Throughout President Obama’s term in office – but in recent years particularly – there have been grumblings about his amateurish foreign policy and lack of coherent military policy in many of the world’s hot spots, where the United States was either engaged when he took office, or became engaged after he settled into the White House.
The Middle East has been Obama’s biggest headache, as it has been for administrations dating back to the Carter era. But Obama has done little to make the situation easier for himself. He, along with his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton– who’s now running for president herself – encouraged the so-called “Arab Spring” movement all along, a movement which has seen regimes toppled in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and, nearly, Iraq and Syria. The entire region is aflame and there is little on the horizon in terms of White House policy that will change the situation on the ground anytime soon.
Syria has been particularly problematic. Into the Iraq void left by the departure of all American troops in 2011 stepped the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS – or ISIL, depending on the variant used).
It was believed by the Obama White House that after nearly a decade of training Iraqi troops, they were finally prepared to stand on their own and protect their post-Saddam Hussein country. They weren’t.
However, it is equally true that when ISIS arrived on the scene wide swaths of Syria had also been lost by the Bashar al-Assad regime – lost to various factions of rebel groups, each with a piece of the country, but all too weak and disorganized and fractious to finish the job of toppling Assad – which, by the way, was and remains an objective of the Obama administration.
If ISIS complicated matters, the introduction of Russian forces into the conflict, compliments of President Vladimir Putin, have made it downright unsolvable – at least for the foreseeable future. That’s because Russia’s objective is the polar opposite of ours; Putin, wanting to preserve historic Russian presence in Syria via a large strategically significant Mediterranean port at Tartus, has a stake in seeing Assad remain in power.
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Having said that, according to renowned investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh, U.S. and Russian intelligence have nonetheless been cooperating – and not at the behest of the White House, but rather in spite of it – via the sharing of intelligence targeting ISIS, since that is the one common thread, the one common enemy, Moscow and Washington share.
How so? ISIS, of course, is also attempting to bring down the Assad regime, though the Islamic caliphate is now most concerned about solidifying and preserving its territorial gains. The U.S. opposes ISIS as a terrorist organization.
“Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff,” Hersh writes.
SHARING INTEL WITH ‘OTHER NATIONS’
“Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped,” he continued.
Their dissent dates back to the summer of 2013, when an assessment of life in Syria should Assad be deposed, compiled by the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Joint Chiefs, then led by Gen. Martin Dempsey, projected that Syria would collapse into chaos and become a jihadi haven. That is pretty much what has happened to Libya and, for a time, parts of Iraq and Egypt.
The report also “took a dim view” of the White House’s continuance of a policy to arm the so-called “moderate” rebels. What happened, eventually, was that the covert arms program was co-opted by Turkey, since the guns and ammo went through a Turkish conduit; the “moderates” essentially disintegrated; and U.S. arms were flowing to all kinds of Syrian groups, including ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
Sensing that Obama would never directly approve their plan, the Joint Chiefs covertly sought out ways to share U.S. intelligence with the Syrian army. Germany, Israel and Russia were in contact with the Syrian army under Assad, and intelligence was shared through those nations.
The entire Hersh assessment is here, and it is worth the read.