Someone finally asked Obama administration officials to own up to the rise of ISIS and arming jihadists in Syria.
In a wide ranging interview titled “Confronting the Consequences of Obama’s Foreign Policy” The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan put the question to Ben Rhodes, who served as longtime deputy national security adviser at the White House under Obama and is now promoting his newly published book, The World As It Is: Inside the Obama White House.
Rhodes has been described as being so trusted and close to Obama that he was “in the room” for almost every foreign policy decision of significance that Obama made during his eight years in office. While the Intercept interview is worth listening to in full, it’s the segment on Syria that caught our attention.
In spite of Rhodes trying to dance around the issue, he sheepishly answers in the affirmative when Mehdi Hasan asks the following question about supporting jihadists in Syria:
Did you intervene too much in Syria? Because the CIA spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding and arming anti-Assad rebels, a lot of those arms, as you know, ended up in the hands of jihadist groups, some even in the hands of ISIS.
Your critics would say you exacerbated that proxy war in Syria; you prolonged the conflict in Syria; you ended up bolstering jihadists.
Rhodes initially rambles about his book and “second guessing” Syria policy in avoidance of the question. But Hasan pulls him back with the following: “Oh, come on, but you were coordinating a lot of their arms.”
The two spar over Hasan’s charge of “bolstering jihadists” in the following key section of the interview, at the end of which Rhodes reluctantly answers “yeah…” — but while trying to pass ultimate blame onto US allies Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia (similar to what Vice President Biden did in a 2014 speech):
MH: Oh, come on, but you were coordinating a lot of their arms. You know, the U.S. was heavily involved in that war with the Saudis and the Qataris and the Turks.
BR: Well, I was going to say: Turkey, Qatar, Saudi.
MH: You were in there as well.
BR: Yeah, but, the fact of the matter is that once it kind of devolved into kind of a sectarian-based civil war with different sides fighting for their perceived survival, I think we, the ability to bring that type of situation to close, and part of what I wrestled with in the book is the limits of our ability to pull a lever and make killing like that stop once it’s underway.
To our knowledge this is the only time a major media organization has directly asked a high ranking foreign policy adviser from the Obama administration to own up to the years long White House support to jihadists in Syria.
Though the interview was published Friday, its significance went without notice or comment in the mainstream media over the weekend (perhaps predictably). Instead, what did circulate was a Newsweek article mocking “conspiracy theories” surrounding the rapid rise of ISIS, including the following:
President Donald Trump has done little to dispel the myth of direct American support for ISIS since he took office. On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump claimed—without providing any evidence—that President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton co-founded the group and that ISIS “honors” the former president.
Of course, the truth is a bit more nuanced than that, as Trump himself elsewhere seemed to acknowledge, and which ultimately led to the president reportedly shutting down the CIA’s covert Syrian regime change program in the summer of 2017 while complaining to aides about the shocking brutality of the CIA-trained “rebels”.
Meanwhile, mainstream media has been content to float the falsehood that President Obama’s legacy is that he “stayed out” of Syria, instead merely approving some negligible level of aid to so-called “moderate” rebels who were fighting both Assad and (supposedly) the Islamic State. Rhodes has himself in prior interviews attempted to portray Obama as wisely staying “on the sidelines” in Syria.
But as we’ve pointed out many times over the years, this narrative ignores and seeks to whitewash possibly the largest CIA covert program in history, started by Obama, which armed and funded a jihadist insurgency bent of overthrowing Assad to the tune of $1 billion a year (one-fifteenth of the CIA’s publicly known budget according to leaked Edward Snowden documents revealed by the Washington Post).
It also ignores the well established fact, documented in both US intelligence reports and authenticated battlefield footage, that ISIS and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) jointly fought under a single US-backed command structure during the early years of the war in Syria, even as late as throughout 2013 — something confirmed by University of Oklahoma professor Joshua Landis, widely considered to be the world’s foremost expert on Syria.