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Weissman writes: "If George W. Bush's war in Iraq was 'one of the greatest historic blunders ever in U.S. foreign policy,' why won't Barack Obama learn from it in his response to Syria?"

President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina 10/19/08. (photo: Jim Young/Reuters)
President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina 10/19/08. (photo: Jim Young/Reuters)

How Obama Fans the Flames of Islam's Holy Wars

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

26 May 13

f George W. Bush's war in Iraq was "one of the greatest historic blunders ever in U.S. foreign policy," why won't Barack Obama learn from it in his response to Syria?

Many observers believe he has. In sharp contrast to his faith-based predecessor, Obama worries publicly about real-world dangers, such as surface-to-air missiles falling into the wrong hands, and he regularly counsels caution and restraint. But Iraq offers a more general lesson about the arrogance and stupidity of getting involved in civil wars, especially those with a sectarian twist.

Besides fear-mongering about weapons of mass destruction that did not exist and hoping to control vast oil resources that do, Vice President Dick Cheney and his neo-con supporters claimed they were marching into Iraq to overthrow a bloody dictator and save the majority Shia from oppression by the Sunni minority. In time, newly elected Shia governments in Baghdad oppressed the Sunnis, who continue to the present day to respond with terrorist violence. The new Iraqi governments also allied themselves with Iran, the war's ultimate winner.

Cheney eventually saw the folly of his ways and shamelessly did a U-turn. Instead of saving and democratizing the Shia in Iraq, he and Saudi national security adviser Bandar bin Sultan persuaded the Bush administration to join with the region's Sunni leaders in a new sectarian alliance against Iran and its Shia allies in Syria and Lebanon. Most of those Sunni leaders were hereditary monarchs with little democratic about them. Sy Hersh reported this "redirection" in The New Yorker, and Obama picked up where Cheney left off. How embarrassing for them both!

In the shadows and out, Obama has continued to ally the United States with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Turkey, all Sunni-led nations, some with large and strategically positioned Shia populations. This fuels the sectarian strife in Syria, with its Sunni majority ruled by an Alawite Shia minority. Far more dangerous, it strengthens the Sunni bloc in its insane urge to escalate its regional competition with Iran.

Ample evidence - much of it in the British press - shows that the CIA and probably the late Ambassador Chris Stevens started as early as April 2012 to back the Sunni rebels in Syria and help supply them with Libyan arms. In this effort, they worked closely with the Qataris, who had given a huge quantity of arms and money to a wide variety of Libya's anti-Kadhafi rebels. The recipients included Islamists from the extremist Salafi strand of Sunni Islam, quite possibly including Ansar al-Sharia, the group suspected of leading the Benghazi attacks. As one private arms dealer complained, the Qataris imposed no controls on who got the weapons. "They just handed them out like candy."

With the Syrian war heating up during 2012, the candy flowed north. According to a report this month in London's Financial Times, "The gas-rich state of Qatar has spent as much as $3bn over the past two years supporting the rebellion in Syria, far exceeding any other government, but is now being nudged aside by Saudi Arabia as the prime source of arms to rebels."

In Syria as in Libya, the Qataris have given to a wide variety of groups, and many observers believe this includes Jabhat-al-Nusrah, which is reportedly linked to al-Qaeda. The Qataris insist they have never backed Nusrah, while in December, the Obama administration pointedly added the group to its list of global terrorists.

No surprise, Washington has shown little transparency about its own role. Government sources, named and anonymous, have regularly told reporters that the CIA was supplying only humanitarian aid, intelligence, logistic support, communications equipment, and non-lethal military equipment, and trying to see that the arms shipments got to trustworthy groups.

The truth was otherwise. As The New York Times reported in March, the CIA has played a major role. "From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia," wrote C.J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt. The CIA also helped Arab governments and Turkey to organize a massive airlift to ferry the arms to Turkey and Jordan, from which they were passed to Syrian rebels. Citing a former U.S. official, the Times credited CIA director David Petraeus with helping to get the airlift started and prodding various countries to work together on it.

"These countries were going to do it one way or another," the former official said. "They weren't asking for a 'Mother, may I?' from us. But if we could help them in certain ways, they'd appreciate that." In other words, don't blame us for the escalation. Our allies would have done it anyway.

Pulling back from his Sunni allies seems unlikely for Obama, even though helping supply arms to the rebels has already led to more bloodshed - and much more lasting bitterness.

As always happens, groups on both sides defend their own escalation as a response to the buildup on the other side. Given free passage by their new Iraqi allies, the Iranians continue to supply Bashar al-Assad and his militia supporters, while the Russians are now providing coastal defense batteries with anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-aircraft systems complete with Russian military advisers to deter Israeli strikes. The escalation has also increased the flow of foreign fighters - Shiite holy warriors, mostly from Iran and Lebanon, and Sunni extremists from all over.

The ultimate danger is obvious and intended by some - that all this will lead to the long predicted and long delayed U.S. and Israeli bombardment of Iran. This would create massive death and destruction, strengthening whatever ambition leading Iranians may have to create "a nuclear capability," which is less than a completed nuclear weapon, but dangerously close to it. The attack would also ensure the escalation of violence of all kinds throughout the region.

If only Obama would learn from the Bush administration's folly in Iraq and work to defuse rather than escalate Islam's sectarian wars. It's not likely, I know, but Inshallah! your social media marketing partner
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