‘Unleash the CIA’ in Syria?

John Glaser, July 12, 2012

Former CIA case officer Reuel Marc Gerecht writes today in the Wall Street Journal that Obama should “unleash the CIA” on Syria and topple the Assad regime. He argues for “a muscular CIA operation launched from Turkey, Jordan and even Iraqi Kurdistan” and to deploy “enough case officers and delivering paralyzing weaponry to the rebels as rapidly as possible.” If we don’t take this action, he claims, total deaths in Syria could hit somewhere between 200,000 to 4.5 million.

So much hysteria and so little prudence is hard to take all in one column. Gerecht gets to this policy prescription, first of all, because he estimates there is not enough political will to launch an all out war (how frustrating!). The Obama administration “lives in fear of an illusion,” he writes, “of an interventionist slippery slope” and that “even on the more hawkish right, there isn’t a lot of appetite for committing US military power to the conflict.” A no-fly zone or so-called “safe zones” aren’t in the cards, so we must unleash our secret squad of paramilitary agents to solve the problem. You can see here for why those options are terrible options that would worsen the humanitarian crisis and would be strategically counterproductive even from Washington’s point of view.

A coordinated, CIA-led effort to pour anti-tank, antiaircraft, and anti-personnel weaponry through gaping holes in the regime’s border security wouldn’t be hard. The regime’s lack of manpower and Syria’s geography—low-rising mountains, arid steppes and forbidding deserts—would likely make it vulnerable to the opposition, if the opposition had enough firepower.

…This Syrian action would not be a massive undertaking. Even when the CIA ramped up its aid to Afghan anti-Soviet forces in 1986–87, the numbers involved (overseas and in Washington) were small, at roughly two dozen. An aggressive operation in Syria would probably require more CIA manpower than that, but likely still fewer than 50 U.S. officers working with allied services.

What Gerecht has in confidence he lacks in judgment. So a proxy war in Syria would only need to be four times as large as the one we fought in Afghanistan. Will the chaos, suffering, and blowback be four times as large too? I’m glad he mentions Afghanistan, where our proxy war led the Pakistani ISI to increase tenfold in size and helped empower an entire generation of jihadists who eventually turned their sites on America. Does Gerecht have a prophylactic for that kind of mayhem after a Syria proxy war, or does he just not care enough to consider the consequences that far into the future?

The American taxpayer is already putting money towards a disparate, unaccountable group of rebel militias which have strong ties to al-Qaeda and have been accused by the United Nations and the international media of committing terrible atrocities against civilians, not to mention extra-judicial killings and torture. Should Gerecht be accused of treason for demanding Washington get behind the allies of al-Qaeda?

Daniel Trombly (via Micah Zenko) reaches further back and wonders what makes Gerecht think proxy wars are good for humanitarianism or regional stability (I don’t necessarily agree with his characterizations of these other CIA wars, but the examples are nonetheless retrospective):

  • There’s the Guatemalan Civil War, which the CIA-backed coup government installed in 1954 had to cope with beginning in 1960. Thanks to American military support, we were able to limit the war to a mere 36 years, and casualties were 200,000 dead. Plus 50,000 or so disappeared. So the “low figure ,” as Gerecht puts it.
  • In Afghanistan, during the Soviet invasion, numbers vary from around half a million to two million. The Soviet war in Afghanistan lasted 9 years. The actual Afghan civil war failed to terminate in 1989, and still continued after the second time Langley was “let loose” in 2001.
  • In Nicaragua, the civil war lasted from 1979 until 1990. At least “mere” 50,000-60,000 died, but that was against a government that had barely consolidated itself in a country whose population in 1980 was not even 3 million in 1980. It should be sobering that Nicaragua is our best case scenario here.
  • There’s also all the civil wars in Indochina the CIA got itself mixed up in, but Vietnam itself isn’t a good comparison and you can blame a lot of what was happening in Laos on the intervention of the PAVN and the American military, but we’re still talking about hundreds of thousands of casualties outside of Vietnam and millions in Vietnam.
  • The Angolan Civil War lasted from 1975-2002. At least half a million died. The third “Reagan Doctrine” proxy war that Charles Krauthammer praised in his own column way back in 1985.

As Prof. Eva Bellin and Prof. Peter Krause in the Middle East Brief from Brandeis University found in their study of the Syria situation: “The distillation of historical experience with civil war and insurgency, along with a sober reckoning of conditions on the ground in Syria, make clear that limited intervention of this sort will not serve the moral impulse that animates it. To the contrary, it is more likely to amplify the harm that it seeks to eliminate by prolonging a hurting stalemate.”

Gerecht’s prescriptions for proxy war in Syria seem to exist in a vacuum. He harbors his own kind of Fatal Conceit in which he is assured that Washington and the CIA can play marionette with the world, pulling the strings in Syria and the entire Middle East without consequence. As Gerecht himself admits, even the hawks – like apparently Brian Fishman of the New America Foundation, who thinks “deposing Assad” is a righteous US goal – can go down the list of every kind of intervention and reject them all as wrong or unworkable. The fact that there is that kind of consensus to stay out is indicative of just how psychotic someone like Gerecht really is.




28 Responses to “‘Unleash the CIA’ in Syria?”

  1. Mr. Gerecht drives around listening to the theme song from Airwolf when he's not busy battling evil.

  2. The many fair points in your column are obscured by your constant need to attack Gerecht's personal character.

    "What Gerecht has in confidence he lacks in judgment." … "The fact that there is that kind of consensus to stay out is indicative of just how psychotic someone like Gerecht really is."

    Is this column about the wisdom of a CIA operation in Syria or is it about your dislike for Gerecht? It sounds like the latter, which makes this column less credible.

  3. The very fact that I disagree with Gerecht’s prescription for proxy war in Syria means that I believe he lacks judgment. To say so is not to attack his personal character.

    Calling him psychotic, admittedly, can be taken personally. That was not my intention. But this was merely one word in a lengthy post, the rest of which was purely substantive.

  4. Interesting Website and article. The CIA has been attempting to overthrow Assad and outside opposition forces may, indeed, topple his government. Ever hear of asymetric warfare…in reverse? Over 10,000 ex-Libyan and Iraq insurgents are being trained in Jordan by Saudi Arabia. Britain's MI6, France Spec Op forces, and Israel are aiding in the training of these insurgents as well. The CIA and President Obama have supplied the Syrian insurgents with hi-tech anti-tank missiles through the Saudi and Qatari intelligence agencies.

    I wrote two articles about the Syrian insurgents and offer them both free to readers. One is about the hi-tech, anti-tank missile venture and the other article is "Opposition Fighters May Topple Assad's Regime". Robert at Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) News.
    http://www.osintdaily.blogspot.com/2012/05/obama-supplie... http://www.osintdaily.blogspot.com/2012/02/outside-oppos...

  5. I feel like Im often looking for interesting things to read about a variety of subjects, but I manage to include your blog among my reads every day because you have interesting entries that I look forward to.

  6. Did Afghan jihadists turn their sights on America? You mean 11 Sept? If that's what you're implying you're just a troll

  7. I really think that America should just start allowing other nations' to evolve on their own. I recently attended a Q&A for a musician named Serj Tankian who touched on this subject as well. After the Q&A I also decided to look at some of his music videos and he is very politically, environmentally and socially aware. Here is one of his music videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQtRXqBQETA I think you would enjoy. His new album "Harakiri" just came out, Best Buy is doing something where it's $8 (http://bit.ly/BBcoupon) but I guess it still doesn't beat $4 on Amazon

  8. Thank you.

  9. Huh??

  10. Are these Muslims crazy? The West needs their oil at dirt cheap prices for a long long time to be paid for in dollars in order to revitalize Western economies. When the oil runs out, what will the Muslims have left? They don't care about future generations, just stuffing those dollars in their pockets today.

  11. "the moral impulse that animates it"

    I don't believe there is any moral impulses behind their actions and decisions.

  12. I agree with the above comment, the internet is with a doubt growing into the most important medium of communication across the globe and its due to sites like this that ideas are spreading so quickly.

  13. Ask yourself why one would dislike Gerecht. It is the neoconservatives such as Gerecht that are pushing this country to its demise – and yes, committing treason.

  14. When the oil runs out, the West will be even more kaput.

  15. I suspect if Mr Gerecht's neighborhood was a target of the CIA's "fun & games", he'd be less enthusiatic about US meddling. What ever happened to the idea of sovereignty? Has there ever been a government more contemptuous of national sovereignty than Uncle Sam?

  16. Arnold Toynbee, the British historian, quoted in the New York Times of May 7, 1971
    "To most Europeans, America now looks like the most dangerous country in the world. Since America is unquestionably the most powerful country, the transformation of America's image within the last thirty years is very frightening for Europeans. It is probably still more frightening for the great majority of the human race who are neither Europeans nor North Americans, but are Latin Americans, Asians, and Africans. They, I imagine, feel even more insecure than we feel. They feel that, at any moment, America may intervene in their internal affairs, with the same appalling consequences as have followed from the American intervention in Southeast Asia.

  17. Toynbee quoted continued:
    For the world as a whole, the CIA has now become the bogey that communism has been for America. Wherever there is trouble, violence, suffering, tragedy, the rest of us are now quick to suspect the CIA had a hand in it. Our phobia about the CIA is, no doubt, as fantastically excessive as America's phobia about world communism; but in this case, too, there is just enough convincing guidance to make the phobia genuine. In fact, the roles of America and Russia have been reversed in the world's eyes. Today America has become the nightmare."

  18. Assad helped militas kill us troops in iraq.

    return the favor

  19. need to attack Gerecht's personal character.

    That is the way they do business on Anti war .com

  20. I dont know if you people heard about the gang from Chicago called Chicago five, Obama is one of them this guy must be the second in rank exposing what this gang is doing and have to do.

  21. WTF did you come up with this BS story.

  22. [...] weapons. But this decision seemed political, rather than the other way around. Last week I wrote a lengthy blog post objecting to former CIA case officer Reuel Marc Gerecht’s call to elevate the conflict to a [...]

  23. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/world/africa/07
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58

    here you go you apologist for the Assad regime.

  24. [...] ‘Unleash the CIA’ in Syria? [...]

  25. The many fair points in your column are obscured by your constant need to attack Gerecht's personal character.

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