Former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford really wants regime change, and advocates supporting Salafi-jihadist militias while working at a Saudi-funded think tank.
By Gary Brecher / War Nerd
This is a newsletter dispatch of The War Nerd. At Patreon you can subscribe to the podcast and learn more.
There are so many lies written about the Syria, Iraq, and Turkey wars that after a few years of trying to sift through it, your expectations drop like a 2008 market graph. And they keep dropping. On a whiteboard you’d need to tape extra paper at the bottom. Hell, you’d need to dig a hole to the center of the Earth and tape extra paper down that, a red line stretching to that flaming core.
So the best you can do is pick out a few of the more destructive, revolting examples and track them to their sources. Probably won’t do any good, but there’s a morbid fascination to it at least.
This week we got a media blip weird enough to be worth tracking down. An article called “The Fatal Flaw in Trump’s ISIS Plan” popped up in The Atlantic, a high-end magazine. Its author is Robert Ford, a former American ambassador to Syria.
Ford gets a lot of respect in mainstream circles because unlike most Americans (including most American diplomats) he’s apparently a good linguist — speaks Arabic, German, Turkish, and French. Wouldn’t mean a thing in parts of Central Europe, Africa, or India, where every market vendor can switch between at least three languages and play around in a few more, but believe me, for an American diplomat, that’s pretty good.
If you look at his Wikipedia article, you see that his linguistic skill is listed right after birthplace as his most important stat:
With fluent (I assume) Arabic, Ford is like a tall guy in a nation of short people — doesn’t have to do much to stand out. A lot of us have studied Arabic (I sat in a classroom where that was the official pastime for almost two years)… but few of us speak Arabic. I sure don’t.
Ford took his fluent Arabic and his appointment as ambassador to Syria and ran with it, straight into the regime-change agenda that the usual suspects (CIA, Israel, Saudi, Qatar) have been pushing all along. He pushed that agenda so well, in fact, that he had to leave:
“On October 24, 2011, Ford was recalled from Syria due to what the U.S. State Department described as ‘credible threats’ to his safety. Ford had attracted the ire of pro-Assad Syrians due to his strong support of the Syrian uprising. According to American officials, Ford had been attacked by an armed pro-government mob, and Syrian state television had begun running reports blaming him for the formation of death squads similar to those in Iraq. This led to fears that supporters of the Syrian government might try to kill him.”
Ford’s “strong support for the Syrian uprising” involved, according to ex-CIA guy Michael Scheuer, “running around the country trying to encourage groups to overthrow the Syrian government.” (Scheuer said that at 3:40 in this interview).
Of course, the mainstream narrative was very different: Ford was a brave champion of the Arab Spring, who risked life and limb to support freedom in Syria. With that bio, The Atlantic would probably print any old nonsense he came up with (read this dossier on Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg). In fact, they did.
The thesis of Ford’s article is pretty simple. In fact, I can name that tune in three notes: “Dump. The. Kurds.” Really, that’s what it amounts to: dump the Syrian Kurds, because they annoy our friend Erdogan.
Ford made a tactical mistake by starting his article with the typical Georgetown grovel to our beloved ally: “When Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Washington next week…” Yeah, that’s kind of a problem, Mister Ford. Because as it turned out, Erdogan’s goons made the news in what Georgetown might call an “unhelpful” manner, by beating the shit out of a group of protestors, on camera, while the DC cops tried to pull them away from the people they were kicking in the face.
Ford’s article went online before Erdogan’s blacksuits did their face-dance, but Ford did (credit where it’s due) devote one clause to his idol’s flaws: “As autocratic and intemperate as he is, Erdogan isn’t actually wrong…”
And what is Erdogan not-wrong about? The link between PKK and YPG. (Note: that’s the short acronym version; the YPG/J is now the SDF, but let’s just stick with the better-known PKK and YPG tags.)
Like other Turkish/CIA proxies, Ford writes as if linking the Syrian YPG to the Turkish PKK will be enough to damn the YPG forever — because the PKK is “terrorist.” And therefore — get ready for it — the YPG is the equivalent of Islamic State:
“By relying on the YPG in the fight against ISIS, the United States is helping one terror group fight against another.”
I could feel that equivalence coming, all through Ford’s slow, disingenuous lead-up. It’s what I’ve come to know as “the puke line” in mainstream Syria stories, the guaranteed gag-reflex trigger. The logic, if we can call it that, goes like this:
Major Premise: All groups listed as terrorist by the US are in fact terrorist and are morally equivalent.
Minor Premise: The PKK is so listed, and YPG = PKK.
Conclusion: The YPG is the moral equivalent of Islamic State.
As you’ll note, this logical edifice seems to rest on a touching faith in the US government’s FTO (Foreign Terrorist Organization) listings. If you’re going to swallow this nonsense, it helps not to know anything whatsoever about Turkey’s vile abuse of its minority populations, most recently the Kurds.
Ford seems to realize the weakness of his case that YPG = Islamic State, because he comes up with another line of argument. But wondrously, amazingly, laugh-out-loudably, this one is even worse than the false equivalence.
Ford actually says that the YPG is too feminist for those backwards locals in northern Syria. Seriously, that’s his case. I’ll quote at length so you can see I’m not making this up:
“[YPG’s] emphasis on gender equality, and its insistence on imposing its political agenda, will cause problems for the future governance of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS, and other Arab-majority towns the United States is now helping it seize from a weakened ISIS.
Consider the case of Layla Mohammed, a PYD member and women’s rights activist from the town of Tel Abayad on the Turkey-Syria border. In a conversation, a senior U.S. official spoke with admiration of her dedication and commitment to the cause of women in Syria. Over objections from some Arab community leaders in Raqqa, the PYD- and YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (an entity that serves, basically, as a fig leaf by Washington to cover the U.S.-backed YPG campaign against ISIS) named Ms. Mohammed co-chair of a new Raqqa administrative council that will rule Raqqa after ISIS is gone.
But Raqqa, more than Damascus, Homs, or Aleppo, is known among Syrians as a conservative Arab city, where many communities retain links to tribal networks extending along the Euphrates and eastwards into the Syrian desert towards Iraq. Traditional norms, including those governing the roles of women, prevail.
Many Americans find the constraints placed on Arab women objectionable, and would applaud Ms. Mohammed’s activism. But as the Iraq war should have taught Washington, it cannot impose, either directly or through local proxies, its own social and political norms on conservative Middle Eastern communities without potentially provoking a counter-reaction.”
Whoo-eee! Here’s “one of the best Arabists” in the State Department saying that Syrian Arabs are too committed to patriarchal discrimination to tolerate the gender-balanced YPG. He actually says that Layla Mohammed, appointed by the YPG, is not fit to be co-mayor of Raqqa because she’s too… female.
Remember how we keep finding examples of collaboration between US/British intel and radical Islamists, going back generations? And how these cases always come down to the Anglo authorities’ preference for sectarian despots over secular leftists?
Well, that vile tradition is alive and well, in the person of Robert Stephen Ford. And the bastard actually has the gall to cite Iraq, post-US-invasion, as a case in point.
Ford would know, I guess, because one little detail of his bio which doesn’t get as much hype is that he served as the American political commissar in Baghdad from 2008 to 2010.
Using the American invasion of Iraq as proof of the impossibility of social change in the region is like adducing the Opium Wars as evidence that all Chinese are hopeless junkies.
But still, he might be right, maybe? Maybe the Arab residents of Raqqa are too patriarchal ever to consider a secular/feminist regime? Bullshit. Actually this is a good chance to demolish that convenient slur once and for all.
Know why there are so many Arab Islamists and so few Arab socialists? Because Ford’s agencies killed all the Arab leftists, with plenty of help from the local patriarchal friends, while coddling and funding Islamists across the Arab world. It’s as if Ford and his buddies burned the house down and then warned you against building another, saying, “Oh, I’ve had a lot of experiences of those houses; they just burn down on ya!” That’s because YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS burned them down!
And since when did Kurds become these wild-eyed radicals? Ford is hoping you won’t ask that question, because the answer blows his social-conservative argument clean outta the water. A century ago, the Kurds were the most primitive, patriarchal, tribal group in the region. They were bandits, nomads, free-lance enforcers, easily hired (and then disposed of) by groups like the Turkish junta when it went looking for killers to finish off the troublesome Armenian minority.
Cultures change very quickly, when they see it’s in their interests to do so. The Kurds have changed faster than anyone imagined they could. I saw it happening in Sulaimaniya. And the Arab population of Raqqa will change just as quickly, if they see that feminist/secular life is a better offer than the reactionary fantasyland of Islamic State.
In fact, young Arab women in northern Syria have already started joining up, rejecting the whole patriarchal order which Ford wants you to believe is eternal and unchangeable, part of Arab genetics.
The absurdity of Ford’s arguments leads to another reaction you get with Syria stories: that moment when you read something especially crazy and wonder, “Does s/he really believe that crap?” Sometimes you suspect they do. But Ford probably doesn’t. I’m guessing, but I know some of these fuckers pretty well.
I doubt he’s crazy enough to believe that the slave-dealing, sectarian murderers of IS and the socialist kids of the YPG are morally equivalent, or that Arabs are genetically incapable of social change. He knows better. He just doesn’t care. It’s a useful, make-able case, good enough for The Atlantic, and so it does the job for him.
Because the job, for Ford, is regime change in Syria. And even after he was forced out of Syria, he’s worked earnestly toward that goal.
And he’s been compensated for it. Ford’s distinguished profile has made him cover boy of the Middle East Institute, a big, Saudi-funded lobbying group in DC.
“Former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, now at the Middle East Institute advocated engaging with Ahrar al-Sham, demonstrating in his writing how these misconceptions could lead to lost opportunities to end the conflict. Jihadists’ priorities have slowly diverged in recent years, as illustrated by the different philosophies of factions such Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham—whose goals are above all Syria centric — and radical factions such as ISIS, Nusra, and Jund al-Aqsa — whose primary agenda remains transnational.”
In other words, they only want to turn Syria into a sectarian, reactionary nightmare. And that’s fine with us, as long as they promise not to bomb New York or London.
Notice how the word “Atlantic” keeps popping up in these things? The Atlantic Council, The Atlantic… The “A” in NATO funds a whole lot of lies, as it always did back when the US-Europe link was crucial. The names remain but the focus has veered a ways southeast — the Eastern Mediterranean.
After the USSR spoiled the livelihood of half the people in Georgetown by selfishly going out of business, the money was all Eastern Med. But the funding has always preferred to keep that old brownstone feel of the “Atlantic” name, as exemplified by the facade of the Middle Eastern Institute’s beloved HQ.
Behind that facade is a whole lot of money — some oil, some defense/intel. Once you start looking up the bosses of the Middle East Institute, you get into a web of interlocking directorships that bounce between Fed, petro, and Raytheon, with no friction whatsoever.
Au contraire, that sweet crude lubes it along so all the suckers ever see is a distinguished profile like Robert Ford, who helped send Syria straight to Hell in the interests of democracy.