Monday, September 29, 2014

The Middle East policy disaster...

Welcome To Barack Obama’s Syrian Gong Show
By David Stockman

Folks, this war is only three days old and its already a gong show. Its become at least a four-front affair—with Obama’s “broad” coalition amounting to little more than a few stealth Arab nations renting back to Washington the equipment and American trained pilots it had earlier provided them.

The President’s shock-but-not-awe campaign apparently not with bombs on the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqah but via a tomahawk barrage on some Nusra Front rebels in northwestern Syria. These were anti-regime fighters of the not-so-moderate persuasion who had been recently driven there after a bloody struggle with ISIS. As explained by the WSJ:

In July, the Islamic State routed its rivals including the Nusra Front and allied Islamist rebels from eastern Syria and they are now concentrated in the western half of the country, where they are fighting the regime along with other factions.

So these folks were fighting both of Washington’s declared enemies—–the Assad regime and ISIS—but it obliterated them anyway, and some of their women and children, too. That apparently makes for a
three-front war, as the WSJ further explained:

Many Islamist rebel groups are allied to the Nusra Front and these factions are the dominant force in non-Islamic State territories in Syria, wielding more power than the moderate groups backed by the U.S……. further civilian casualties or targeting of fighters affiliated with the Nusra Front could…..” turn it into a real enemy of all the other forces” such as the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, said Mohammad al-Salloum, an activist from Idlib previously held hostage by Islamic State and currently based across the border in neighboring Turkey.

Needless to say, opening up a third front against Nusra and its Al-Qaeda affiliated fighters as the first item of business during Monday night’s bombing debut must have come as a welcome surprise to Damascus. Presumably, Bashar Assad can now redeploy the forces he had thrown up against the ferocious Nusra fighters and assign them to contend with an impending attack by “moderate rebels”—-that is, as soon as the latter are vetted by the House GOP’s defense committee in Washington and sent to the Arabian desert for six months of training in the use of lethal weapons and civilized slogans.

As a Syrian-born broadcaster with the Al Jazeera network, wrote on Twitter,

“What more can Bashar al-Assad ask for? The U.S. planes targeted first and foremost the strong factions that are fighting him”.

OK, this third front thing did complicate matters. However, the Pentagon says it was unavoidable due to an emergency—-namely, an imminent attack on the US homeland by a faction within the Nusra Front faction called Khorasan.

Or then again—-maybe not. Was the “imminent threat” just a pretext to start the Syrian air war and to “vet” the opposition rebels by means of high altitude bombers? After all, why not purge the “bad guys” before they can get their hands on the weapons Congress has already voted to give the not yet vetted “good guys” so that the latter can take on the really, really bad guys running the Islamic State?

Indeed, less than 48 hours after the fact there were plenty of hints that the “Khorasan threat” was essentially a recycling job from the Pentagon propaganda mill. In Donald Rumsfeld’s precise vernacular, the Khorasans were “known knowns”:

This is essentially the same cast of characters that we’ve had our eye on for years,” the senior US official said. “These are known operatives to us. This is more like a group of people seeking to exploit the safe haven in Syria to plot against us…..”

Thomas Joscelyn, an editor of The Long War Journal and scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says the same thing, explaining that Khorasan is not some major new threat or uniquely Syrian entity but essentially a travelling recruiter squad dispatched to the Syrian front by Al Qaeda central:

These are basically senior operational guys within Al Qaeda who are operating in Syria, and using the fertile recruiting ground of Syria to identify potential terrorist operations in the west.”

Likewise, according to Rosie Gray at BuzzFeed,

“A source that was briefed on Khorasan in June said that the counterterrorism community believes that between 10 and 20 top Al Qaeda people had gone to Syria from Waziristan “to link up in Syria and establish a new AQ affiliate in Syria that would be focused on training and deploying against the West.”

In fact, the names bandied about with respect to Khorasan are the same old, same old jihadi. Its perhaps now departed leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, is or was a 33-year old jihadist circuit preacher who has been around since 2001. His sojourns in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Iran and elsewhere were well tracked by western intelligence agencies but in 15 years he has apparently given out more sermons than notable attacks. Indeed, his most recent weapon of choice was apparently Twitter:

The source says al Fadhli is trying to emulate the success of ISIS in using social media to recruit Westerners — people who could be trained and then sent home to launch terror attacks. To this end, al Fadhli has been able to recruit a member of ISIS’ media team to help with recruitment for Khorasan.

The hysteria about an attack on the US homeland relates to Khorasan operatives who may have once been apprenticed to Ibrahim al Asiri, the putative master bombmaker of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The latter operates out of Yemen, which, incidentally, the White House claims is the success model for its current bombing campaign, but it is likely that al-Asiri’s incompetence as a bomb-maker is more responsible for this claim than the CIA’s drone missiles—-which always seem to hit the wrong target such as schools and wedding parties. In any event, al-Asiri has been trying to make an underwear or deodorant stick bomb for the better part of a decade with no success—save for the underwear bomber farce of X-mas 2009 during which the perpetrator fried his own private parts.
Indeed, the Khorasan scary stories appear to be just a recycled version of the airplane bomb plots—-based on scientifically dubious explosive clothing—- that were trotted out as a pretext to launch a drone war in Yemen in 2009-2010. Likewise, this week’s warnings about a magic liquid that can turn clothes into undetectable bombs is also an old standby—a version of a similar plot that was leaked in 2013, and died almost immediately over lack of evidence...

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