The CIA vs the DoD: The Battle for Syria
Marko Marjanovic recently published a fascinating aricle in Checkpoint Asia titled The US Is Now Fighting for AND Against Virtually Every Side in Syria’s 4-Sided Civil War.
Taken all together the US is now pursuing three separate wars in Syria against three of the four sides involved (ISIS, government, and rebels), as well as on the behalf of three of the four sides (rebels, Kurds, and government).
- From the Kurds’ point of view the US is providing them with support against ISIS but is also providing their Islamist rebel enemies with huge quantities of arms and training.
- From the rebels’ point of view the US is arming them and backing them diplomatically but also periodically bombing the leaders of its most effective fighting group, Jabhat al-Nusra.
- From the government’s point of view the US is arming the Islamist rebellion against it but has also shared useful intelligence with it and has killed off some of its enemies in ISIS and al-Qaeda.
- From the point of view of ISIS the US is bombing them and boosting their enemies but has also in the past helped arm them by equipping FSA groups which shared trenches and supplies with ISIS.
In other words five years into the Syrian Civil War, the US is a former or present friend and enemy of every single side in that complex war. A better argument for the immediate and permanent US cessation of its sadistic enterprise in Syria could hardly be imagined.
So how did the US get itself in to this absolute quagmire? Obviously lack of leadership plays a large part in all of this. But much has already been written about Obama’s failures in Syria. The question that concerns us here is, given the lack of direction from the president, who stepped in to fill the vacuum? The answer appears to be that a turf battle has been taking place between two competing foreign policy ideologies within the US government.
The confusion of the US’s policy is largely due to the CIA and the Department of Defense arming and supporting different factions in Syria. The grossly simplified explanation of this situation is that the DoD’s primary objective in Syria has been fighting ISIS while the CIA’s primary objective has been overthrowing Assad. But this division within the government is not just acrimony between the DoD and the CIA nor is it just about Syria.
The “Deep State”, at first glance, sounds like a conspiracy theory. Certainly there are less than reasonable descriptions of it flying around talk radio and the internet. But if we take off the tinfoil hat we see that the Deep State is composed of the career members of government agencies and the career military officers. They are a constant presence amidst a sea of political change. Many of these bureaucrats and officers hold positions of immense power, power that is magnified during a weak presidential administration. It is said that the career diplomats at the State Dept. refer to the Sec. Of State and the other political appointees as “The Christmas Help”. But the Deep State is not a monolithic entity; when it comes to foreign policy there are two competing factions that emerged after the cold war, one that everyone is familiar with and one that is newly ascendant after years of dormancy.
The neocons have totally dominated US foreign policy since George W. Bush’s administration and their beginnings date back to George H. W. Bush’s administration. Essentially the neocons are the old Cold Warriors who had a multi-decade plan for crippling Russia and remaking the Middle East. They fell out of favor briefly while Bill Clinton pursued his peace dividend and attempted to use America’s military to intervene in humanitarian crises, but that approach was abandoned once the Black-Hawk was downed over Mogadishu. It is also not clear if there was ever much support for Clinton’s policy of humanitarian intervention within the Deep State. With W.’s election the neocons gained full control of US foreign policy and when 9/11 happened they wasted no time in launching their plan to remake the middle east into action.
The other competing ideology within the Deep State is that of the paleocons. The paleocons are essentially non-interventionists when it comes to foreign policy. Their main concern is protecting America from terror attacks, and they see the destabilization of the Middle East as counterproductive to that aim. Furthermore, they don’t see Russia as a serious threat to American interests; instead they see Russia as a potential ally in the war against terror. Pat Buchanan has long been the face of the paleocon movement. He described it thus, “We are old church and old right, anti-imperialist and anti-interventionist, disbelievers in Pax Americana”. Furthermore Buchanan described neoconservativism as “a globalist, interventionist, open borders ideology.”
If the paleocon foreign policy sounds familiar that is because Donald Trump is largely a paleocon. According to political researcher Bruce Wilson, “Trump advances core paleo-conservative positions laid out in The Next Conservatism — rebuilding infrastructure, protective tariffs, securing borders and stopping immigration, neutralizing designated internal enemies and isolationism.” So despite what the legacy media has told us about Trump, there is a solid philosophical basis underpinning his policies. Furthermore, unlike Obama who as a one term senator had no political power structure backing him, Trump will take office with powerful paleocon support from within the Deep State.
Pat Buchanan’s presidential runs were the paleocons overt attempts to take power but most of their activity since the cold war has taken place out of the public eye by working within the Deep State. In 2003 Samuel Francis wrote-
If we could somehow take out the ideology, change the minds of those who control the state, and convert them into paleo-conservatives, the state apparatus itself would be neutral. What really animates its drive toward a totalitarian conquest and reconfiguration of society and the human mind itself comes from the ideology that the masters of the managerial state have adopted, a force that is entirely extraneous and largely accidental to the structure by which they exercise power.
So let’s break down this admittedly imperfect heuristic of a Deep State populated by competing factions of neocons and paleo-cons, understanding that what follows is necessarily a gross oversimplification. Within the federal government the neocon’s main centers of power are the CIA, NSA and the State Dept. The CIA, NSA and the State Dept. have been the main instruments by which the neocon Bush and Obama administrations have pursued their attempts to cripple Russia and remake the Middle East. The paleo-cons main base of power is within the military, especially the military intelligence agencies who have a long history of disputes with the CIA. Trump’s appointment of Gen. Flynn, who came up through military intelligence, as National Security Adviser is a clear shot across the bow of the CIA.
Even more encouraging is Trump’s intention to dismantle the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. After 9/11 the Office was given budgetary control across all of the US’s intelligence agencies including military intelligence. This was in effect, a power grab by the neo-cons. Abolishing it will allow Trump to sideline the CIA and rely more heavily on military intelligence if he finds the CIA unwilling to toe the line.
But aside from military intelligence the paleo-cons have other power centers within the Deep State. Recall that the border patrol union endorsed Trump, their first presidential endorsement ever. Possibly the most important paleo-con center of power is in the FBI which many believe tipped the balance in the presidential election.
Given this background, the quagmire in Syria begins to make more sense. A weak Obama was unable to navigate between the newly ascendant paleo-cons and the neocons who had passed the zenith of their influence. His indecision lead to America working at cross purposes to itself in Syria and in many other areas of the world. Let us hope that Trump and the paleo-cons can wield the might and power of the United States more judiciously than the neocons did.