July 14th, 2014
10:41 AM ET

Is U.S. throwing fuel on Middle East fire?

By Fareed Zakaria

The Obama administration's decision to seek $500 million to train and fund moderate elements of the Syrian opposition has been greeted with bipartisan support in Washington. The general consensus is that if the administration had done three years ago what it is doing now, the situation in Syria would not have turned into a bloody sectarian civil war.

But almost all elements of this conventional wisdom are wrong. The administration is caving in to the classic Washington desire to "do something" in the face of a terrible tragedy without any clear sense as to whether it has the ability to improve things or to make matters worse…

…The complexity of Washington's task can be seen in the American attitude towards ISIS. When the group battles the al-Maliki government in Iraq, it is a deadly foe of the United States and must be ruthlessly attacked. But when it crosses the now non-existent border between Iraq and Syria and battles the al-Assad regime, it’s aligned with America's stated goal of regime change in Damascus.

With this whole history of sectarian conflict in mind, it’s difficult to believe that three years ago a modest American intervention of arms and training, which is all that was being advocated, would have changed the trajectory of events in Syria.

Watch the video for the full Take or read the WaPo column


Post by:
Topics: Fareed's Take • Syria

soundoff (193 Responses)
  1. Xreals

    Give Zakaria the sensible news-anchor award!

    July 15, 2014 at 3:10 am |
    • joe m

      You do realize that Fareed was a strong supporter of the Iraq war?

      July 17, 2014 at 5:49 pm |
  2. VVVVV

    Rand Paul is right on this issue. He believes in taking the position that the majority of countries around the world takes and some people call that isolationist. It's called acting only when it's painfully obvious you have to act.

    July 15, 2014 at 8:08 am |
    • dempsey pagan



      July 17, 2014 at 8:33 am |
      • Shawn Irwin

        "THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE HYPER-POWER IN THE WORLD...THE USA IS THE CURRENT ONE." As long as nuclear weapons exist, there is no "hyper-power" . . . . I think the USA may find that out the hard way.

        July 17, 2014 at 1:17 pm |
  3. Mark

    It took quite awhile for Zakaria to point out the obvious truth behind Obama's incoherent policy toward Syria, but that still puts him ahead of 99% of the rest of the American media. Thank you, Fareed. And thank you, Rand Paul.

    July 15, 2014 at 8:15 am |
  4. jeff

    geez they funded osama binladin as well and look where that went ~ stay out of that mess

    July 15, 2014 at 8:27 am |
  5. chri§§y

    Well then i thank God i chose not to join the military since it obviously turns people into cold and unfeeling! If God had intended for humans to be that way he would have created Robots instead!!!

    July 15, 2014 at 9:09 am |
    • Retired Military

      Chrissy: Why are you painting with such a broad brush. Yes, people are dying and as I stated, this is tragic. I don't know anyone who enjoyed going into combat, but that is part of what you do in the military. My commentary on this larger issue is accurate. From reading your comments over time I get that you are against war and the death that comes with it, especially when it involves children. I completely understand.

      What I do not understand is you getting personal when you don't like the message. I know you have a heart for veterans, so I will dismiss this as frustration.

      The one thing that is crystal clear in this ongoing conflict, many will continue to die. Their children deserve better, but hatred is a powerful beast in the hearts of men.

      July 15, 2014 at 10:30 am |
      • Eli

        Retired Military. Training their rebels, sending money, giving them arms and ammunition....are you out of your mind? Think about what the government wants to do for a good long minute and tell us it is the right decision? I can tell you it isn't. We were there for Iraq for 10 years (for no reason) and look what happened! We have no right to be in any country. Before we go around attempting to help other people and countries allow us to fix our own. We are in debt, our infrastructure is collapsing around us. Our borders are porous. Our laws have loops holes...and the list goes on. Let me ask you one simple question. Would you go break into your neighbors house and tell him how to raise his kids, pay his bills and manage his house when your kids are running amok in the streets, you are in debt and your house is a mess? Because that is America and that is our government. We must take care of ourselves before we can take dare of anyone else.

        July 15, 2014 at 10:08 pm |
      • Retired Military

        Eli: What's your point? I did not comment on arming rebels, sending money, etc. No reason to be hostile. You must have confused postings.

        July 16, 2014 at 12:15 am |
  6. aspblom

    The West's initial push to unseat Assad LED to this disaster. We should just stop all intervention

    July 15, 2014 at 9:53 am |
  7. RT Colorado

    When Mr. Zakaria is right, he's right and he couldn't possibly be more right. Also conise without being terse...nice touch. Someone once said "The greatest wisdoms are spoken with the fewest words".

    July 15, 2014 at 9:55 am |
  8. Sceptic

    Will the US ever learn. After the fiasco in Afghanistan, then Iraq, Libya and now Syria. There is a suicidal streak in the US government.

    July 15, 2014 at 10:42 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      On the other hand Sceptic, the right-wing politicians use these heinous wars to make money as they get kickbacks from the war industry. These politicians are self-serving and have little regard for what is morally right. This is the main reason we're constantly at war!

      July 15, 2014 at 11:02 am |
  9. chri§§y

    My apology @ Retired Military...and yes im frustrated. Particularly after reading a comment on another thread by someone i used to respect highly that said "we have lowered our standards by leaving no child behind"! And i unfortunately directed my frustration on you which was not my intent so i apologise.

    July 15, 2014 at 10:53 am |
  10. chri§§y

    I am very, very frustrated, and yes quite angry at the old warmongering tools in DC...many of them who would never dream of going to battle for their own country, not to mention Syria or Iraq, but have no qualms sending others sons and daughters just so they can fatten their own bank accounts! May they rest in eternal hell for that!!!

    July 15, 2014 at 10:59 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Well said, chrissy.

      July 15, 2014 at 11:03 am |
  11. Kevin

    Mr. Zakaria reminds me of the actor Willem Dafoe, lol! I think the United States military's goal is to keep the region divided and chaotic as that keeps the violence away from the U.S. and makes it more difficult for terrorist plotters to target the U.S. mainland. It's hard to recruit players for an overseas gig when there are so many local teams and home-games... 🙂

    July 15, 2014 at 11:11 am |
  12. chri§§y

    You may be quite right on that @ Kevin! Gosh knows there are many evil ones in our government who have no respect for humanity whatsoever...whether it be at home or overseas! That seems to be the only thing theyre nondiscrimanant of!

    July 15, 2014 at 11:21 am |
  13. Retired Military

    Kevin: As you most likely know, the apolitical military in this Democracy works for the civilians who are in charge. Machiavellian thought, indeed! But quite frankly, I don't think they (the civilians) are at all that clever.

    July 15, 2014 at 11:38 am |
  14. TiredOfPaying

    The problem is Islam, and the Shiite-Sunni split. You're picking sides in a religious war if you get involved. Does America have the b alls to do what it takes to win a religious war? If not, then don't get involved and let them kill each other.

    July 15, 2014 at 11:58 am |
  15. chri§§y

    Lol do NOT underestimate the weapons industry @ Retired Military! You have no idea what other retired military personel they have on their payroll that are advising them. And they are the ones that seem to have a good many congress people in their pockets.

    July 15, 2014 at 12:25 pm |
  16. Retired Military

    I know full well that military personnel go into the industry – it is an appropriate fit. Who better than the military? My point was that the US Military is not actively conspiring to create chaos in the near and middle east. That is is called foreign policy failure which is under the charge of the Executive Branch.

    July 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm |
  17. Nina

    "Is U.S.throwing fuel on Middle East fire?" No doubt, Fareed, and not just on Middle East fire. U.S. throwing fuel on Ukraine fire too. Perfect picture!

    July 15, 2014 at 3:15 pm |
  18. chri§§y

    Lol ok neatly done! In my neck of the woods thats called the old slide and shuffle game! Or as the older generation says the shell game! Whatever way it gets spun it will ultimately be the POTUSs fault! Lol of course when i was a teen no matter what we did even tho we knew right from wrong it would ultimately be our parents fault because they were in charge of us because lol...they were the Executive Branch! You see where im going with this? Doesnt make alot of sense does it? Lol

    July 15, 2014 at 3:16 pm |
    • Retired Military

      Chrissy: That analogy is too simplistic. This is the US Presidency. The President is responsible, period. It comes with the position – Republican or Democrat. As an officer in the military you are responsible for the good and the bad – no excuses or pointing the finger at the other guy. The Commander in Chief must be held to that standard or he can't in good faith be the Commander in Chief.

      July 15, 2014 at 3:57 pm |
  19. chri§§y

    Im saying this to you @ Retired Military because i think youve kinda missed the point that some of us myself mainly, have tried to make. And that point is the motivation BEHIND those warmongering individuals such as McCain and Graham that keep trying to ADVISE the POTUS and the rest of us is...PURELY FINANCIAL! Now i know you are an intelligent person so you know Obama has very little experience with these foreign war problems so he HAS to rely on these individuals who are advising him! And they KNOW they can give inaccurate advise and NOT be held accountable because THEY are NOT the Executive Branch! Therefore they have nothing to lose and everything to gain! Do you see where im going with THAT? And no i dont
    trust them to give truthful advise simply BECAUSE they are motivated by GREED!

    July 15, 2014 at 3:29 pm |
    • Retired Military

      I am quite skeptical, but not a cynic. The POTUS is not a young lad who is easily mislead and you know that to be the truth. He has his Cabinets and staff to guide him from within the Executive Branch. And that is the fly in the ointment in his case. He has surrounded himself with ideologues and yes men instead of those who understand the higher calling of service to our nation. So, if these Republicans are all devious and the President a neophyte, surrounded by incompetents, we are in a serious hurt locker.

      July 15, 2014 at 4:28 pm |
  20. chri§§y

    I dont believe im in any way speaking FOR the POTUS! Im speaking for myself...because i can...and he can speak for himself when the time is right though hes too diplomatic to do so. And i did NOT specify a party! I believe ive been very forthright and consistent with my opinion! I do try to not blame all for the actions of a few...however congress makes that difficult because the vast majority of THIS congress is pretty much useless! Makes it hard to find any ethical ones!

    July 15, 2014 at 4:50 pm |
  21. chri§§y

    But i am also not a gullible person either...i dont think Obama is perfect but i do feel he was way better choice than Romney who i knew when he was young and that may have influenced my opinion on him a great deal. Cant deny i have no positive thoughts on that lil piece of work! Spoiled brat most of his life and caused alot of chaos in his teen years! We are from the same area! Lucky me... NOT! lol.

    July 15, 2014 at 5:02 pm |
    • Ferhat Balkan

      Obama is better than all the Republicans put together. If we had a Republican president right now, I have no doubt the US would be embroiled in a war in Syria, Iraq and probably Libya. Which would've destroyed what remained of the economy after Bush.

      July 15, 2014 at 11:21 pm |
      • Ferhat Balkan

        Except maybe Ron and Rand Paul :))

        July 15, 2014 at 11:36 pm |
  22. charles

    Please spread these calculations. It shows the atrocities done by the Israelis

    Mika, I did the following calculation, see below. Can you get this information out, see below. Thanks.

    Population of Gaza =1,657,000

    Length of Israeli Hamas conflict= 7 days

    Number of civilian casualties =130

    Number of deaths per capita per day=130/(1657000 X 7) = 11.2079 per million per day

    Population of Syria 22,530,746

    Length of Syrian Civil War = 365 X 3

    Number of civilian casualties =50000

    Number of civilian casualties per capita =50000/(22530746 X 365 X 3) =2.0266 per million per day.

    The civilian deaths by Israel is 5 times higher than that by Assad.

    I don't know what the acceptable UN rate is.

    July 15, 2014 at 6:35 pm |
  23. chri§§y

    Lol @ Ferhat agreed! Its really too bad Ron Paul dropped out when he did...he at least had the presence of mind to realise that the Federal Reserve needed to be audited! Hopefully that issue will be resolved in the near future.

    July 16, 2014 at 12:20 am |
  24. chri§§y

    Hmm when did you change up @ Retired Military? Usually your name shows up in blue.

    July 16, 2014 at 3:36 pm |
    • Retired Military

      Chrissy: which posting are you referring to?

      July 16, 2014 at 8:21 pm |
      • Retired Military

        The difference in color may be from posting between my mobile device and computer. There are usually more type errors from the mobile!

        July 16, 2014 at 10:01 pm |
  25. chri§§y

    If its REALLY you please post your source of Hamas speaking out because i would really like to read it. Ty.

    July 16, 2014 at 3:41 pm |
    • Retired Military

      Excerpts from The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement
      18 August 1988:

      "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.

      This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgement

      Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement.There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."

      So it should be absolutely clear to anyone of reason that Hamas has an agenda. It is fine for Hamas (Islamist) to gain lands through conquest and claim it for their religion. But it is not acceptable for Israel to DEFEND itself from attacks in the 1967 Six Day War, and conquer the land the Islamist used to launch their invasion from (Gaza and the West Bank). Very hypocritical, is it not.

      Hamas does not intend to negotiate for piece as it is a waste of tilt and only detracts from its goal of vanquishing the sJews from Israel and killing them all. It is pretty difficult to defend this platform, but somehow people do. They of course soften the rhetoric like many on this blog do so well.

      July 16, 2014 at 9:13 pm |
      • Ferhat Balkan

        I can't even begin to tell you how wrong you are Retired Military. First of all, that is not Sharia Law. Sharia Law by definition is law from the Koran. Show me one passage from the Koran that states that Israel should be obliterated. You seem to know very little of Islam. You also seem to know very little about history. When the Muslims conquered lands, they allowed those within to practice their religion freely. This is true of all the Islamic Caliphates or rulers throughout history. So what you stated there has little to do with actual fact. If Hamas has spoken against Israel, it has nothing to do with Islam. It has everything to do with oppression, subjugation and occupation. Read a little bit of history and you'll see that Islam was much tolerant towards Jews, more so than Christians. It was the Ottomans who welcomed the Jews when the Spanish Inquisition took place. It wasn't the Muslims who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Crusades. It is easy to speak out of hatred towards a group of people when you know very little about them. Which looks to be the case here. Islam views Jews to be "The people of the book".
        Of course the Jews deserve their own land. Of course, Hamas using rockets is immoral, counterproductive and really the last thing they should be doing. I'm not defending Hamas or any other group that turns to terrorism. But so are the Israeli air strikes. Violence is not the answer. All people deserve to live free and that includes the Palestinians. Israel is in the position to give them that freedom. There's plenty of hatred on both sides. Israel holds most of the cards and so Israel must make the first gesture of peace by granting the Palestinians their freedom.
        I want to share something that Martin Luther King said once... "There is another reason why you should love your enemies. And that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hates or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates."
        Just yesterday, 4 Palestinian children were killed between the ages 9 and 11. They were playing at a beach. Reports stated that an Israeli gunboat shelled them from a distance...
        End the violence! Give the Palestinians the freedom they deserve. Is that so hard to do?

        July 17, 2014 at 1:34 am |
      • Retired Military

        Ferhat: You cannot continue to have it both ways in order to make your point – that is disingenuous.

        The comments in my post were cut and pasted directly from Hamas's charter. If you don't like what it states, if you don't agree with their version of Islam, if you want to have a debate about Islam, you need to take it up with Hamas. I am sure they care about what you have to say. So before you lecture me, you need to get a grip.

        I have a very substantial background in history. You are only attempting to marginalize my comments because you disagree with me. In reading your posts you are quite partisan. As many liberals do, you lean to personal attacks and distortions. I have presented excerpts directly from Hamas' charter, not mine. This is their version of Islam, not my lack of knowledge on Islam and history. Continue your attempt to distract from the reality of the situation, it is quiet transparent. The radical elements of Islam, which Hamas is a part of, are the problem for all who love freedom. Instead of trying to defame me, you should focus your energy on those terrorists who are hijacking Islam. Don't hide from this truth.

        July 17, 2014 at 2:32 am |
      • Ferhat Balkan

        Retired Military: I'm not trying to have it both ways. I'm merely stating facts. A further fact about that Hamas charter is the fact that they no longer adopt it since they won the election in 2006. Ismail Haniyeh (leader of Hamas) stated in 2008 that Hamas would agree to accept a Palestinian state along the 1967 border and to offer a long term truce with Israel. Thus, the 1988 Charter that you mention, no longer applies.

        July 17, 2014 at 2:50 am |
      • Ferhat Balkan

        Furthermore, I'm not hiding from the truth. "The truth is in the pudding" as some would say it. Ask any Muslim, and they'll tell you the same. Times change, people change. Even Yasser Arafat was once considered a "terrorist" by Israel, or have you forgotten that as well?

        July 17, 2014 at 2:54 am |
      • Retired Military

        Ferhat: just because you say they have renounced their position doesn't make it true. Their charter is in black and white and more importantly, it is their actions that continue to speak louder than words. Their actions make your comments all the more illegitimate. Continue to say what you will. I do not subscribe to spin and distortion.

        July 17, 2014 at 3:22 am |
      • Retired Military

        Good night, Ferhat.

        July 17, 2014 at 3:24 am |
      • Ferhat Balkan

        Good nite Retired Military. It seems we have quite a difference of opinion on these matters. And we're both convinced that we're fighting on the good side. Whether it's the Israelis or Palestinians, I hope that one day. Both peoples find peace and learn to respect one another. And thank you for your views and considerate time.

        July 17, 2014 at 3:40 am |
    • Retired Military

      Chrissy: in case you haven't used the GPS mobile app it assigns a unique colored icon next to your name when you post. You can make a posting under someone else's name, like the trolls do, but you cannot change the icon assigned to your specific email address. That helps you keep straight who is who in this ZOO!

      July 17, 2014 at 4:03 pm |
  26. ndhiman

    Hamas leaders do not lose any thing. They get money to survive and live luxury life. Enjoy leaders like life. People who die are common men/women/children.
    Hamas need to negotiate and resolve issue instead of keep fighting

    July 16, 2014 at 6:25 pm |
  27. chri§§y

    That would be the last 4 or 5 posts @ Retired Military! The ones where your name is in black. Wasnt sure if it was really you since we have the troll jacking Joeys name all the time too.

    July 16, 2014 at 10:27 pm |
  28. Farrok

    The Wars in the Middle East will never subside. America should be prepared for at least 5,000 years of constant and non stop War. There is not enough arms, gunpowder, high explosives, political will, etc. to win the War America has declared on Islam.

    There are approximately 2,000,000,000 billion + Muslims and followers of Islam in the World. The Muslims of the World can out finance and out last America. The fools in Washington who instigated and persecute this religious War have lost their minds and the Middle East may very well be the undoing of America.

    5,000 American young people killed in Iraq for what? They return to America only to be unemployed, wounded in body and mind only to be kicked into our city parks and streets? Then throw into the mix the VA scandal and the whole recipe is a concoction of failure, lies and misery. American foreign policy in the Middle East is a complete flop and failure. It has broken the American Economy and once it is broken there is no money for War. A Nation can be totally destroyed economically and a shot have never being fired. Once a Nation collapses economically it's kuppt and a Nation without a secure boarder is a failed State.

    Everyone who reads this will be long dead of natural causes and their great grand sons and daughters will Sill be engaged in these wars. Endless War with no victory and no resolution.

    July 17, 2014 at 9:28 am |
  29. agreed

    Fighting MUST stop.

    July 17, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
  30. chri§§y

    Lol yea @ Retired Military i know about that i am just unable to view it from my phone. But thanks.

    July 17, 2014 at 4:45 pm |
    • Retired Military

      Chrissy: just trying to make your life easier. 😉

      July 17, 2014 at 7:01 pm |
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