Robert Ford, once one of the most vociferous champions of an aggressive American policy toward Syria has now changed his mind, McClatchy reports. Ford, who famously resigned from his diplomatic post last year in protest at the Obama Administration's "weak" support of Syrian rebels, now says the United States should not give any weapons to the rebels at all; they are too "disjointed and untrustworthy because they collaborate with jihadists."
Ford, at one time Obama's ambassador to Syria, had long insisted that "moderate rebels" in Syria could turn the tide in their war with both the Syrian government and the jihadi groups that have poured into the war zone. As McClatchy notes, just six months ago he was trumpeting the moderates in the Establishment journal Foreign Policy, saying they had broken with al Qaeda's Nusra Front -- one of the most powerful rebel groups -- and just needed more American weapons to take charge of the war and drive the Assad regime from power at last.
But now he says the scales have fallen from his eyes: the moderate rebels are barely clinging on, they're weak and disjointed, and they continue to collaborate with the Nusra Front. He said that giving the moderates more weapons is tantamount to handing the deadly goods to al Qaeda -- which has already happened time and again during the American-backed, Saudi-fuelled civil war. (Whether this pass-through of weaponry to violent extremists is a bug or a feature of American policy in Syria -- and elsewhere -- is another matter, but too large to be dealt with here.)
The new Obama initiative -- to essentially replace the fractured moderates now losing out to jihadis Syria by arming and training a new "moderate" army from scratch -- is, Ford rightly says, doomed from the start:
Syrian rebels are more concerned with bringing down Assad than with fighting extremists for the West, and there are far too few fighters to take the project seriously. “The size of the assistance is still too small,” he said. “What are they going to do with 5,000 guys? Or even 10,000 in a year? What’s that going to do?”
Ford's road to Damascus conversion from militant interventionist to skeptical opponent of American policy in Syria seems at first like a positive development; it's always good to have another voice raised against America's knee-jerk militarism -- and it's even better PR for anti-war forces if that voice comes from the center of the Establishment itself, right? So Ford's new stance is getting some play and praise among the dwindling circles of "progressives" who oppose the Peace Prize Prez's policies of permanent war.
But a closer look at Ford's position reveals that his "opposition" to the new Obama approach is based on the same argument as his earlier criticism of the president's policy: that it isn't bloodthirsty enough.
Ford may now concede that the "moderate" rebels are not up to the job of overthrowing Assad and defeating the jihadis in order to clear (or raze) the ground for a properly pro-US regime. But he still believes that this violent razing and regime implantation should be America's goal in Syria. What he calls for now is not the amateur hour of the cobbled-together moderates, but a "professional ground force" to come in and do the necessary bloodwork of empire.
Of course, Ford is a savvy realist. (He wouldn't be writing for FP if he weren't!) He recognizes the political difficulties of such a course, as McClatchy reports:
Ford said the time had come for U.S. officials and their allies to have a serious talk about “boots on the ground,” though he was quick to add that the fighters didn’t need to be American. He said a professional ground force was the only way to wrest Syria from the jihadists.
Two things to note here. First, see how the original, ostensible purpose of American involvement in Syria -- to help democratic forces liberate themselves from an authoritarian regime -- has now morphed into a campaign to "wrest Syria from the jihadists." Of course, it was the involvement of "U.S. officials and their allies" that led to the presence of the jihadi armies in Syria in the first place. The covert and overt intervention of Washington and the, er, authoritarian regimes it supports, such as Saudi Arabia, has created and maintained the conditions for an all-out civil war, spreading the chaos and hatred that is the sine qua non for jihadi movements to thrive. Now we're told we must put "boots on the ground" to fight the forces we ourselves have spawned.
Every intervention in the region has produced a catastrophic result, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, displacing millions more, destroying whole societies and fomenting ever-more violent and virulent extremism, not just in the region but around the world. Every single application of the policy Ford now espouses has led to this result. There can be no doubt whatsoever that "seriously" putting "boots on the ground" in the Syrian civil war will have the same consequences: more war, more chaos, more death, more extremism.
Second, Ford is "quick" to assure people that these "boots" don't necessarily have to be American. He doesn't offer any other specific alternatives. It is not likely that the military forces of America's allies in the region -- devoted as they are almost solely to oppressing their own people and pocketing baksheesh from America's war profiteers -- could "wrest Syria from the jihadists" or do anything else except shoot unarmed protesters conveniently grouped in a city square. Of course, Iran's "professional ground forces" would probably make short work of the jihadis in Syria; but no savvy, FP-published Establishment professional is going to suggest bringing the Iranians into Syria.
So who does that leave? Either the Americans, or the Israelis, or perhaps some kind of vast army of mercenaries -- a counter-jihad, where soldiers of fortune, professional killers, psychopaths and profiteers gather from around the world to wage merciless war. Ford's savvy realism doesn't extend to explaining who would actually be doing the killing for Ford's dream of a new, purged and purified Syria. But in any case, the ultimate goal remains: Assad must go, the jihadis must go, and this must be accomplished by the use of a massive "professional" force from outside -- accompanied, to be sure, by a strongly "centralized" group of local rebels, gathered and controlled under a single guiding hand. (Whose hand would that be, one wonders?)
Ford shows another flash of "savvy" insidery in his conclusion, which veritably reeks of Washingtonia in its implicit message: "It's my way or the highway." Ford says that his solution to the Syria crisis -- his new solution, that is, not the one he was peddling six months ago -- is the only solution. If his sage advice for a full-blown "professional," "boots on the ground" invasion of Syria by outside forces is not followed, "then we have to just walk away and say there's nothing we can do about Syria."
Diplomatic solutions? All-party talks? Ceasefires and demilitarization? UN mediation? Racheting down the terror-producing War on Terror? Nope, none of that, and nothing else that human creativity -- and a genuine will for achieving genuine peace and stability in the region -- could possibly devise. It's either war -- or just let the Syrian people stew and die in the bloodbath we have drawn for them.
That's what passes for "opposition" to America's berserk militarism these days: even more militarism. No doubt Ford is angling for a choice position on Hillary Clinton's national security team -- or Jeb Bush's, for that matter; there won't be a dime's worth of difference between them. But there is no dazzling, life-changing light on his road to Damascus -- only more death, only more darkness.