A recently uncovered U.S. government document published by WikiLeaks has revealed that the U.S. directly advocated for undermining “democratic” elements of the so-called Syrian “revolution” of 2011 in order to ensure the dominance of authoritarian, sectarian Sunni groups within the Syrian opposition.
The document, written by the United States Marine Corps (USMC) Intelligence Department in late 2011, further asserts that empowering these radical Sunni groups over democratic and secular ones would be ideal for the United States and its regional partners, as ensuring the decline of the current Syrian government, and with it a secular Syria, would harm Iran’s regional clout.
In other words, the U.S. openly supported undermining democratic opposition forces in Syria in order to challenge Iranian influence and, with it, the influence of the Middle East’s “resistance axis” that obstructs the imperialistic agendas of the U.S. and its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.
According to the document, which was buried in a previous WikiLeaks release and recently uncovered by journalist Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, U.S. military intelligence was well aware that the Syrian opposition movement in 2011 did not pose “a meaningful threat against the [Syrian] regime,” given that it was “extremely fractured” and “operating under enormous constraints.”
It also noted that “reports of protests [against the Syrian government] are overblown,” even though “the exiled [Syrian] opposition has been quite effecting (sic) in developing a narrative on the Syrian opposition to disseminate to major media agencies.”
That narrative — which was subsequently promoted by several foreign governments, including the U.S., the U.K., Turkey and France — falsely claimed that the protests were massive and involved largely peaceful protestors “rising up” against the “autocratic” government led by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
This document, as well as substantial evidence that has emerged over the last several years, shows that this narrative, of a “peaceful uprising” seeking to establish a secular and “democratic” Syria, has never been true, as even U.S. military intelligence knew that the reports regarding these “peaceful” protests were highly exaggerated.
U.S. calling on Turkey to do its dirty work
Given that the USMC intelligence considered the Syrian opposition movement in 2011 to be an ineffective force for effecting change in Assad’s status as Syria’s leader, the document notes that it was in the U.S.’ interest for Turkey to “manage” efforts to destabilize the Assad-led government, as Turkey “is the country with the most leverage over Syria in the long term, and has an interest in seeing this territory return to Sunni rule.”
Those Turkish-led efforts would involve gradually building up “linkages with groups inside Syria, focusing in particular on the Islamist remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood in trying to fashion a viable Islamist political force in Syria that would operate under Ankara’s umbrella.” This ultimately came to pass, as the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army – previously promoted as the main force of the “democratic” Syrian opposition but now well known to be a radical, sectarian group – still takes its marching orders from Ankara.
The document advocates for these efforts to mold the “fragmented” elements of the 2011 Syrian opposition into an “Islamist” puppet force of Turkey in order to support the gradual “weakening of the Alawite [i.e., Assad] hold on power in Syria,” as well as because “Turkey, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others have a common interest in trying to severely under[mine] Iran’s foothold in the Levant and dial back Hezbollah’s political and military influence in Lebanon.”
Also notable is the fact that USMC intelligence at the time knew that these efforts to undermine the current Syrian government would have a disastrous impact on the country and its civilian population. Indeed, the document notes this on two separate occasions, stating first that “any political transition in Syria away from the al-Assad clan will likely entail a violent, protracted civil conflict” and later adding that “the road to regime change will be a long and bloody one.”
Thus, not only was U.S. military intelligence advocating for the undermining of democratic and secular forces within the Syrian opposition, it was also aware that the U.S.-backed efforts to undermine Assad would have “bloody” consequences for civilians in Syria.
Classified Marine Corps Intelligence memo circulated in September 2011: "the reports of protests are overblown."
These admissions dramatically undercut past and present U.S. claims to be concerned with Syrian civilians and their “call for freedom” from Assad, showing instead that the U.S. preferred the installation of a “friendly” authoritarian, sectarian government in Syria and was uninterested in the fate of Syrian civilians so long as the result “severely under[mined] Iran’s foothold in the Levant.”
For much of the last two decades, but especially since the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the “resistance axis” — led by Iran — has emerged as the greatest threat to the hegemony of the United States and its allies in the Middle East.
A power bloc composed of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas in Palestine, the “resistance axis” as a term first emerged in 2010 to describe the alliances of countries and regional political groups opposed to continued Western intervention in the region, as well as to the imperialist agendas of U.S. allies in the region like Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iran’s role as the de facto leader of this resistance bloc makes it, along with its main allies like Syria, a prime target of U.S. Middle East policy.
Washington’s support for a future authoritarian Syria may come as a surprise to some, given that the U.S. has publicly promoted the narrative of a “democratic revolution” in Syria from 2011 to the present and has used calls for the establishment of a “new” secular democracy in Syria as the foundation for its agenda of overthrowing the current Assad-led government.
However, powerful individuals in Washington have long promoted an “authoritarian” and “Islamist” state in Syria with the goal of countering Iran, much like the plan detailed in the USMC intelligence document.
US military intelligence in 2011: "a viable Islamist political force in Syria that would operate under Ankara's umbrella."
For instance, current National Security Adviser John Bolton called for the establishment of such a state in Syria back in 2015, stating on FOX News:
I think our objective should be a new Sunni state out of the western part of Iraq, the eastern part of Syria, run by moderates or at least authoritarians who are not radical Islamists.
A few months later, Bolton – this time in a New York Times op-ed – detailed his plan to create a sectarian Sunni state out of northeastern Syria and western Iraq, which he nicknamed “Sunni-stan.”
He asserted that such a country would have “economic potential” as an oil producer, would serve as a “bulwark” against the Syrian government and “Iran-allied Baghdad,” and would help ensure the defeat of Daesh (ISIS). Bolton’s mention of oil is notable, as the proposed territory for this Sunni state sits on key oil fields that U.S. oil interests, such as ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers, have sought to control if the partition of Iraq and Syria comes to pass.
Bolton also suggested that Arab Gulf States like Saudi Arabia “could provide significant financing” for the creation of this future state, adding that “the Arab monarchies like Saudi Arabia must not only fund much of the new state’s early needs, but also ensure its stability and resistance to radical forces.”
Yet Bolton fails to note that Saudi Arabia is one of the chief financiers of Daesh and largely responsible for spreading “radical” Wahhabi Islam throughout the Middle East. Thus, any future state that the Saudis would fund would undoubtedly mirror the ethos of Saudi Arabia itself – i.e., an authoritarian, radical Wahhabist state that executes nonviolent protesters, oppresses minorities, and launches genocidal wars against its neighbors in an effort to control their resources.
Furthermore, the ultimate goal outlined within the USMC Intelligence document of undermining Iran’s regional clout continues to be the guide for the U.S.’ current Syria policy, which recently changed yet again to include regime change in Damascus as part of its goal. For instance, earlier this year, Bolton – in his capacity as National Security Adviser – stated that U.S. troops would remain in Syria “as long as the Iranian menace continues throughout the Middle East.”
More recently, the Trump administration “redefined” its Syria policy to include “the exit of all Iranian military and proxy forces from Syria” as the administration’s top priority, while also calling for the installation of “a stable, non-threatening government” that would not have Assad as Syria’s leader.
Thus, while seven years have come and gone since the leaked document was written by USMC intelligence, little has changed when it comes to the U.S.’ long-standing goals in Syria and its callous disregard for the will of the Syrian people and Syrian democracy.