Two months ago I printed out my critique of Andrew Cockburn’s article in the January 2016 issue of Harper’s Magazine that came off the Seymour Hersh-David Bromwich-Patrick Cockburn assembly line as if programmed by a numerical control machine precise to the millionth of an inch and sent it to the editor who has since been fired. In the back of my mind I wonder if that was the consequence of him directing the letters editor to contact me about writing a rejoinder to Cockburn for the latest issue that is dated March 2016. This is the first time I have ever written a letter to an editor in a print magazine and struggled to say anything effective in the two hundred word limit they allowed me.
In any case, the issue just arrived in my mailbox today and here is the exchange:
Andrew Cockburn depicts a White House that is bent on regime change in Syria, despite a New York Times report from October 2013, which stated that from the beginning, “Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention.” Cockburn suggests that the eventual intervention was part of a master plan concocted by the Saudis to thwart Shiite influence in the region. But such a plan does not square with the invasion of Iraq, which resulted in the rise of a Shiite regime that has alienated Sunnis so much that they have come to see the Islamic State as a lesser evil in Anbar province. This is to say nothing of the Pentagon training program for Syrian rebels, which required trainees to agree in advance that their weapons would be used only against the Islamic State, not against the soldiers of Bashar al-Assad. If this is a proxy war, it is not a very good one.
The White House has been far more determined to punish Al Qaeda, through its drone attacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The sad truth is that the most effective intervention in Syria has come from Assad’s allies. Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah have now joined forces with the Baathist military to destroy non–Islamic State rebels who took up arms after peaceful protesters were attacked by government snipers. The failure of Cockburn to acknowledge the scorched-earth tactics of this unholy alliance is regrettable.
New York City
Andrew Cockburn responds:
Louis Proyect’s string of misconceptions usefully reflects the addled thinking of the administration, its allies, and the media, which has done so much to prolong Syria’s agony. Obama forswore as politically impossible military intervention (excepting the anti–Islamic State air campaign) in Syria. Instead he opted for covert action, in collusion with regional allies, that was aimed at displacing the Assad regime. Since he and other administration officials repeatedly stressed that “Assad must go” and supported armed opposition forces as a means to that end, it is hard to see why eschewing direct military intervention indicated a contrary policy. The United States and Saudi Arabia have pursued the same policy in Syria. This is confirmed not merely by their public statements; as I revealed in my article, the United States actively enabled Saudi arms supplies to flow to that country’s jihadist proxies. The loud complaints last fall that Russia was bombing “CIA-backed moderates” (who were embedded with an Al Qaeda coalition) on the front lines against Assad’s forces give the lie to assertions that we were interested only in fighting the Islamic State.
There’s not much more to say here except that it is patently absurd to link me to the “addled thinking of the administration” especially when there are reports of John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov being united around the need to keep the ghoulish Assad regime intact out of the Chamblerlain-Ribbentrop playbook. Unfortunately space limitations prevented me from getting too deep into Cockburn’s “Assad must go” nonsense so let me reprise it here and be done with it. From my blog post on Andrew Cockburn’s idiotic article:
In fact there was zero interest in a large-scale intervention in Syria in either civilian or military quarters. All this is documented in a NY Times article from October 22nd 2013, written when the alarums over a looming war with Syria were at their loudest, that stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.”