It’s Good For America, Not Russia, To Stop The CIA From Funding Syrian Jihadists

It’s Good For America, Not Russia, To Stop The CIA From Funding Syrian Jihadists

The idea that Russia orchestrated the Trump administration’s decision to end the CIA’s funding of jihadists is totally corrupt and offensive.
Willis L. Krumholz
By

The latest batch of horse manure peddled by the mainstream media came after yet another anonymous leak from within the intelligence community to the Washington Post. On Wednesday last week, the Post reported that President Trump had ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to stop arming and training the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

The decision likely occurred last month, during a meeting in the Oval Office that included national security advisor H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. This was several weeks before a July 7 meeting that Trump was set to have with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who backs the Assad regime.

That meeting between Trump and Putin resulted in the announcement of a ceasefire in southwest Syria, along the Jordanian border, where many of the CIA-backed rebels have been operating. The Post went on to report that the Jordanians were on board with the decision, and that the ceasefire was not predicated on ending the CIA program.

Cue the Media Hysterics

The mainstream media took the news and promptly concocted the narrative that since this was “a move long sought by Russia,” Trump’s decision amounted to more evidence of Russian influence over the president. CNN called the move “controversial,” quoting Bob Baer, CNN analyst and former CIA operative, who opined that Trump’s move is “a gift to Vladimir Putin for no quid pro quo and that’s not the way diplomacy works… it’s crazy, frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Another outlet quoted Ned Price, a former CIA officer who served as senior director of the National Security Council under President Barack Obama, to advance the same narrative: “It also fits a broader pattern,” Price said. “The White House appears content to kowtow to Moscow on any number of fronts — including in Syria, where, with each passing day, this administration appears to harbor fewer objections to the continued rule of Bashar al-Assad, a murderous dictator who continues to slaughter his own people.”

The Washington Post noted that its anonymous sources view Trump’s move as a “major concession” to Moscow: “This is a momentous decision – Putin won in Syria.” The Post then ended its story with a quote from a still-anonymous former Obama administration official: “People began thinking about ending the program, but it was not something you’d do for free… To give [the program] away without getting anything in return would be foolish.”

Democrat Party hacks Chris Matthews and former director of national intelligence James Clapper got together on MSNBC to say that Trump was “making Russia great again.” Neoconservative Republicans didn’t miss out either. The Hill quoted Sen. John McCain, who said Trump was “playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin.” Sen. Lindsey Graham also denounced the move:

Although the mainstream media devoted multiple paragraphs to anonymous officials condemning Trump’s move, few if any mainstream outlets noted that there were legitimate arguments in favor of ending the CIA’s program.

The CIA Program Was Not in America’s Best Interests

The idea that Trump gave away the farm to Russia is ridiculous, for three reasons: First, we have spent years arming so-called “moderate” rebels in Syria to the tune of $1 billion per year, with little to show for it. That amounts to $1 out of every $15 in the CIA budget, as estimated by the Washington Post, and $100,000 for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the CIA’s training program.

Note that just because the CIA has trained and armed a rebel does not mean the rebel actually showed up in the field to fight Assad. In 2014, for example, a special program sought to train 15,000 rebels in Jordan and other countries before returning the rebels to Syria. Only “four or five” of the recruits in the program actually returned to Syria to fight. It is likely that most of the other “rebels” turned tail and sold their expensive American weapons to jihadists, including ISIS.

Even Adam Schiff, the head Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a modern-day Joe McCarthy, was quoted in a Post story from 2015 as highly skeptical of the CIA program’s efficacy. All the way back in 2015 this skepticism was bipartisan, at least in the House.

Second, the groups we were actively funding in Syria were many times far from being “moderate.” Several U.S.-backed rebels have had ties to Jabhat-al Nusra, or the Nusra Front, an offshoot of al-Qaeda. Even a former U.S. official who supports the CIA’s program lamented in a 2015 interview with the BBC that the rebels were not “ideologically pure,” and noted that “in wars like [this], there is no black and white.” Worse, as part of the CIA’s program, the United States even kept groups that were affiliated with al-Qaeda—terrorist groups by any clear definition of the word—off the United Nations terrorist list, solely because these groups were receiving U.S. support.

Finally, U.S. weapons given to the bad guys have cost innocent human lives. One American-funded group, Ahrar al-Sham, directly collaborated with the Nusra Front in a raid on a village in 2016 that killed 19 civilians, including women and children. As you can imagine in a war such as this, this is only one of many atrocities committed by all sides.

While not-a-Republican Joe Scarborough rages about hundreds who have died in chemical attacks possibly not even perpetrated by the Syrian government in 2013, 2015, and 2017, our conventional weapons have helped prolong a war that has resulted in countless thousands of civilian deaths. And the weapons we have supplied will inevitably end up being turned on us, particularly on the men and women of our armed forces.

Flyover Common Sense Vs. the DC Establishment

If this policy makes little sense to you, you are—like the rest of flyover country—smarter than America’s foreign policy establishment. Proponents of toppling Assad say Obama was weak and didn’t act soon enough in Syria. It is true that Obama could have taken a tougher line on Russia, but the CIA started “officially” funding rebel groups in 2013, two years before the Russians got involved in Syria. Not only that, there is evidence that suggests the CIA, in coordination with the Turks and the Saudis, was running weapons to unsavory jihadi rebels as far back as 2012 (which likely explains much of the 2012 incident in Benghazi).

Where are the results to show for the billions of dollars spent?

Where are the results to show for the billions of dollars spent? Where is the large cadre of moderate rebels? Should we have placed U.S. troops on the ground, as many have called for? If so, what would be the exit strategy, and would Syria be better off after we eventually exited?

In short, the idea that Russia orchestrated the decision to end the CIA’s funding of jihadists is totally corrupt and offensive. Even the idea that Syria was “given” to the Russians is preposterous. Syria has always been a client of Russia, as far back as the old Soviet days.

Trump didn’t just decide three weeks ago to stop funding the Syrian rebels. He consistently talked about the issue throughout the Republican primaries and during the general election. In March 2016, Trump called removing Assad and fighting ISIS at the same time “idiocy.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal before the 2016 election, Trump complained that “we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.”

Yet unnamed intelligence community officials and media hacks would like to spin this as more proof of Trump’s affinity for Russia all the way back in the early days of the election. Rather, Trump was simply advancing an alternative foreign policy to neoconservatism—realism—that turned out to be incredibly appealing to Middle America.

Republicans Need to Get With the American Public

There are three takeaways from this. First, and not that anyone needed more proof, but this latest Trump-Russia narrative shows how corrupt the mainstream media has become. The same media that raked the Bush administration over the coals for nation-building in Iraq seems perfectly content to cheerlead the exact same mistake in Syria.

There is a sizeable difference between the conservative base’s views on foreign policy and the beltway’s neoconservative foreign policy.

Next, the fact that most Democrats, who love to label Republicans as warmongers, have been silent on this issue shows yet again how corporatist and corrupt the Democrat Party has become. Increasingly, progressivism means expanded state power and nothing more. In fact, it is quite possible that we are witnessing the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party shift over to the Democrats, as was true before the 1970s.

Finally, and most important, the fact that establishment Republicans have cheer-led for toppling Assad and haven’t learned anything from the mistakes the George W. Bush administration made, speaks to one of the reasons why Trump was elected: There is a sizeable difference between the conservative base’s views on foreign policy and the beltway’s neoconservative foreign policy.

Especially after Trump, it is quite likely that neoconservatism, prevalent among the majority of elected GOP officials, has little actual constituency in flyover country. Tucker Carlson has begun to highlight this, facing off against Ralph Peters and Max Boot (watching both exchanges is well worth your time). This is a conversation worth having, and here’s to hoping that more pundits join Carlson in asking tough questions of our policy-makers. The future of the conservative movement in large part depends on getting this issue right.

Willis L. Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry. The views expressed are those of the author only.

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