Former CIA Director, Gen. Michael Hayden, told a Jamestown Foundation conference this week that among the three outcomes he sees possible for the ongoing Syrian war he now believes that a victory by the Syrian government might be the "best option."
Option one, according Hayden, who also led the NSA, is an increasingly brutal war between Shiite and Sunni factions, and option two is a dissolution of the country. Facing this, he said he is "trending toward option three," the survival of Assad and the victory of the Syrian military over the insurgents.
His conclusion comes in the same week as the US government has suspended its assistance to the insurgents in Syria because the equipment is ending up in the hands of extremist groups.
In reality, foreign radical Islamist—including al-Qaeda affiliated groups—have always made up the bulk of those fighting to overthrow the secular Syrian government. They were funded by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States and supported by the US, Turkey, Israel, and NATO allies. The story sold to Western audiences that there was some sort of homegrown uprising against the Syrian government large enough and popular enough to overthrow it was always a myth. With that myth no longer sustainable in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the US government has had to slightly alter its position on Syria. At least for the moment.
According to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the US aid cut-off was decided after Islamist fighters seized warehouses filled with US-supplied military equipment meant for the so-called moderates. Hagel insists that the suspension of assistance is only a temporary measure to give time to reassess US options. The US government has politely requested that the Islamic Front groups who stole this military equipment please return it. They should not hold their breath.
The Islamic Front is a group now heavily sponsored by Saudi Arabia as a more acceptable alternative to the al-Qaeda affiliated factions—also supported by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is shipping thousands of heavy weapons to the Islamic Front, a move that could not happen without at least tacit approval of the CIA.
One option on the table is the US open arming of factions like the Islamic Front in Syria. This could present a PR problem for the US, as the Islamic Front has been involved in numerous attacks on civilians, including a massacre in the Syrian town of Adra just yesterday in which scores of civilians from minority groups were killed. It may be uncomfortable even for Susan Rice or Samantha Power to argue for supporting groups that revel in killing unarmed minority groups. Rather puts a bad gloss on their "humanitarian interventionism" religion.
What is certain is that a turning point is soon coming to the US misadventure supporting the overthrow of the Syrian government. The track record of such interventionism is a total disaster. Yesterday, the black flag of al-Qaeda was flown proudly over "liberated" Iraq, where rivers of blood continue to flow. In "liberated" Libya, the parliament recently voted in Sharia law while its military gave an award to John McCain. In Afghanistan, 12 years of fighting has produced...the status quo ante.
Can the US back out of an intervention when it is so clearly a mistake? History does not encourage optimism. We can hope Syria will be an exception to the disastrous rule.