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R.H. Black: U.S. Must Work with Syria to Defeat ISIS

Paper submitted to the UPF Office of Peace and Security Affairs, Washington DC, forum on
"The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria: Return of the Caliphate?" August 27, 2014

The U.S. suffers a profound lack of intellectual clarity in its policy regarding Syria. We are torn between the urgent need to halt the explosive growth of ISIS and the desire of policymakers such as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and John McCain, to vindicate their flawed Mideast strategy.

Syria is the bulwark of defense between radical Islamic forces and the Western world. Were Syria to fall, ISIS would seize Damascus.Jordan and Lebanon would collapse within weeks, and the victory of ISIS would profoundly radicalize Turkeya nation that is steadily moving into the jihadist orbit.

President Obama has authorized overflights in Syrian airspace, yet he refuses to coordinate attacks with Syrian forces. Opposition forces, anxious to embroil the U.S. in the civil war, cannot be trusted. Only Syria has the battlefield intelligence and necessary ground forces to exploit successful airstrikes. It is foolish to forgo effective airstrikes because of a petulant refusal to cooperate with Syria.

In Syria, the United States is paralyzed by past errors, while responsible state actors, like Egypt, have severed ties with Syrian terrorists. Some U.S. allies who supported our bellicose drive to oust President Assad, have grown wary of the resultant explosion of Islamic radicalism rocking the Middle East.

Jordan, which permitted the CIA to train jihadists for attacks against Syria, was shocked when ISIS captured of one of its Iraqi border crossings. Even Saudi Arabia, long a financier of ISIS and other terrorist groups, has begun following the visionary leadership of Egyptian President el-Sisi, who strongly opposes the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist groups.

U.S. policy has brought chaos to the Middle East. We undermined Egypts President Mubarak, leading to President Morsis election. Morsi was toppled after attempting to seize dictatorial powers.We removed Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, replacing him with violent al Qaeda mobs who murdered our ambassador and others.

The U.S. engaged in highly questionable covert operations in Syria.As early as 2005, planning commenced that would inflame sectarian passions in order to topple President Assad. In his acclaimed piece, The Red Line and the Rat Line, Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh described what the CIA calls a rat linefor funneling arms from Libya through Turkey to Syrian rebels, including al Qaeda affiliates.Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar provided funding; the CIA and Britains MI6 shipped the arms from Qaddafis arsenals into Syria. The operation was not disclosed to congressional oversight committees as required by law.

Although he had joined the U.S. fight against terrorism, we facilitated Qaddafis murder in order to arm the Syrian revolution with his prodigious arsenal. In a truly macabre moment, Secretary Hillary Clinton responded to news of Qaddafis murder by joking, We came, we saw, he died!Clintons deadly covert action in Libya has led to untold suffering for Libyans and Syrians.It set the Islamic world aflame.

Even as ISIS blitzes across Iraq and Syria, neocons doggedly undermine Syria. They seek advanced weapons for carefully vetted rebels,and express their willingness to risk rebels turning those weapons on usjust as they did after the Soviet-Afghan war.The daunting task of selecting moderatesfrom the ever-shifting tribes of Islamic radicals has, thus for, prevented hot-heads from implementing this remarkably dangerous scheme.

The Free Syrian Army (F.S.A.) is the U.S.s go-toforce for moderate rebels.Yet close examination shows that moderate rebelsare simply a myth. On August 15, 2014, the New York Times reported that a rebel leader told them that half of ISIS terrorists came from the F.S.A. and other rebels. ISIS fighters didnt come from Mars,he said. Fifty percent of them are from [Syria].He said they left the F.S.A. because of its corrupt leaders. On July 31, 2014, Al Nusra also fired its number-two leader over defections to ISIS. Beyond that, it is widely understood that ISIS is the favored destination of Western jihadists. The gravitation of an array of jihadists toward ISIS makes locating reliable moderatesan exercise in futility.

Only President Assad commands sufficient loyalty among Syrians to defend against ISIS. Continuing to undercut his efforts may well tip the balance against Syria, and unleash the vile extremism of ISIS against the world.

History has been harshly punctuated by Muslim assaults against the Christian world. Europe was barely saved when Charles Martel defeated their armies in 732 A.D. at the Battle of Tours; again, they were defeated at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571; and King Sobieski finally crushed the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.

Unless we seize this moment, we risk facilitating the next great clash of civilizations between Islam and the Western world. Having spawned a demon in the Middle East, it is incumbent upon us to crush it now. It will be impossible to do so without the active assistance of Syrias President Assad.

[NOTE:Senator Black was a Marine officer who controlled hundreds of bombing missions in Vietnam.From 1981-84, he was responsible for military justice throughout Africa and the Middle East.Colonel Black served on the Army General Staff at the Pentagon and is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College.]