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The Phony War in Syria
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The great, long-awaited counterattack against ISIS has finally begun. The offensive that spans Syria and western Iraq is targeting the ISIS-held cities of Raqqa and Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.

For a variety of reasons, the much ballyhooed “final offensive” against ISIS is moving with all the speed of a medieval army of drunken foot soldiers and all the audacity of a lady’s garden party.

As a former soldier and war correspondent, I find the spectacle both pathetic and weird. Back in my army days, our tough sergeants used to call such behavior “lilly-dipping.” There’s no risk that this pathetic campaign will go down in the annals of military history.

In fact, the whole business smells to high heaven.

In the west, the Syrian government and Kurdish troops, stiffened by US, British and French special forces, and backed by US close air support, are inching towards ISIS-controlled Raqqa, a dreary, one-camel town that sits on some strategic roads. Syrian troops just retook Palmyra, once the desert capital of the fabled Queen Zenobia. The battle was hardly a second Stalingrad: ISIS fighters piled into their pickups and skedaddled.

Washington has been slowly massing Iraqi and US forces for the campaign against Mosul, an important city of 64,000 that is the gateway to Iraq’s northern oilfields. Arabs and Kurds have been battling over Mosul for decades. Iraq’s Kurds, now allied to the US, are set on cementing their hold on Mosul and its oil-producing region…and probably expelling many of its Arab inhabitants. The Turks, who once ruled this region, are angry as hornets and fearful that an independent Kurdish state may be proclaimed at Mosul.

To get to Mosul, all the US-led forces need do is start their vehicles and drive a few hours up the highway to that city. Iraq has excellent roads thanks to its murdered president, Saddam Hussein. US-led Iraqi government and Kurdish forces are similarly close to Mosul from their bases in western Iraq.

If Germans or Russians were running this mini-war, they would have taken Mosul last year.

What strikes me as so curious is that in reality the dreaded ISIS is little more than a bunch of 20-something kids without any military training or professional command except for some veterans of Saddam’s disbanded army.

ISIS has almost no artillery and only light anti-aircraft guns. Their supplies are scanty; their communications listened into by nearly everyone. US, British, French, warplanes buzz overhead, ready to blast anything that moves in the flat, empty desert terrain. ,

In WWII the Germans would have sent a couple of jeeps commanded by sergeants roaring into Mosul, ordering its defenders “hands up, thrown down your weapons, and surrender. Schnell!”

This how the audacious Germans took bridges and towns across Holland, Belgium and Yugoslavia. A single jeepload of German soldiers reportedly took Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital.

The notion that a rabble of 20-something ISIS kids can stand up to highly trained heavily armed western troops and their native auxiliaries is absurd. ISIS is what the Ottomans used to call, “bashi-bazooks,” armed street thugs used for looting and attacking civilians.


The small Russian air contingent in Syria has proven far more effective than the US and its allies. The mighty US Air Force has continued pinprick attacks on ISIS positions in what has become a pantomime war. It’s almost as if the western powers are playing make-believe in Syria.

Perhaps they are. The Saudis and Turks, both very close US allies, have been arming and supplying ISIS in order to topple the Damascus-based Shia regime of President Bashar Assad. Washington has gone along with this covert fight while lamenting the terrors of “terrorism.”

Washington’s strategy in Syria has become so comically inept that the Pentagon and CIA are actually backing rival Syrian jihadist groups who are fighting with one another. The Russians are mocking Washington. Who can blame them.

The Obama administration is clearly reluctant to use “force majeure” against ISIS. So it continues to tip-toe and lilly-dip in Syria and Iraq, likely assuring that the US will eventually get stuck in another big Mideast conflict.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: ISIS, Syria 
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  1. Rehmat says:

    Dear Margolis, as a fellow Canadian and reader of your columns in newspapers, I’m disappointed at your failure to grasp America’s war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. I rather agree with Putin’s claim last November that Obama had not hit a single ISIS target in three years. Why?

    Because ISIS was created by the US-UK and Israel to bring an anti-Iran regime change in Damascus before these Zionist creeps can attack Iran.

    Edward S. Herman, American political economy analyst, confirmed this on February 27, 2016, by saying: “Three states that were independent and considered enemy states by Israel and many US policy-makers and influential – Iraq, Libya and Syria – have been made into failed states and may be in the process of dismemberment.”

    Think about that you become a ‘jingoist’ instead of an honest ‘journalist’ as you used to be.

  2. Renoman says:

    The Western Military are just a joke, Putin proved that.

  3. Here’s an excellent article worth reading that makes the same point that the US-led “fight against ISIS” is a joke – not in the sense of inadvertent incompetence, but in the sense of not being a sincere effort from the very beginning:

    “US Caught Faking It in Syria” by Thomas S. Harrington

    Some previous articles by Eric Margolis that are related and that his latest article builds on:

    “Destroying Syria to Make it Safe for American Values” by Eric Margolis

    “ISIS – Fighting the Modern Wahabis” by Eric Margolis

  4. “The mighty US Air Force has continued pinprick attacks on ISIS positions in what has become a pantomime war. It’s almost as if the western powers are playing make-believe in Syria.”

    Having gone to great, tortuous lengths to get materiel into ISIL hands, why would they undo that work by actually bombing it?

  5. JamesG says:

    Meanwhile …

    Coalition air strikes kill 25,000 jihadis: Islamic State army is cut by half as Allies plan assault on its stronghold

    Read more:

    • Replies: @Rehmat
  6. These previous G2mil blog posts explain all:

    May 31, 2013 – Perpetual War Confirmed

    Critics have accused the U.S. Government of waging perpetual war for decades, dating back to the 1948 publication of the famous book “1984”. They claim citizens are kept in line and paying taxes for useless wars just to provide easy profits for millionaire insiders. This has always been denied, and those critics called delusional, until recently. A major military industry magazine just published an article: “Top Marine Sees a Future of Perpetual War.” It notes that our Generals see no end to combat once our forces leave Afghanistan, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the military expects to remain on a permanent war footing.

    Sep 1, 2013 – Rogue Superpower

    Attacking Syria should erase all doubt that the USA has become a war machine monster. As our military withdrew from Iraq it shifted forces to Afghanistan. As it draws down there, a new enemy has arose. This war campaign plan was announced several years ago in public by retired General Wesley Clark….

    Oct 23, 2013 – The Objective of LIC

    As the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan, it is destroying billions of dollars of usable equipment because it is too costly to ship home. This reminds me of a 1986 passage from the late Col. Fletcher Prouty USAF:

    ” …we must understand that it has become the objective of ‘low intensity conflict’ to continue the wasting of money, the pointless killing of defenseless people, and the consumption or attrition of costly war materiel to make way for the procurement of more. ‘Low-intensity conflict’ is a way in which the hundreds of billions of dollars of armaments produced each year can be used, destroyed, and wasted this year in order that more may be procured and used next year.”


    The CIA/Pentagon propaganda machine invented this newest scheme. The Syrian “rebels” funded by the CIA itself would become a new threat, bigger than al Qaeda! They would be directed to attack the worthless Iraqi Army to destroy billions of dollars of new American equipment that we are now replacing. Ironically, American air power was used to destroy some of it! Col. Prouty would not have been surprised.

    We now have American air power conducting a dozen airstrikes a day in Syria! We are told this LIC may last for years! American advisors are in Syria too. Some may have been killed but the Pentagon will never tell the American public as it might disrupt their successful propaganda campaign to generate public and congressional support to defeat IS, or ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever name someone dreamed up.

    If this “war” loses support, they’ll find another. Yemen anyone?

  7. tbraton says:

    “In the west, the Syrian government and Kurdish troops, stiffened by US, British and French special forces, and backed by US close air support, are inching towards ISIS-controlled Raqqa, a dreary, one-camel town that sits on some strategic roads. ”

    I believe the population of Raqqa, according to the last census, was 220,000. Hardly, a “one camel town.” I think you should be able to find at least a carton of Camels there.

    “Washington’s strategy in Syria has become so comically inept that the Pentagon and CIA are actually backing rival Syrian jihadist groups who are fighting with one another. ”

    I’m fairly sure that, according to the strict standards of the Obama Brain Trust, that both rival groups which are fighting one another are composed strictly of “moderate jihadis.”

  8. Kiza says:

    It is encouraging to see that no commenter here yet has swallowed this incompetence BS from Margolis. Both Cockburn and Margolis are feverishly typing on their keyboards to create this image of (Obama) incompetence as an excuse for not touching ISIS, the Ziocon creation.

    I strongly believe that only MSM consumers and the rare non-MSM consumers of Margolis/Cockburn still believe that the West is waging any war at all on ISIS.

    Does anybody remember that the Government of Iraq in desperation called on Russia to extend its bombing of ISIS targets into Iraq as well? Until it was told to shut up or be replaced (there are still too many US troops and contractors in Iraq).

    Does anybody remember how the French and the US MSM used the Russian MoD images of the bombing of ISIS targets as their own?

    But Cockburn/Margolis brief by their handlers is to obfuscate, obfuscate, obfuscate, even when the gig is almost completely up in the open. Tough chance Margolis, tell your CIA handlers, time to change the obsolete brief or become completely and irreversibly exposed as the regime scribes that you are.

    BTW, your quasi-Prussian armchair military bravado in this write up is totally unbecoming of a true proud Prussian. But you have not been one for a long time, if ever. Only in your armchair dreams.

  9. I like to remind Israel born Eric Margolis–1996 memo demand to President Clinton–7 middle East countries need to be destroyed for security of Israel. Then in 1999 another sent memo–We need a New Pearl Harbor Event to start the destruction. Hey Eric !!!—ever thought of bringing that up in any of your reporting and if if that event could it been something done in 2001??

  10. It is widely believed that the U.S. isn’t effective against the Islamic State. But this is false.

    See this map:
    Notice the yellow zones at the top of Iraq? This part is “captured” by the Kurds with the help of U.S. airstrikes.

    In addition, many civilians are killed by U.S. airstrikes and intervention against the Islamic State. Accusing the U.S. of “protecting the Islamic State” is not only inaccurate but insulting to the families of the victims killed by U.S. intervention.

    You also shouldn’t cheer for Russia’s bombing. Do you know that the casualties from Russian air strikes in Raqqa were virtually all civilians?

    According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, during the month of January 2016 alone, Russia has killed 700 civilians, the Syrian government has killed 600 civilians. Russia has killed six times more than all rebel groups combined:

    Russian air strikes on the Syrian city of Raqqa has risen to 40 civilians, including eight children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

    Dozens of civilians killed in air strikes on Syria’s Raqqa: monitor, activists

    Russia raids kill 42 civilians:

    Russian bombs damage British funded bakery designed to help 18000 Syrians

  11. There’s no evidence that Turkey is funding or arming the Islamic State.

    Russia accused Turkey of “smuggling oil” from the Islamic State.

    This accusation was from aerial footage of trucks along the Turkish border shown here:

    However, according to the truck drivers in this video, many of them are transporting food or other goods to supply some of the millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey, and they constantly get bombed by the Russian air force:

    While it may be difficult to determine if the truck driver’s claims are true, you have to understand that oil trucks are cylindrical, not rectangular, and also because oil trucks are heavy, they must have many wheels to support the oil. These trucks are neither cylindrical or have enough wheels to carry much oil, yet they still are getting bombed.

    Many conspiracy theorists use Russia’s bombing of the supposed “oil trucks” as “proof” that Turkey is collaborating with the Islamic State. Even Justin Raimondo in one of his previous articles cheered Russia for this. But in reality you have no idea what you are bombing. As I mentioned, there’s no verification, but people still take Russia at face value and assume that those trucks are smuggling oil, all based on low-resolution aerial footage taken tens of thousands of feet above. The U.S. also does this, no wonder 90% of the casualties are civilians. Israel does this too with U.S. supplied drones, no wonder why Israel bombs children. People who are against U.S. air strikes should be outraged by all air strikes, including Russian air strikes, especially when they see the aerial footage of Russians striking trucks, but they do not. Instead they cheer and praise Russia without questioning.

    One driver said that he was bringing flour from Damascus, Syria. Even if the stuff was brought from Damascus, it doesn’t mean that the flour was MADE in Syria. Damascus is a major transportation port/hub in which different road networks meet. The flour could have been originally made from Saudi Arabia, then transported to Damascus by truck drivers, and then to Turkey by a different group of truck drivers.

    Fact: Nations traded foods/supplies before the war. They won’t stop trading when a war starts.

    In Syria:

    The agriculture sector, as of 2009, employs about 17 percent of the labor force and generates about 21 percent of the gross domestic product,[24][25] of which livestock accounted for 16 percent and fruit and grains for more than 40 percent.[22]

    • Replies: @Parbes
  12. Parbes says:
    @3D Face Analysis

    Yet another “new” neocon/Anglo-Zio propagandist, cycling the same old tropes with a slightly new twist and probably appointed/tasked by the same higher-ups… You guys are very predictable, boring, and change virtually nothing in the real world by this humdrum trolling – but you DO manage to mess up the comments sections of reasonably good current affairs blogs and make them more unpleasant to read. So, go JUMP IN THE LAKE (with a 200-lb. weight chained to your ankle)!

    • Replies: @3D Face Analysis
  13. Marcus says:

    In WWII the Germans would have sent a couple of jeeps commanded by sergeants roaring into Mosul, ordering its defenders “hands up, thrown down your weapons, and surrender. Schnell!”

    Who takes this guy seriously? I guess Unz was fooled by his (probably highly embellished) track record as a reporter.

  14. […] The Phony War in Syria  by Eric Margolis […]

  15. @Parbes

    Which parts of my comments do you disagree with?

    Is it the part that the U.S. is killing civilians? Then here is evidence:

    Unless you specify exactly which parts of my comments that you disagree with, I assume that you disagree completely with all of the information in my comments, including the obvious fact that the Kurds captured the yellow parts with U.S. airstrikes:
    If you compare this with older maps, you will notice that also Ramadi and Fallujah used to be controlled by the Islamic State and they have been captured.

    • Replies: @Parbes
  16. Parbes says:
    @3D Face Analysis

    You know damn well which parts of your “comments” (or, rather more accurately, propaganda points) I disagree with, so don’t try to play all sweet and innocent here, neo-boy: The ones about the Turkish criminal government not supporting ISIS, Russia bombing civilians “just as badly as the US” (nice self-deprecating propaganda touch, there) for the heck of it, etc. In other words, the same old same old anti-Russian, anti-Syrian Anglo-Zio neocon BS warmed up all over again by a “new-name” propagandist from the team.

    They’re wasting their money on you guys. Nobody but idiots is really buying this crap anymore.

  17. Rehmat says:

    Good try Moshe. Next time let readers know that UK’s Daily Mail is owned by a Zionist Jew.

    • Replies: @JamesG
  18. GGG says:

    “Mosul, an important city of 64,000”

    Missing at least one zero from that.

  19. posa says:

    “The Obama administration is clearly reluctant to use “force majeure” against ISIS.

    Yeah. ISIS is an ally and an asset for regime change throughout the Middle East.

  20. […] The UNZ Review: The Phony War in Syria by ERIC MARGOLIS  […]

  21. JamesG says:

    Thanks for the laugh!

    I’ve shared your preternaturally stupid comment with my fellow Irish-Catholic friends and relatives.

    (They will never stop calling me Moshe.)

  22. anon • Disclaimer says:

    The only sensible strategy would be to stay out of Syria and keep Syrians out of the west. I would follow Japan’s example here. As far as I can tell no Japanese troops are there and they don’t allow Syrians to settle in their home islands. Seems to work fine for Japan.

    • Agree: tbraton
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