any regime change be led by the Syrian people themselves and that approving a possible Syrian intervention after Libya would cement a precedent that would approve the violation of state sovereignty from outside powers; a dangerous position for an international organization built on the cooperation of autonomous states.

Analysts observed that other countries were so afraid of a repeat of NATO’s war against Gaddafi that Russia and China’s veto was more of a rebuke to the UN’s actions in Libya rather than truly opposing reform in Syria. For the countries afraid of what a military intervention to oust Assad would look like, it certainly did not help that Muammar Gaddafi suffered a gruesome death at the hands of a bayonet just two weeks after the UN Security Council met to discuss Syria. Or as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously put it, “We came, we saw, he died.

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Gaddafi stabbed to death by Libyan rebels we think?

But likely, geopolitics played the primary role in Russia’s veto.  Russia was primarily concerned that if President Assad goes, its influence in the Middle East will disappear with him.

“Syria is the only country in the Middle East which follows our advice, this is the country where we can exercise certain tangible influence,” says Ruslan Pukhov, Defense Analyst at CAST .

“Of course, the loss of Syria will mean we will have no influence in this region at all. It has some symbolic value for the Russian authorities and the foreign policy establishment as a sign of Russia as a great power.”

Following the veto of the October 2011 UN resolution, it was time for the Americans to re-calculate their approach. There were two defining events in 2012 where world powers could have compromised on a solution to Syria: the February 2012 UN Security Council meeting and the June 2012 Geneva Conference.

Leading up to the February 2012 United Nations meeting, the Arab League  a coalition of 22 Arab states led primarily by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, proposed the first political solution to the Syrian conflict. The Arab League proposed a plan to negotiate an end to the violent crackdowns and for Assad to open a dialogue with the opposition for political reforms. Assad actually twice agreed to the Arab League peace plan but continued to kill protestors in the violent crackdowns and Syria was kicked out of the Arab League. Saudi Arabia removed its peace plan monitors from Syria in January 2012 and called on the international community for “all possible pressure” on Syria to adhere to the Arab peace plan.

World powers met again at the United Nations one month later in February 2012 with significantly more pressure arrive at a solution to Syria’s escalating crisis. The diplomatic battle was waged on the international stage primarily by two individuals: on the Russian side was foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and on the American side was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a joint press conference

On one end, Russia wanted to retain Bashar al-Assad in power not only because he was their ally and last foothold in the Middle East, but they started to view the escalation of the Syrian conflict as one increasingly instigated by the protestors, and was taking on strongly sectarian Islamist elements with the emergence of the al-Nusra Front in Syria. According to Steve Rosenberg of BBC, Russia expected only one of two outcomes to take place in the Syrian civil war: either Assad stays in power, ensuring their stronghold influence in the Middle East region, or, radical Islamists take over, creating a terror threat for Russia.

On the other side, the United States saw Assad as a brutal dictator who had lost his legitimacy to rule after killing hundreds of his own people and committing “widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms“. Clinton had in fact already branded Assad as a “war criminal”. As for what came after Assad, diplomats involved in the negotiations commented, “At the time, the west was fixated on Assad leaving. As if that was the beginning and the end of the strategy and then all else would fall into place.

Hillary Clinton speaking at the UN Security Council on January 31st, 2012 quickly  rejected these comparisons to Libya at the UN Security Council meeting.

“I know that some members here are concerned that we are headed toward another Libya. That is a false analogy. Syria is a unique situation that requires its own approach, tailored to the specific circumstances occurring there. And that is exactly what the Arab League has proposed — a path for a political transition that would preserve Syria’s unity and institutions.”

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Hillary Clinton speaks at UN Security Council – February 2012

Amazingly, the American diplomats learned few lessons from the October veto and proposed this UN Security Council resolution with the following passages.

UNSC Resolution 77 – February 2012

10. Stresses the need for all to provide all necessary assistance to the mission in accordance with the League of Arab States’ Protocol of 19 December 2011 and its decision of 22 January 2012;

15. Decides to review implementation of this resolution within 21 days and, in the event of non-compliance, to consider further measures.

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Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov at United Nations

The Russians and Chinese balked at the language of the proposed resolution. For them the language was vague enough that they believed it would open the door to a possible U.N. or NATO led invasion to topple Assad.

The draft “is missing the most important thing: a clear clause ruling out the possibility that the resolution could be used to justify military intervention in Syrian affairs from outside. For this reason I see no chance this draft could be adopted” – Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s envoy to the European Union, February 2012

This belief  “all necessary assistance” with the threat of unspecified “further measures” sounded eerily familiar to UN Security Council Resolution 1973 in March 2011.

4. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council;

Recalling paragraph 26 of resolution 1970 (2011) in which the Council expressed its readiness to consider taking additional appropriate measures, as necessary, to facilitate and support the return of humanitarian agencies and make available humanitarian and related assistance in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,

The “all necessary measures” phrase was invoked under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine to justify the NATO invasion of Libya to topple Muammar Gaddafi.

On February 4th, 2012, Russia and China again vetoed the UN Security Council resolution to take enforceable action against Assad to halt the violence in Syria.

The Russians again didn’t buy it.

“The Libyan case was the final straw for the Russians, hence their October veto of the first Syrian resolution,” said George Lopez, a professor at Notre Dame University, “The second veto on Saturday was more of the same.”

China publicly defended their veto saying, “The United Nations can stop aggression, but it cannot force a country to replace its regime.” Russia and China both sought to maintain their long-standing principle of non-interference in foreign countries (probably because they don’t want to encourage intervening in countries that commit human rights abuses *cough*).

China is indifferent to whether al-Assad survives or leaves power, but rather it is concerned about granting the West the green light to do whatever it likes with regards to deciding the fates of regimes and countries that while not directly important to Chinese interests, may have an impact on more important Chinese interests in Asia.

The vetoes by Russia and China on the Syrian resolution shocked the world. Many criticized the UN for failing to protect the people of Syria and letting the bloodshed continue. I myself remember feeling disgusted back in 2012, especially when the vetoes came the day after Assad had just killed 200 people in the city of Homs.

But incredibly, US diplomats may have actually passed up a workable solution with Russia at the February 2012 meeting rather than propose another resolution that would get vetoed.

According to former Finnish president and Nobel Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, who was involved in the February UN Security Council discussions,  Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin proposed a three-point plan which not only claimed to bring the Syrian government and opposition to the negotiating table but result in a political transition that saw Assad stepping down from power. 

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Vitaly Churkin – Russian ambassador to the UN

Vitaly Churkin “said three things,” according to Ahtisaari, “One — we should not give arms to the opposition. Two — we should get a dialogue going between the opposition and Assad straight away. Three — we should find an elegant way for Assad to step aside.”

While publicly supporting Assad and even continuing to sell arms to the Assad regime during the uprisings, Russian officials privately appeared to be suggesting that Moscow wasn’t committed to Assad remaining in charge but still insisted on the regime spearheading the process of internal dialogue and reconciliation.  “We in Russia have no illusion about this regime,” says Russian MP Andrei Klimov, “The only thing we’d like to have is a peaceful exit. We don’t want to prolong this regime for decades or centuries. Our task is to find a peaceful solution as soon as possible.”

However, the US, Britain and France ignored the proposal during the negotiations.

“Nothing happened because I think [the Western diplomats], and many others, were convinced that Assad would be thrown out of office in a few weeks so there was no need to do anything”, Ahtisaari said.

“He [Obama] thought Assad would go the way Mubarak went,” said Dennis Ross a former Middle East adviser to Obama, referring to the quick departure of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. Indeed US officials had been saying Assad’s departure was imminent and inevitable for months – either by assassination, an internal coup or stepping down from military defeat.

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Nobel Prize peace prize laureate – Martti Ahtisaari

Other have refuted the claim that

This may explain one of the most confounding questions of the early diplomatic efforts by the United States – why would Hillary Clinton and the US diplomats push another UN resolution that they knew would almost certainly be vetoed by Russia under the same pretenses of their October veto? There wasn’t a clause that explicitly ruled out military intervention and Russia and China were clearly worried this could be a repeat of Libya, why didn’t we propose something more negotiable? 

The Americans thought all the cards were in their hands, thinking that Assad’s fall was inevitable regardless of what they did. To me, this is why the US never proposed a ceasefire of any kind, rather they continued to push demands that Assad immediately leave as a precondition to any peace deal. The argument being – any diplomatic proposal for peace that could result in Assad staying in power was less preferable than letting the violence in Syria continue if it meant Assad would get deposed.  

“Some influential members of the international community, unfortunately including those sitting around this table, from the very beginning of the Syrian process have been undermining the opportunity for a political settlement” – Vitaly Churkin, February 2012

I did a quick Freedom of Information search on the State Department’s site for Secretary Clinton’s communications leading up to, and after the February 2012 Security Council meeting to get a better idea of what the American strategy during the negotiations really was. Unsurprisingly, almost all the e-mails relating to Syria during this time have been redacted (1/221/271/312/8). But one of those e-mails in fact makes an explicit reference to a discussion of a “weak res vs. veto” four days before the February 4th vote. Though the e-mail is almost entirely redacted, it means Clinton and her team were considering a softer UN resolution that could get approved, but ultimately chose to push a resolution that they knew would get vetoed.

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Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice at U.N. Middle East meeting

The calculation behind pushing for a stronger resolution that risked getting veto seems to be that: either the Russians and Chinese would either accept the American terms for U.N. intervention in Syria (which would not explicitly rule out external military intervention), or nothing would happen and Russia and China would take the blame for the continuing violence in Syria while Assad was likely fall anyway.

However, Clinton and the US badly miscalculated the situation in Syria. Assad would neither relinquish power nor was he successfully deposed by his people. Indeed Assad’s resiliency surprised Russia too. .

Though Russia may have never supported any resolution that could see them losing Assad, they certainly viewed the proposed UN resolutions as another attempt at forcible regime change rather than encouraging a political dialogue between Assad and the opposition. The global anger from the second veto by Russia and China would help create momentum for initiatives outside the United Nations to support and arm the Syrian opposition

In fact, Russia publicly suggested at the UN Security Council that covert efforts for Syrian regime change were already underway – accusing Libya of training rebels to send to Syria and accusing the US of shipping arms to Syrian rebels through Turkey. Since Libya’s revolution, Russia has accused the United States and its European allies of using a mandate to protect civilians as a cover to illegally provide military support to the Libyan rebels and forcibly oust Gaddafi and that they were now trying to do the same with Assad in Syria.

What certainly did not make things better was the American outrage over Russia continuing to support and sell arms to Assad. While obviously repugnant to the rest of the world, the Russians saw this as an incredible hypocrisy on the part of the American diplomats to demand that Russia’s ally go, but did more than turn a blind eye to a different humanitarian crisis happening at the same time in Bahrain.

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Protests in Bahrain against King Al Khalifa – February 2011

Often called the “Forgotten Revolution” of the Arab Spring, the 2011 uprisings in Bahrain saw hundreds of thousands in the streets demanding the removal of the Al Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain. The protests in Bahrain occurred concurrently with those in Syria and Libya in February 2011, both inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Like Assad, Bahrain’s leaders engaged in a brutal crackdown of the protests which included arbitrary imprisonmenttorturing of prisoners, denial of medical care and out right killing of over a hundred protestors by government police.

At the onset of the protests Obama voiced support for a “dialogue initiative” between the monarchy and the opposition, but as the government response turned violent, the US spoke out against the crackdown. When the crown prince of Bahrain Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa visited Washington DC in June 2011, Obama and Clinton publicly asked the Bahrain monarchy to “hold accountable” those responsible for human-rights abuses against unarmed demonstrators. Clinton urged a “return to a process that will result in real, meaningful changes for the people there.”

That was largely the beginning and end of the US’s support for Bahrain’s uprising for political reform. At no point did the US call for the king of Bahrain to step down because of the brutal crackdowns and killing of peaceful protestors (certainly not declaring the king a “war criminal”) nor provide any diplomatic, humanitarian or armed support to the opposition. The most direct aid the US gave to the protestors was when Ludovic Hood, a US embassy official, reportedly brought a box of doughnuts out to the protesters.

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Hillary Clinton with crown prince of Bahrain, Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa – June 2011

The US in fact went to such great lengths to AVOID looking like it supported the protestors in Bahrain that the State Department blanked a media story where someone from the opposition stated that the United States supported them. This March 2011 e-mail exchange is from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffery Feltman.

Hillary Clinton: [REDACTED] just told my husband that the oppo [opposition] in Bahrain posted on their website that they met w the #2 in our embassy who told them that the US supported them and their demands which was very upsetting to everyone. What’s the story?

Jeffery Feltman: A breakaway part of the opposition did a sit-in outside the embassy and presented a petition. A political officer (not #2) received the petition, as is customary, and urged the opposition to begin the dialogue. The petitioners then gave a false story about what our person said. The Embassy immediately went out on twitter, Facebook, the Embassy website, and via an Embassy press release and corrected the record. The petitioners later apologized on Bahraini TV. [REDACTED] Certainly in Bahrain, the Embassy blanked the media with the correct story.

But to many observers, this came as no surprise – Bahrain is one of the America’s most vital allies in the Middle East. It is home to the U.S. Navy’s critically important 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf meant to deter Iran.  After Obama publicly berated King Khalifa for cracking down on the protestors, envoys for the king and his Arab allies came to the White House with a carefully coordinated message – if the Obama administration did not stand squarely behind the monarchy, they warned Bahrain’s government could fall, costing America a critical ally and potentially moving the country toward Iran’s orbit.

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US Navy Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf

“Starting with Bahrain, the administration has moved a few notches toward emphasizing stability over majority rule,” said a U.S. official. “Everybody realized that Bahrain was just too important to fail.”

As the US slowly started an about-face on Bahrain, the uprisings against the monarchy soon turned into resentment against America, as they saw the US turn its back on them while supporting the Syrian uprising and others in the region. This was further enflamed as one of the key lynchpins in the US-Bahrain relationship continued. Since 1993, the US defense industry has sold over $400 million dollars of arms to Bahrain; including a wide variety of weapons systems, ammunition, American tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopter gunships. And like Russia’s arms relationship with Assad, this showed no sign of letting up.

In February 2011, the Obama administration tried to follow through on a $53 million arms deal to the Bahrain monarchy during the government’s crackdown of protestors. Congressional Democrats sharply criticized the administration and invoked the Leahy Amendment in demanding that the administration halt military aid to various units of Bahrain’s security forces due to human-rights violations. However, the State Department was able to use a legal loophole to continue to sell the arms to Bahrain during the protests without notification to Congress or a public announcement. This led many to question whether Bahrain was in fact killing its protestors using US-manufactured weaponry. Bahrain’s uprising ended when Saudi Arabia’s military entered Bahrain to suppress the revolts. Human rights abuses by the Bahrain monarchy against its people continue to this day. 

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Bahraini protesters fleeing government police tear gas – 2011

Understandably Russia accused the US of setting double standards at the UN Security Council. Especially when the report that the US State Department was using loopholes to sell arms to Bahrain was released just two weeks before February 2012 meeting on Syria.  They rejected Clinton and Obama demanding Assad step down and that Russia end its military alliance with Syria while the Americans covertly armed Assad’s opposition and were supporting and arming Bahrain’s monarchy in its repression of protestors –  thus questioning the entire premise of why the United States was claiming to topple Assad for the sake of “democracy” and “human rights”.

“Why is the US determined to sell weapons to Bahrain after the Bahraini authorities, with help from the Saudis, suppressed the Arab Spring in Bahrain? Russia doesn’t see any problems selling weapons to Syria if the CIA and French and British secret services are shipping military hardware via Turkey to the rebels.” – Russian Defense Analyst Ruslan Pukhov, head of the arms trade think tank CAST.

Bashar Assad, Vladimir Putin     ymz_0181 Bashar al-Assad with Vladimir Putin                  Obama w/ Bahraini prince Hamad al-Khalifa

That is not to say Russia didn’t see Assad as a brutal dictator. “We in Russia have no illusion about this regime,” says Russian MP Andrei Klimov, “The only thing we’d like to have is a peaceful exit. We don’t want to prolong this regime for decades or centuries. Our task is to find a peaceful solution as soon as possible.” But if Moscow began to feel that it has more to lose than to gain from backing President Assad, the Syrian leader might find himself coming under pressure from the East as well as the West.

Indeed, with the mounting death toll in Syria Russian negotiators began saying they were not insisting that Assad must remain in power at all costs, but that any decision on whether or not he should step down should come from the Syrian people, many of whom actually supported Assad in the middle/upper classes of Syria, not from outside pressure or military intervention as happened last year in Libya. Whether or not that fairly reasonable stance was simply posturing, I’d have to ask Churkin and Lavrov myself, but Russia understandably did not want to encourage a precedent of international military intervention in countries with poor democracy and human rights records

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Putin (left), Churkin (center), Lavrov (right) at United Nations

Amazingly despite all the double speak and hypocrisy from both the United States and Russia, there would be one last chance for peace – the June 2012 Geneva Conference. At this point, almost 10,000 people lay dead in Syria with Assad’s brutal attacks in the city of Homs being called genocidal. Following Russia and China’s February 2012 veto, two important events concurrently happened leading up to the June Geneva Conference.

First, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton formed the “Friends of Syria” Group immediately after the February veto to coordinate international assistance to the Syrian opposition. Blasting Russia and China for engaging in a Cold War rivalry rather than helping the Syrian people, Hillary Clinton said, “Faced with a neutered Security Council, we have to redouble our efforts outside of the United Nations with those allies and partners who support the Syrian people’s right to have a better future.” Russia and China refused to be part of the Friends of Syria group

Second, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was appointed by the Arab League as the official envoy to Syria in March 2012 to craft a peace deal.

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Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan meets with Assad – March 2012

In the two months before the June 2012 Geneva conference, Kofi Annan proceeded to meet with Vladimir Putin in Moscow and with Assad in Damascus where he secured both Russia and Syria’s approval for a Six Point peace plan. Amongst other things, Annan’s plan would lead to a “cessation of armed violence in all its forms” the release of a “arbitrarily detained persons” and the Syrian government would “pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres”. However, the plan did not impose any deadline for Assad, nor call for him to leave power.

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Secretary Clinton at Friends of Syria Conference – April 2012

The Clinton-Sarkozy led initiative not only officially recognized the Syrian National Council (SNC) who’s military wing was the Free Syrian Army as a legitimate governing alternative to Bashar al Assad, but also agreed to provide “all possible assistance” in helping them. This promise for assistance to the opposition will be incredibly significant just five months later when an infamous terrorist attack occurs at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. 

These two countering diplomatic tracks, Kofi Annan’s Six Point plan and the Friends of Syria initiative, would meet at the June 2012 Geneva conference.

At the Geneva Conference, world powers ultimately agreed to adopt Kofi Annan’s Six Point Plan as the next step forward in the Syrian peace process despite reports that Assad was already violating the terms it agreed to. On June 30th, 2012 the “Action Group for Syria” published a Final Communiqué from the Geneva talks outlining the implementation of Annan’s plan. The sticking point from the talks would be that in order to “secure full implementation of the six-point plan”, they required “agreed on guidelines and principles for a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”

The “political transition” was Annan’s proposal for a “transitional unity government” outlined in this passage of the Communique –

The establishment of a transitional governing body which can establish a neutral environment in which the transition can take place. That means that the transitional governing body would exercise full executive powers. It could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent.

World leaders agreed to push the Syrian government and opposition forces to begin negotiations toward a transitional government, which even Russia agreed to do, but the Geneva Communique failed to specify whether President Bashar al-Assad would be explicitly excluded from this transitional body. Instead, participants a vowed to “apply joint and sustained pressure on the parties in Syria,” including “members of the present government and the opposition and other groups,” to designate representatives for the talks.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, had somewhat different interpretations of that mandate.

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Sergey Lavrov and Hillary Clinton – June 2012 Geneva Conference

Lavrov noted that the group’s final communique includes no demand for Assad to step down, saying that a call to exclude anyone from the unity talks would undermine negotiations or a new government and would twist the intent of the Six Point peace plan agreed upon by Russia and Assad’s government.

Clinton acknowledged what she called “minor textual changes” in Annan’s proposal but said they did not affect the substance of what was decided at the meeting. “We read the results to be the same,” Clinton said. “Assad will still have to go.” “We and our partners made absolutely clear to Russia and China that it is now incumbent upon them to show Assad the writing on the wall.”

According to National Journal and Politico news editor Jeffery Hirsh – “what happened next was that the Geneva communique disappeared onto a dusty shelf.”

This disagreement between Lavrov and Clinton over their interpretations of what the Geneva Communique

The UN high commissioner said she was now calling the situation in Syria “a non-international internal armed conflict,” the legal term for a civil war.

personal fate of Assad in this new transitional unity government would mark the beginning of the end for Kofi Annan’s fledging peace plan, and with it the last workable plan to resolve the Syrian conflict that would present itself for the next four years to present day.

The following four paragraphs come directly from Hirsh’s article, “The Syria Deal That Could Have Been” (bolding is mine).

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Kofi Annan resigns as Syria Envoy – August 2012

After the Final Communique was published, Kofi Annan flew from Geneva to Moscow and gained what he believed to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s consent to begin to quietly push Assad out. But suddenly both the U.S. and Britain issued public calls for Assad’s ouster, and Annan felt blindsided. Immediately afterward, against his advice, then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice offered up a “Chapter 7” resolution opening the door to force against Assad, which Annan felt was premature. Annan resigned as the official envoy to Syria a month later.

At the time, the soft-spoken Ghanaian diplomat was cagey about his reasons, appearing to blame all sides. “I did not receive all the support that the cause deserved,” Annan told reporters in Geneva. He also criticized what he called “finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council.” But former senior aides and U.N. officials say in private that Annan blamed the Obama administration in large part. “The U.S. couldn’t even stand by an agreement that the secretary of State had signed in Geneva,” said one former close Annan aide who would discuss the talks only on condition of anonymity. “He quit in frustration. I think it was clear that the White House was very worried about seeming to do a deal with the Russians and being soft on Putin during the campaign.” (This was highlighted by an embarrassing live mic moment where Obama admitted to his Russian counterpart that he would have more flexibility for negotiation after his re-election).

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2012 re-election campaign – Obama vs Romney

A current senior State Department official concedes that one of the problems with making the Annan communique work may have been Clinton’s distaste for getting involved in extended direct mediation, in dramatic contrast to her successor John Kerry, who has opened up negotiations on several fronts at once—with Syria and the Russians, with Iran, and between the Palestinians and Israelis. “We’ve made more trips to the Mideast in the last nine months than she made in four years,” says this official.

While Clinton excelled at “soft” power—selling America’s message abroad—one emerging criticism of her four-year tenure at State was that she consistently avoided getting her hands dirty with direct mediation. Clinton agreed to leave key negotiations in crisis spots—in particular the Mideast and south-central Asia—to special envoys such as George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, and she rarely stepped in as each of them failed. Veteran reporter David Rohde, in an assessment as Clinton was leaving office in January 2013, suggested that Clinton wanted to avoid embarrassment or failure ahead of a 2016 presidential run; he quoted one State Department official as saying that he was “really happy to have someone in the job who does not retain political ambitions.” (end quote of Hirsh’s article)

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February 2016 Democratic primary debate

All of this makes Clinton’s remarks at a February 2016 debate between her and Bernie Sanders all the more incredulous.

“But I would add this. You know, the Security Council finally got around to adopting a resolution. At the core of that resolution is an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva, which set forth a cease-fire and moving toward a political resolution, trying to bring the parties at stake in Syria together”

If you were involved in the June 2012 negotiations at Geneva then you would know  that there was no cease-fire negotiated precisely because Clinton and the US would not accept any outcome from the agreed upon Geneva Communique that did not see Bashar al Assad stepping down from power.

Her taking credit for an eventual ceasefire negotiated by John Kerry even led Columbia University professor Jeffery Sachs and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to say“This is the kind of compulsive misrepresentation that makes Clinton unfit to be President. Clinton’s role in Syria has been to help instigate and prolong the Syrian bloodbath, not to bring it to a close.” 

The failure of Geneva would result in billions of dollars of weapons and munitions flowing to the Syrian rebels through the Clinton-Sarkozy created “Friends of Syria” Group , including half a billion from the United States alone.

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Secretary Clinton speaks at the June 2012 Geneva Conference

Now while it’s easy to criticize Hillary Clinton for her short-comings in diplomatic engagements to bring peace to Syria, there is a lot of blame to share. Ultimately it was Russian and Chinese refusal to accept any U.N. resolution that truly led to the escalating violence with over half a million dead in Syria we see today.

But it’s important to remember that their refusal to agree to every proposal for international action other than Kofi Annan’s Six Point Plan were largely for these fairly legitimate reasons:

(1) A fear that the language in the proposed Security Council resolutions would result in a U.N.-authorized military intervention to oust Assad rather than a political transition led by the Syrian people, like had happened in Libya last year

(2) A fear that their economic and military ally in Assad would be replaced by a radical Islamist regime, like was already happening in Libya, thus creating a terror threat for Russia. 

(3) Rejecting what they saw as American hypocrisy in attempting to force Assad to step down while supporting and arming Bahrain’s government in its violent repression of protestors seeking democratic reform.

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Lavrov and Medvedev meet with Obama and Clinton

It should have been the responsibility of President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and the American diplomats to work with these concerns and create a solution that was palatable to all and saved lives in Syria. That clearly did not happen even when there were avenues to do so. Call it diplomatic hardball, but Russia’s Sergey Lavrov certainly has no love lost for the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton who he said intentionally foiled the Russian “reset”. Leading one to wonder whether relations with Russia will be much better under a new Clinton administration.

Putting all this aside, the result of this diplomatic bungling was that not only did Bashar al Assad stay in power, but he continued his bloody war against the Syrian rebels eventually leading to the formation of ISIS and the worst refugee crisis the world has seen since World War II. 

I can say in no uncertain terms that by the end of the summer of 2012

But one interesting perspective left out of all the squabbling between the world’s superpowers was what the Assad government was saying the whole time.

The Assad government has long maintained that the uprising had nothing to do with demands for political change, but was rather a foreign plot by the enemies of Syria to pay radical jihadis to destabilize the country. Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, accused Gulf Arab nations of harboring the religious sheiks who issued the religious writs, or fatwas, sanctioning the fight in Syria as a sacred duty.

Bashar Jaafari: Damascus Ready to Find Solution to Syria Crisis

“We need to see these Qataris, the Saudis, the Turkish governments, as well as some other nations, stopping their incitement to violence, their sponsorship of the armed rebellion,” he said.

It’s easy the simplify the war in Syria as one where the US and Russia are fighting for democracy vs autocratic dictatorships. I mean when I think about why  America and its European allies want to get rid of Assad I felt like a I came to a pretty basic conclusion – he’s a dictator killing his own people protesting against his repressive government. As the protector of democracy and human rights in the world, the United States sees its role to step in where those ideals are not being upheld.

But why are other Arab nations clamoring for the toppling of Assad? Given that many of these other countries have even less democratic forms of governments and have their own histories of human rights abuses, why would they want to encourage international intervention in Syria?

That’s why before I proceed into the next phase of the Syrian conflict after the failure of diplomacy, I want to step back and look more critically at the central question of the Syrian war – why are we trying so hard to get rid of Bashar al Assad again?

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Russia and Iran vs Turkey and Saudi Arabia

(1945 – Present) What Is At Stake for World Powers in Syria

Here is the table at the beginning which showed who’s fighting on which side.

I’ve crossed out all the non-state actors like Hezbollah, Kurdistan, ISIS and Al Qaeda, they are revolutionary causes and organizations, but do not function completely as nation-states.


Pro-Assad Side:                                         Anti-Assad Side:

Russia and China                                        United StatesUK and France

Iran                                                                 Saudi ArabiaQatar and Kuwait

Iraq                                                                 Turkey

Terror Groups: Hezbollah                          Terror Groups: ISISAl Qaeda

–                                                                      Kurdistan


At the top you have a repeat of the Cold War divide between the US and its European allies against Russia. Amongst the Middle Eastern countries that are fighting each other, it looks fairly divided along Sunni/Shiite lines and Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite, a subsect of Shia Islam. Iran and Iraq are a majority Shiite population while Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf nations are a majority Sunni population.

But historical religious rivalries aside, these are largely two reasons global powers can claim to be to fighting to depose Bashar al-Assad as President of Syria, and one of them is far less talked about than the other. 

1) Crimes against humanity  – brutal crackdown of political dissent, alleged torture, bombing of civilian homes, chemical weapons use

2) The natural gas pipeline wars

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While it’d be nice to think that everyone really has spent the last 5 years angry about the human rights violations Assad has committed (which most other Middle East countries have done as well), here’s a map that should make it abundantly clear what the real war is being fought over.

Right now there are two proposed gas pipelines coming out of the Persian Gulf both of which must cross through Syria to get to Europe – the Iran-Iraq-Syria Pipeline and the Qatar-Saudi-Turkey Pipeline. Unsurprisingly, these countries respectively represent the two sides of the war in Syria.

The prize: selling oil and gas into a European market that desperately wants to break its dependence on Russian oil. 

On July 25th, 2011, only five months into the Syrian uprising, Bashar al Assad quietly signed a $10 billion gas-pipeline deal to start building the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline – thus officially rejecting Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey’s oil and gas plans into Europe.

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Shared oil & gas fields in the Persian gulf between Qatar and Iran

The South Pars / North Dome field is a natural gas condensate field located in the Persian GulfIt is the world’s largest gas field, shared between Iran and Qatar. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the field holds an estimated 1,800 trillion cubic feet of in-situ natural gas and some 50 billion barrels of natural gas condensates otherwise known as liquified-natural-gas (LNG).

Iran has maritime rights over the South Pars region while Qatar has maritime rights to drill in the North Dome. Both nations have a competing desire to developing these oil and gas fields, construct a pipeline through the Middle East and sell gas in the European market, which, again, Russia currently dominates. 

The pipeline saga began in 2009 when Qatar proposed to Assad the construction of a joint pipeline from the Persian Gulf through Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey to sell LNG to Europe. Assad said no. Instead, he opted to build an alternate 3,480 mile “Islamic pipeline” with his fellow Shiite partners in the Middle East – Iraq and Iran.

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Bashar al-Assad with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Kohmeini

Russia supports this pipeline between Iran, Iraq and Syria even if it would let Europe diversify away from Russian gas. In this scenario the gas is flowing through Russia’s allies, as opposed to US-backed Saudi Arabia and Qatar and NATO member Turkey, thus Russia could better influence output, pricing decisions etc.  When Assad announced that he would refuse to sign the agreement with Qatar, he even said he did so “to protect the interests of our Russian ally.”

Since Assad’s rejection of the Qatari proposed pipeline in 2009 and the Arab Spring uprisings in Syria two years later, it should not come as a surprise that the spurned countries – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – have each poured billions into funding and arming the Syrian rebels seeking to oust Assad and place a regime that will approve their pipeline. 

“If completed, the project would have had major geopolitical implications. Ankara would have profited from rich transit fees. The project would have also given the Sunni kingdoms of the Persian Gulf decisive domination of world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America’s closest ally in the Arab world” – POLITICO

For Turkey, the pipeline is a signature part of its long-standing goal to become an energy transit hub at the crossroads of the Middle East and Europe. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already vowed to break Turkey’s dependence on Russian oil and gas.

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Turkey’s Erdogan gently strokes Saudi King Salman’s hand

But the larger question now is, why is the United States becoming so invested in the Syrian conflict? What would we stand to gain by a Qatar-Saudi-Turkey pipeline? While they are obviously our allies, this seems like their war to fight.

As is clear from America’s lack of enthusiasm for the Arab Spring in Bahrain, a desire for democracy and human rights is not (and has never been) our motivating interest in the Middle East. The answer to these question lies in the foundation for all US action in the Middle East – the petrodollar.

You will probably never hear a mention of the petrodollar on the news, but it could be considered the most important political and economic scheme in the entire global economy. It’s origin, development and use will be more intricately fleshed out in Part 4 of this series when I examine the history of US intervention in the Middle East, but as a preview here is the central premise of the petrodollar system:

In exchange for the US providing indefinite military protection and security for Saudi Arabia and the ruling Saud family, OPEC will price and sell its oil to other countries only in US dollars. The value of the US dollar and its role as the world’s reserve currency hinges largely on foreign nations needing to use US dollars to buy oil from OPEC – thus the name “petrodollar”. 

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The reason for this “oil for dollars” monetary system requires a deeper analysis of the creation of the global reserve currency system after World War II and the circumstances that led to this political-economic marriage between the US, Saudi Arabia and OPEC in 1974. While all that will be explained more in depth in Part 4, the critical takeaway is that the US needs to continue having oil sold in dollars in order for the US-led global monetary system to stay afloat.

If the US-backed Qatar-Saudi Arabia-Turkey pipeline is built, oil will continue to flow through the world in US dollars and the petrodollar system will remain intact. If the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline backed by Russia is successfully built, then trillions of barrels of oil will be sold to Europe in alternate currencies to the US dollar. Massive amounts of non-dollar trading will ultimately collapse the petrodollar and subsequently erode the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

This reality is certainly not lost on US policymakers. Part 4 of this series will take a deeper look at the pattern of recent US intervention in the Middle East be it the 2003 invasion of Iraq or 2011 invasion of Libya. Invariably these countries have all posed an acute threat to the petrodollar monetary system, regardless of what justification is sold to the public to rationalize war to oust their regimes (i.e. WMDs and human rights concerns). Now that there is again a challenge to the petrodollar system but this time in Syria, the world’s great powers have waged another bloody oil war in the name of democracy and human rights.

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CIA Director John Foster Dulles and President Eisenhower – 1952

US efforts to oust the Syrian government due to oil interests in the region did not begin in 2011, however. In late 1945, the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) announced plans to construct the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line (TAPLINE) from Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean. With U.S. help, ARAMCO secured rights-of-way from Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The Syrian government, however, refused to grant passage to the pipeline.

In response, the newly created CIA orchestrated a coup to oust Syrian President al-Quwatli in 1949. But instead of an alternate regime that would green-light Saudi Arabia’s pipeline, the CIA planned coup set in motion a catastrophic series of revolutions in Syria that would eventually put the Assad family in power and would permanently push Syria to become one of the Soviet Union’s closest allies. It should also come as no surprise that not just the Syrian government, but the Syrian people absolutely despise the United States and see their current intervention in Syria as more of the same “war for oil”.

Saudi Arabia’s pipeline plans into Europe, which were foiled in the 1940’s, have been put on hold until the Arab Spring in 2011 when Assad’s regime in Syria became vulnerable. This time again, the United States would use the CIA to attempt to overthrow the Syrian government. 

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Obama and Clinton in the Rose Garden – September 12th, 2012

(2012) – Operation Zero Footprint: Benghazi and the Covert Arming of Syria’s Rebels 

Given the stakes in Syria, the United States and its Middle East allies had an obvious vested interest in supporting the opposition to Assad even in the early stages of the revolution.

Luckily for the Obama administration, opposition to the Syrian government did not end with the CIA-led coup of the Syrian government in 1949. This 2009 WikiLeaks cable reveals that under the auspices of an initiative called “Supporting Democratic Reform” the US has been covertly funding opposition to Assad’s government since 2006. The 2009 cable sent from the US embassy in Damascus even expresses concern that some of the projects being funded by the US (to the tune of $12 million), if discovered by the Syrian government, would be perceived as “an attempt to undermine the Assad regime”.

All of efforts to undermine Assad took on a renewed commitment at the “Friends of Syria” conference organized in 2012 when the nation’s in attendance “committed to render all possible assistance” to the Syrian opposition. The lynchpin of this promise would lie in the relationship between the United States and Turkey.

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Clinton shakes hands with Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davytoglu at Friends of Syria Conference – February 2012

This part of the war has remained largely under wraps because there has been no formal declaration of war against the Syrian government by any country nor has the United Nations sanctioned any humanitarian or military intervention into the Syrian conflict.

As a result, the United States government, led by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the US State Department, commissioned a covert operation to transfer weapons from Libya to Turkey, where they would then be sent into Syria to aid opposition groups. This two year covert operation was called Operation Zero Footprint.

Operation Zero Footprint had two distinct phases:

2011: The arming of Libyan rebels to topple Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

2012: The buy-back of heavy weaponry from Gaddafi’s arsenal and those sold to Libyan rebels to then transfer to Syrian rebels to topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

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The “Rat Line” – weapons flow from Benghazi, Libya to Turkey then to Syria

As the name suggests, Operation Zero Footprint was supposed to be just that – a mission that was to leave no footprint of the US’s activities in the area. In order to avoid Congressional authorization and public scrutiny, the clandestine operation was financed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar with logistical and transportation support coming from Qatar and Turkey.

The so-called “Rat Line” to covertly arm Syria’s rebels was Phase 2 of the operation and went as followed: the weapons from Libya were shipped out from the port of Benghazi, Libya, where they were received at the US Incirlik Air Base in Adana, Turkey and then moved through Turkey’s southern border into the hands of Syrian rebels.

This entire scheme unraveled on September 11th, 2012 when a terrorist attack killed 4 Americans at the departure point of these weapons, the US consulate in Benghazi. 

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Unknown armed man poses at Benghazi consulate – September 2012

Both phases of Operation Zero Footprint produced uniquely disastrous results in Libya and Syria. The illegal funneling of weapons into the region to arm opposition groups not only increased the scope and scale of the bloody conflicts in the Middle East, but effectively blocked any diplomatic solutions to resolve the conflict as adversaries felt emboldened to arm their side of the war because we were.

Phase 1 – the arming of Libya’s rebels to topple Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. 

The first phase was significant in that it was blatantly illegal under international law to be arming any side of the Libyan conflict since the U.N. had imposed an arms embargo. Given its illegality, one of the emerging revelations of the Obama administration was how the conflict in Libya marked the beginning of a severely fractured relationship with the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Pentagon.

When the uprisings began in Libya in February 2011, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen were staunchly opposed to US intervention in Libya. Gates both opposed a No Fly Zone over Libya as well as arming Libyan rebels, believing it would draw the US into another protracted conflict in the Middle East.  Along with Mike Mullen, the two testified in front of Congress saying it was “unlikely” that the US would arm the rebels and that  “other countries”, not the US, should be responsible for supporting them. Their primary fear was that they simply had no idea who the Libyan rebels were and whoever they decided to help could be extremist groups linked to Al Qaeda.

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Defense Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen testify before Congress about Libya – February 2011

However, a a bitter debate amongst Obama’s cabinet broke out over how to respond to the crisis in Libya and whether or not to more overtly intervene. The push to arm Libyan rebels to help oust Gaddafi along with efforts to impose a No-Fly-Zone over Libya were led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She believed the US needed to take a more active role in toppling Gaddafi’s regime to prevent potential human rights abuses against Libyan civilians. Knowing the risk of extremist rebels in Libya, Clinton felt that if the US did not act quickly and decisively to remove Gaddafi then they risked a massive humanitarian crisis.

Mrs. Clinton understood the hazards, but also weighed the costs of not acting, aides said. They described her as comfortable with feeling her way through a problem without being certain of the outcome.

Gates recounted that the debate in the Oval Office was split “51-49” with him and Joint Chief’s Chairman Mullen pushing against US intervention and Secretary of State Clinton pushing Obama for stronger US intervention in Libya.

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President Obama ultimately sided with his Secretary of State and on March 30th, 2011 authorized the covert operation to arm Libya’s rebels, as Reuters reported “President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi”

“I’ve always thought that Hillary’s support for the broader mission in Libya put the president on the 51 side of the line for a more aggressive approach.” – Defense Secretary Robert Gates

The covert operation would be run entirely through the CIA and State Department with financing from Qatar and the UAE and without the approval of the senior generals in the Defense Department and Pentagon nor from Congress. In order for the weapons to enter Libya in violation of the U.N arms embargo, the State Department had to secure the approval of NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis, who later was vetted as a potential Clinton VP pick, to ship and import the weapons into the country.

Unfortunately for the US (and the Libyan people), Robert Gates ended up being right – most of the heavy weapons that flowed from the US and Qatar into Libya did in fact fall into the hands of Al Qaeda.

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Qatari weapons shipment to rebels intercepted by Gaddafi government – October 2011

After the outbreak of violence in Libya, hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters around the world poured into the country. Al Qaeda’s leadership issued a call to arms for their followers to go to Libya to fight Gaddafi – a leader they had been seeking to topple sine the 1990s.

“This rebellion is the fresh breeze they’ve been waiting years for. They realize that if they don’t use this opportunity, it could be the end of their chances to turn Libya toward a real Islamic state, as Afghanistan once was.” – Senior Al Qaeda official in Afghanistan

As a result, one of the most prominent rebel groups in Libya was the Al Qaeda-backed Islamic Fighting Group. The National Transitional Council (NTC) was the secular opposition replacement to Gaddafi which the US publicly supported and who’s leadership Hillary Clinton personally met with. Unfortunately the NTC’s primary fighting force ended up being the Al Qaeda composed Islamic Fighting Group.

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Members of the Al Qaeda formed Islamic Fighting Group in Libya – April 2011

As the US ramped up its operations through the summer of 2011 in Libya to oust Gaddafi, advanced weaponry was invariably falling into dangerous hands.

“Humvees, counterbattery radar, TOW missiles was the highest end we talked about,” one State Department official recalled. “We were definitely giving them lethal assistance. We’d crossed that line.”

It was perhaps under these circumstances that a few months later Defense Secretary Robert Gates would leave the Obama administration in anger in September 2011.  In his place, Leon Panetta moved from CIA Director to Secretary of Defense. This placed the second phase of Operation Zero Footprint, the redirection of Libyan weapons into Syria, squarely in the hands of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the new CIA director David Petraeus.

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Clinton and new CIA director David Petreaus
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Secretary Clinton poses with Libyan rebels in Tripoli – 2011

While the US blamed Qatar for distributing weapons inside the country indiscriminately, in reality there was no real way to vet who the weapons were going to. The commanders of Libya’s NTC forces admitted that there were Al Qaeda members within their ranks. Arming the Libyan rebels meant putting weapons into the hands of terrorists – a reality that even NATO Commander Stavridis, who was allowing the weapons to go into the country, admitted to be true. It also isn’t saying much when the “secular” NTC the US wanted to exclusively support was a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, a designated terrorist organization..

Unfortunately, the violence in Libya did not end with the fall of the Gaddafi regime and his ultimate death in October 2011. Armed with advanced US weaponry, Libya descended into a longer, bloodier civil war between warring rebel groups who could not unify the country. The country is now considered to be a failed state with ISIS controlling large parts of Libya.

But before Libya slid again into bloody sectarian war, the Obama administration tried to re-secure the dangerous weapons they had supplied to the Libyan rebels, along with other heavy weapons in Gaddafi’s arsenal.

In December 2011, two months after the death of Gaddafi and the first veto by the UN Security Council to take action in Syria,  Assistant Secretary of State Andrew J. Shapiro arranged a purchase program with Libya’s new defense minister. The program was intended purchase shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missiles from militia members and others who gathered them up during the war.

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Andrew J. Shapiro – Head of State Dept’s Bureau of Political & Military Affairs

As reported by the NY Times –

Known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or Manpads, the missiles are a class of weapon that includes the well-known Stinger. The version loose in large quantities in Libya, the SA-7, is an earlier Eastern bloc generation.

Assistant Secretary of State Andrew J. Shapiro raised the American desire to arrange a purchase program in a meeting this month with Libya’s new defense minister, according to American officials familiar with the proposal.

The United States has committed $40 million to secure Libya’s arms stockpiles, much of it to prevent the spread of Manpads. No budget has been designed for a purchase program, and the price to be paid for each missile and its components has not been determined, the official said.

While the US certainly supplied Libyan rebels with dangerous heavy weaponry, as per its own admission, it’s not possible to know whether MANPADs were among those given to them. The US maintains that the “buyback” program was not purchasing MANPADs it sold the rebels to overthrow Gaddafi –

In Libya, the program would not technically be a buyback, as these weapons were not provided by the West, American officials said. They were purchased from Eastern bloc suppliers during Colonel Qaddafi’s long period of arms acquisition.

In public statements Andrew Shapiro made as well as when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified in front of Congress, the stated goal of the MANPAD buy-backs was to curb the risk of heavy weapons proliferation and prevent opening a “Pandora’s Box” of dangerous weapons into the wrong hands. But where were the MANPAD weapons actually going after they were recovered?

Phase 2 – the transfer of heavy weapons from Libya to Syria to help oust Bashar al-Assad’s regime 

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US Ambassador to Libya – Chris Stevens

In March 2011 State Department diplomat Chris Stevens, who was #2 at the US embassy in Libya, became the official US liaison to the Libyan opposition against Gaddafi. Working directly with the Libyan opposition meant working directly with Abdelhakim Belhadj, the leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – the primary fighting force of the National Transitional Council (NTC) which assumed power in Libya after Gaddafi was deposed.

In November 2011, one month after the fall of Gaddafi, The Telegraph reported that Abdelhakim Belhadj, acting as head of the Tripoli Military Council, “met with Free Syrian Army [FSA] leaders in Istanbul and on the border with Turkey” in an effort by the new Libyan government to provide money and weapons to the growing insurgency in Syria.

Whatever relationship existed between Belhadj and the Free Syrian Army existed then, heightened even more less than a  year later when it was officially announced in August 2012 that Obama was authorizing a program to covertly arm Syria’s rebels after the collapse of the Geneva peace talks in July.

Obama’s order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence “finding,” broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad.

A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.

On Tuesday, NBC News reported that the Free Syrian Army had obtained nearly two dozen surface-to-air missiles, weapons that could be used against Assad’s helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Syrian government armed forces have employed such air power more extensively in recent days.

NBC said the shoulder-fired missiles, also known as MANPADs, had been delivered to the rebels via Turkey.

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Syrian rebel holding MANPAD surface-to-air missile

The dots are easy enough to connect as to where the Syrian rebels suddenly got shiploads of surface-to-air missile launchers after the September 2012 Benghazi attack. 

Less than one month after the report of Obama authorizing covert aide to the Syrian rebels, two separate shipping vessels departing from Libya

the Libyan-flagged vessel Al Entisar, which means “The Victory,” was received in the Turkish port of Iskenderun — 35 miles from the Syrian border — on Sept. 6

just three days after the terrorist attack at the Benghazi consulate,  The Times of London reported that a Libyan ship that left from the port of Benghazi was “carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria … has docked in Turkey.” The shipment reportedly weighed 400 tons and included SA-7 surface-to-air anti-craft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades.

The most important revelation of the Benghazi attack was not that there was absolutely zero security for a diplomatic outpost in the most dangerous part of the world at the time, but the previously unknown presence of a CIA annex 1.2 miles away from the outpost.

The top-secret presence and location of the CIA outpost was first acknowledged by Charlene Lamb, a top official in the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, during Congressional testimony in October 2012, where the following information came to light.

The post had been a base for, among other things, collecting information on the proliferation of weaponry looted from Libyan government arsenals, including surface-to-air missiles. 

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Two CIA contractors killed in the September 2012 Benghazi attack

In his public statements at the Stimson Center back in February 2012, Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro revealed how the US would go about achieving the goal of securing Libyan MANPADs at the CIA annex – 

The initial primary objective was to reach an agreement with the TNC to set up a MANPADS control and destruction program that would enable us to set up what we call our Phase I efforts. Phase I entailed an effort to rapidly survey, secure, and disable loose MANPADS across the country. To accomplish this, we immediately deployed our Quick Reaction Force, which are teams made up of civilian technical specialists.

Of the 4 Americans who died in Benghazi, we now understand two of them – Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods – were among the “civilian technical specialists” who were CIA weapons specialists at the heart of Operation Zero Footprint  to covertly transfer weapons from Libya into Syria to help overthrow Bashar al-Assad.

This is controversy surrounding the alleged “stand-down” order issued by the State Department in responding to the Benghazi attack as it was happening – whether or not the State Department wanted to expose the presence of the covert CIA annex that was acquiring and sending MANPADs to Syrian rebels. This is why there was a huge clash between the CIA and State Department as to how to tell the story of what was happening at Benghazi without exposing Operation Zero Footprint.

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US Ambassador Chris Stevens (deceased) being taken to hospital- Benghazi, Libya

Unfortunately, the whole Benghazi attack has become so politicized that even saying the word ‘Benghazi’ has become a running joke. Many believe this whole controversy is much ado about nothing and is simply a right-wing conspiracy while the real story of the activities going on in Benghazi and its broader implication about illegal covert activity for regime change goes untouched.

After endless inquiries and investigations about the NON-substantative issues regarding Benghazi, here’re the conclusions that were drawn.

1) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration tried to mislead the American public about the cause of the attack (probably because they didn’t want to admit a terrorist attack happened two months before Obama’s re-election against Mitt Romney.) 

2) The State Department failed to adequately provide security for the consulate in Benghazi and even rejected hundreds of requests to do so

Due to the release of Hillary’s e-mails through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits the following information has come to light. On the night of the attack Hillary Clinton e-mailed her daughter Chelsea Clinton (who went by the alias Diane Reynolds) and called the Egyptian prime minister the day after. In these communications Clinton states both that the attack was carried out by an ‘al Qaeda like group’ and even said ‘We know the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack — not a protest’. This intelligence became known to the US within two hours of the attack.

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Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice on CBS Face the Nation – September 16th, 2012

Two days after the attack Clinton met with UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Rice was then specifically briefed on the Benghazi attack by the White House on the same day. After these briefings, Rice appeared on five Sunday morning talk-shows where she made the now thoroughly discredited claim that the Benghazi attack was not an act of terrorism but was borne out of a protest to an anti-Muslim YouTube video. Further release of emails have revealed that the administration originally tried to pin the blame on the “Pastor Jon” video before officially blaming the “Innocence of Muslims” video.

The true motives for the Benghazi attack are much simpler. The first being that the US was engaged in a clandestine operation that was trying to take away heavy weaponry from Al Qaeda-linked rebel groups in Libya and from Gaddafi’s arsenal and give them to Syrian rebels. The terrorists understood this plot and attacked the locations where the powerful MANPAD weapons were being collected and sent away so that they could keep them for themselves. 

The second motive was accidentally revealed by Paula Broadwell, a former military intelligence officer and mistress to former CIA director David Petreaus. Petreaus was overseeing  Operation Zero Footprint as CIA director at the time.

“Now I don’t know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex [to the consulate] had actually—had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back,” Broadwell, a former military intelligence officer, said in response to an audience question about Benghazi.

Perhaps it’s less surprising that a year after Broadwell’s statements, the FBI launched an investigation into Petreaus and he was was indicted on federal charges for mishandling classified information by giving notebooks filled with classified information to his mistress.

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Obama and Clinton walk to Rose Garden for Benghazi news conference – September 12, 2012

The true motives aside, whether or not Clinton lied to the family members of the victims is still a matter of debate as two family members have claimed Clinton did blame a YouTube video for the attack while four family members have claimed she did not.

But more importantly, as a result of the numerous Congressional investigations and State Department reviews into the Benghazi attacks, it’s estimated that there were approximately 600 “requests and concerns” for security upgrades from U.S. officials in Benghazi before the attack. The State Department has admitted to rejecting these requests. Congress has accused Clinton and the State Department of rejecting these requests due to being more interested in presenting a picture of an improving situation in Libya rather than ensuring the safety of its staff there – although the real story is that the State Department did not want to draw attention to the covert operation taking place there. 

When all the information regarding the CIA annex at Benghazi and the presence of MANPADs and heavy weaponry delivered to Syrian rebels through Turkey was revealed, Senator Rand Paul questioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the existence of the covert operation in the first Congressional Benghazi hearing in 2013, and Senator Mike Pompeo questioned Clinton at the October 2015 Benghazi hearing.

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Hillary Clinton questioned by Sen. Rand Paul at Benghazi hearing – 2013

Sen. Rand Paul: “My question is, is the US involved in any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?”

Hillary Clinton: “To Turkey? I’ll have to take that question for the record. That’s, nobody’s ever raised that with me.”

Sen. Rand Paul: “It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons. And what I’d like to know is, that annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries? Any countries, Turkey included?”

Hillary Clinton: “Well, Senator you’ll have to direct that question to the agency that ran the annex. And, I will see what information was available.”

Sen. Rand Paul: “You’re saying you don’t know?”

Hillary Clinton: “I do not know. I don’t have any information on that.”

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Rep. Pompeo questions Clinton during 2015 Benghazi hearing

Rep. Mike Pompeo: “Were you aware, or are you aware of any efforts by the U.S. government in Libya to provide any weapons, either directly or indirectly, or through a cutout to any militias or opposition to [former Libyan President Muammar] Gadhafi’s forces?”

Hillary Clinton: “That was a very long question, and I think the answer is no.”

Rep. Mike Pompeo:  “Were you aware or are you aware of any U.S. efforts by the U.S. government in Libya to provide any weapons, directly or indirectly, or through a cutout, to any Syrian rebels or militias or opposition to Syrian forces?”

Hillary Clinton: “No.”

Rep. Mike Pompeo: “Were you aware or are you aware of any efforts by the U.S. government in Libya to facilitate or support the provision of weapons to any opposition of Gadhafi’s forces, Libyan rebels or militias through a third party or country?”

Hillary Clinton: “No.”

Suffice it to say, Sen. Rand Paul was skeptical that Clinton truly did not know about the weapons transfer operation and has accused her of lying about it under oath.  Senator Pompeo also accused her of lying under oath about her knowledge of the covert mission and is considering pursuing perjury charges against Clinton. The perjury charges

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Fighters for the Free Syrian Army

There are now reportedly over 1,000 armed opposition groups against Assad – commanding over 100,000 men and women. But a lot of them have formed rivalries against each other. Combine that with multiple alliances, brigades, factions and subfactions that are constantly merging and disbanding and you have a battle field that’s a complete mess of confusion as to who is actually fighting who and with whom.

There have been many efforts to try and organize the hundreds armed opposition groups, especially by BBC, the Carnegie Endowment for Peace  and the Institute for the Study of War. However, I felt that too often they lost the forest for the trees and I came away more confused than I did enlightened. After hours of trying to piece together all the different rebel groups and their overlapping allegiances and rivalries, here is my attempt to organize the chaos in Syria.

To keep it as simple as possible, I put all the rebel groups against Assad’s government under three umbrella categories: Moderate, Jihadist or Kurdish. 


“Moderate” Opposition:       Jihadist Opposition       Kurdish Opposition: 

Free Syrian Army                       Jabhat al-Nusra          People’s Protection Units (YPG)

A&D Front                                  Ahrar ash-Sham         Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)

Syrian Turkmen Brigade          Jaysh al-Islam          


All three groups want to impose a different vision of a post-Assad Syria. Moderate forces would like to establish a free, secular government (we hope). Jihadist groups want to create an Islamist state governed by Sharia law. Kurdish forces just want a new government that is pro-Kurdish independence (remember the Kurds are an ethnic group that wants its own country, they are fighting for this slice of Syria as part of their new country.)

Though all the groups are in opposition to Assad, they are now brutally fighting amongst each other for territory  across Syria. Even groups with the same ideology are fighting internally with each other, creating more factions and rivalries. Personally, I’m amazed that these groups disagree enough that they’re losing sight of their larger shared goal which is to remove Assad from power. But from personal experience I know brown people have insane drama, so maybe I should be less surprised.

Joint operations rooms have blurred the lines between Moderate, Jihadist and Kurdish opposition groups. 

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Meeting of the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council (SRCC)

The battlefield in Syria is characterized by dozens of joint operations groups that have attempted to organize like-minded rebel factions together,  but all too often they include rebel groups ascribing to different religious and political ideologies. Many of the joint operations are united more by geography in trying to control a particular area or city of Syria, rather than their political end-goals. All of this has huge ramifications when foreign powers get involved in the war.

For example, the Syrian Revolutionary Command Council (SRCC) is probably the largest of these joint operations umbrellas consisting of an alliance between 72 different rebel groups. The SRCC features prominent moderate forces like the Free Syrian Army and the A&D Front but also includes groups with known jihadist leadership like Ahrar ash-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam. However, the SRCC doesn’t include two of Syria’s largest rebel factions – Al Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front nor any group from the Kurdish opposition.

Conversely you have the Army of Conquest, a joint operations room which coordinates with jihadist rebel groups exclusively – combining the ones part of the SRCC as well as the al-Nusra Front. But even the extremists have disagreements – jihadist rebel group Jund al-Asqa recently left the Army of Conquest because its other members did not support ISIS.

All of this is super confusing and there’s no easy way to simplify it because there is no one umbrella group that has all the rebels in Syria fighting under one banner. But the rifts within these joint operations highlight the second problem with the table above.

It should not surprise anyone that Ahrar al-Sham’s leadership “The founders of the movement are all former political prisoners who were detained in the infamous Sednaya prison near Damascus,” the source said.

When State Department spokesman Mark Toner was asked about Ahrar al-Sham and the fact that a representative of their organization allegedly visited the United States, he responded by saying “Ahrar al-Sham is not a designated foreign terrorist organization organization”

The Syrian opposition had three al-Qaida arms operating within it. Including one that also operated in Libya:

  • Jund al-Sham, which is made up of al-Qaida militants who are Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese;
  • Jund al-Islam, which in recent years merged with Ansar al-Islam, an extremist group of Sunni Iraqis operating under the al-Qaida banner and operating in Yemen and Libya;
  • Jund Ansar al-Allah, an al-Qaida group based in Gaza linked to Palestinian camps in Lebanon and Syria.

The Dutch delegation asked this 59-country parliament which of the specific “banner men” under the FSA they are funding. They refused to answer that question in this published report in Danish (Google will translate to English).

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Assad funding jihadists Remains true to this day

As most are aware, four Americans died on September 11th, 2012 at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya as a result of a terrorist attack. What the Obama administration did or did not know after the attack is the subject of much speculation. But the whole incident has become so politicized that even saying the word ‘Benghazi’ has become a running joke. Many believe this whole controversy is much ado about nothing and is simply a right-wing conspiracy.

Here are two uncomfortable truths about Benghazi.

1) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration misled the American public about the cause of the attack (probably because they didn’t want to admit a terrorist attack happened two months before Obama’s re-election against Mitt Romney.) 

2) The State Department failed to adequately provide security for the consulate in Benghazi and even rejected hundreds of requests to do so

Due to the release of Hillary’s e-mails through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits the following information has come to light. On the night of the attack Hillary Clinton e-mailed her daughter Chelsea Clinton (who went by the alias Diane Reynolds) and called the Egyptian prime minister the day after. In these communications Clinton states both that the attack was carried out by an ‘al Qaeda like group’ and even said ‘We know the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack — not a protest’. This intelligence became known to the US within two hours of the attack.

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US Ambassador Chris Stevens (deceased) being taken to hospital- Benghazi, Libya

Two days after the attack Clinton met with UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Rice was then specifically briefed on the Benghazi attack by the White House on the same day. After these briefings, Rice appeared on five Sunday morning talk-shows where she made the now thoroughly discredited claim that the Benghazi attack was not an act of terrorism but was borne out of a protest to an anti-Muslim YouTube video. Further release of emails have revealed that the administration originally tried to pin the blame on the “Pastor Jon” video before officially blaming the “Innocence of Muslims” video.

Whether or not Clinton lied to the family members of the victims is still a matter of debate as two family members have claimed Clinton did blame a YouTube video for the attack while four family members have claimed she did not.

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Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice on CBS Face the Nation – September 16th, 2012

But more importantly, as a result of the numerous Congressional investigations and State Department reviews into the Benghazi attacks, it’s estimated that there were approximately 600 “requests and concerns” for security upgrades from U.S. officials in Benghazi before the attack. The State Department has admitted to rejecting these requests. Congress has accused Clinton and the State Department of rejecting these requests due to being more interested in presenting a picture of an improving situation in Libya rather than ensuring the safety of its staff there.

Further evidence has to light from Clinton’s e-mails that the terrorist group behind the Benghazi attack, Ansar al-Sharia, was funded and armed by Saudi Arabia.

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Hillary Clinton questioned by Sen. Rand Paul at Benghazi hearing – 2013

Sen. Rand Paul: My question is, is the US involved in any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?

Hillary Clinton: To Turkey? I’ll have to take that question for the record. That’s, nobody’s ever raised that with me.

Sen. Rand Paul: It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons. And what I’d like to know is, that annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries? Any countries, Turkey included?

Hillary Clinton: Well, Senator you’ll have to direct that question to the agency that ran the annex. And, I will see what information was available.

Sen. Rand Paul: You’re saying you don’t know?

Hillary Clinton: I do not know. I don’t have any information on that.

This is also part of the reason that Jason Chaffetz’s referral to the FBI into whether Hillary Clinton lied under oath to Congress matters. Did the FBI find information in either the emails Hillary turned over or deleted ones they recovered which would prove that she was intimately aware of the joint CIA-State Department operation to ship weapons to the Syrian rebels through Benghazi?

August 2012 – Obama issues red-line for chemical weapons

Hezbollah fighting in Lebanon border

(2013) – Who’s Sarin? Chemical Warfare and Obama’s Red Line That Wasn’t 

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U.N. chemical weapons experts wearing gas masks carry samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus

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Martin Demsey – Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff

According to German intelligence, Turkey has been funding the Islamist Groups according to German intelligence  and the 2014 NIO scandal in Turkey, it became abundantly clear that Turkey was the primarily supplier of arms to the jihadist rebel groups in Syria.

Virtually everyone in the US, including Obama, wanted to support the opposition in Syria. But the question was whether the US should send Stinger missiles and rocket-propelled grenades, or offer moral support and humanitarian aid and stay out of the conflict.

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Turkish President Erdogan and Obama speak at the United Nations – November 2012

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Saudi Arabia tried to convince US after sarin attack

Saudi Arabia sending inmates to fight in Syria

Allies are funding ISIS

Uighers fighting in Syria for al Nusra

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Syrian Foreign Minister and lead negotiator – Walid Muallem

Assad funding jihad

or maybe not

Syria’s christian’s are being targetted

(2) Islamist Opposition – Kuwait (Umma Party), Qatar, Saudi Arabia

b) Pro-Assad Strategy: Stymie international diplomacy to remove Assad and arm now brokering cease-fire between rebels and government.  

Jaysh al-Islam is in the peace talks and used chemical weapons

Cease fire is falling apart

The Assad government has a well-practiced negotiating apparatus. It has relied on more or less the same individuals in every negotiation, including a core group made up of Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad, the veteran diplomat Ahmed Arnous, and a few others. They operate under the direct oversight of Assad himself and while the government cannot be accused of flexibility or creative diplomacy, it enjoys the great diplomatic benefit of being disciplined and on-message.

The same cannot be said of the opposition, which is a mess of fractious factions. It has never managed to produce a team of negotiators that represent even a thin sliver of the insurgency on the ground. When the last round of negotiations was held in January and February 2014, the so-called Geneva II talks, the opposition delegation had extremely limited support from armed rebels on the ground and none of them were on the negotiating team. Whenever the opposition in exile meets, foreign diplomats can be seen stalking the hotel lobbies, desperately trying to shepherd all of their Syrian clients in the same direction.

Iran sending Afghan refugees to fight in Syria

I want to pause for an important question

The second reason for the recent strikes against rebel areas is that the Assad regime faces two main foes in Syria: IS, against which the United States is leading an international coalition, and rebels backed by a variety of regional powers, most notably Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In that context, it is only logical that the regime would prefer eliminating an enemy that receives backing, weapons and funds from regional sources, and leave the task of weakening its primary enemy, IS, to the international coalition. Consequently, the regime’s presumed elimination of Syrian rebels would force the international community and the factions that back those rebels into allying themselves with Assad to finish off IS.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/06/syria-aleppo-regime-army-assad-support-isis-marea-tlalin.html#ixzz4AcUcbFha

The businessman cites Raqqa’s mobile phone service as an example of how there is commerce between the regime, Syrian businesses, and ISIS. The country’s two main mobile phone operators still work in Raqqa. “Both operators send engineers to ISIS-controlled areas to repair damages at the towers,” he says. In addition, there are regular shipments of food to Raqqa. “ISIS charges a small tax for all trucks bringing food into Raqqa [including the businessman’s trucks], and they give receipts stamped with the ISIS logo. It is all very well organized.”




(2014) – Syrian Rebel Group Goes Rouge, The Birth of ISIS

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Islamic State executes Egyptian prisoners

The introduction of the Islamic State into the Syrian conflict in the summer of 2014, three years after Syria’s civil war was underway, really threw a wrench into this whole fiasco.

I’m going to explore ISIS in greater depth in Part 2 of this series, but ISIS was essentially born out of a dispute between Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq, then called the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).

In February 2014, ISI claimed that Al Qaeda’s newly formed al-Nusra Front in Syria was part of ISI and tried to combine the two. al-Nusra and Al Qaeda’s senior leadership balked at the combination and ordered ISI to focus on Iraq and for al-Nusra to operate separately in Syria. ISI leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi refused and split with Al Qaeda. He then transformed ISI into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and has since blazed a bloodthirsty trail across Iraq into Syria.

After ISIS boldly declared a caliphate across its seized territory in June 2014 and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the “leader for Muslims everywhere”,  Al Qaeda disavowed the group and the two are now viciously battling for who leads the Islamic jihad movement.  Despite both Al Qaeda and ISIS preaching a similar message of global jihad and fighting to remove Bashar al-Assad from power, their methods and vision differ enough that the two are willing to go to war with each other. 

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Al Qaeda sees itself as the primary Islamic terror group

However, the introduction of ISIS substantially changed the power dynamics of the Syrian conflict. ISIS is so horrifyingly brutal and vicious to anyone that doesn’t submit to their rule that everyone in these joint operating rooms fighting Assad suddenly had a decision to to make – do we join ISIS and fight Assad or do we fight both ISIS and Assad? 

This is the quagmire in Syria that the world finds itself in. And it has all worked in favor of keeping Bashar al-Assad in power. Every major rebel group in Syria has rejected ISIS and their repressive rule and are now fighting a two-front war against Assad in the west and against ISIS in the east.

Declassified Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report from August, 12th 2012 

C. If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran). 
D. The deterioration of the situation has dire consequences on the Iraqi situation and are as follows:
—1 This creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi and will provide a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy, the dissenters. ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory. 
—2 REDACTED
—3 The renewing facilitation of terrorist elements from all over the Arab world entering into Iraqi arena. 

(2015) – Russia Enters the War and the Collapse of Syria’s Rebels

Russia Putin's Syria Show

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(2016) – How America Lost Its Allies and the War Against Assad

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Assad is aware his enemies are caught in between and has so far been tacitly helping ISIS defeat the other rebel groups. This includes regime air support for ISIS over Aleppo, buying their stolen oil, even maintaining their cell phone service. Assad’s calculation is that if his army and ISIS can eliminate the Syrian rebels, then it would force the international community that backs the rebels into now allying themselves with Assad to finish off ISIS. Assad and ISIS are “frenemies” right now until the Syrian rebels are defeated.

That’s why the options for the US look so bad right now. Moderate rebels groups are being pummeled on three fronts – Assad, ISIS and Al Qaeda jihadist rebel groups. And I haven’t even brought up the fourth front which was the six months of airstrikes starting in September 2015 carried out by Russia against Syrian rebel groups, both jihadist and moderate. So if the moderate rebels collapse, which it appears to be, which of these three do you want to assume control of Syria: Assad, ISIS or Al Qaeda? 

For Al Qaeda’s jihadist rebel groups in Syria, their primary goal is to defeat the moderate rebels and the Assad regime, not ISIS. “Once they … get rid of all the other groups, the al-Nusra Front can finally duke it out between them and ISIS for who’s the worst,” said Ali Soufan, the CEO of strategic-security firm The Soufan Group.

Let’s see how everyone’s doing right now.

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As we see, ISIS crossed over Iraq and has captured virtually the entire Eastern half of the Syria. The Kurdish opposition has secured much of the north and is battling with ISIS to keep it that way. The primary campaigns between Assad and the rebels are being waged in the western and southern half of Syria in Aleppo, Idlib and Homs. As ISIS continues to move westward across Syria, the rebel groups committed to opposing ISIS will have a difficult decision to make.

Assad even held an election three years later in 2014, where he ended up overwhelmingly winning re-election. The election was not recognized by the United States and the international community largely because many areas under rebel control did not even vote. However, an international delegation determined that the election was “free, fair and transparent”…weird.

These failed attempts at reform and reconciliation are why many believed there was no viable path forward in Syria without the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power.

CIA and Pentagon bicker as Russia kilsl rebels

As the conflict continues, increasing amounts of Syrians are displaced from their homes. As of October 2015, the United Nations estimates there are more than 4 million registered Syrian refugees, most going to Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan.

Another formerly glorious nation, Damascus was the highlight of cosmopolitan culture in the Middle East, lay in ruin.

50 killed in hospital strike during ceasefire

*Sidebar: Elizabeth O’Bagy – Wrongfully Disgraced Analyst?* 

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Elizabeth O’Bagy was a 26 year old Syria analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. She published this 2012 report detailing the landscape of all the different Syrian rebel factions and ultimately recommended that the US should more intensively arm specific moderate forces to counter the increasing jihadist influence in Syria. Her op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal was referenced by both Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator John McCain when they supported efforts to arm moderate Syrian rebels against Bashar al-Assad.

O’Bagy was later fired from the Institute for misrepresenting her credentials – she did not have a Ph. D when she claimed to (although she did hold a bachelors and Masters degree in Arabic from Georgetown). But more importantly, she failed to disclose her affiliation with the Syria Emergency Task Force – an organization that was lobbying Congress for the removal of President Assad. Her work was accused of being written by the same individuals pushing for arming the Syrian rebels, and started to be rejected in foreign policy circles.

I’m usually on the side of these things alleging conflict of interest and a misrepresentation of the truth, but I actually think O’Bagy was wrongly disgraced and fired from her position. Her report  is one of the most thorough and nuanced analyses of the battlefield in Syria, despite not having a Phd. I had written a lot of my own findings of the war before I found her report and ultimately agreed with most of its conclusions and recommendations. If she was being bought out, it’s very hard to tell from her work.

TIME profile on her said that at the young age of 26, O’Bagy had made over a half a dozen trips into rebel-held parts of Syria and met many of the leaders of the more than 1,000 brigades that make up Syria’s opposition. Her passage into these war-torn regions was organized by the Syrian Emergency Task Force.

“O’Bagy became the de facto expert on Syria because she was virtually the only person with first hand knowledge of what has become one of the murkiest of modern wars, seen by the West mostly in a collection of YouTube videos and frontline tweets.”

“The worst part for me,” she says, tearing up in the three-hour TIME interview, “is that because I messed up, because I made this mistake, really good people doing really good things in Syria are being ignored.”

Elizabeth O’Bagy was hired as an aide for John McCain after her firing.  When asked of her controversy, John McCain told The Arizona Republic that, “The points O’Bagy made have been corroborated by many others to me.”

If you’re out there reading this Elizabeth, I gotchu too

*2016 Election – What Should the United States Do Next in Syria*

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My recommendation: It’s clear that the United States cannot win the war to remove Bashar al-Assad’s government without supporting an extremist faction in the fight.

Daniel Byman six bad options for Syria

Putin asked Assad to step down in 2015

Turkey will stage false-flag attack to invade northern Syria

US and Russia reach ceasefire over Aleppo

No Fly Zone is bad

Hillary is the Candidate of the War Machine

Saudi-Russia alliance, different geopolitical world, Saudi invests 10 billion in russian projects

Clinton’s insane no fly zone, she gets advice from same consulting firm that advised Rubio and Cruz

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Al Nusra is a larger threat than ISIS

Inevitable jihadist war against Assad

Bahrain commiting ground troops to Syria

Hillary Clinton regime changer

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Walid Phares – Donald Trump foreign policy advisor

Walid Phares on fact finding mission for regim change

“By proclaiming itself specifically as a revolutionary movement fundamentally opposed to the Assad regime, Al Qaeda has sealed its future in part to that of Bashar al-Assad. Should one remain, the other will invariably survive also,” he said.

Yet other joint coalitions like the Euphrates Volcano consist of Free Syrian Army factions and Kurdish YPG units who are both fighting together, mostly against ISIS

The emergence of indigenous Salafi-jihadist groups such as Jabhat Nusra is far more dangerous to the long-term stability of the Syrian state than foreign jihadist groups because it represents a metamorphosis of a Salafi-jihadist ideology into a domestic platform that is able to achieve popular resonance.

One of the most important things I learned in the process of reading and researching about the Syrian war in general was that one’s opinion of it swung wildly based on where you were from.

One of the things I enjoy doing the most is reading the comments on articles I read because I feel like I come away with a different perspective many times. I don’t even remember which article I found these comments on but I copied them into the article because I felt like they provided a really refreshing take on both sides of the Syrian conflict. I don’t know who either of these people are at all. 

Phillip Davis on Facebook:

When, as they so often do, a dictatorship degenerates into chaos and civil war, the lion’s share of the blame must be placed on the dictatorial regime and its supporters, both domestic and foreign. When the Assad Regime was faced with peaceful protests, it chose to respond by unleashing goon squads and it’s not so secret police on the protesters and imprisoning protest leaders. When that failed, it unleashed the military. It mattered not one whit whether the protestors were Islamist extremists, advocates of a more open democratic society or merely Syrians fed up with the repression, corruption and poverty. It didn’t matter whether the protesters had outside support or not. All that mattered was that they challenged the Assad Regime’s absolute power to rule the peoples of Syria. So spare us the deflection of blame to Turkey, the US, Europe or anyone else; whatever their responsibility for the condition of Syria today pales in comparison to that of the Assad family, its Regime, the Alawites, Russia and Iran.

Jo Kleeb

Libya was the pin in the grenade for the African continent exploding over Europe. Syria is also the pin in the granade that, if left to fail, would explode the entire Middle East.

Yes, there has been much culpability from multiple directions for the situation in Syria. As convenient as it may have been to try and blame Assad for everything, this was just not the case, nor should it be seen that way.

If we are to blame anything, it is the degree to which we endorse violent overthrow of Governments as a means toward change. It is the degree to which neighbours can tolerate seeing the countries next to them developing towards greater democracy, stronger infrastructure, success as a tourist destination, etc, without having to come up with some pre-text to bomb them to bits.

It is the degree to which the biggest boys in the sandpit learn to respect the right of the smaller boys in the sandpit to not always follow their rules and do what they want them to do, but to demand the right to quietly do their own thing without harassment.

Protect religious minorities like Arab Christians 

The Islamist rebel groups have united under the umbrella group called the Army of Conquest. Al Qaeda is moving its senior most leaders from Pakistan to Syria now.

Fighting ISIS means removing Assad

Hillary Clinton supports the Kurds

Donald Trump infamously mixed up the “Quds” and “Kurds”, although to anyone who read the transcript of the exchange

Rand Paul defended Trump 

The Free Syrian Army remains today the principle rebel group fighting Assad and his loyalists

Reasons to Topple Assad:

(1) Chemical Weapons Use

Also used by Jaysh al-Islam 

Wash post summary

timeline

guide to syria

syria explained

FSA is led today by Salman Idris

Assad’s supporters

Kurds – FSA relations

Turkey-Syria Relations

Reasons to Topple Assad:

a. Humanitarian crises need to be addressed

  1. Dropping chemical weapons
    1.  Turkey did chem weapons
    2. Turkey
  2. Starvation tactics in Maddaya
  3. Refugee crisis

b. A new government would ideally be Democratic and peaceful

c. Retain dollar hegemony in the Middle East

Efforts by the International Community

Geneva I

Questions to Ask 2016 Presidential Candidates: 

1 – Will you continue to push for Bashar al-Assad’s removal from power?

2 – Will you continue to arm Syrian rebels like the Free Syrian Army? Would you stop helping the FSA if they form an alliance with Islamist rebel forces like the Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar ah-Sham or Jaysh-al Islam? 

////War #2 – The War to Re-Draw National Borders in the Middle East////

This war is the reason the conflict in Syria really has no end in sight. Let’s move past the debate over who specifically should govern Syria because the question that needs to be answered now is – should we fundamentally change the national borders of countries in the Middle East? 

There are two groups that say we should – a terrorist organization, ISIS, and an ethnic group, the Kurds. Most of the rest of the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey)…don’t want this to happen. I’ll let you know now, if the United States is serious about solving the endless recurring conflicts in the Middle East then it must push for the formation of a new, independent nation of Kurdistan. 

Why wasn’t there already a Kurdish state in the Middle East? Well let’s go back to how the the nations of the Middle East were created in the first place…because that will explain why the region has been fraught with ethnic tension and unrest for the past 100 years.

Quora

(1) European Powers Draw The Middle East After The Fall Of The Ottoman Empire in World War I

The Ottoman Empire ended up choosing Germany’s side in World War I which ended up being the losing side.

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Sir Mark Skyes (left) and Francois Georges-Picot (right)

Skyes-Picot Agreement – literally the most ridiculous map you’ve ever seen

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legacy of skyes picot

effect on lebanon

Skyes picot lingers over syria agreement

When borders are drawn this way, two bad things happen:

1) Single ethnic or religious groups are split apart into separate countries

2) Different and often unfriendly groups are shoved together and told to share resources, get along, and bond together over national pride for a just-made-up nation. This inevitably leads to one group taking power and oppressing the others – resulting in bloody rebellions, coups, and sectarian violence.

Iraq borders

For any of you readers considering creating a new, tense nation of ethnic and religious groups who don’t like each other, I’ve been researching this shit all month and I have advice for you:

Your new nation is like a bubbling soup inside a pressure cooker and it’s gonna spew itself all over the kitchen unless you have one critical thing that can keep things in order: a tight lid.

The nation version of a tight lid can be either a strong western occupying power or an iron fist dictator with a scary military machine at his whim—without one of these, your nation will fall apart.

Four largest ethnicities in the Middle East: Arab, Persian, Turk, Kurdish

(2) Kurdistan – The Forgotten Ethnicity of the Middle East

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Here is a map of the distribution of the Kurds across the Middle East. From the map you would see that this is how the Kurds are distributed:

50% are living in Turkey,
22% are living in Iraq
22% are living in Iran
5% are living in Syria

Kurdish is an official language only in IraqI mention language because you can only declare independence if you have an identity and a common language. This is why the Syrian, Turkish and Iranian regime have been denying the Kurds their language in order to destroy their identity.

Independent Kurdistan

Kurds now have declared independence but they are battlign with a new player on the scene for control of land – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Limits to Kurds against ISIS

Syria supporting PKK bc Turkey trying to topple Assad

What is US strategy for Kurdish independence? 

Shouldn’t support (12)

Should support (1)

Kurdish National Council doesn’t want independence, just decentralization

Kurds were left out of Geneva talks

(3) The Fall of Saddam Hussein and the Rise of the Islamic State (ISIS)

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In 2012, however, AQI — which renamed itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) after Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. strike in 2006 — began to bounce back. One of the factors that led to this resurgence was the Syrian uprising. In late summer 2011, ISI leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi dispatched operatives to Syria to set up a new jihadist organization. Among them was Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, the leader of what would become JN, which officially announced itself in late January 2012. By November 2012, Jawlani had built JN into one of the opposition’s best fighting forces, and locals viewed its members as fair arbiters when dealing with corruption and social services.

Due to these successes, Baghdadi changed the name of his group from ISI to ISIS in April 2013. He likely believed that it was acceptable to publicly announce what was already known: that JN and ISI were one and the same. Yet this did not sit well with Jawlani — he rebuffed the change and reaffirmed his allegiance to AQC chief Zawahiri, who later tried (and failed) to nullify Baghdadi’s power play. Amid the confusion, many Syrian jihadists left JN for ISIS, while Baghdadi himself moved from Iraq and established a base in Syria, according to the State Department. ISIS also began to attract a growing number of foreign fighters.

Col. Dempsey – I know Arab allies funding ISIS

ISIS explained

When and how did ISIS form

How the US created ISIS

Euphrates Volcano

US conspiracy theory

Baghdadi was in US-run prison

Baghdadi’s first appearance, dispute over whether it is actually him

America/Persian gulf created ISIS

ISIS purging its ranks of spies

“But the declaration issued by the Islamic State is void under sharia and has dangerous consequences for the Sunnis in Iraq and for the revolt in Syria,” he added.

He said the declaration, and the nomination of al-Baghdadi as caliph, by a group “known for its atrocities and radical views” fail to meet strict conditions dictated by sharia law.

As with any US strategy against an enemy, the first step is to be a part of creating the enemy in the first place. Have you ever heard someone say “oh you know the US like trains terrorists right?” and it’s just too strong of a statement on face for you to be on board with.

Well other than Ramzei Yousef and Osama bin Laden here’s the latest CIA trained operative who ended up becoming the military commander of the Islamic State – Abu Omar al Shishani previously known as Tarkhan Batirashvili.

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ISIS military commander Abu al Shishani

Batirashvili was born near Chechnya, a contested area between Russia and Georgia in Eastern Europe.  He had been a part of the Muslim Chechen separatist forces fighting for independence against Vladimir Putin’s Russia in the Second Chechen War . At age 20, Batirashvili joined the Georgian military in 2006 where he quickly became part of Georgia’s U.S.-trained special forces and was extensively trained by the CIA ahead of the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict.

“He was a perfect soldier from his first days, and everyone knew he was a star,” an unnamed former comrade who is still active in the Georgian military told McClatchy DC. “We were well trained by American special forces units, and he was the star pupil.”

At the end of the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, Batirashivili left the Georgian military but was arrested in 2010 for weapons possession, spending 16 months in prison. After his release, he disappeared in 2012 telling his father he was leaving for Istanbul, Turkey. He reappeared in Syria in 2013 commanding the jihadist Syrian rebel group Jaysh al Muhajireen, before he swore allegiance to ISIS.

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Batirashvili’s key battlefield success was orchestrating the capture of Syria’s Menagh Air Base in a joint operation with the US-supported Free Syrian Army. Batirashvili’s tactics to help capture the air base after two years of failed attempts, “helped to legitimize ISIS in militant circles, including in the North Caucasus,” said Michael Cecire, an analyst of extremism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “Batirashvili’s ability to demonstrate ISIS’ tactical prowess attracted fighters in droves from other factions and tipped the scales in foreign fighter flow and recruitment.” Ethnic Chechens, who are a majority Muslim, aren ow  thought to be one of the largest groups of foreign fighters in the Islamic State.

One of my old debate friends at Wake Forest, Bennett Clifford, has written extensively about the factors involved in foreign fighters leaving from Georgia and the Caucuses to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Batirashvili was reportedly killed on March 14th, 2016 in a US airstrike. But this is also the 5th time the US has reported him dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims he is still alive.

(4) What to Do Next

Actual US Strategy Against ISIS

Obama strategy vs ISIS in Iraq

US won’t bomb oil fields

Russia claims to be beating ISIS

iraq split up

ISIS has roots in Saudi Wahhabism

Kills prisoners with nitric acid 

What Should America Do Next?

America has re-invaded Iraq

NATO invasion of Syria

Watch out for  Muqtada al-Sadr

Muqtada al Sadr’s Revolution

Reasons for his return

Abadi needs to put up to make reforms

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Muqtada al-Sadr- Iraqi Shiite cleric

One year deadline 

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////War #3 – The War for Islamic Influence in the Middle East////

1) The Great Islamic Schism – Sunni vs Shi’ite

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The difference between Arab and Persian – they are united by the same religion but are vastly different culturally.

Modern day Iran, which was formerly Persia, used to practice Zoroastrianism. This is actually one of the world’s oldest religions, formed 3500 years ago. Many of popular religious themes like a “messiah”, “heaven” and “hell” originated here and went on to influence Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Onion even parodied western religions borrowing the “messiah” theme from Zoroastrianism

Muslim clerics have been partners in power in Saudi Arabia since the 18th century, when the king’s ancestor, Mohammed Ibn Saud, made a deal with Mohammed ibn-Abd al-Wahhab, a charismatic Muslim who led a fundamentalist religious revival in Arabia. From that moment to the present day, the House of Saud has ruled Arabia (as it has for most of the past 250 years) in concert with the leaders of the Wahhabi religious establishment.

Shiites feel discriminated across the Middle East because they’re a minority across Gulf Nations

This divide has existed for

Last three decades there’s been a politicization and militarlization of these religious issues. Three factors

  1. Failure of fair distribution of power and wealth in Middle East, any disequilibrium creates animosity
  2. Decline of ideological politicalism, Arab Nationalism and Marxism in the 60s, this gave rise to political Islam
  3. Islamic Revolution of 1979. Islamization of culture and politics

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Muslim conquest of Persia

Safavid conversion of Iran to Shia Islam

Islam in Iran

Shia Crescent

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Although there are myriad Shia subsects, modern Shia Islam has been divided into three main groupings: TwelversIsmailis and Zaidis, with Twelver Shia being the largest and most influential group among Shia

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Persian rugs

Wiki – Shia Sunni Relationship

Iran Strategy in Syria

Persia vs. Arab

Squo is sunni-shia war

Islamism

Syria = Saudia Arabia vs Iran

Saudi Arabia cuts aid to Lebanon?

Saudi is bad US ally in ME

Turkey is becoming Salafi now

Saudi Funding ISIS

What does Al Qaeda want?

3) Salafism/Wahhabism and the Modern Saudi Arabian State 

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How Britain married Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia

Evolution of terrorism

2) Sunni-Shite “Arc of Crisis” –  Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mosque Seizure and the Iranian Revolution of 1979

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How American and England orchestrated the coup of the Shah and implementation of the Ayatollah Khomeini

American involvement in Grand Mosque

Rex Cinema fire

Carter and Brezinski removed the Shah

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“I did not know it then—perhaps I did not want to know—but it is clear to me now that the Americans wanted me out. Clearly this is what the human rights advocates in the State Department wanted … What was I to make of the Administration’s sudden decision to call former Under Secretary of State George Ball to the White House as an adviser on Iran? … Ball was among those Americans who wanted to abandon me and ultimately my country” – Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi

Secret Oil Deal that sunk the shah

How the US put Khomeini in power

US overthrew the shah

US started islamic revolution

How Carter and Brezinski played the Islamic card

Muslims vs Muslims

Myth of Sunno-Shiite War

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Global Research: Anglo-American strategy in the region thus developed and changed at this time, as “There was this idea that the Islamic forces could be used against the Soviet Union. The theory was, there was an arc of crisis, and so an arc of Islam could be mobilized to contain the Soviets. It was a Brzezinski concept.”[37] Bilderberg member, Bernard Lewis, presented a British-American strategy to the Bilderberg Group during the 1979 meeting, which, “endorsed the radical Muslim Brotherhood movement behind Khomeini, in order to promote balkanization of the entire Muslim Near East along tribal and religious lines. Lewis argued that the West should encourage autonomous groups such as the Kurds, Armenians, Lebanese Maronites, Ethiopian Copts, Azerbaijani Turks, and so forth. The chaos would spread in what he termed an ‘Arc of Crisis,’ which would spill over into the Muslim regions of the Soviet Union.”[38] Since the Soviet Union was viewed as a secular and atheist regime, having oppressed religion within its sphere of influence, the rise of radical Islamic influence and governments in the Middle East and Central Asia would ensure that Soviet influence would not enter into the region, as radical Muslims would view the Soviets with more distrust than the Americans. The Anglo-Americans positioned themselves as the lesser of two evils.

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Jimmy Carter (left), Brezinski (center) and Vance (right)

“Arc of Crisis”

According to Indian author and political activist Sheel Bhadra Yajee in his 1985 book “CIA Operations Against the Third World”, he alleges a series of linkages between the CIA and Sikh extremists who assassinated India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi. This alleged plot from the CIA to prevent Indira Gandhi from escalating India’s conflicts with US-supported Pakistan continues to be the subject of debate amongst intelligence analysts.

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Bernard Lewis

Bernard Lewis plan for the Middle East

After Mosul fell to ISIS in 2014, the late Prince Saud al-Faisal who also served as the country’s foreign minister protested with US Secretary of State John Kerry, claiming that “Daesh [ISIS] is our [Sunni] response to your support for the Da’wa,” which stands as the Shia Islamist ruling party of Iraq, which is aligned with Iran.

This embarrassing report from Jeff Stein at the New York Times where senior members of the intelligence community, FBI and House Select Intelligence Committee did not the difference between Sunni’s and Shiite’s and which one nations like Iran

Understandably worry many Americans

As for what is happening among Iran’s Shi’ites, many — as seen in their failed uprising of 2009 — do not support their present terrorist government. It appears that a large number of Iranians would like nothing better than to have the Iranian regime replaced by one that could get along with the outside world. What Iranians say they most want is an end to their misery under this regime and an end of their country being thought of as a pariah state.

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George H. W. Bush – Director of CIA, 1976

Another effect noted by political scientist Gilles Kepel, is that the initial attraction of the Islamic Revolution to Sunnis as well as Shia, and Khomeini’s desire to export his revolution motivated the Saudi establishment to shore up its “religious legitimacy” with more strictness in religion (and with jihad in Afghanistan) to compete with Iran’s revolutionary ideology.[85] But doing so in Saudi meant a more anti-Shia policies because Saudi’s own native Sunni school of Islam is Wahhabism, which includes the prohibition of Shia Islam itself, as strict Wahhabis do not consider Shia to be Islamic. This new strictness was spread not only among Saudis in the kingdom but thousands of students and Saudi funded schools and international Islamist volunteers who came to training camps in Peshawar Pakistan in the 1980s to learn to fight jihad in Afghanistan and went home in the 1990s to fight jihad.

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Iranian hostage crisis, 1979

At first, the people of Iran did not accept Khomeini’s radical interpretation of Islam and Islamic theocracy. Millions of Iranians resisted, but thousands were executed without trials as a message to the rest of the society. The event that cemented Khomeini’s unjust rule over Iran was the Iranian-American hostage crisis, which Mansoor says was cunningly triggered by intelligence officials in Khomeini’s camp and Bush Sr.’s camp.

Symbolically, the hostage crisis was very powerful. It radicalized the Iranian people, immortalized Khomeini, made President Carter look weak, made President Reagan look strong, and made the American people hate Iran.

Reagan had nothing to do with hostage crisis 

“I don’t think they were scared into the release,” Houghton said. “In all likelihood, they released the hostages because they needed the sanctions we’d placed on them lifted so they could finance their war with Iraq.”

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US supported Iraq in Iran-Iraq war, from NY Times

This has been described as unity of traditionalists in the face of the twin threats of “secularism and colonialism.”

The Suni-Shiite divisions being sown today is a contemporary iteration of medieval era wars between the Sunni Ottoman empire and the Shia Safavid empire for control over Arab territories. With present-day Turkey joining hands with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan to fuel the Sunni insurgency against Assad, there is a lingering symbolism of the bloody past that pitted Muslim against Muslim.

4) The Cold War Comes to Afghanistan and the Creation of Al Qaeda

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This is rise of radical Islam was really fueled when the United States inserted itself into a rivalry that went back to the 19th century battle between British Empire and Russian Empire for control of Central Asia. These imperial wars for control of Afghanistan, Persia and various Central Asian states has been called “The Great Game“.

US action in Afghanistan is now called Great Game II

The New Jackal book alleges US funded through Mercy International charity , supported by this army report

“The Shia’s are just as much our enemies as the Americans are”

America is just the newest in a long series of enemies of radical Islam.

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Al Qaeda emerged out of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s. As the Soviets prepared to withdraw, Osama Bin Laden and a few of his close associates—high on their perceived victory over the mighty Soviet Union—decided to capitalize on the network they had built to take jihad global. Bin Laden’s vision was to create a vanguard of elite fighters who could lead the global jihad project and bring together the hundreds of small jihadist groups struggling, often feebly, against their own regimes under a single umbrella. By the mid-1990s, he wanted to reorient the movement as a whole, focusing it on what he saw as the bigger enemy underwriting all these corrupt local regimes: the United States. For local jihadists, pledging allegiance to Bin Laden and adopting the Al Qaeda brand meant obtaining access to a wide range of assets: money, weapons, logistical support, expertise, and, of course, training—Al Qaeda training camps were the Ivy Leagues of jihadist education.

While many Muslims adapted to the fast-paced changes common to Western industrialization and modernization, some Muslims rejected them. Instead, they created a rigid ideology imbedded in the traditional values and laws of the Koran. This is the phenomenon known today as Islamic fundamentalism, or Islamism.

Islamism came to be seen as a struggle to return to the glorious days when Islam reigned supreme. It represents a yearning for the “pure” Islam as practiced by the prophet. Not unlike the American Amish, the movement rejects much that is innovative. Islamists, however, take the rejection of modernity a step further. They perceive those who have introduced these innovations (the West) as its enemy.

a bitter hatred for Western ideas, including capitalism, individualism, and consumerism. It rejects the West and much that it has to offer (with the exception of weapons, medicines, and other useful technologies

“Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are aware of the enemies’ conspiracies. We decided to take measures to confront such plots. Hopefully, this will strengthen Muslim countries against oppressive pressure by the imperialist front.” – Ahmadinajad

How Bush + Saudi created Al Qaeda through Pakistan

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Ronald Reagan meets with Afghan Mujahideen Commanders – 1985

America created Osama Bin Laden

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Osama bin Laden with CNN Producer Peter Bergen – 1997

Bill Clinton passed on killing Bin Laden

7 times Clinton could have gotten bin Laden

1979 Grand Mosque seizure + CIA involvement

Being anti-women

Pakistan helpd created the Taliban

Appeal of Sharia Law

ISIS’s roots in Islam

ISIS vs Al Qaeda

Moderate Muslims respond

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CIA funding terrorism through Mercy International charity

4) Sectarian Flames Reawaken- America’s War on Terror Comes to Iraq

Iraq After the Fall of Saddam Hussein

The sectarian fire lit by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has not only not subsided there, but also taken a more advanced and destructive avatar in Syria

“The fall of the House of Assad could well ignite a sectarian war between the Shiites and the majority Sunnis of the region drawing in Iran, which, in the view of Israeli commanders would not be a bad thing for Israel and its Western allies” Sidney Blumental wrote in a 2012 email to Hillary Clinton.

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Vocabulary of Sectarianism in Syria

Syria is arc of crisis

“There is neither a Shiite nor a Sunni crescent. We have an Islamic moon. We, Muslims, are in a world where we must be united,” the Iranian president said. “Does the destruction of Syria help strengthen Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or other countries? Is anyone pleased by Syria’s destruction, apart from Israel?”

4) The Crisis of Political Islam – Turkey, ISIS etc 

Crisis of Political Islam

5) America’s War with Islam, I mean, Terror

More liberal Islamists are willing to accept the principle that governments should be elected in free competitive elections and that a degree of political pluralism is desirable, but they insist that a true separation of state and religion is unacceptable, and that laws made by elected parliaments cannot contradict Islamic law. Even Arab intellectuals who personally embrace Western values caution about trying to impose Western models on Arab societies.

Muslim clerics debate about legality of wife beating

The case against integrating Islamic law into western law

Women’s rights under sharia

On September 16, 2001, George W. Bush referred to the war in Afghanistan as a Crusade: “This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while. And the American people must be patient. I’m going to be patient.” [48]

In Britain, chrisitians joined iraq war to kill muslims

NSA Snowden, FBI-Apple encryption

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I had a long compromise with myself about which picture from the Abu Ghraib torture files I would show in this article. There were so many horrifyingly graphic photos of what was done by American soldiers

so many things I had not even conceived of that I cou

Christian war

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Edward Snowden – NSA whistleblower
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Apple vs. FBI legal battle over encryption

Forthcoming Books for people really serious about understanding Islam, Islamic terrorism and the Middle East

Even Google is helping the US government for Syrian regime change

“Whether it is being just a company or ‘more than just a company,’ Google’s geopolitical aspirations are firmly enmeshed within the foreign-policy agenda of the world’s largest superpower.” – Julian Assange

One thing I found myself asking when I was younger was…what does Al Qaeda even want? 

America has basically been war with Al Qaeda my entire life – I was 7 years old when 9/11 happened in 2001. And throughout

According to al-Banna, contemporary Islam had lost its social dominance, because most Muslims had been corrupted by Western influences. Sharia law based on the Qur’an and theSunnah were seen as laws passed down by God that should be applied to all parts of life, including the organization of the government and the handling of everyday problems.[58]

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A rather ironic stance given the stashes of pornography found in Osama bin Laden’s compound.

According to Fouad Hussein, a Jordanian journalist and author who has spent time in prison with Al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda’s strategy plan consists of 7 phases and is similar to the plan described in Al Qaeda’s Strategy to the year 2020. These findings are from a book Hussein wrote in 2005, so read everything knowing that this is what Al Qaeda has said what its plan is for the past decade.

1) The Awakening. This phase was supposed to last from 2001 to 2003. The goal of the phase is to provoke the United States to attack a Muslim country by executing an attack on US soil that kills many civilians.

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Al Qaeda attacks the World Trade Center – 2001

2) Opening Eyes This phase was supposed to last from 2003 to 2006. The goal of this phase was to recruit young men to the cause and to transform the al-Qaeda group into a movement. Iraq was supposed to become the center of all operations with financial and military support for bases in other states.

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US Soldiers topple statue of Saddam Hussein in Iraq – 2003

3) Arising and Standing up, was supposed to last from 2007 to 2010. In this phase, al-Qaeda wanted to execute additional attacks and focus their attention on Syria. Hussein believed that other countries in the Arabian Peninsula were also in danger.

4) In the fourth phase, al-Qaeda expected a steady growth among their ranks and territories due to the declining power of the regimes in the Arabian Peninsula. The main focus of attack in this phase was supposed to be on oil suppliers and Cyberterrorism, targeting the US economy and military infrastructure.

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Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen – 2011

5) The fifth phase is the declaration of an Islamic Caliphate, which was projected between 2013 and 2016. In this phase, al-Qaeda expected the resistance from Israel to be heavily reduced.

6) The sixth phase is described as the declaration of an “Islamic Army” and a “fight between believers and non-believers”, also called “total confrontation”.

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ISIS declares an Islamic caliphate – June 2014

7) Definitive Victory, the seventh and last phase is projected to be completed by 2020. The US economy will finally collapse by the year 2020, under the strain of multiple engagements in numerous places, making the worldwide economic system, which is dependent on the U.S., also collapse. This will lead to global political instability, which in turn leads to a global jihad led by al-Qaeda. A Wahhabi Caliphate will then be installed across the world, following the collapse of the U.S. and the rest of the Western world countries. The world will be “beaten down” by the Islamic Army. According to the 7 phase strategy, the war isn’t projected to last longer than 2 years.

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Wall Street Exchange trading floor – 2008

May 10th, 2016 – Blind Spot: America’s Response to Radicalism in the Middle East

June 7th, 2016 – Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World

////War #4 – The War for American Influence in the Middle East////

“There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know” – Harry Truman

I debated with myself about getting into the history, but in order to really understand what the United States is doing in Syria we need to understand the history of America’s relationship with the Middle East. While it may take a second to the present day, I think you’ll notice….patterns of behavior along the way. There are three countries in particular we need to look at before we get to Syria: Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya.

So how did the United States first get involved in the Middle East?

The year was 1971…

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Richard Nixon and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia

(1) America’s Connection to Saudi Arabia – The Formation of the “Petrodollar”

In the heat of Vietnam War protests, the opening of Disney World and the release of Led Zeppelin IV another significant event was happening in 1971 – Richard Nixon re-wrote the global financial system by ending the convertibility of dollars to gold.

Up till 1971, any central bank with dollar bills could go to the US Treasury and exchange $35 in cash for an ounce of gold. This was the system agreed upon by world powers at the Bretton-Woods conference at the end of World War II.

In 1944 seeing that the victory of the Allied forces was inevitable, forty-four countries met in Bretton-Woods, New Hampshire to devise a scheme to regulate the international financial order after the war would end. To promote the ease of international trade and to help fund postwar reconstruction, they decided that the American dollar would serve as the world’s reserve currency. 

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What is a reserve currency? This is the currency that international commodities are priced in and the currency used by countries to settle debts with each other.

For example, if Mexico wanted to buy a car from Japan then it would pay for it in dollars rather than having to exchange their money from pesos to yen to buy Japanese goods. You may be thinking – well don’t they still have to exchange pesos to dollars to make the purchase? Yes they would, but this is why foreign countries try and hold large amounts of dollars in reserve so they always have cash on hand to make international purchases. Precisely why it’s called the “reserve currency”.

After placing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, the nations at Bretton-Woods agreed to tie the dollar’s value to a set amount of gold at a fixed exchanged rate – $35 for an ounce of gold. This created a stable platform for the global economy because now the exchange rates for all currencies had a fixed value in terms of gold. The US Treasury had close to 2/3rds of the world’s gold supply at the time so this was an easy promise for the US to keep if someone wanted to cash in dollars for gold.

The Bretton-Woods conference also created the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) both of which are now under the umbrella of the World Bank Group.

If you’re wondering where Russia was during all of this given that they were also one of the Allied powers (and a major reason we even won World War II), they were actually in attendance at Bretton-Woods. But they declined to ratify the final agreements, charging that the institutions created were “branches of Wall Street”. 

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–Quick  (but important) aside —

The dollar being the international reserve currency is an incredibly important part of our global financial system and deserves an entirely separate article written about it. But one fundamental aspect of it is that its created a conflict-of-interest for the United States which has been termed the Triffin dilemma. (Good video on it here)

The US has an incentive to run massive trade deficits with other countries because they are always demanding more US dollars to hold in reserve – it’s the only way they can buy major goods internationally. Thus America is forced to spend more dollars than it takes in, in order to keep more dollars in circulation (if you’ve heard the word ‘liquidity‘ before). So to keep the global financial system moving, America has to run a huge deficit, which in turn creates other problems for the dollar…thus the dilemma.

But this set up is also why America can import goods so cheaply! Everything is priced in dollars and we don’t need to exchange our currency/hold reserves like other countries do. To anyone who’s travelled abroad you may have noticed it’s actually more expensive to buy things in Europe and even in parts of Asia than it would be in America. We’re basically one of the cheapest places to buy electronics in the world.

After the 2008 financial crisis the People’s Bank of China in fact explicitly named the Triffin dilemma as the root cause of the economic collapse because it led to a hoarding of cash causing the Global Savings glut. 

China argues for a gradual move away from the U.S. dollar and towards the use of IMF special drawing rights (SDRs) as a global reserve currency. British economist John Maynard Keynes actually lobbied for this system the whole time at Bretton-Woods in 1944 but was overruled by the Americans during negotiations.

The large global trade deals we see passed in Congress like NAFTA and the TPP (ratified 3 months ago) are at their core, vehicles to maintain the dollar as the principal means of trade around the world. Thus continuing to fulfill the artificial demand for dollars only because it’s the reserve currency…we’re not really an export economy anymore so people don’t need to buy things from us.

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Bretton-Woods Conference in New Hampshire – 1944

Okay great, so what does any of this have to do with Saudi Arabia?

Remember I delved into all of this because Nixon eliminated the Bretton Woods dollars-for-gold system in 1971. Instead, he reached an agreement with Saudi Arabia to tie the value of the dollar to a different commodity – the price of oil. 

Before we get there, why did Nixon find this necessary to do this in the first place?

With the United States spending a massive amount of money on the war in Vietnam along with a ballooning trade deficit, it became clear to other countries that the US was printing more currency than it had redeemable in gold. In economic terms it means they thought the dollar was “overvalued” and started withdrawing gold for dollars. This set off a run on the dollar with everyone dumping the dollar for gold. This climaxed in 1971 when France attempted to withdraw its gold and Nixon refused.

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Gold bullion at Fort Knox, Tennessee

In August 1971, Nixon made a televised speech which came to be known as the “Nixon Shock

“I have directed the Secretary of the Treasury to take the action necessary to defend the dollar against the speculators. I have directed Secretary Connolly to suspend temporarily the convertibility of the dollar into gold or other reserve assets, except in amounts and conditions determined to be in the interest of monetary stability and in the best interest of United States.”

This was not a temporary suspension as Nixon claimed, but rather a permanent default. For the nations of the world who entrusted the United States with their gold, this was outright theft.  Thus marked the end of the nearly 30 year Bretton-Woods financial system – the international reserve currency was no longer tied to a fixed asset. Overnight, the US dollar transformed into what is called “fiat currency” – intrinsically valueless money used as currency because of government decree. Since other major currencies were convertible only into dollars, they too became fiat money.

Now that the dollar was no longer backed by any tangible good, the US Federal Reserve and American banking system was free to print money out of thin air. Which they gladly did instead of taking steps to ease the US trade deficit which would require the US to stop printing money.  However, the ability to print money freely comes with a danger –  each new printed dollar devalues the existing money supply already in circulation, resulting in inflation. And that’s precisely what happened two years after Nixon’s decree. In 1973, the US entered a devastating period of “stagflation” where both inflation AND unemployment was high causing the deepest recession since the Great Depression. To keep the American economy afloat there needed to be a new demand for dollars to counterbalance the newly issued currency.

Enter the world’s first global oil crisis. 

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Lines to get gas – Fall 1973

The oil embargo of 1973 is one of the defining events of world history and has guided American foreign policy in the Middle East since. The infamous event when OPEC spiked oil prices from around $3/gallon to over $12/gallon created economic shockwaves in America and around the world. Oil is perhaps the most important shared commodity in the world other than water. Without oil not only is there no transportation anywhere but hundreds of other daily-use products. We are literally surrounded by products made from oil.

“A century ago, petroleum – what we call oil – was just an obscure commodity; today it is almost as vital to human existence as water”

**If you want to know why petroleum is so valuable for humans, it’s because it mostly contains “hydrocarbons” which are just molecules with hydrogen-carbon bonds. This bond stores a great deal of chemical energy and when a hydrocarbon is burned, these bonds break apart forming carbon dioxide and water which reacts with oxygen to create a fire. There’re also a bunch of other properties like melting point, viscosity, stability etc which make it good for plastics and other products, but I’m drifting..

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The oil embargo prompted a global recession so severe that the UK even instituted a three-day work week and speed limits on US highways were reduced from 75 mph to 55 mph in order to get drivers to conserve gas. For the developing world, the effect of the embargo was staggering – in order to purchase more expensive oil, Asian and African countries went into a colossal debt that affected their development for years to come.

While it has been traditionally thought that the oil squeeze was a punishment from Saudi Arabia and OPEC for America supporting Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur Warthe embargo was actually a very deliberate calculation made by the American banking system and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to create demand for the faltering US dollar. 

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Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 1973-1977

Due it’s importance to the global economy, oil had principally been bought and sold in the global reserve currency. But Nixon’s abrupt end to the dollars-for-gold exchange system set off a massive depreciation in the dollar’s value and oil-producing countries began suggesting a move away from the unstable dollar as the reserve currency. This meant countries would now try to buy and sell oil outside of US dollars. 

The price of oil rarely wavered. From 1947 to 1967, the dollar price of oil had risen by less than two percent per year.  But in 1973, the United States led by Henry Kissinger orchestrated the OPEC price increase through Shah Pahlavi, the leader of Iran. The 400% increase in oil prices left the world scrambling to quickly accumulate more US dollars to afford the more expensive oil – all discussion of moving away from the dollar was tabled. 

“Why are you against the increase in the price of oil? That is what they want. Ask Henry Kissinger—he is the one who wants a higher price.” – Reza Shah Pahlavi to Saudi oil minister Sheikh Yaki Yamani, 1973

Once Kissinger ensured a sharp global demand for dollars, he went to Saudi Arabia with a proposal to lock in this demand for decades to come – the “petrodollar”. In 1974, Kissinger met with the Saudi Kingdom’s ruling House of Saud to offer a largely unpublicized four-part deal called the US-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation.

—The U.S. government would do the follow things— 

(1) Provide military protection for Saudi Arabia from Israel and any other Middle Eastern state, such as Shiite Iran, that might attempt to destabilize the Sunni kingdom.

(2) Sell the Saudis any weapons they needed. 

(3) Provide technical assistance in building infrastructure and a modern state

(4) Secure the Saud family’s place as rulers of the country indefinitely.

—In return, Saudi Arabia would do the following:—

(1) They would make all oil sales in US dollars only.

(2) They would invest their surplus oil proceeds in U.S. Treasuries.

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Henry Kissinger meeting with Saudi King Faisal – 1974

This was a perfect arrangement for both parties.

Saudi Arabia is a sparsely populated country with an incredible amount of wealth. It sits in a dangerous neighborhood in the Middle East surrounded by powerful nations where religious squabbles frequently turn violent. Thus it welcomed unconditional protection from one of the world’s preeminent militaries and America’s help in modernizing their country.

This is why many who come to America from Saudi Arabia may feel this way –

“If you were a U.S. businessperson doing business in Saudi Arabia, the apparatus there would be entirely familiar to you because it looks and operates very much like its counterpart agencies in the U.S.”….”Arriving in Saudi Arabia, going through customs and immigration, is just like arriving in the U.S.” The Saudi banking system, financial markets and many other governmental practices and institutions, all were shaped or influenced by advisers hired under the Joint Commission.

The United States on the other hand was able to accomplish two critical goals at once that allowed it to ascend as the world’s pre-eminent power over the last 40 years: it was able to sustain a new demand for the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency AND was able to secure a vital energy resource more cheaply than the rest of the world. 

If you’re a country that doesn’t produce oil, then you have to buy it. And if you’re buying it on the world market then you’re probably getting it from one of the OPEC nations. After Kissinger’s visit, Saudi Arabia and shortly thereafter all OPEC nations, would only sell you oil in dollars indefinitelyOther countries now had no choice but to buy and hold large reserves of unstable dollars because they would not be able to purchase oil without dollars. As a result of this agreement, the dollar then became the only medium in which energy exchange could be transacted. This underpinned its reserve currency status through the need for foreign governments to hold dollars; recirculated the dollar costs of oil back into the U.S. financial system and — crucially — made the dollar effectively convertible into barrels of oil. The dollar was moved from a gold standard onto a crude oil standard. Thus the creation of the “petrodollar” – a vehicle to guarantee a constant demand for dollars whose value was linked to oil through the OPEC pricing standards.

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But even more so, if you’re an oil producing nation then any surpluses generated from selling oil had to be invested back into the United States by buying US Treasury bonds. This was the second term of the agreement and was a means to create value for the dollar that was demanded by the large financial institutions working with Kissinger. The forced investment of surplus oil profits into the US banking system came to be known as “petrodollar recycling“. However, these investments have also acted as “hostage capital“. In the event of a political conflict between the United States and an oil-exporting nation, the US can confiscate or freeze these invested assets. Despite its obvious betrayal of free-market principles, the US used this tactic twice in the 1980s against Iranian and Libyan assets, in the 90’s against Iraq and Kuwait and again in 2003 against Iraq.

The most important lesson in all of this, however, is the importance of the institution that controls the US dollar in shaping American foreign policy – the US Federal Reserve.

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US Federal Reserve Bank, Washington DC

The inflow of dollars made from every sale of oil over the past 40 years has allowed the US to finance the world’s largest military. But above all, Kissinger’s petrodollar scheme established perhaps the most vital pillar in American global power more than its military strength – dollar hegemony. The ability to shape the world order as the backbone of the global economy.

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Now with this new alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia held together by the petrodollar system, the oil embargo ended. America’s hold on the global financial system and its need for cheap, abundant energy would not be threatened again.  More importantly, the shock of the oil embargo on the American public would help the US government justify future interventions as a means to prevent such an energy crisis from ever happening again.

As such, since the oil embargo and Saudi Arabian-US agreement there has been an interesting trend amongst oil-producing nations who have tried to move away from the petrodollar system.


(2) The Invasion of Iraq and (Neo) Conservative Interventionism – Intervening to Explicitly Expand American Interests

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After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ensuing collapse of the Soviet Union, America arose as the sole global power. It had no rival.

From this shift in the balance of power in the world, the neo-conservative (“neocon”) ideology began to gain traction in foreign policy circles. Neoconservatives advocate for the promotion of democracy and American national interest in global affairs – including by means of military force.

This ideology believes that authoritarian states are inherently destabilizing and dangerous, and that it is both a moral good and a strategic necessity for America to replace those dictatorships with democracy. They see America’s role to be the world’s unquestioned moral and military leader.

Despite the name, the neoconservative ideology actually has its roots with American socialists in the 1960’s who opposed Soviet communism (socialism vs communism). They criticized the liberal anti-war activism against Vietnam as non-interventionist and anti-American when communism was threatening to spread.  Thus, they came to be known as “neo” or “new” conservatives.

**This is important because neoconservatism is a fundamentally liberal idea formed by Democrats who viewed non-interventionism as a failure of the US to promote liberal ideals globally. As a result, when it comes to foreign policy this ideology continues to permeate BOTH political parties** 

Invincible Spirit Exercise In East Sea

One of the defining works of the neoconservative ideology was a report published by a conservative think-tank called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). They published a report in 2000 called “Rebuilding America’s Defenses:  Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century

The report contained key tenets of the neoconservative ideology like:

“[What we require is] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.

The report also contained some oddly prophetic sections….like this blurb under the chapter titled “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”

Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor. 

And this section under the chapter titled “Repositioning Today’s Force”

After eight years of no-fly-zone operations, there is little reason to anticipate that the U.S. air presence in the region should diminish significantly as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power. Although Saudi domestic sensibilities demand that the forces based in the Kingdom nominally remain rotational forces, it has become apparent that this is now a semi-permanent mission. From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene. Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region.

A completely reasonable question after reading these passages would be – Why we are talking about the possibility of a catastrophic new Pearl Harbor-like attack and Saddam Hussein being removed from power in the year 2000? 

These may have been legitimate academic questions at the time, especially given Bush Sr’s Gulf War in the 90s. But to many, these statements eerily foreshadowed the events that would follow one year after George W. Bush assumed office. The World Trade Center was attacked in 2001 and the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Why does this matter at all? Several key authors of this report turned up in high places in the Bush administration.

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Paul Wolfowitz – #2 man at The Pentagon

Paul Wolfowitz – Deputy Defense Secretary under Donald Rumsfeld (later President of the World Bank, and interestingly enough a Steering Committee member of the Bilderberg Group)

John Bolton – Undersecretary of State and Ambassador to the United Nations

Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby – Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney

Eliot Cohen – Counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Michael Vickers – Assistant Secretary of Defense

Stephen Cambone – Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence

The report even self-admittedly describes itself as “building upon the defense strategy outlined by the Cheney Defense Department in the waning days of the Bush Administration.” (Dick Cheney was the Defense Secretary in Bush Sr’s administration)

But imagine these connections being made in real-time in 2002-2003, leading up to the decision to invade Iraq.

You have an academic report published from one of the highest profile research think-tanks in America which: outlines a strategy for US military dominance globally, openly postulates a new Pearl Harbor event, and considers the possibility of removing Saddam Hussein from power. Then half of the authors who wrote that report went to go work in the White House and Pentagon the next year where all of those things happened.  

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Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, VP Cheney and President Bush

When you string all those events together, it seems less surprising why the Bush administration made the decisions it did.

These neo-conservative minds, and Wolfowitz in particular, were inspired by a book from Laurie Mylroie titled “The War Against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center Attacks: A Study of Revenge”.  

The book made a litany of alleged linkages between Saddam’s Iraqi intelligence and the 9/11 hijackers as well as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (yeah there was two…). Her claims were refuted by counter-terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Daniel Benjamin who also said the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies looked extensively into her claims and did not corroborate them. I’ve written about the role of the Saudi Arabian government in supporting the 9/11 hijackers here. Many have said the neo-conservative “obsession” with Mylroie’s work was not born out of a true belief in her claims but rather that it fueled the narrative they pushed to create national support for the invasion of Iraq.

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The same individuals who earnestly supported Mylroie’s work also supported a series of articles from now disgraced New York Times reporter Judith Miller about the presence of WMD materials in Iraq.

Suffice it to say the two reasons American’s were told why we were invading Iraq – that Saddam Hussein was in any way connected to the 9/11 plot and/or harbored weapons of mass destruction – have been widely discredited as faulty information, even by our own government

Let’s also take a brief moment to see which of our 2016 presidential candidates voted for this war and which did not when given all the same information. 

Many of these leading neo-conservatives (including Mylroie) currently hold positions at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a public policy think tank in DC. Almost all worked at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)….an organization Ted Cruz called “a pit of vipers” (despite his wife having worked there?). Many were also a part of Jeb Bush’s foreign policy team (shocking).

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Sec of State Colin Powell’s now discredited WMD speech at the UN

Digression for an anecdote –

I actually have one distinct memory from when I was like 10 or 11 when I saw my first anti-war protest. I was visiting New York or Pennsylvania (I think..) and my family happened upon a protest. When we stopped to watch this small group of people protesting, one of the protesters handed me a case with two CDs (with badly sharpie’d titles) and said we should look into 9/11 and Iraq. And then he said all the answers were on there if we wanted to know what happened.

I don’t know how I remember this event because I never ended up seeing what was on the CDs, but I think it stuck in my mind because I remember being stunned that there were actually people who thought we needed to question something like 9/11 or invading Iraq. I mean duh, I was in the 6th grade.

But the most disturbing revelation in all my research was seeing that the neocon imagination for US global dominance was never intended to end with Iraq.

In a memoir written by 4-star General Wesley Clark, he tells a story of speaking with a “senior general” at the Pentagon ten days after the 9/11 attack. The general told him, “We’re going to attack Iraq. The decision has basically been made.

Six weeks later, Clark returned to Washington to see the same general and inquired whether the plan to strike Iraq was still under consideration. This was the general’s response:

“‘Oh, it’s worse than that,’ he said, holding up a memo on his desk. ‘Here’s the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense outlining the strategy. We’re going to take out seven countries in five years.”

These are the seven countries that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld allegedly outlined back in 2001 to “take out”: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Iran

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Let’s pretend for a moment that this entire story is made up and there was no such memo ever written. How are these seven countries doing today?

Iraq – Invaded in 2003

Libya – Invaded in 2011

Syria – Global proxy war since 2011

Lebanon – War with Israel in 2006 and embroiled in Syrian conflict

Somalia – Failed state until 2015

Sudan – Fragmented into two countries creating South Sudan in 2011

Iran – Under global sanctions until the nuclear deal with the United States in 2015

Awesome… 

But other than being in the Middle East/North Africa and having been in a near constant state turmoil, observers have noted that these 7 countries have one particular thing in common – none are members of the Bank for International Settlements. 

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Bank for International Settlements (BIS) – Bazel, Switzerland

The Bank for International Settlements is an international financial institution

BIS in Middle East

Does the invasion of Iraq have anything to do with the “petrodollar” system?

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Iraq was the only place that would survive Peak Oil

In 1988 he faced economic-reconstruction costs of $230 billion in the aftermath of his war with Iran; Iraq’s annual oil revenues of $13 billion did not even cover current expenditures

Breakout investigative book revealing how the US armed Iraq covertly through the CIA in the Iran-Iraq War from 1980-1988.

America supported Saddam using chemical weapons

As Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz commented, “It was inconceivable that a regime, such as that in Kuwait, could risk engaging in a conspiracy of such magnitude against a large, strong country such as Iraq, if it were not being supported and protected by a great power; and that power was the United States.”

Why did America engage in the Gulf War?

Saddam Hussein (Iraq): Removed from power and killed

Invading Iraq – AJC

Iraq and petrodollar

Switched from dollars to euros

These people disagree agree this was the reason

–Sidebar finding–

Of all the terrible stuff Saddam did, he also unfortunately gave the world his eldest son Uday Hussein. This dude was messed up on so many levels, but here’re two of his hallmark achievements:

(1) Imprisoning and torturing Iraqi athletes who didn’t perform up to his expectations (like failing to make the 1994 FIFA World Cup Finals).

(2) Killing his father’s personal valet and food taster, Kamel Gegeo, with an electric carving knife at a large house party for the Egyptian Prime Minister’s wife.

Although, apparently he killed his father’s valet under the orders of his mother because the valet introduced Saddam to a younger woman who ended up becoming his mistress then secretly became his second wife. Saddam’s first wife wasn’t standing for that shit….hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned. 

The war in Iraq has been resoundingly discredited as a war that intentionally misled the American people  from analysts and even the US Senate Intelligence Committee.

Dense read on American exceptionalism – September 2015

George W. Bush at G8 “Greater Middle East Partnership Initiative“. In an analysis of this proposal presented by the US at the G8, the Carnegie Endowment for Peace

Greater Middle East Evaluation 

Scrambling to give substance to President Bush’s ringing call for a democratic transformation of the Middle East, administration officials are preparing a “Greater Middle East Initiative” to be launched at the G-8 summit meeting at Sea Island, Georgia, in early June. The initiative, administration officials say, will bring together the United States, Europe, and the “Greater Middle East” (including not only the Arab world but also Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and Turkey) around a far-reaching set of commitments aimed at helping transform the region politically, economically, and socially. The initiative is intended to be a vital, visionary complement to the war on terrorism. Although plans for the initiative are still in progress, the emerging outline is clear, thanks to a leaked U.S. working paper prepared for the G-8 summit and off-the record comments by U.S. officials. Building on the diagnosis of the Arab world’s shortcomings presented in the 2002 Arab Human Development Report, the initiative sets three reform priorities: promoting democracy and good governance, building a knowledge society, and expanding economic opportunities.

It was on this betrayal of trust of the American people that Barack Obama was elected as President in 2008.


(3) The Invasion of Libya and Liberal Interventionism – Intervening To Prevent Human Rights Violations

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While the Bush administration was judged by the outcomes of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration should and will be judged for the outcomes of its intervention in Libya and Syria.

So how did the Obama administration even find itself in Libya?

Obama Doctrine

Arab Spring is about controlling Eurasia

Remember back

This book published in September 2015 by Dr. Ahmed Bensaada asserts that the US government in fact instigated the Arab Spring. He cites a paper trail of money allegedly revealed by WikiLeaks which details how central figures in the Libyan, Egyptian and Syrian revolutions had not only attended State Department funded “democracy promotion conferences and workshops” as well as “cyber activism training sessions” but also “underwent guerrilla training sponsored by the CIA, Mossad, Chad and Saudi Arabia.” (The book is in French, so if anyone who reads French wants to order the book and tell me how well sourced these claims are that would be sweet.)

Here is what we know for sure though: As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was the leading supporter in the White House for regime change in Libya. 

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Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Clinton was a major influence in President Barack Obama’s decision to go to war. Gates recounted Obama once telling him a debate in the Oval Office on the issue was split “51-49.”

“I’ve always thought that Hillary’s support for the broader mission in Libya put the president on the 51 side of the line for a more aggressive approach,” Gates said.

On the “49” side opposing military intervention in Libya were Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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Hillary’s Libya disaster

Hillary’s War in the Middle East

Hillary Clinton Smart Power and Dictator’s Fall

Hillary support for Al Qaeda in Libya

Hillary’s post-Libya plan was ‘play it by ear’ 

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Two above came from this

What was Chris Stevens even doing in Benghazi?

All three women were involved in one particular event – the Rwandan genocide of 1993.

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Susan Rice (left), Hillary Clinton (right), Samantha Powers (back) at the United Nations

The inability or failure of the Clinton administration to do anything about the genocide would form her later views on possible military interventions.[16] Susan Rice said of the experience: “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”

Susan Powers and Rice learned

Samantha Power gets Kissinger award

Response to Power’s book:

Power once called Clinton “a monster” capable of “stooping to anything…you just look at her and think, ‘ergh.’ ” That was during the 2008 campaign, and she resigned from Obama’s campaign shortly after those remarks were published.

Neocons support Powers

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How she will defend the war in general election. 

Keib also spoke about the challenges facing Libya as it builds a democracy. He said that now was not the time for Libya’s eastern Cyrenaica province, home to most of the country’s oil, to be pushing for greater autonomy.

Several thousand delegates in the eastern city of Benghazi announced on Tuesday that they were setting up a council to run Cyrenaica – birthplace a year ago of the rebellion that ousted Gaddafi – in defiance of the government in Tripoli.

The National Transitional Council (NTC), the body internationally recognized as Libya’s post-Gaddafi leadership, is already struggling to assert its authority over militias and towns which pay little heed to Tripoli.

“This is not the time. I know some of the people who are doing this … I guarantee you, this is a minority,” Keib told the International Peace Institute.

Moves toward greater autonomy in the province may worry international oil companies because it raises the prospect of them having to renegotiate their contracts with a new entity.

US funded arms to Libya and not just through covert CIA means, but were tacitly approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department despite a United Nations ban on arms shipments to Libya. The DOJ is in fact prosecuting Fresno, California based arms producer Mark Turi who alleges that the DOJ is prosecuting him to cover Hillary Clinton and the State Department’s re-negotiation with Qatar despite visible proof that boxes marked for the Qatar Army were sent to Islamist militants in Libya to topple Gaddafi.

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Marc Turi

Landler: If you look at the way she’s approached Syria, starting out forward-leaning on aiding the rebels back in 2012 and continuing to favor a no-fly zone today, I would argue that she still believes that Libya could end well—

Goldberg: She thinks that even today?

Landler: Even today, that it could end well. My view on Obama is—and you may or may not agree with this—that he looked at Libya and it confirmed all the preexisting problems he had with interventionism

Goldberg: He never really wanted to do it.

Landler: He didn’t want to do it, and then he did it, and then it turned out badly, and this confirmed his instincts.

Does the invasion of Libya have anything to do with the “petrodollar” system?

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Gaddafi and petro dollarmore

Hillary and gold dinar

United States created Arab Spring

People actually preferred gadaffi

GA am

Adopted by Malaysia becuase Sharia Law prohibits the charging of interest

Robert Wenzel in the Economic Policy Journal, remarked,

“I have never before heard of a central bank being created in just a matter of weeks out of a popular uprising. This suggests we have a bit more than a rag tag bunch of rebels running around and that there are some pretty sophisticated influences.”

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Model for gold Dinar currency

This seems like coincidental timing, do you have any hard evidence that attempting to alter currency policy directly led to military invasion in Libya?

Yes I do. And it’s thanks to Hillary Clinton and her e-mail scandal.

Anyone who has read my previous work looking at Clinton’s e-mail scandal has heard the name “Sidney Blumenthal.” Blumenthal was an employee of the Clinton Foundation who was one of Hillary’s closest confidants while she was Secretary of State – especially during the crisis in Libya. Washington Post fact-checkers disagree with this claim.

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Sidney “Sid” Blumenthal and Hillary Clinton

Here is an email from April 2011 from Sidney Blumenthal to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with the subject line: “France’s client & Qaddafi’s gold”

On April 2, 2011 sources with access to advisors to Saif al-Islam Qaddafi stated in strictest confidence that while the freezing of Libya’s foreign bank accounts presents Muammar Qaddafi with serious challenges, his ability to equip and maintain his armed forces and intelligence services remains intact. According to sensitive information available to this these individuals, Qaddafi’s government holds 143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver. During late March, 2011 these stocks were moved to SABHA (south west in the direction of the Libyan border with Niger and Chad); taken from the vaults of the Libyan Central Bank in Tripoli. This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA). 

(Source Comment: According to knowledgeable individuals this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya. According to these individuals Sarkozy’s plans are driven by the following issues:

a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production,

b. Increase French influence in North Africa,

c. Improve his internal political situation in France,

d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world

e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in, Francophone Africa.)

This brings us to the present day —

(4) America’s Proxy War in Syria – The New Cold War 

America’s Plan in Syria

[W]hoever controls the Middle East controls the global oil spigot and whoever controls the global oil spigot can control the global economy, at least for the near future. (Harvey 2005: 19)

The so-called ‘Carter Doctrine’ of January 1980 perhaps symbolises this heightened significance of the region’s oil for the US state more than anything else: ‘Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force’

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(1) Securing affordable energy resources (Sustaining the “petrodollar” system)

(2) Maintaining the security of critical waterways for international commerce (Suez canal, Persian gulf, Mediterranean Sea)

(3) Fighting the spread of Islamic terrorism and weapons proliferation (ISIS, Al Qaeda and its affiliates)

(4) Protecting Israel

Barack Obama
John Kerry, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton

Goldberg: So follow this through. January, 2017, let’s say she becomes president. What could change in U.S. Syria policy?

Landler: Well I think that she’s wanted, from the very start, to do something to change the equation on the ground. And President Obama, I think, concluded you couldn’t do enough to change the equation without a major military intervention. I think she will at least explore the possibility of a no-fly zone and creating humanitarian corridors. And I think that she would be willing to substantially expand the level of aid we’re giving to rebel groups [for instance with] MANPADS, and things like that.

Goldberg: In your understanding, she was never convinced of Obama’s argument that if the U.S. gives them MANPADS and then one is used by someone to shoot down an El Al jet—

Landler: I think she worried about that because she was part of the original debate on what kinds of arms should go to the rebels. And at that point everyone agreed that MANPADS were out of the question because of the danger that you talked about. But I just wonder now, faced with a situation that’s just catastrophically worse than it was four years ago, [if] she would be willing to take that extra step. I can’t say I know that. I’m surmising this based on the public statements she’s made. She calls it an intensification and acceleration of Obama’s strategy, but that can take only so many forms.

Does the war in Syria have anything to do with the “petrodollar” system?

Pitting natural gas against oil

South Pars/North Dome

Qatar – Turkey Pipeline

Iran-Iraq-Syria Pipeline

Assad Pipeline

Iran pipeline is a dream

Iran pipeline

“Pipelineistan War” 

Russia and US fighting each other

Russian objectives in ME

Saudi competing with Iran for oil

Pipeline Wars

Long War RAND Report

An Agence France-Presse report claimed Assad’s rationale was “to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas”

Saudi Arabia, the largest oil producer with the largest known oil reserves, is the leader of OPEC. It is the only member of the OPEC cartel that does not have an allotted production quota. It is the “swing producer,” i.e., it can increase or decrease oil production to bring oil draught or glut in the world market. This enables it more or less to determine prices.

Oil prices dropping to take Iran out of the market

Whether Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration were motivated by the same fears of a gold Dinar is just speculation at this point, I could not find any evidence that specifically tied the administration to this justification for intervention.

(4) The Petrodollar Crisis

Low Interest Rates Kill Petro Dollar

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Ben Bernanke – Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve

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German woman buying bread with a basket full of currency – Berlin, 1922

(5) What Should Be the Next Chapter of American Foreign Policy? 

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Who’s coming next?

Importance of the petrodollar

Scientifically go to war for oil

When petrodollars run out

Saudi threats to get nukes

For a nation that ranks 15th in education, 44th in healthcare and 1st in incarceration – America has two real strengths – its military and having the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. 

After extensive reading, analyzing, contemplating, sleeping and crying I’ve come to this conclusion:

Hillary Clinton wants a US-led world order while Donald Trump wants a multipolar world order. 

Borderless world

Anne Marie Slaughter – The Real New World Order

While Clinton excelled at “soft” power—selling America’s message abroad—one emerging criticism of her four-year tenure at State was that she consistently avoided getting her hands dirty with direct mediation. Clinton agreed to leave key negotiations in crisis spots—in particular the Mideast and south-central Asia—to special envoys such as George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, and she rarely stepped in as each of them failed. Veteran reporter David Rohde, in an assessment as Clinton was leaving office in January, suggested that Clinton wanted to avoid embarrassment or failure ahead of a 2016 presidential run; he quoted one State Department official as saying that he was “really happy to have someone in the job who does not retain political ambitions.”

Remember, these the core tenets of neo-conservatism:

“[What we require is] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; 

a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; 

and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.

Bernie and Trump will keep Assad

Hillary Clinton Wants A US-led World Order

Kagan and neocons want Clinton

Defense Industry wants Clintonn

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The Hillary Doctrine

Hillary Doctrine 2

Fast and Furious foreign policy

Unipolar Stability theory

Why national security republicans are supporting Clinton

Bill Clinton ties to influential Saudis

collage-harpies

Donald Trump Wants A Multipolar World Order

Good analysis of Trump’s world view

Donald trump vs realism

Donald vs Machine

Should individual countries be allowed to determine their own security?

there is no way to impose a Pax Americana on today’s multipolar world.

Criticizing the United Nations which just took Saudi Arabia off the child death list

Stop buying oil from Saudi Arabia

Needs to stop attacking Assad

Japan and South Korea should get nukes / generally not be strong on non-proliferation

Unipolarity is nah

The Nexus To Stability in the Middle East: US-Turkey Relationship

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Turkey killing and raping prisoners post coup

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Future Prediction # 1 – War with Iran in Syria

Next Iranian revolution

Failure of nuclear agreement.

Iran nuclear deal challenges the petro dollar

Obama gambling on improved US-Iran relation/possible petrodollar continuation

Iran Deal la

Iran dumps the US dollar after nuclear agreeme

Wants to be paid in dollars not euros

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P5 + 1 reach historic Iran nuclear deal – June 2015
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Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Secretary of State John Kerry

Future Prediction # 2 – NATO War with Russia in Eastern Europe/Baltics

“With respect to the Ukraine, people here have to band together from other parts of Europe to help,” Trump said. “Whether it’s Germany or other of the countries, I don’t think you’re getting the support you need.”

The remarks were consistent with his previous comments that the crisis in Ukraine is a European problem, and that the United States should avoid becoming involved in addressing the situation. “I don’t like what’s happening with Ukraine,” he said on Meet the Press in August. “But that’s really a problem that affects Europe a lot more than it affects us. And they should be leading some of this charge.”

His NATO support has long been colored by his view that it gives European countries a pathway to place the burden of international responsibility on the United States. In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” Trump wrote that “their conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually.”

Intervention in Ukraine – Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland married to Rebuilding America’s defenses author Robert Kagan

Ukraine hypocrisy 

CIA overthrow of Yanukovich 

US has been trying since 1991 for democracy in Ukraine

US supports Neo Nazis in Ukraine

Crimea is entirely Russian

Donald Trump is free game for everything he has said about: women, minorities, Muslims, the disabled, prisoners of war etc etc etc

And maybe his views and rhetoric on those issues will spill over to how he conducts his foreign policy. That is certainly fair to assume and should worry anyone because so much of statecraft and peacekeeping is diplomacy and personal relations.

Are Western beliefs and modes of governance better for someone to live? This is rooted in our fear of communism.

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Unpacking the Global Conflict in Syria – Whose Side Are We Really On?

Unpacking the Global Conflict in Syria – Whose Side Are We Really On?

 

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a war going on in Syria which has killed almost half a million people since 2011 and has created the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. The war in Syria will be the most significant foreign policy challenge that the next US president will face, yet it has barely been discussed in the 2016 Presidential race outside of who to blame for creating ISIS.

In fact, with about a month left before the election and already one presidential debate in, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton have actually proposed a serious plan about what they would do to stop the meltdown in Syria which has destabilized the entire region and has implications far beyond ISIS.

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The Syrian war is one of the most complex geopolitical conflicts in modern history. It has alluded any diplomatic resolution for 5 years precisely because it’s a war fraught with a multitude of actors, confusing alliances and conflicting motives for those fighting.

The battlefield is largely between Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups trying to overthrow the government. What began as peaceful protests against the Assad government during the “Arab Spring” in early 2011 devolved into a full-blown civil war about a year into the regime’s violent crackdown against the opposition. In the five years since, nations around the world have been funding and arming both the opposition and the regime in whats become a global proxy war for control of Syria.

It’s from this chaos that the terrorist organization Al Qaeda has resurged to power as one of the leading rebel groups against Assad and the Islamic State has emerged as a rival trans-national terror group capable of devastating attacks around the world.

Unfortunately, this war is not ending any time soon….in fact the war in Syria is now entering a new phase entirely. The recent US-Russia negotiated ceasefire was the fourth attempted ceasefire in the war and has already collapsed as factions continue to battle it out for who rules Syria. Millions of besieged citizens continue to flee en-masse to Europe and neighboring states while those who stay are gripped in a horrifying violence which has already claimed an entire generation of Syrians.

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5 year old boy Omran Daqneesh sits in an ambulance after an airstrike in Aleppo

What everyone can agree on at this stage is that the U.S. policy in Syria so far has been an unmitigated disaster, in fact the U.S. Department of State internally revolted three months ago when 51 American diplomats signed a memo being sharply critical of the administration’s policy. The conflict is to a large degree considered the greatest failure of the Obama administration, and it will soon become his successor’s greatest headache.

The cold reality of this election is that U.S. presidents don’t really have the power to do most of the things they promise on the campaign trail, something that will be especially true with this Congress. But foreign policy is one of the few things they can control…so we really need to figure out what in the world we’re doing.

There’s no simple way to unpack the Syrian war so I decided to break it up into four sections.

  1. Who is Fighting Who in Syria?
  2. Why Is Each Side Fighting?
  3. Who Controls What in Syria?
  4. What Is Happening Next in Syria?

5. *Ten Questions For the People Running To Be President*


 

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Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

—Who is Fighting Who in Syria—

The Syrian battlefield is a mess. A quick look at Slate’s Syrian Conflict guide or this CNN diagram will leave your head spinning trying to make sense of who’s fighting who. So I decided to create a binary table to make it simpler – who is fighting to keep Assad in power v.s. who is fighting to topple Assad? 


Pro-Assad Side:                                         Anti-Assad Side:

Russia and China                                        United StatesUK and France

Iran                                                                Saudi ArabiaQatar and Kuwait

Iraq                                                                Turkey

Terror Groups: Hezbollah                          Terror Groups: ISISAl Qaeda

–                                                                     Kurdistan


The war is hardly being fought on a binary scale, however, which is why a few things may have popped out at you from this list –

a) ISIS and Al Qaeda are fighting on the same side as the U.S. against Assad..?

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Rebel fighters for the Al-Nusra Front in Syrian city of Idlib

Yep, not only are ISIS and Al Qaeda both fighting the Assad regime, but Al Qaeda-backed rebels are considered to be the strongest opposition groups against the Syrian government today. From the beginning of the war the jihadist involvement in Syria has been fundamentally anti-Assadwhich has always put them on our side of the war.

For years, the U.S. has been tacitly helping (and meeting with) a variety of Al Qaeda-backed rebel groups in their fight against Assad. A lot of the intelligence, aid and weapons that the U.S., Turkey and our Gulf allies have been funneling to the opposition have in fact directly gone to arm Al Qaeda-backed groups. The most prominent is Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Al Nusra Front (although the group changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham last month). Many of the weapons that went to them, along with other Al Qaeda-linked groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam, have now also fallen into the hands of ISIS. 

It is pertaining to this issue that Julian Assange of WikiLeaks is threatening to release Hillary Clinton’s e-mails from her tenure as Secretary of State revealing knowledge of these weapons shipments to jihadist elements in Syria to help overthrow Assad.

Cooperation with Islamic extremist groups is not a new development in American foreign policy. The U.S. not only supported Osama bin Laden and the mujahideen to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but more recently in 2011 the US ended up illegally arming Al Qaeda-backed rebel groups in Libya to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. Afghanistan has since been controlled by the Taliban and Libya is a failed state, half-controlled by ISIS.

Ronald Reagan, Burhaneddin Rabbani
President Reagan meets with Afghan Mujahideen (later to become Al Qaeda)  in the Oval Office – 1983

It has again become a “necessary evil” to work with jihadists, but this time in Syria to oust Bashar al-Assad.

However, this reality is largely driven by the fact that for the last six years the U.S.-led coalition has tried to build-up the “moderate“, secular Free Syrian Army as a viable opposition to Assad, but has failed miserably. The half a billion dollar U.S. train-and-equip program for the Free Syrian Army, which was supposed to prepare over 5,600 fighters out of a training camp in Jordan, produced exactly four, to five soldiers. Today, the Free Syrian Army has virtually collapsed and is so “moderate” that they’re beheading Syrian children. They also hate the U.S. so much that Free Syrian Army fighters chased away U.S. special forces that came to help.

“[The Free Syrian Army] is something of a myth, with a media presence far outstripping its actual organizational capacity” and amounted to little more than “a diverse array of local defense forces, ideological trends, and self-interested warlords. It exercised little real command and control, and had little ability to formulate or implement a coherent military strategy.” – Marc Lynch, Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies

While some U.S.-backed “moderate” rebel groups are battling Al Qaeda groups, many have defected to their ranks or are working alongside Al Qaeda fighters in Syria. In the on-going battle for the Syrian city of Aleppo it is the jihadist rebel groups like Al Nusra that have led the way against the Assad government.

Al-Nusra leader meets CIA officials
Mohammad al Joulani – Leader of the Al Qaeda-backed Al Nusra Front

This is the key sticking point between Russia, Assad’s staunchest ally, and the U.S., over what is happening in Syria. The U.S. claims Russia is not interested in peace and is committing war crimes by indiscriminately bombing civilian areas. Russia claims it is fighting terrorists in Syria.

The unfortunate reality is that both are true. Russia is ruthlessly killing hundreds of Syrian civilians in their quest to eliminate the challengers to Assad. But because the opposition is overrun with extremists and there is no real “moderate” opposition representing a democratic, secular replacement for Assad, Russia is technically fighting the the war against terrorism in Syria.  Russia has gone as far as to accuse the U.S. of protecting Al Qaeda-linked rebels and backing a rebel terrorist alliance at risk of ending the ceasefire to keep the fight against Assad going.

At this stage, if the Assad regime was toppled through an overt intervention the result would be some form of a more hardline Islamist regime coming to power as opposed to Assad’s mostly secular rule – a repeat of our Libya intervention. Russia (and China’ssupport for Assad is actually in large part out of fear of repeating the disastrous U.S.-NATO invasion of Libya, which toppled the secular Gaddafi regime and allowed ISIS to exploit a power vacuum there.  Russia fears that jihadist groups would now fill the power vacuum in a post-Assad Syria.

But which jihadists would come to power? Most aren’t aware that Al Qaeda and ISIS are actually at war with each other. The birth of ISIS in 2013 would alter the dynamics of the Syrian battlefield substantially.

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Islamic State executes Egyptian prisoners

In late 2013, an internal power struggle within Al Qaeda over who controlled the Al Nusra Front in Syria would lead to ISIS forming and splintering off from Al Qaeda entirely. ISIS has since eclipsed Al Qaeda as the world’s preeminent terror organization and has taken the public’s focus off of the war against Assad entirely through its gruesome beheadings and catastrophic terror attacks around the world.

The history of ISIS did not begin in 2013, but had its roots in the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, Al Qaeda opened a branch there creatively named Al Qaeda in Iraq or AQI. AQI played a major role in the sectarian violence that consumed Iraq after Saddam fell, but the group was largely defeated by the time the U.S. left Iraq in 2011.

Right as the U.S. was leaving Iraq, the civil war next door in Syria was beginning. A re-grouping AQI would dispatch some of its operatives into Syria to set up a new jihadist organization to help topple Assad – the Al Nusra Front. Within a year Al Nusra grew into one of the most powerful opposition groups in Syria, in no small part due to the arms and funding they were receiving by outside nations who wanted to oust Assad.

The success of Al Nusra in Syria would lead to tensions between AQI leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi in Iraq and Al Qaeda’s central leadership in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Baghdadi wanted Al Nusra in Syria to merge with AQI in Iraq and he tried to combine the two. Al Qaeda’s senior leader Ayman al-Zawahiri balked at the combination and ordered AQI to operate in Iraq separately from Al Nusra in Syria. Al Nusra’s leader Muhammad al Joulani sided with Al Qaeda’s leadership but AQI leader Baghdadi refused. Baghdadi then split with Al Qaeda and renamed AQI into ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. 

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Al Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri (left) disavows ISIS leader al-Baghdadi (right) – Feb 2014

This was a very confusing time in the jihadi world, many Syrian jihadists left Al Nusra for ISIS and the two began competing for soldiers. ISIS then began to attract a growing number of foreign fighters and recruited senior military leaders who were part of Saddam Hussein’s army that was dissolved after the American invasion. ISIS would then sweep through Iraq and Syria capturing huge swaths of territory and with it massive amounts of American-made weapons and tanks that the U.S. had sold to the Iraqi army previously.

What happened next is something the U.S. intelligence community had predicted two years earlier, yet still continued to transfer heavy arm into Syria during this time. A declassified 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report would confirm everyone’s worse suspicions about the birth of ISIS.

C. If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran). D. The deterioration of the situation has dire consequences on the Iraqi situation and are as follows:
—1 This creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi and will provide a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy, the dissenters. ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory

On June 29th, 2014, ISIS would revive a political entity the Muslim world had not seen in almost a 100 years – the caliphate. ISIS declared its captured territory between Iraq and Syria as the “Islamic State”, a de facto self-ruled country under sharia law, and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the new caliph and “leader for Muslims everywhere.”

Al Qaeda’s leadership, stunned by the unprecedented move,  would formally disavow the group and the two have since been actively fighting each other to be the global leader of Islamic jihad.

That’s right – despite both Al Qaeda and ISIS preaching a virtually identical extremist message and a shared desire to remove Assad to establish Syria as an Islamic nation governed by sharia law, their methods and longer-term vision differ enough that the two are willing to go to war with each other. 

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Parodying jihadi belief of 72 virgins in heaven after death

The ISIS/Al Qaeda divorce has complicated things for the U.S. and the other Syrian rebels on the ground who are fighting Assad. Many of America’s Gulf allies who want to see Assad gone believed ISIS was their best bet to make it happen, and have been actively funding and arming the Islamic State. But after a series of horrifying beheadings, devastating terror attacks around the world and violent persecution of other Muslims, ISIS has made enemies of everyone.

ISIS is so horrifyingly brutal and vicious to anyone that doesn’t submit to their rule that the Al Qaeda-backed rebel groups and whatever’s left of the “moderate” rebels are now fighting a two-front war against both ISIS and the Assad government.

The U.S. and its allies are now faced with the dilemma of eliminating ISIS, which is fighting Assad, or to let ISIS be and go after Assad. The U.S. strategy so far has been some mix of both.  The U.S. has been striking ISIS, but primarily in Iraq not in Syria. In the last two years the U.S. has conducted 11,000 airstrikes against ISIS targets and 9,000 of those have been in Iraq. U.S.-backed forces are preparing in the next weeks to reclaim the city of Mosul in Iraq , but have so far declined to strike ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa.  The reluctance of the U.S. to target ISIS in Syria was made painfully clear two weeks ago when an “anti-ISIS” airstrike in Syria struck Assad’s military forces instead, allowing ISIS to then gain territory against the regime and triggered the collapse of the latest ceasefire.

The U.S. certainly wants to see ISIS and the other jihadists in Syria and Iraq defeated, but as long as it remains politically and militarily committed to Assad leaving these goals will inevitably come in conflict. Because there is no viable moderate opposition to Assad, US foreign policy in Syria is now essentially a decision about which jihadist group it would rather have control the country – ISIS or Al Qaeda? Former CIA director David Petraeus has actually recommended that the U.S. formally recruit Al Qaeda fighters to fight this two-front war in Syria.

 

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The absolute chaos amongst the “anti-Assad” factions has all worked to keep the Syrian president in power. I made the chart above to help you visualize it. The significant sub-conflict with the Kurdish forces will be explained in a little. 

The presence of ISIS has been a blessing for the Assad regime because it further divides his enemies who were already fighting with each other. Assad is happy to let the other Syrian rebels fend off ISIS, and to this end Assad has actually been covertly helping ISIS by buying their stolen oil. Assad’s long-term strategy is the elimination of the Syrian rebels, which would force the nations that back those rebels into allying themselves with Assad to finish off ISIS. Ultimately for Assad to look at the world and say, “it’s either me or ISIS, you choose.” 

This is the strategy Russia carried out when it formally entered the Syrian war last year and ultimately swung the tide of the war in Assad’s favor. Russian airstrikes have largely focused on eliminating U.S-backed rebels that’re fighting Assad rather than targeting ISIS.

The situation in Syria is such that Assad and Russia don’t want to eliminate ISIS because they’re fighting Syrian rebel groups, and the U.S. and its allies have somewhat let ISIS exist in Syria as a vehicle to battle Assad. 

Let’s take a look at the landscape of the Syrian rebels that Assad and Russia are trying to get rid of right now.

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Rebels holding Ahrar al-Sham flag (left), FSA flag (center) and Al Nusra flag (right)

“Moderate” Rebels:      Al Qaeda-backed Rebels:       Kurdish Rebels: 

Free Syrian Army                 Al-Nusra (now JFS)          People’s Protection Units (YPG)

A&D Front                                Ahrar al-Sham             Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)

Syrian Turkmen Brigade         Jaysh al-Islam


There are reportedly over over 1,000 armed opposition groups against Assad so this is really capturing a small part of how complicated the battlefield is. These divisions are also not as clean as the table makes them given the overlapping alliances and rivalries that exist between all these groups for funding, weapons and territory.

We know the “moderate” opposition is mostly defunct and Al Qaeda-backed groups are dominating the fight in Syria….what’s the Kurdish opposition?

b) What is Kurdistan? 

You probably didn’t even register this name sitting at the bottom of the “Anti-Assad” table…maybe because Kurdistan is not even a real country.

kurdish map

The Kurdish people are a marginalized and oppressed ethnic group spread across the Middle East with their own language, culture and national identity. They are in fact the world’s largest ethnicity without their own state – a painful reality as a result of a historic betrayal by the British and French.

In northern Syria there are slightly over a million ethnic Kurds who see the civil war against Assad as a chance to form their own self-ruled country, much like the Kurds in Iraq have done since the 1991 Gulf War. Today the Kurds have essentially seceded from Syria and instituted their own government and military in their territory. Though I have placed the Kurds on the “anti-Assad” side because they have been fighting with the regime, they are undeniably fearful that whoever would come after him could be even worse for the Kurdish struggle for independence.

Because of the Kurd’s proximity to Iraq, they are incredibly important player in the war against ISIS. The US has been heavily supporting and arming the Kurdish military called the YPG and have created a US-Kurdish joint force called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to battle ISIS in key cities.

However, the Kurdish people have a very complex relationship with Turkey, a U.S. and NATO ally. Like I said the Kurds are spread across the Middle East and a majority of them actually live in Turkey, making up close to 25% of Turkey’s population.

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Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kurdish YPG fighters

Turkey considers the Kurds as terrorists. The outlawed Kurdish political party in Turkey, the PKK, has been fighting a decades long insurgency against the Turkish government for political freedom and representation. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan fears that the U.S. empowering the Kurds in Syria could heighten the power of the PKK and their calls for Kurdish secession in Turkey – something Erdogan fears more than ISIS.

As a result, Turkey has been actively subverting the U.S.-Kurdish campaign against ISIS and has allowed ISIS to cross through the Turkish border to fight the Kurds. All of this culminated in Turkey invading Syria this month to drive out Kurdish YPG fighters from Turkey’s southern border

The Turkish government has made it clear that given a choice between defeating Islamic State and forestalling any possibility of an independent Kurdish state along its southern border, it will opt to go to war against the Kurdish YPG and to tolerate the continued existence of the Islamic State. – Joseph V. Micallef, Military historian

Though Turkey is anti-Kurd they are also extremely anti-Assad. President Erdogan wants Assad gone and has been one of the principle financiers to Syrian rebel groups. In fact, almost all U.S. and Gulf support to the Syrian rebels have gone through a Turkish base. Turkey has not been shy about working with extremist rebel groups to help topple Assad, even if it also meant working with ISIS at times.

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Slightly older map from this year, most things have remained same other than where I have circled

**To recap this insane situation**

  1. U.S. wants to oust Assad and eliminate ISIS. The “moderate” rebels that we would like to be leading these efforts don’t really exist. Disorganization, lack of weapons/training and Russia’s bombing campaign have decimated U.S.-backed “moderate” forces and they have now merged with Al Qaeda-backed groups or are explicitly cooperating with them.
  2. The U.S. and Russia can’t come to a political solution to the Syrian war, because the Assad regime and Russia keep bombing civilians in what they describe as a war against terrorism. The problem is that it is a war against terrorism because extremists groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are leading the fight against Assad.
  3. To defeat ISIS, the U.S. has primarily relied on Kurdish forces to push the ground fight along with an international coalition of airstrikes. Turkey does not support our arming of the Kurds and have been helping ISIS in their attacking Kurdish forces and in fighting Assad. Turkey has now invaded Syria in the circled area in the map above to drive the Kurds out of recent cities they’ve captured.

Things look pretty bad for the next U.S. president. They’re left with no good options in the fight against Assad, and a bickering coalition over how to fight ISIS. We’ll re-visit what the next administration’s Syria policy could look like in the last section.

But how did we even get here? We’re dealing with all this now because the world’s great powers staged a global proxy war over the Assad government …what are we even fighting over in the first place? 

–Why Is Each Side Fighting?–

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Barack Obama and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

There are a multitude of reasons why so many different nations and non-state groups are involved in the Syrian war but for most casual observers the war in Syria is a war about human rights and democracy.

Indeed, Assad is a dictator who brutally cracked down on his own people when they started protesting against his repressive government. After Syria descended into civil war, Assad has not only been indiscriminately bombing civilian areas to drive out rebel groups, he is doing so using barrel bombs, napalm-like thermite bombs and chemical weapons including chlorine and sarin gas.

It’s easy to imagine that the U.S. support for the opposition in Syria is out of desire to promote democratic reform and to stop a ruthless dictator. But why are similarly repressive governments like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey on our side? Are they really trying to oust Assad to uphold any standard of democracy or respect for human rights?

There are four distinct wars happening in Syria right now, the first shouldn’t surprise anyone.

–War #1 – The War for Gas Pipelines in the Middle East– 

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Shocking, a war in the Middle East that’s actually been about oil and gas the whole time.

Right now there are two proposed gas pipelines coming out of the Persian Gulf, both of which must cross through Syria to get to Europe – the Iran-Iraq-Syria Pipeline and the Qatar-Saudi Arabia-Turkey Pipeline. The U.S. is supporting its Gulf allies in pushing for their pipeline and Russia is supporting its allies Iran and Syria for their pipeline – this division is not so coincidentally the two sides of the war in Syria today.

The pipeline war began in 2009 when Qatar proposed to Assad the construction of a joint liquid-natural-gas (LNG) pipeline from the South Pars / North Dome gas field in the Persian Gulf all the way to Europe. Assad said no. Instead, he opted to build an alternate pipeline with his allies Iraq and Iran. On July 25th, 2011, only five months into the Syrian uprising, Bashar al Assad quietly signed a $10 billion gas-pipeline deal with Iran and Iraq to begin construction on their pipeline.

As civil war has consumed Syria since, it should come as no surprise that Iran has been one of the principle backers of the Assad regime and the spurned countries, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been the principle financiers of the Syrian opposition to overthrow Assad. These three nations have poured in far more millions than the U.S. into funding and arming the Syrian rebels to oust Assad and place in a new regime that will approve their pipeline.

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Qatari Emir Al Thani, Turkish President Erdogan, Saudi King Salman

The South Pars / North Dome is the world’s largest gas field shared between Iran and Qatar in the Persian Gulf. The field holds an estimated 1,800 trillion cubic feet of natural gas allowing for an estimated pumping capacity of 100-120 million cubic feet of gas per day. For Turkey, the pipeline is a signature part of its long standing goal to break its dependence on Russian oil and become an energy transit hub at the crossroads of the Middle East and Europe.

“If completed, the project would have had major geopolitical implications. Ankara would have profited from rich transit fees. The project would have also given the Sunni kingdoms of the Persian Gulf decisive domination of world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America’s closest ally in the Arab world” – POLITICO

Vladimir Putin sees the Qatar-Saudi-Turkey pipeline as an existential threat to Russia and this is partly why Russia has intervened the most of any nation both diplomatically and militarily to keep Assad in power.

Russia currently enjoys its status as one of the world’s largest oil & natural gas suppliers because it singlehandedly controls the European energy market. A new pipeline to supply gas to Europe would change the energy game entirely. In Putin’s view, the Qatar pipeline is a NATO plot to change the status quo, deprive Russia of its only foothold in the Middle East, strangle the Russian economy and end Russian leverage in the European energy market.

When Assad announced in 2009 that he would refuse to sign the pipeline deal with Qatar, he even said he did so “to protect the interests of our Russian ally.”

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Bashar al Assad with Vladimir Putin – 2006

Russia and Syria have been close allies for decades, not just as of late. They share a deep economic and military relationship that’s cemented by Russia’s only warm-water naval port outside the former Soviet Union hosted in the Syrian city of Tartus. If the pipeline by Putin’s allies in Syria and Iran is built, Russia would exert some measure of control over output and pricing decisions and thus maintain its grip over Europe’s energy needs.

“Syria is the only country in the Middle East which follows our advice, this is the country where we can exercise certain tangible influence…the loss of Syria will mean we will have no influence in this region at all,” says Ruslan Pukhov, Defense Analyst at Russian think-tank CAST.

Europe has been desperate to break its reliance on Russian gas and as a result the U.S. and Russia have been in a not-so-secret energy war in Eastern Europe to control the market. Syria sits at the middle of this great power energy war which is why the U.S. has a vested interest in the outcome.

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The U.S. plays a very interesting role in the global energy market because of its relationship with OPEC, the cartel of 12 oil-producing nations around the world (which excludes Russia). Unknown to most, OPEC sells oil and gas on the international market strictly in U.S. dollars.

deal was struck in 1974 between the U.S. and OPEC to denominate all its oil sales in U.S. dollars in exchange for the U.S. providing permanent military security for the Saudi Kingdom. This came to be known as the “petrodollar” system, named for the use of dollars to purchase petroleum on the global oil market. Other countries have no choice but to buy and hold large reserves of U.S. dollars in their central banks because they cannot purchase oil from OPEC without dollars. 

Given the importance of oil and gas in the global economy (and America’s lack of an export economy), the world’s dependency on petrodollars to buy oil fundamentally underwrites the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

Even more so, any surpluses generated by the OPEC nations selling oil are invested back into the United States by buying US Treasury bonds or as deposits in U.S. banks. This was the second term of the agreement with OPEC and came to known as “petrodollar recycling“.

The direct foreign investment of surplus oil profits into the U.S. banking system along with the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency is what allows the U.S government. to perpetually finance the nation’s massive trade deficit by issuing dollar denominated assets at very low interest rates and has allowed the US to finance the world’s largest military. Most importantly, it has allowed successive American administrations to spend far more, year-in year-out, than is raised in tax and export revenue.

 

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If the U.S.-backed Qatar-Saudi Arabia-Turkey pipeline is built, Europe will have to purchase this new gas supply in U.S. dollars and the OPEC petrodollar system will remain intact.  If the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline backed by Russia is successfully built, then billions of barrels of gas will be sold to Europe in alternate currencies to the U.S. dollar.

If nations begin decoupling away from the U.S. dollar to purchase oil and gas it would subsequently erode the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency, collapse the petrodollar and end the last four decades of “dollar hegemony” that the U.S. has enjoyed. This is an outcome Russia would like to see and one that the U.S. has gone to great lengths over the years to avoid.

“Viewed through a geopolitical and economic lens, the conflict in Syria is not a civil war, but the result of larger international players positioning themselves on the geopolitical chessboard in preparation for the opening of the pipeline” – Major Rob Taylor, US Army Command

The relationship between the U.S. dollar, oil and our propensity to stage military interventions in the Middle East is a well observed trend, but it is virtually never brought to light in the news. Most Americans believe we fight wars in the Middle East for oil and they’re not wrong..

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Saddam Hussein (ousted 2003), Muammar Gaddafi (ousted 2011), Bashar al Assad (?)

The 2003 invasion of Iraq under the false pretense (I mean, really false pretense) of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs was an obvious oil grab after Saddam had stopped selling Iraqi oil in dollars (we switched it back to dollars after Saddam fell). The more recent 2011 U.S.-NATO led invasion of Libya ousted Muammar Gaddafi under the false pretense of an imminent genocide after Gaddafi planned to stop selling oil in dollars in favor of a gold-backed dinar currency (Libyan oil was then split up amongst the invading countries).

Those who defended the Iraq invasion never mentioned in public that the invasion was necessary to defend the dollar. To do so would have created a public backlash as well as public scrutiny of why the dollar was so vulnerable. To explain this vulnerability to the public, the explanation would have eventually revealed that we are a nation that cannot pay its debts. The political cost of a crashing economy, lack of funds for our ever-expanding military, and an alarmed public would have been an unbearable political burden for those in power – Bart Gruzalski, professor emeritus of philosophy from Northeastern University

Invariably the countries we have chosen to invade have all posed an acute threat to the petrodollar monetary system, regardless of what justification for intervention is sold to the public. Now that there is again a challenge to the petrodollar system, but in Syria, the world’s great powers have waged another bloody oil war in the name of democracy and human rights.

–War #2 – The War for Islamic Influence in the Middle East– 

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Saudi king Salman (Sunni) and Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini (Shia) lead prayer

The war to control Syria is not just driven by competing gas pipelines, but strikes a deeper chord in a critically important divide in the Middle East.

After the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632 A.D. a dispute over who should succeed him, his father-in-law Abu Bakr or cousin Ali,  would lead to a split in Islam between the Sunni and the Shia. This ancient schism has come to define much of the regional conflict in the Middle East today and plays a prominent role in the Syrian war.

In the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia considers itself the leader of Sunni Islam while Iran is the stronghold for Shia Islam. Saudi Arabia and Iran have an on-going rivalry for regional power in the Middle East that is rooted in the religious antagonism of the Sunni/Shia divide. The two have such a heated rivalry that in January of this year Saudi Arabia and Iran cut off all diplomatic ties with each other after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric.  (A more deeper breakdown of how the Shia and Sunni differ theologically is here)

The distribution of Sunnis and Shias is not as even as you would imagine. Of the world’s more than 1.5 billion Muslims almost 85%-90% are Sunnis while only about 10-15% are Shia. Despite being a clear minority amongst Muslims globally, Shias have a strong presence in the Middle East. The Shiites are concentrated in Iran, southern Iraq and southern Lebanon but there are significant Shiite communities in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

There are three nations in the Middle East with Shia-controlled governments today: Iran, Iraq and Syria. The rest are ruled by Sunnis.

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The Sunni and Shia have actually gotten along for most of history. It’s a common misperception that the sectarian strife we see across the region today has been going on for thousands of years.  There were two events that occurred less than 40 years ago that would shake the foundations of the Muslim world and global politics at large – the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the ensuing Grand Mosque seizure in Mecca.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 deposed the pro-Western Shah of Iran and created an Islamic republic where Shia religious clerics were put in charge of the country. It was the first time a country in the modern Middle East was to be ruled under a theocratic constitution where a Supreme Leader led the country – the Ayatollah.

This sent shockwaves through the Sunni-dominated Muslim world and especially amongst the Sunni religious conservatives in Saudi Arabia. They began to feel that Sunni Islam was under threat from the growing power of Shiites in Iran and staged a siege of Islam’s holiest site in Mecca, the Grand Mosque. They accused the ruling House of Saud monarchy as being heretics for its openness with the West and called for them to step down to create an Islamic republic in Saudi Arabia to counter Iran. To end the siege and prevent another religious uprising, the Saudi monarchy would give the religious conservatives, the ulama, significantly more power over the country – resulting in the strict sharia law enforced against women, minorities etc in Saudi Arabia today.

It was in 1979, less than 30 years ago, when religious conservatism would hijack both Iran and Saudi Arabia leading the Sunni/Shia conflict to see a re-awakening and giving rise to modern day anti-Western extremism.

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Iranian protestors holding up a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini – Tehran, 1979

Over the last generation, the Saudi-Iran rivalry has become part of a larger “cold war” between the two for competing political and geostrategic interests in the region. In order to spread their influence both Iran and Saudi Arabia actively promote Shia and Sunni extremist groups in the Middle East as the two compete for Islamic authority and legitimacy across the region.

Iran played a central role in creating the Shiite-extremist group Hezbollah in 1982 which was/is primarily anti-Israeli but has also fueled sectarian violence with Sunnis in LebanonSaudi Arabia’s hardline Sunni Wahhabi theology served as the religious foundation for birth of Al Qaeda in 1998 and has played  a central role in ISIS’s flavor Islamic extremism which even considers Shiites as illegitimate Muslims.

Because Saudi Arabia and Iran have turned into theocracies in the last 30 years where religious authorities now wield an enormous amount of power in the government, whenever regional conflict breaks out it is incredibly important which governments are controlled by Sunnis and which are controlled by Shias.

Because of America’s animosity with Iran (starting with the Iran hostage crisis, really) along with its alliance with Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf kingdoms, American foreign policy supports Sunni governments and Russian foreign policy supports Shia governments.

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Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini (left), Assad (center), Hezbollah commander Hassan Nasrallah (right) at pro-Assad rally

Assad and the ruling Syrian government are Alawites, a sub-sect of Shia Islam. Thus, Russia and the Shia powers in the region like Iran, Iraq and the Shia militant group Hezbollah have been militarily backing Assad. Conversely,  the U.S. and all the Sunni powers, like the Gulf kingdoms and Sunni-led Turkey, are leading the opposition and have propped up Sunni militant rebel groups to oust the Assad Shia regime.

The underlying war for competing gas pipelines in Syria is a manifestation of how the Sunni/Shia conflict is intertwined into the broader geopolitical interests of the region. The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline would make the Shiite powers in the region, not the Sunni kingdoms, the principal suppliers to the European energy market and dramatically increase Tehran’s influence in the Middle East and around the world. This is an unacceptable outcome for the Sunni powers who see their religious authority and legitimacy threatened by a Shiite expansion of power.

But the Sunni/Shia balance is not just a matter of religious or political power, it has become an issue of survival for the citizens. Sunni governments like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain marginalize and persecute Shia groups at home while Shia Iran does the same with Sunnis. Bahrain’s treatment of Shias is actually being considered a modern day apartheid. This is why regime change has such huge consequences in the Middle East.

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime, a Shia government came to power under the thumb of Iran which began jailing and killing Sunni leaders and stripping their political power. This in effect brought public support for a Sunni-extremist group like ISIS to take over much of Iraq to battle the new Shia government (although ISIS is now killing Sunnis too so they really have no friends). The religious high-stakes game of survival is playing out now in Syria as well.

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This map above shows the religious demographics of Syria which explains why it has been so easy for Syria to descend into a sectarian religious war. Everything in blue is Sunni while everything in green is Alawite/Shia. As noted earlier, the Assad family is Alawite. The Alawites ethnicity in general controls almost all the political and military power in Syria but only about 11% of the Syrian population are Alawites, while close to 75% of Syrians are Sunni.

This imbalance in political representation is due to the French colonial rule of Syria which empowered the Alawite minority – a trend that continued and expanded when the Assad family came in power. In 1970 Syrian military general Hafez al-Assad led a military coup to overthrow the sitting government and the Assad family has ruled Syria for the 46 years since.

“An Alawi ruling Syria is like an untouchable becoming maharajah in India or a Jew becoming tsar in Russia—an unprecedented development shocking to the majority population which had monopolized power for so many centuries.” – Daniel Pipes, Middle East Historian

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The Assad Family – Hafez sitting down and Bashar is the tallest son who looks like Michael Cera during his mustache phase

The Assad regime actually had the support of most people in Syria, something that held true even a year into the civil war. This is why the influx of Sunni extremists groups into Syria escalated the war so significantly. The Alawite reign was not something that had sat well with the Sunni fundamentalists in Syria who saw their power as marginalized in the current state.

Because both President Bashar al-Assad and his father before him gave special priority, power, and benefit to Syria’s small Alawite minority while excluding the Sunni majority from resources and power, the nature of the country’s problems—and thus now the war—is infused with religion. It is true that oppositionists went to the street out of political, not theological, differences, but the fact that the political imbalance was drawn along religious lines put these religious identities at the heart of the fight. – Nicole Bibbins Sedaca, adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service

Alawites, or Alawis, consider themselves to be sub-sect within Shia Islam, but that idea itself is subject to intense debate amongst Islamic scholars. Some have said this would be like referring to Christianity as “an offshoot of Judaism.” Alawites hold some majorly unconventional beliefs in both the Sunni and Shia world like the incorporation of the “trinity” from Christianity, celebration of Christmas, consecration of wine, having Christian names etc.

As a result, when Syria descended into civil war Sunni Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia began to issue “fatwas”, or religious rulings, which declared Alawites to be heretics and non-Muslims and called for a “holy war” in Syria to topple the Assad regime and institute Sunni rule. This is why the civil war is now a matter of survival for the Alawite minority – if Assad fell and a radical Sunni regime came to power, they would undeniably be persecuted and killed.

Iran, Assad’s closest ally in the region, is also not a super fan of Alawi’s ruling Syria actually. The first Iranian Ayatollah in 1979 never actually met with the Assads because he did not consider them Muslims. Eventually Iranian clerics incorporated Alawites as part of the Twelver Shia branch, but everyone knows its a religious stretch. This is why the Iran-Syria relationship today isn’t over any real religious solidarity, but geopolitical interests they share in the region.

It is the underlying discrepancy in political power between Sunnis and Alawites in Syria along with the larger sectarian Saudi Arabia/Iran rivalry for regional power which is fueling what has become a religious war in Syria.

–War #3 – The War to Re-Draw National Borders in the Middle East–

isis20flag-isis20propaganda20video_0   File photo of a Kurdish Peshmerga soldier holding a Kurdistan flag during a deployment in the area near the northern Iraqi border with Syria, which lies in an area disputed by Baghdad and the Kurdish region of Ninawa province                 Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh)                              Kurdish soldier

This is the war being waged by the Kurds and the Islamic State. The two are not particularly interested in a pipeline nor have any real stake in the Saudi Arabia/Iran rivalry, rather the two are fighting to fundamentally re-draw what the borders of Syria and its neighbors looks like.

The Islamic State is a counter-state movement that explicitly aims to destroy nation-state boundaries to expand, and thus legitimize, its self-proclaimed caliphate across the Middle East. It’s current self-ruled nation sits between Iraq and Syria but it has broader ambitions to control all the Middle East and parts of Africa, Europe and Asia.

The Kurds want to establish an autonomous Kurdish nation in the Middle East but their population is spread out between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. They want the governments in the region to cede parts of their land to form this new state – so far Iraq has, but none of the other three have.  The Syrian Kurds have seceded from Assad’s rule and are fighting to rule autonomously.

Though the Kurds and ISIS are currently fighting with each other in Iraq and Syria as they compete for their respective goals, they are both challenging the same fundamental crisis in the Middle East – the Skyes-Picot agreement of 1916.

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British Mark Skyes (right) and French Francois Georges-Picot (left)

The Skyes-Picot agreement was an agreement reached between Britain and France to partition the Ottoman Empire after World War I. The Ottoman Empire made the unfortunate decision of siding with the losing Central Powers Germany and Austria-Hungary, and after it fell the disastrous borders of the modern Middle East were created.

British diplomat Mark Sykes and French counterpart, François Georges-Picot would divide the Middle East into “spheres of influence” where the British came to rule the area that would become Iraq and France came to control Syria. As the map below shows, the partitioning had no intention of trying to empower self-rule amongst the region’s various ethnicities. These new nation-states were crafted to concentrate the location of oil fields within British and French control.

As a result, different and often unfriendly groups were shoved together and given unequal political power in just-made-up nations. This inevitably lead to one group taking power and oppressing the others causing the perpetual rebellions, coups, and sectarian violence that has come to plague the Middle East today. (So sad for a region that is literally where human civilization emerged from).

Iraq borders

Nowhere is the destruction of the Skyes-Picot partitioning more apparent than in Iraq where the combination of Arab Sunnis, Shia’s and ethnic Kurds has wreaked havoc on all three in recent Iraqi history. Sunni Saddam Hussein infamously used chemical weapons to massacre close to 50,000 Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war of the 80’s (we helped him). The Shiite Maliki government then came to power after Saddam and persecuted Iraqi Sunnis, using Shia militias to jail and kill Sunni political opponents. Now “Sunni” ISIS has run-over a lot of Iraq and is unleashing the medieval times on everyone in their path, with a special fury on Shiites and Kurds.

In Syria, the minority Alawi/Shia government led by Bashar’s father Hafez al Assad brutally massacred Sunnis during an Islamist uprising in the 1980s and the 2011 civil war has set off more sectarian violence against Sunnis and Kurds as the Alawites try and maintain their control over the country.

The Islamic State has actually singled out the Skyes-Picot agreement as the root of many of these modern day antagonisms. At its core ISIS is inciting a religious insurrection to overthrow all the post-World War I Western-made borders and re-instate the Caliphate-style ruling across the Muslim world. Except their caliphate is terrifying and oppressive, unlike many of the earlier Islamic caliphates.

“This blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes–Picot conspiracy” – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Leader of the Islamic State

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Map of Syria and Iraq with competing Kurdish and ISIS territory

Right now ISIS is battling with the Kurds as they both struggle to re-define the colonial borders that have already caused so much violence in the region.

However, there has been no greater victim of the Skyes-Picot borders than the Kurdish people. Having been separated into 4 different nations with no real political representation and facing relentless suppression and persecution in all four, the Kurds are desperate to re-make the Middle East. The turmoil in Syria and Iraq has empowered Kurdish separatists movements and these movements are here to stay. While it remains to be seen if the Syrian Kurds can acquire a form of autonomy that the Iraqi Kurds have, things remain bleak for the Turkish and Iranian Kurds.  Turkey has now become the central broker in the future of Skyes-Picot agreement.

Turkey, where a majority of all ethnic Kurds live, is especially fearful of the heightened power of the Syrian Kurds and has now invaded Syria to prevent a unified Kurdish border state forming between Turkey and Syria. They fear that a Kurdish enclave at their southern border will empower the Kurds in Turkey to demand autonomy of their own and this is why Turkey has been low-key helping ISIS fight the Kurds to prevent this. Resharing this quote from earlier in the article – 

The Turkish government has made it clear that given a choice between defeating Islamic State and forestalling any possibility of an independent Kurdish state along its southern border, it will opt to go to war against the Kurdish YPG and to tolerate the continued existence of the Islamic State. – Joseph V. Micallef, Military historian

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Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The Skyes-Picot agreement has hung heavily over the years of U.N. peace initiatives for Syria as diplomats recognize the difficulty of maintaining Syria, Iraq and Turkey’s territorial integrity while trying to grant autonomy to large, now armed, ethnic factions.

“The Skyes-Picot agreement…looms over everything Mr. Kerry and his fellow foreign ministers are doing here….In October, the ministers, who formed the so-called International Syria Support Group, agreed that “Syria’s unity, independence, territorial integrity and secular character are fundamental.” Yet some of the key players in the slow-motion effort to get a transitional Syrian government in place say, when granted anonymity, that they think unity and territorial integrity are simply not possible” – NY Times

Many have said ISIS’s declaration of their caliphate in effect has ended the Skyes-Picot borders of the Middle East, but it remains to be seen if/how the borders of the Middle East may change by the end of the Syrian war as many groups no longer recognize the existing borders.

–War #4  – The War for Democratic Reform and Human Rights in Syria–

It feels wrong to place this as the last war, but unfortunately the conflict in Syria stopped being about democratic reform long ago. Nonetheless, it’s critically important to understand the transformation of Syria’s democratic protests into a sectarian conflict and how it will affect what comes next in Syria.

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The Syrian war had its roots in the “Arab Spring” – a revolutionary wave of uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa between 2011-2012. These uprisings were born out of discontent with high unemployment, restrictions on free speech, corruption in the government, poverty, increasing food prices etc.

The uprisings began in Tunisia and once the Tunisian government fell, the revolutionary ferver spread to Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria and Yemen. The governments in Egypt and Libya would fall in 2011 but there is still lingering turmoil five years later in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen.

The Assad government did not take well to the uprisings in Syria and harshly cracked down on the protestors. Assad’s forces began imprisoning hundreds of protestors, outright killing many and even firing on their funeral processions. Three months into the protests in April 2011 72 protestors were shot and killed by Assad’s forces, shocking the world. This marked a turning point in the uprising – what started out as demonstrations for democratic reform in Syria now changed to demanding the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.

If you’re wondering why the Syrian government would start killing its own people because of democratic protests, an important part of understanding the Syrian war is that Bashar al Assad’s violent response to the uprising was not just a random crackdown but a continuation of the Assad’s regime’s policy toward civil uprising that began with his father, Hafez al Assad.

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Bashar al Assad and his father Hafez al Assad have ruled Syria since 1970

In 1976, Hafez al-Assad had Syrian forces intervene in Lebanon’s civil war on behalf of Lebanese Christian groups who were fighting Muslim groups. The Muslim Brotherhood and Syria’s Sunni majority saw this as heresy and launched a six year civil uprising against the Assad government. 

Hafez al-Assad quashed the uprisings in a particularly brutal fashion. In 1982, the Syrian government nearly leveled the city of Hama, where the opposition was strongest, slaughtering thousands of civilians in what is now called the Hama Massacre.  The regime learned from this experience that mass violence was a successful response to popular unrest — a lesson that was applied particularly brutally in 2011. 

“The lesson of Hama must have been at the front of the mind of every member of the Assad regime. Failure to act decisively, Hama had shown, inevitably led to insurrection. Compromise could come only after order was assured. So Bashar followed the lead of his father. He ordered a crackdown.” – William Polk, Professor of History at University of Chicago, and former advisor to JFK

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The brutal crackdowns failed to intimidate or quell the popular unrest. Assad began offering political concessions to the opposition like promising a constitutional referendum, allowing a multi-party system, along with greater press freedom. He also cut taxes and raised state salaries by 1,500 Syrian pounds ($32.60) a month. However, these promises were largely dismissed by the opposition and international community as too little too late following violent crackdowns and were simply vague proposals with no concrete action.

Assad had maintained from the beginning that the Syrian uprising was one instigated by “foreign saboteurs” seeking to undermine the country’s security and stability. Indeed a 2009 WikiLeaks cable would reveal that the U.S. had been covertly funding opposition groups to Assad’s government since 2006. But what happened next would transform a mostly peaceful, secular democratic uprising into the sectarian conflict dominated by jihadi extremists today.

As Assad’s concessions failed to placate the popular unrest in the country, Assad began releasing hundreds of Syrian prisoners from jail. These were not protestors wrongfully jailed from the demonstrations, but known Islamic jihadists that were being held in the infamous Sedanya Prison (think Syria’s Guantanamo).

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Aerial view of Sedanya Prison

Two presidential amnesties were issued in 2011 where approximately 260 prisoners from Sedanya prison were released – all convicted or accused al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists. Their release would activate a terrorist infrastructure in Syria to give rise to Islamist groups like Al Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and eventually ISIS.

Up until this point, the protest movement was non-religious; it was inherently populist and nationalist in its orientation….their release opened the gates for the emergence of an Islamist component within the uprising—specifically, eventually, a militant Islamist component…it was those initial releases that allowed the quite dramatic emergence, and then growth, and then consolidation of Islamist and jihadist militancy, to acquire the kind of prominence that it has had for the last couple of years or so. – Charles Lister, Author of Syrian Jihad

Assad’s decision to release jihadists from prison was intended to tinge the opposition with extremist elements to make it harder for Western powers to support any rebel group against his government. Prominent Syria analyst Charles Lister described it as a “devious attempt by the Assad regime to manipulate its adversary, by unleashing those it could safely label as ‘jihadist’ or ‘extremist’ among its ranks”.
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Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) soldiers in Syria

The move to release jihadists to dissuade foreign involvement ultimately didn’t work. The hijacking of the Syrian reform initially gave the Obama administration pauses about whether or not to arm the opposition, but our Gulf allies held no such reservations about arming hardline Islamists. Eventually the U.S. decided to go ahead and arm the Syrian opposition even when it was clear it had been overrun with extremists who were not fighting for a “democratic” or “secular” Syria.

The tendency of the U.S. to support regime change, even at the risk of empowering extremists, belies one of the most problematic aspects of American foreign policy – does the U.S. actually intervene to uphold democracy and human rights?

One needs look no farther than a similar uprising that happened across the pond in a tiny country called Bahrain. Bahrain’s demographics are almost the direct opposite of Syria’s – 60-70% of the nation is Shia but is suppressed economically and politically by the minority Sunnis who control the government.

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Protests in Bahrain against Al Khalifa monarchy – February 2011

Often called the “Forgotten Revolution” of the Arab Spring, the 2011 uprisings in Bahrain saw hundreds of thousands in the streets demanding the removal of the Al Khalifa monarchy and for more inclusive political and economic reform in the country. Like Assad, Bahrain’s leaders engaged in a brutal crackdown of the protests which included arbitrary imprisonmenttorturing of prisoners, denial of medical care and out right killing of over a hundred protestors by government police.

The U.S. response could not have been more opposite than how it was in Syria.

At the onset of the protests Obama voiced support for a “dialogue initiative” between the monarchy and the opposition and to “return to a process that will result in real, meaningful changes for the people there.” After the government response turned violent, the U.S. would simply ask the Bahrain monarchy to “hold accountable” those responsible for human-rights abuses against unarmed demonstrators. That was the beginning and end of the US’s support for democracy and human rights in Bahrain.

At no point did the US call for the king of Bahrain to step down (certainly not declare the king a “war criminal” like they did for Assad) nor provide any diplomatic, humanitarian or armed support to the opposition. The US in fact went to such great lengths to AVOID looking like it supported the protestors in Bahrain that the State Department blanked a media story where the protestors stated that the United States supported them. The most direct aid the US gave to the protestors in Bahrain was when Ludovic Hood, a US embassy official, reportedly brought a box of doughnuts out to the protesters

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Protestors fleeing Bahraini military crackdowns – May 2011

To many observers, the lackluster response from the U.S. came as no surprise. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s critically important 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf and is one of our critical allies in deterring Iran. Not only that, Bahrain is one of the largest clients of the U.S. defense industry. Since 1993, the US defense industry has sold over $400 million dollars of arms to Bahrain and like Russia’s arms relationship with Assad, this showed no sign of letting up despite a brewing civil war.

“Starting with Bahrain, the administration has moved a few notches toward emphasizing stability over majority rule,” said a U.S. official. “Everybody realized that Bahrain was just too important to fail.”

During the Bahrain’s violent crackdown on the opposition the Obama administration tried to follow through on a $53 million arms deal to the Bahrain monarchy. Congressional Democrats sharply criticized the administration and invoked the Leahy Amendment in demanding that the U.S. halt military aid to Bahrain’s security forces due to human-rights violations.

However, the State Department was able to use a legal loophole to continue to sell the arms to Bahrain during their brutal suppression of the protests without notification to Congress or a public announcement (a small donation to the Clinton Foundation may have helped). The arms sale included a wide variety of weapons systems, ammunition, armored personnel carriers and helicopter gunships along with $70,000 worth of arms sales classified as “toxicological agents.” This began to fuel speculation that Bahrain was in fact killing its protestors using US-manufactured weaponry and with tear-gas supplied by the United States.

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Obama and Clinton with Crown prince of Bahrain Salman al-Khalifa – June 2011

Bahrain’s uprising ended when Saudi Arabia’s military entered Bahrain to forcefully suppress the revolts.  Human rights abuses by the Bahraini monarchy against its people continue to this day and the nation is considered the new Apartheid nation. U.S. approved arm sales continue to go to the Bahraini kingdom and anti-American resentment is sky high in the country.

Understandably Russia accused the US of setting double standards at the UN Security Council, and this was one of the main stumbling blocks to a diplomatic resolution early  in the Syrian conflict. The Russians rejected the U.S. demands that Assad step down and Russia end its military alliance with Syria while the U.S. was covertly arming Assad’s opposition and was supporting Bahrain’s monarchy in its repression of a similar uprising.

“Why is the US determined to sell weapons to Bahrain after the Bahraini authorities, with help from the Saudis, suppressed the Arab Spring in Bahrain? Russia doesn’t see any problems selling weapons to Syria if the CIA and French and British secret services are shipping military hardware via Turkey to the rebels.” – Russian Defense Analyst Ruslan Pukhov

The collapse of the Syrian peace process despite numerous conferences, summits, negotiations, peace initiatives, cease-fires etc etc etc may be the most depressing part of the Syrian war. There is no one nation responsible for the collective failure of the world to let Syria implode over the last six years as international diplomacy has been characterized by relentless finger pointing, broken promises and back stabbing. There’s a chance its actually been our fault all along for not getting an achievable political solution to the Syria crisis back in 2012, but there’s a lot of blame to share really.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov

One thing I enjoy when reading various articles is to read the comments on them because I often come away with different perspectives. I copied this back-and-forth on an article I read about who to blame for the ongoing Syrian turmoil because I thought it presented two good perspectives on Syria today.

Phillip Davis- 

When, as they so often do, a dictatorship degenerates into chaos and civil war, the lion’s share of the blame must be placed on the dictatorial regime and its supporters, both domestic and foreign. When the Assad Regime was faced with peaceful protests, it chose to respond by unleashing goon squads and it’s not so secret police on the protesters and imprisoning protest leaders. When that failed, it unleashed the military. It mattered not one whit whether the protestors were Islamist extremists, advocates of a more open democratic society or merely Syrians fed up with the repression, corruption and poverty. It didn’t matter whether the protesters had outside support or not. All that mattered was that they challenged the Assad Regime’s absolute power to rule the peoples of Syria. So spare us the deflection of blame to Turkey, the US, Europe or anyone else; whatever their responsibility for the condition of Syria today pales in comparison to that of the Assad family, its Regime, the Alawites, Russia and Iran.

Jo Kleeb –

Libya was the pin in the grenade for the African continent exploding over Europe. Syria is also the pin in the grenade that, if left to fail, would explode the entire Middle East.

Yes, there has been much culpability from multiple directions for the situation in Syria. As convenient as it may have been to try and blame Assad for everything, this was just not the case, nor should it be seen that way.

If we are to blame anything, it is the degree to which we endorse violent overthrow of Governments as a means toward change. It is the degree to which neighbours can tolerate seeing the countries next to them developing towards greater democracy, stronger infrastructure, success as a tourist destination, etc, without having to come up with some pre-text to bomb them to bits.

It is the degree to which the biggest boys in the sandpit learn to respect the right of the smaller boys in the sandpit to not always follow their rules and do what they want them to do, but to demand the right to quietly do their own thing without harassment.

Anyway let’s see how everyone’s doing in this conflict right now.

 

—Who Controls What in Syria?—

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Political Geography Now requires a subscription for their May-August 2016 Syria conflict maps (ugh)

This map is a few months old but the battlefield has largely remained the same other than the two cities in northern Syria where I put in a checkered circle.

As you can see, ISIS has taken over most of the eastern portion of Syria and the Kurds control much of the north. The Assad regime controls most of western Syria (where a majority of Syrians live) and is primarily battling the rebels in the south around the capitol of Damascus, and in the north-west in the nation’s largest city and economic hub, Aleppo.

The battle for the city of Aleppo has gotten especially more attention over the last few months as harrowing photos and videos have emerged of the carnage. The regime and the eclectic mix of Syrian rebels groups are viciously battling over control for the city which could have huge ramifications for any potential political settlement to the civil war.

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The current focus of the Syrian civil war is in the north-west area, both in Aleppo around closer to the Turkish border, where Turkey just invaded two months ago.

Last month, U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG and SDF forces captured the northern city of Manbij from ISIS control. Turkey then freaked out that the Syrian Kurds were becoming too powerful and would form a “Kurdish corridor” on their southern border. The Turks proceeded to invade Syria a few weeks later – overtaking the ISIS-controlled city of Jarablus and then driving the U.S.-armed Kurds out of Manbij, the city the Kurds had just taken from ISIS.

It is believed that Turkey is seeking to create a “safe zone” in northern Syria from where it can draw deeper attacks into the country against against the Assad regime in Aleppo as well as against ISIS and the Kurds.

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Yellow: Kurds, Green: Assad Regime, Red: Syrian Rebels, Black: ISIS

Erdogan is signaling that he favors establishing a 5,000 kilometer “safe zone” in Syria which could be well received by the U.S. and be a possible area of cooperation.

Right now Assad has manpower problems, the rebels are deeply divided, the Kurds have no ability to control a mostly Arab country, and ISIS has managed to make enemies out of virtually every powerful actor in the Middle East. No side is strong enough to crush any other by dint of force, so gains end up being pretty temporary. Given this stalemate, what could happen next in Syria?

 

 –What’s Happening Next in Syria?–

So there are a range of things that could happen next in Syria, but let me quickly paint the grim picture of the situation the next U.S. president will be walking into.

Diplomacy has collapsed completely. After trading allegations of violating the latest cease-fire, the collapsed truce has seen Russia and the Assad government continue their horrific siege of Aleppo to wipe out the Syrian opposition.

The Syrian rebel groups on the ground represent a variety political and religious ideologies, but extremism and non-secular agendas are rampant amongst many/most of them. The so called “moderate” Free Syrian Army is neither moderate, nor really a coherent army…and they hate the U.S  so we have no real allies on the ground either.

Thousands of Syrian refugees continue to pour into Europe and neighboring states while ISIS continues to stage devastating terror attacks around the world.

There is a growing belief that the time for a diplomatic/political solution to the Syria crisis is over. Diplomats in the State Department are urging the president to begin directly striking the Assad government’s forces rather than funding unreliable proxies. A decision that could possibly lead to a war with Russia.

The next U.S. president will begin their term in the Oval Office having to answer one simple question – am I willing to accept an outcome in the Syrian war in which Bashar al-Assad stays in power? 

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Right now it appears that Hillary Clinton would answer that question saying no, Assad must step down and Donald Trump of all people would say, yes Assad can stay in power.

That’s right, the loathsome TV character that is Donald Trump might actually be the anti-war candidate for Syria. And a lot of that has to do with his relationship with Russia. 

There has been a general cloud suspicion of Russian activity over the 2016 election and at this stage there are some obvious signs that the Trumps, their business, and their inner circle share somewhat close ties to the Russian elite. Trump and Putin themselves have some odd affinity for each other.  Given Russia’s significant political and military commitment to keep Assad in power, they have a vested interested in the next president stopping support to Assad’s opposition.

Trump has so far suggested just that. He has vaguely communicated that the U.S. should devote its efforts in the Middle East to eliminating ISIS rather than continuing to fight Assad.  It’s hard to say whether Trump would actually pursue a policy of restraint in Syria because when it comes to foreign policy he doesn’t really stand for anything nor does he know a whole lot about international affairs. He espouses a very “America first” message but no coherent principles on U.S. use of force. This will make him rely extensively on his foreign policy advisors.

Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisors are a motley crew of conservative think-tank folk that are pretty unconventional in the broader conservative foreign policy establishment. One of his advisors, Carter Page is currently being investigated for his ties to the Kremlin and the Russian gas company Gazprom and has openly criticized the U.S. for a “hypocritical focus on democratization”. Trump’s most prominent foreign policy advisor and possible Defense Secretary is General Mike Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).  Mike Flynn was just at a dinner with Vladimir Putin and has publicly favored closer ties to Russia.

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Former DIA chief and Trump’s favorite general – General Mike Flynn

This is not to say the Clinton don’t have ties to Russia…they have many connections to Russia. But Hillary and Putin actually despise each other. Putin is convinced Hillary tried to have him overthrown as President of Russia in 2011 and Russia’s senior diplomats had a difficult working relationship with her while she was Secretary of State during the infamous “Russian reset”.

“In our administration, Secretary Clinton always had a tougher line toward Putin and the Russians than other senior administration officials,” said Michael A. McFaul, an adviser on Russia who served as United States ambassador to Moscow. “It was Putin’s strong belief that we, with Clinton in the lead, were trying to meddle with his regime.”

Clinton actually spent most of her time as Secretary of State from 2011-2012 feuding with the Russians as she tried to organize international coalitions to oust Assad from power – someone she has called a “war criminal” and has demanded to step down since 2011. This effort ended after an infamous breakdown of a potential Syrian peace plan with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan at the June 2012 Geneva conference.

Clinton’s persistent, strongly anti-Russian rhetoric throughout the campaign and historical animosity for Assad has foreshadowed what could be a massive showdown in Syria between the U.S. and Russia. The Clinton foreign policy team has communicated a much clearer message about what direction they would likely go in Syria – directly striking Assad.

The most prominent Clinton’s foreign policy advisors that have signaled they would support a more aggressive policy against the Assad regime are former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and former CIA director Mike Morell. Flournoy is considered the likely tap to become Clinton’s Defense Secretary and Mike Morell could see himself again in charge of the CIA.

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Michele Flournoy – Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, likely Secretary of Defense in Clinton administration

In an August interview, former CIA director Mike Morell advocated the U.S. start covertly killing Russian and Iranian soldiers that are supporting Assad in Syria. He further proposed that U.S. forces begin bombing Syrian government installations, including government offices, aircraft and presidential guard positions in order to “scare Assad.”

In a June interview, Flournoy said she would “direct U.S. troops to push President Bashar al-Assad’s forces out of southern Syria” and specifically advocated what she called “limited military coercion” that could pressure Syrian Bashar al-Assad to negotiate and give the opposition the leverage they need. She has also supported the push for a “No-Fly Zone” in northern Syria – a territory or an area over which aircraft are not permitted to fly – something that Russia has explicitly warned the U.S. not to pursue.

Hillary Clinton herself has long advocated for the implementation of a No-Fly Zone  as a necessary next step in the Syrian conflict.

“I am advocating the no-fly zone both because I think it would help us on the ground to protect Syrians; I’m also advocating it because I think it gives us some leverage in our conversations with Russia” – Clinton, December 2015

Trump and his closest foreign policy advisor General Mike Flynn have also suggested that they support creating air and ground “safety zones” in Syria resembling a No-Fly Zone

“Well, you know, I’ve always said we need to have a safe zone….we have to have some kind of a safe zone. And we have to get the Gulf states to pay for it.” – Donald Trump told WYFF News 4 in February in the most Donald Trump way possible.

This is a proposal that Obama has directly opposed doing in Syria along with members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the president’s military advisors.

Former Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said imposing a no-fly zone would require as many as 70,000 American servicemen to dismantle Syria’s sophisticated antiaircraft system and then impose a 24-hour watch over the country. Current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said during testimony to the Senate that creating a no-fly zone over Syria would require declaring war on Assad and Russia, a “fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make.”

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Hypothetical No-Fly Zone in northern Syria

It seems like the U.S. could be on a path to some form of a No-Fly Zone regardless given the pressure now for the U.S. to make a decision about what to do in Syria.

Based on Trump’s lack of any real foreign policy ideas on Syria and actual praise of Vladimir Putin throughout the campaign,  perhaps Trump would seek not to escalate tensions with Russia by imposing a No-Fly Zone in Syria. Then again it’s really hard to predict what Trump might do. As someone who has supported the torture program, a massive build up of the military and generally being a loose cannon on foreign policy, anything is possible. Trump has also said he would like to see 30,000 U.S. troops on the ground to combat ISIS so he will be escalating U.S. involvement in the Middle East regardless.

It remains to be seen how Clinton would proceed with the Russians in Syria. On her campaign website  her Syria policy right now is “Pursuing a diplomatic strategy aimed at resolving Syria’s civil war”….but given the utter collapse of diplomacy, the internal frustration within the State Department and what looks like a bipartisan foreign policy team that supports a hawkish approach to Assad, the prospects look grim.

It’s important to remember that the Syrian conflict is a global war, not one that hinges on whatever the U.S. chooses to do. So let’s re-visit the first war we discussed.

Predicting the End of the Gas Pipeline War – Turkey and Saudi Arabia Switch Sides and the Dollar’s Collapse Is Near

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Turkish President Erdogan and Vladimir Putin restart their relationship

There is currently a monumental shift in global politics underway and it centers around a longtime U.S. allies in Turkey as well as Saudi Arabia.

At the end of July 2016 there was an attempted coup by the Turkish military to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power. The coup failed and Erdogan has stayed in power, now purging entire parts of the government who may oppose him. Erdogan and the Turkish public have firmly pointed their finger at the U.S. as secretly being behind the coup and supporting the plotters.

Turkey has accused Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric for masterminding the coup. Gulen resides freely in Pennsylvania under CIA protection and the United States has been dragging its feet over Ankara’s demand for Gulen’s extradition. This has raised anti-American feelings among Turks and the Turkish government to a fever pitch. (To make it that much worse, Gulen’s political allies have donated a lot of money to the Clinton campaign).

There are many layers behind why the U.S. may have wanted Erdogan out but the result has been a re-forged friendship between Turkey and Russia. Erdogan and Putin met for the first time at the beginning of August in a high profile warming of relations since Turkey infamously shot down a Russian warplane in Syria in 2015.

The new Turkey-Russia relationship has some serious questions in that Turkey has long wanted Assad gone, while Russia has been Assad’s strongest backer. But this is why the pipeline war is important.

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Turkey has now pivoted away from backing the Qatar-Saudi Arabia pipeline which drove its quest to remove Assad from power and has since inked a deal with Russia to construct the “Turkish Stream” natural gas pipeline. The Turkish Stream is meant to replace the defunct South Stream pipeline in the Black Sea as an alternate conduit to sell natural gas into Europe.

More so, there is a growing belief that Iran may actually be prepared to strike a deal with Turkey that in exchange for Turkey to stop supporting Assad’s opposition, the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline could actually become the Iran-Iraq-Turkey pipeline en-route to Europe. These are all tentative ideas, but what is clear is that one of the most vital U.S. allies in the Middle East is turning towards our rivals.

Since the rapprochement of Russia and Turkey,  U.S.-Turkey relations have gone straight downward. Things are so hostile that the U.S. had to move out its nuclear weapons hosted at the Turkish Air Base at Incirlik. Turkey proceeded to not alert the U.S. that it would send its army to cross into Syria and has now turned its fire on U.S.-backed Kurdish forces forcing them to withdraw east over the Euphrates River.

To make matters worse, Saudi Arabia, another critical U.S. ally, has started drifting towards Russia as well.

A lot of this is driven by the Saudi’s hating the Iranian nuclear deal that the Obama administration negotiated with them. In the zero-sum cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, it was viewed as a historical betrayal by the U.S. to remove the sanctions on Iran and potentially accelerate their path to a nuclear weapon in a decade.

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In fact, it is now widely believed that the Obama administration didn’t make good on its “red line” threat in 2013 to strike Assad if he used chemical weapons, because Iran threatened to back out of the nuclear deal in the early stage of the negotiations.

Rather than it achieving the regional security we hoped, the Saudi’s just signed a contract with Vladimir Putin to build 16 nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, raising the possibility of a nuclear arms race with Iran if the nuclear deal collapses (which is looking that way). It’s also a sign that Saudi Arabia may be giving up on the Qatar-Saudi-Turkey pipeline that Russia has gone to such lengths to prevent in Syria.

All of this has very bad implications for the U.S. and its petrodollar, which is reliant on U.S. denominated oil sales dominating the oil market. There are reports that the Saudi’s are preparing to dump the petrodollar as OPEC’s currency and are considering giving Russia OPEC membership. Things are not looking good between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and the souring relationship made headlines last week when the U.S. Congress overrode President Obama’s veto on a bill that would allow 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia.

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The end to the petrodollar could be especially devastating to the U.S. economy now because the U.S. dollar is facing a lot of trouble at home.

For the last 6 years the U.S. Federal Reserve has pursued a policy of “quantitative easing” which has printed $12 trillion dollars in new money to buy up the toxic assets held by the banks in the 2008 Wall Street collapse. The end of the petrodollar would cause trillions of more dollars to flood back into the U.S., skyrocketing inflation and make the U.S. dollar lose its grip as the world’s reserve currency.

If there is another significant crash in the U.S. economy then we may be looking at a re-structuring of the global monetary system and there has already been calls for the end of dollar domination in institutions like the World Bank  and IMF.

Over the last few months there has been a growing consensus amongst economists that the U.S. economy is about the enter another recession – in fact Deutsche Bank has said there’s a 60% chance it’ll happen within the next year.

In recent months, the gap between the three-month and 10-year Treasuries have begun to close rapidly—a signal to some investors that a recession may be on its way. “This relentless flattening of the curve is worrisome,”  said the team of analysts led by Deutsche Bank, referring to the graph that plots bonds of different maturities against their yields. “Given the historical tendency of a very flat or inverted yield curve to precede a U.S. recession, the odds of the next economic downturn are rising.”

Former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has called this collapse part of a “coming global re-alignment” where global power will inevitably become decentralized from the United States where many regions of the world will crafting their own agendas which America don’t have the power to control.

Russia and China, the two major global powers other than the United States seem to be preparing to transition to a gold-backed currency to wean off the Western currency system. The two have been voraciously buying gold in the international market and some economists are predicting gold will again come to dominate our monetary system.

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The United States stands at a critical crossroads in its foreign policy beginning with Syria. Whether or not it chooses to escalate the conflict against Assad remains to be seen, but there are larger tectonic plates in global politics shifting based on this decision.

The U.S. has enjoyed the luxury of being the sole great power in the world for the last 30 years, but the war in Syria may be where we look back and realized this was no longer true. The Syrian war has demonstrated that there are many other countries who have the military and economic power to challenge the U.S. dominated international system. It will be interesting to see which of our presidents embraces this reality and which will fight to prevent it from happening.

Will the U.S. continue its great power Cold War with Russia and re-up the war in Syria or will we finally give up on the project of regime change all together and maybe try and work with our rivals instead of constantly going to war with them?

 

 

–Ten Questions For the People Running To Be President–

1. Will you accept an end to the Syrian conflict which sees Bashar al-Assad stay in power?

2. If Assad must step down, do you have an idea of who you would like to see replace him?

3. If you decide that diplomacy is no longer a feasible solution in Syria, how would you increase U.S. efforts to counter the Assad regime directly? Would you continue the  the CIA train & equip program for vetted “moderate” rebel groups or would you authorize airstrikes against Assad regime targets?

4. Does the United States recognize the Syrian rebel group Jabhat Fateh-al Sham as distinct from Al Qaeda, or will it become listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and not receive any U.S. support ?

5. If your administration wanted to increase the scope of U.S. involvement in the fight against Assad or ISIS, would it be subject to Congressional approval?

6. What will your administration do about Turkey’s antagonism with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces? Will the U.S. continue relying on the Kurdish military to fight ISIS?

7. Would you support an independent Kurdish initiative with the Kurds retaining autonomous territory in Syria?

8. Would you support the enforcement of a No-Fly Zone over parts of Syria? What would be the penalty for violating the No-Fly Zone and who would enforce it?

9. Would you put U.S. ground troops in Syria to fight ISIS, if so how many?

10. Who would you nominate as your Secretary of State?

 

 

 

 

So let’s say when everything’s all said and done, Assad stays in power, the U.S. basically loses the war

Right now the U.S. dollar is living in uncharted territory. The U.S. Federal Reserve has pursued a policy of “quantitative easing” or QE over the last 93 months which has printed $12 trillion dollars in new money. This money has been used over the last 6 years to buy up toxic assets in the  U.S. banking system and supposedly to motivate banks to lend to consumers (that’s not happening, the banks are just keeping the money).

 

The merits of QE, and especially a QE program that has gone on this long, is the subject of intense debate amongst academic economists and financial experts. The unprecedented amount of money printed by the Fed has raised alarm bells about the risks of inflation and the eventual strength of the dollar. There’s an excellent public debate here on the merits of QE, but one thing the gargantuan amount of printing has done is forced interest rates to stay low.

When interest rates are low it’s to motivate consumers to borrow and spend money rather than save it. Given how much money has been printed the Fed needs people to keep borrowing or else inflation will consumer the dollar.

The effect of prolonged low interest rates combined with the global decline in oil prices has had a profound effect on the petrodollar. Oil producing nations are now trading in a currency that has lost much of its value and can’t be invested with good return. They are also making significantly less in profits because of low oil prices so there’s not as much petrodollar recycling happening either.

has collapsed the petrodollar.

 

 

 

Lowest oil prices in decades

 

One of the weakest parts of the U.S. economy right now is the inability of the U.S. Federal Reserve to regulate the value of the dollar

 

 

 

(2) The War for Middle East Primacy – Iran’s Nuclear Deal Tilts the Balance 

 

The opposite dynamic is taking place in Yemen, another place a violent civil war has been carrying on since 2011. The Sunni-controlled government is being backed by Saudi Arabia and the U.S. and the the opposition Shiite Houthi rebels are being supported by Iran and Russia.

 

(3) The War to Re-Draw Borders – The Coming Fall of the Caliphate and the Betrayal of the Kurds
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One of the main threats both countries, as well as Syria, face is the prospect of the emergence of an independent Kurdish state, despite the differences among the Kurds, who are spread over the territories of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The Kurdish challenge in Iran may not be identical to that in Turkey, but the danger of a domino effect in the region is so strong that no party wants to take any chances. In this equation, Russia also has a role to play in thwarting any attempt to carve out an independent Kurdish state in Syria.

The shared interest in preventing the emergence of a Kurdish state puts Iran and Turkey on the same page when it comes to exerting all possible efforts to keep Syria united and under centralized rule.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/08/iran-zarif-turkey-visit-erdogan-syria-coup-attempt.html#ixzz4M2IZMFf0

(4) War for Democratic Reform in Syria – What’s After Assad? 
Because of Syria’s diverse demographics which includes Kurds, Christians, Druze etc, Assad has been positioning himself as the protector of secular rule as opposed to the jihadist extremists that want to overthrow him.

 

A lot of the weapons the U.S. sells goes into the arms black market in the Middle East where they invariably end up in the hands of Al Qaeda or ISIS.

 

The most powerful opposition group in Syria now is Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS). This is the group that was formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra and was explicitly Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria. The name change is part of JFS’s attempt to distance itself from Al Qaeda to receive more explicit international backing, although most people still

Assad continues to use chemical weapons against his citizens

 

“The belief that Islam should govern the affairs of the Muslims isn’t exclusive to any group,” says Mahamed. “This is the core belief… What you have to understand is that Muslims, when given the opportunity, when given the freedom, they will always choose to be governed by their faith. It’s that simple.

 

He’s protecting Christians

Assad is going to stay in power.

Turkey opting for Stream with Russia

US betraying the Kurds

US increasing defense sales to Qatar

According to Thomas Pierret the Army of Conquest is the only group that could credibly claim it can break the siege of Aleppo

Prevailing thought is that Obama should’ve done more earlier on to build up the the “moderate” opposition

It is only as of the ceasefire last week that the US has agreed for the first time to work with Russia to target Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria, something the administration has been reluctant to do so far in the war.

In fact there are so many events happening on the news that implicate the Syrian conflict that you may not even realize it. For example, the recent failed-coup attempt in Turkey along with Turkish President Erdogan’s

Should the United States try to break the Aleppo siege using its own military, and thereby risk open conflict with nuclear-armed Russia? Should it provide deadly weapons to the opposition, knowing that those weapons might make their way to civilian-killing jihadists or simply prolong the conflict? Or should it stay out, and risk hundreds of thousands of people being gassed and starved?

 

(3)

Is muqtada al sadr good for Iraq

Shia militias targetting Sunnis

War for Democratic Reform in Syria

Framing the battle as a decision between his secular rule versus Islamic extremism

 

 

 

 

Oil prices dropping to take Iran out of the market

Whether Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration were motivated by the same fears of a gold Dinar is just speculation at this point, I could not find any evidence that specifically tied the administration to this justification for intervention.

(4) The Petrodollar Crisis

Low Interest Rates Kill Petro Dollar

bernanke_2338969b
Ben Bernanke – Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve
germany-inflation-1923-granger
German woman buying bread with a basket full of currency – Berlin, 1922

(5) What Should Be the Next Chapter of American Foreign Policy? 

1032037869

living_us_presidents_2009
Who’s coming next?

Importance of the petrodollar

Scientifically go to war for oil

When petrodollars run out

Saudi threats to get nukes

For a nation that ranks 15th in education, 44th in healthcare and 1st in incarceration – America has two real strengths – its military and having the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. 

After extensive reading, analyzing, contemplating, sleeping and crying I’ve come to this conclusion:

Hillary Clinton wants a US-led world order while Donald Trump wants a multipolar world order. 

Borderless world

Anne Marie Slaughter – The Real New World Order

While Clinton excelled at “soft” power—selling America’s message abroad—one emerging criticism of her four-year tenure at State was that she consistently avoided getting her hands dirty with direct mediation. Clinton agreed to leave key negotiations in crisis spots—in particular the Mideast and south-central Asia—to special envoys such as George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, and she rarely stepped in as each of them failed. Veteran reporter David Rohde, in an assessment as Clinton was leaving office in January, suggested that Clinton wanted to avoid embarrassment or failure ahead of a 2016 presidential run; he quoted one State Department official as saying that he was “really happy to have someone in the job who does not retain political ambitions.”

Remember, these the core tenets of neo-conservatism:

“[What we require is] a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; 

a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; 

and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.

Bernie and Trump will keep Assad

Hillary Clinton Wants A US-led World Order

Kagan and neocons want Clinton

Defense Industry wants Clintonn

The Hillary Doctrine

Hillary Doctrine 2

Fast and Furious foreign policy

Unipolar Stability theory

Why national security republicans are supporting Clinton

Bill Clinton ties to influential Saudis

Donald Trump Wants A Multipolar World Order

Good analysis of Trump’s world view

Donald trump vs realism

Donald vs Machine

Should individual countries be allowed to determine their own security?

there is no way to impose a Pax Americana on today’s multipolar world.

Criticizing the United Nations which just took Saudi Arabia off the child death list

Stop buying oil from Saudi Arabia

Needs to stop attacking Assad

Japan and South Korea should get nukes / generally not be strong on non-proliferation

Unipolarity is nah

The Nexus To Stability in the Middle East: US-Turkey Relationship

erdogan_clinton

Turkey killing and raping prisoners post coup

16turkeyblog-gulen-tmagarticle

455926858-former-u-s-secretary-of-state-hillary-clinton-speaks-as-crop-promovar-mediumlarge

Future Prediction # 1 – War with Iran in Syria

Next Iranian revolution

Failure of nuclear agreement.

Iran nuclear deal challenges the petro dollar

Obama gambling on improved US-Iran relation/possible petrodollar continuation

Iran Deal la

Iran dumps the US dollar after nuclear agreeme

Wants to be paid in dollars not euros

 

Follow Laura Rozen (@lrozen) and Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister)

 

 



Table of Contents

**Introduction/Summary of Conflict**

(2011): The Arab Spring and the Start of the Syrian Revolution

(2011-2012): Armed Opposition Groups Form and Syria Descends Into Civil War

(2011-2012): How the United Nations and International Diplomacy Failed To Prevent the Syrian Bloodbath

(1945-Present): What Is At Stake for World Powers in Syria – Another War for Oil

(2012): Operation Zero Footprint: Regime Change in Libya, Benghazi and the Covert Arming of Syria’s Rebels

(2013): Whose Sarin Gas? Chemical Warfare and the Story Behind Obama’s Failed Red Line

(2013-2014): A Rebel Group Goes Rouge – The Birth of ISIS and Jihad’s Global Divorce

(2014-2015): Another Failure at Geneva and Russian Intervention – How America Lost the War in Syria

(2016-Present): ISIS Terror Spreads, the Siege of Aleppo and the Turkish Invasion of Syria

**2016 Election – Hillary Clinton v.s. Donald Trump on Syria** 



 

 

 

 

 

 

So how did the Syrian war even start?

Let’s turn back the clock to my junior year of high school – February 2011.


(2011) – The Arab Spring and the Start of the Syrian Revolution


 

While I was busy watching the Packers beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, the first demonstrations against Syrian government were being held.

These demonstrations demanding political reform were part of a series of uprisings happening across the region at the time – most notably in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya and Yemen. These uprisings were largely born out of discontent with high unemployment, restrictions on free speech corruption in the government, poverty and increasing food prices. This revolutionary wave across the Middle East and North Africa between 2011-2012 was dubbed the “Arab Spring“.

 

112111_syria_crop
Anti-Assad protestors in Syria

The causes for revolution in Syria vary. The most popular belief has been that the uprisings were inspired by the political revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia in fighting against deep rooted corruption in the Syrian government along with a lack of political freedoms. But one far less talked about factor, and perhaps the largest force behind the uprising, was that the country was in the midst of an economic devastation as a result of a severe drought from 2006-2010. In what would be reminiscent of America’s 1930s “Dust Bowl”,  Syria’s agriculture industry collapsed, skyrocketing food prices and put millions in poverty. These factors combined to create pockets of protests against the Assad government in late February 2011. 

The Assad family has ruled Syria for 46 years. Beginning in 1970, Syrian military general Hafez al-Assad led a military coup to overthrow the sitting government and became the sole ruler of Syria with a single-party government, the Ba’ath Party.

Hafez al-Assad’s oldest son Bassel al-Assad was expected to succeed him until his death in a car accident in 1994. As a result, after Hafez’s death in 2000 the torch was passed to his second son with no political experience and who was training to be an ophthalmologist in London at the time – Bashar al-Assad. In Bashar’s 11th year as President, the Arab Spring came to Syria.

al_assad_family
The Assad Family – Hafez sitting down, Bashar is the tallest son who looks like Michael Cera during his mustache phase

These protests for reform first escalated in the city of Daraa, a suburb of the capitol, Damascus.

On March 6th, 2011 fifteen teenagers were arrested for writing “the people want the regime to fall” on walls across the city. Their arrest and alleged torture by the Syrian military police led to demonstrations and protests around Daara. However, these peaceful demonstrations were met with violent crackdowns from Assad’s government – which feared for its survival as the governments of Tunisia and Egypt had just been toppled.

On March 18th, 2011 government security forces opened fire for the first time on protestors in Daara killing six people. And then shit hit the fan.

“They used live ammunition immediately, no tear gas or anything else,” said the witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

After the deaths in Daara, large scale protests broke out across other major Syrian cities. Clashes between protestors and military police escalated violently with deaths on both sides. Alleging that the violence was instigated by protestors,

Assad’s forces began imprisoning hundreds of protestors, outright killing many and even firing on their funeral processions. At a rally in April 2011, 72 protestors were shot and killed by Assad’s forces, shocking many around the world. This marked a turning point in the war –  what started out as demonstrations for democratic reform in Syria now changed to demanding the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.  

2011-634542791331177369-117

How the Assad government chose to respond to at this crucial point in April-May 2011 would set the stage for why the current situation in Syria looks the way it does. Before the unrest escalated into the five year civil war that Syria has become, Assad tried to do the following things:

Assad avoids sanctions through Panama Papers shell companies

1 – Double-down on brutally suppressing protests to stomp out the opposition 

The Assad government has maintained from the beginning that the Syrian uprising was one instigated by “foreign saboteurs” seeking to undermine the country’s security and stability. It would later characterize the opposition as  “foreign-backed armed gangs” and “terrorist groups” and will continue to violently suppress them until “security and order are restored.” As a result, the brutal crackdowns continued and by the end of May 2011 over 1,000 Syrian protestors had been killed. 

“The Syrian authorities, in order to preserve the security of the country, citizens and the governmental and services establishments, will confront these people and those behind them according to the law, which specifies the conditions for using weapons.” – Syrian Ministry of Interior, April 8th,