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


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Topics: Fareed's Take • Syria

soundoff (193 Responses)
  1. joe m

    Consensus means general agreement. When someone says " it's the general consensus, they are being redundant." Before he gives foreign policy advice, Fareed should master his own profession, the use of words.

    July 17, 2014 at 5:34 pm |
    • nightwriter

      Go back to your fifth-grade grammar class ...

      July 20, 2014 at 11:39 am |
  2. joe m

    If Obama had not intervened, Assad would have squashed the resistance that has been threatening the Syrian regime. Now that resisrance has matastized into a threat to all the governments of the Mid East. The Syrians have never done harm to the United States. They have repeatedly tried to strenghten relations with the USA. In fact, they allied themselves with the United States in the Persian Gulf War. Israel didn't.

    July 17, 2014 at 5:45 pm |
    • Jack

      You are either misinformed to a great degree, or dishonest.

      Syria, and Damascus in particular, has functioned as the transport hub for both Shiite and Sunni terrorists for the last 10-15 years at a minimum. They have facilitated the transport of weapons, missiles terrorists back and forth to Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. Many of those terrorist have ended up in Iraq killing American soldiers via IED or bullet.

      In the Gulf War, Israel remained on the sidelines, at the US's request, because of the obvious counter-reaction that would have resulted if Israel attacked Iraq, amongst the other Arab nations.

      Your attempt to mislead other readers is evidence of bias and dishonesty. For anyone else, google it, and you'll find the clear evidence of Assad's compliance with Iran in facilitating terrorist transport of weapons and jihadis, and the cost it has exacted in America lives.

      July 18, 2014 at 7:26 pm |
    • Miss Twp

      There is no such word as matastized. Metastasized must be the one you're after.Those who pick at other people's spelling and grammar ought to be especially careful of their own.

      August 10, 2014 at 1:48 pm |
  3. hafiz


    July 17, 2014 at 6:54 pm |
  4. jphuie

    It's not just ISIS that America has been ambivalent about. At one time the US supported Saddam… at one time the US supported Assad… just as (at one time) it supported what became the mujahideen in Afghanistan… much of our sad foreign policy history has been about shortsightedly supporting groups and (often oppressive) leaders that then became our enemies.

    July 17, 2014 at 9:14 pm |
  5. cay

    is fareed zakaria a shiite?
    he has been supportive of assad and maliki and iran from the beginning!
    CNN should fire him!

    July 18, 2014 at 8:34 am |
  6. VIVA




    وردتني هذه الرسالة انقلها لكم كما هي: للتعميم / رجاء عاجل

    وردت معلومات مؤكدة من جهاز المخابرات العراقي مفادها ما يلي:

    1) تم نقل حاويات كيماوية لغاز السارين وغاز الخردل إلى العراق لاستخدامها بواسطة مدفعية الميدان ومدافع الهاون المتوفرة لدى الجيش العراقي.

    2) تم تخزين هذه الأسلحة الكيماوية في مخازن خاصة بأطراف مدينة الحلة ومدينة كربلاء وتحت حراسة عصائب أهل الحق.

    3) يشرف على أوامر تنفيذ القصف بالأسلحة الكيماوية مباشرة نوري المالكي، واللواء طالب جغاتي، وفالح الفياض، وقيس الخزعلي، وأبو مجاهد وآراس حبيب الفيلي.

    4) سيتم تنفيذ ضربات كيماوية منسوبة زورا للثوار ضد مناطق شيعية تحتوي على مزارات دينية لغرض تأجيج الوسط الشيعي وإعلان الحرب الطائفية... يرجى التعميم لإحباط هذا المخطط الخبيث ضد الشعب العراقي، ولدرء الحرب الطائفية التي يسعى المالكي وإيران إلى إشعالها.

    5) ستقوم حكومة المالكي بقصف مناطق في بغداد والمحافظات الشيعية بالكيماوي لتنسب هذه العملية للثوار، لأنه بالآونة الأخيرة، وقبل أيام، أرسلت حكومة المالكي رسالة إلى الأمم المتحدة حول سيطرة الثوار على مخازن الكيماوي في منشأة المثنى.

    ونحيطكم علما بأن العراق خال من الأسلحة الكيماوية من العام 1998، وإن الأسلحة الكيماوية الموجودة في العراق حالياً نُقلت من النظام السوري لاستخدامها ضد مناطق شيعية في بغداد والمحافظات الشيعية، وخاصة الكاظمية وكربلاء والنجف وسامراء وبلد، حيث مراقد أهل البيت (رضوان الله عليهم) وإنسابها إلى الثوار، وهذه خطة قاسمي سليماني لإثارة حرب طائفية شعواء، ومبرر لدخول الجيش الإيراني للعراق لحماية المراقد... وهذه آخر أوراق المقبور نوري المالكي.

    يرجى التعميم /

    جميع المحافل الدولية


    July 18, 2014 at 9:16 am |
  7. eddieVIII

    Fareed is a mouthpiece for the American govt just like all the other media personalities.

    July 19, 2014 at 9:49 am |
  8. adrn mller

    Fareed and Brzezinsky are as transparent as a fart:: not 1 mention of Hamas rockets,refusal of cease fires, calculated placement of civilians in harm's way. On the other hand, why do they acknowledge the right of Ukranians, Syrians and everybody else to defend themselves against hostility, but not Israel? At least Hamas is open about it's priorities: they have equal disregard for all life, Arab and Jew alike. Less honorably, Fareed and Brzezinsky think only Jews are disposable, notwithstanding their public personas - as transparent as farts

    July 20, 2014 at 5:26 pm |
  9. Spgfld Tom

    I'm starting to really miss the decisive leadership of Jimmy Carter! To quote Hillary Clinton (the Godess of CNN): "Obama doesn’t know how to be president. He doesn’t know how the world works. He’s incompetent. He’s an amateur!”

    July 20, 2014 at 8:14 pm |
    • kamran a

      Amen, I only wish we can have George Bush back one of the greatest presidents we have ever had. Having said that We must support our president no matter what. That is the American way.

      July 31, 2014 at 1:44 pm |
  10. mrs. westmore

    thanks to your arabist views on the gaza/israel conflict you have lost me as a viewer-permanenttly. oher jews agree! shame on you

    July 20, 2014 at 9:12 pm |
  11. epicjourney

    So Fareed, you proposed what – negotiate? Do nothing? Appeasement? None of these will do anything except cause greater war in the future. Even economic sanctions show weakness to the world's bullies – or did the Cuba & Iran experience teach us nothing?

    July 21, 2014 at 3:39 pm |
  12. Fareed is right

    Lets drop Lyndsey Graham into the middle of Aleppo.

    July 21, 2014 at 3:43 pm |
  13. Shawn Irwin

    Fareed, Fareed, I use to think you had it together, but lately I have dwindling respect for you. The USA has been pouring money into Syria for a long time, covertly. They started BEFORE the civil war started, CBS News did an article regarding it at the time. The USA sent 5 billion dollars to the opposition in Ukraine, that is old news, but you seem to have conveniently missed that too.
    In fact, nearly every country the USA has interfered in now has a civil war . . . Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, and who knows what others. The USA is destabilizing the world. The Washington bureaucrats own the media, and as a result, most American citizens have no idea just how much warmongering is going on behind their backs, by the politicians in Washington and the military industrial complex, via covert operations. What I consider unconscionable though is the fact that journalists like you and plenty of others have been towing the government line, lying by omission, and feeding the American sheep exactly what Washington wants to hear, instead of showing them that the US government has been destabilizing the world, murdering people by proxy on a huge scale, and actually creating conditions that fuel terrorism. But then again, you job is more important than the lives of hundreds of thousands of people . . . right?

    July 27, 2014 at 6:31 am |
    • gayle taylor

      right on point...

      July 29, 2014 at 3:04 pm |
  14. cindy b.

    to Shawn Irwin's reply, Know what? It doesnt matter who did what ! Things are happening around the globe just as they are supossed to. You see Shawn, GOD is on the throne,HE is in control of all of these conflicts&wars that we see happening around the world in these last days. We are living in the days of the most prophectic fulfillment that has ever been. The prophecies of GOD are popping out at us in the headlines almost on a daily basis. there's a lesson to learn here,The time to get right with GOD HAS COME !!!!!!! Don't delay another min. This message is for all who don't walk with CHRIST,on a daily basis !

    July 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
  15. Sudhir Malik

    Recently I have attended a seminar, Art of living (Shri Shri Ravi Shanker) Some one ask Swami Ji hwo to deal with terrorism. His answer was, if you think you can not do anything just keep mum, and if you think you can make some difference, you should go with full force not half hearted.

    July 28, 2014 at 5:25 pm |
  16. Get Over Yourself

    The US IS indeed throeing oil in the M.E. fire – and all in favor of PALESTINE!

    July 28, 2014 at 6:09 pm |
  17. Peace in Greater Middle East needed

    USA should NOT be throwing fuel on Middle East fire. Please, Mr.Obama, step down – you failed.

    August 4, 2014 at 4:33 am |
  18. Global Peace

    A Plan for Gaza Homeless Residents:

    All international donations to reconstruct Gaza should be spent in building new homes in the West Bank for Homeless Gaza residents.

    By gradually moving all Gaza residents to the West Bank, it will be possible for Palestinians to have a single, unified territory with a better economy and jobs for all.

    Today is a unique historical opportunity to channel all reconstruction funds to new housing in the West Bank for exclusive ownership of homeless Gaza resident and any other Gaza resident willing to move to the West Bank.

    Barren land in Gaza should be sold at market value to international buyers and proceeds should be used to build more new homes in the West Bank for current Gaza residents.

    In the long term, economic prosperity in the West Bank will weaken extremist groups such as Hamas and secure permanent coexistence with Israel.

    August 6, 2014 at 8:30 pm |
  19. Kittyhawk

    I'm not so sure about Fareed anymore. Why does he give me the feeling he persuades you, he talks as if this is the way it is, there is no other opinion. He's getting more and more one sided.

    August 10, 2014 at 1:44 am |
  20. truthseeker

    GPS does not post blogs that factually challenge the choices of stories / topics presented.
    What happened to REAL journalism?

    August 11, 2014 at 12:49 pm |
  21. truthseeker

    You presented a segment (What in the World) about the elections n India and Indonesia and completely disregarded one of the most significant stories of the week about the 1st African economic summit held in Washington.
    There are countries on the continent that are making great progress in infrastructure building and economic development some exceeding China's GDP. HOW DO YOU OVERLOOK A STORY LIKE THAT !

    Do you report on Africa only to fill a spot where you can diminish a continent into a single word AFRICA and then proceed to present a horror story that effectively overshadows and defines all the countries on the continent. WHAT IN THE WORLD indeed !!!
    The lines between global scrambling for funding (in this case in favor of South Asia), politics and journalism are really disappearing or maybe have already vanished.

    August 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm |
  22. with malice to none

    Relating to the FZ article .. I couldn't agree more .. Unfortunately western activism in the middle-east is like the biblical plague of the frogs. The more the Egyptians struck at the frogs the more the frogs multiplied.

    Is the alternative what Mrs. Palin stated ? "One side is proclaiming "Alla Achbar" and the other side is proclaiming "Alla Achbar" .. I suggest that we leave it to Alla to sort it out." .. A lot of people were killed in the Iraq and Iran war of the 1980's but because it wasn't showing on CNN every night, the two sides did eventually fight to a draw without foreigners joining the fracas. If Alla can't help maybe a blackout could help ?

    Certainly taking sides and offering military assistance to todays underdogs is not working .. The USA backed the Taliban against the USSR and then suffered the consequences. The Israelis backed Hamas as an antidote to the PLF and suffered the consequences. If the USA is not careful it is going to end up soon in Iraq on the same side with the Iranians and suffer nuclear consequences.

    So what next ? .. IF we all believe that sitting on the fence and watching two bullies fight it out isn't too pretty and can be downright dangerous .. What about CONTAINMENT ?! Here is one radical suggestion. The middle-east should be internet free. This is what the Islamists want – freedom from Western materialism and licentiousness – Lets give it to them ! All the big servers in the USA and Europe should isolate any IP's from Islamic nations or with Islamic content. We can't build a wall around these wars but we CAN stop doing: business, banking, air traffic and telecommunications with them ! Sure it will lower our standard of living and gas for our cars will doubli in price but Isn't it worth it ???

    August 17, 2014 at 3:00 pm |
  23. Christo

    Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, however, some anti-Semites use anti-Zionism as a kind of cover and entry-level recruiting tool. In addition, most anti-Semites see Zionism not as a modern movement to establish a Jewish state in Palestine

    August 18, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
  24. Christo

    Slaughter is not self-defense: The assault on Gaza and the corruption of language

    I am sickened by the lie of “israel’s security” in the face of the Western support of slaughter/massacre/terrorism/genocide of PALESTINIANS.
    Stop the Nakba, stop the Occupation, HELLO America– we are sinful for our past sins and even more sinful now– BDS on the entire 86.5% of Israeli zombies!

    August 18, 2014 at 12:32 pm |
  25. Simons

    be Hebrew is not the same as being a Zionist and Palestinian self is not to be a Hamas terrorist.
    1.Judaism describes the Jewish faith . And Zionism defines the philosophy behind an exclusive Jewish state.
    2.All Zionist are Jews, but not all Jews are Zionists.
    3.Judaism is more about spirituality but Zionism is more about racism.

    August 18, 2014 at 12:37 pm |
  26. For America

    8. AIPAC lobbies for billions of U.S. taxdollars to go to Israel instead of rebuilding America or funding the truly needy. While our country is still suffering from a prolonged financial crisis, AIPAC is pushing for no cuts in military funds for Israel. With communities across the nation slashing budgets for teachers, firefighters and police, AIPAC pushes for over $3 billion a year to Israel.

    Israel is the 27th richest country in world, but thanks to AIPAC, it gets more U.S. taxdollars than any other country. At a time when the foreign aid budget is being slashed, keeping the lion’s share of foreign assistance for Israel means taking funds from critical programs to feed, provide shelter and offer emergency assistance to the world’s poorest people.

    August 18, 2014 at 12:41 pm |
  27. For America

    AIPAC lobbies for billions of U.S. taxdollars to go to Israel instead of rebuilding America or funding the truly needy. While our country is still suffering from a prolonged financial crisis, AIPAC is pushing for no cuts in military funds for Israel. With communities across the nation slashing budgets for teachers, firefighters and police, AIPAC pushes for over $3 billion a year to Israel.

    Israel is the 27th richest country in world, but thanks to AIPAC, it gets more U.S. taxdollars than any other country. At a time when the foreign aid budget is being slashed, keeping the lion’s share of foreign assistance for Israel means taking funds from critical programs to feed, provide shelter and offer emergency assistance to the world’s poorest people.

    August 18, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
  28. Cyrusz

    If USA had listened to the unhappy Sunni Iraqi and Syrian people Four years ago and had not supported the Shia dictators of Alassad and Maliki, these Two countries had never got into the civil war.....
    The problem happened when the USA erased its Red lines in the Syria to get agreement with Iran Shia Mullah regime!
    Iran regime supreme leader wanted nuclear bomb and would not give up at all!

    August 20, 2014 at 1:43 pm |
  29. Bill

    Easy, environmentally friendly solution to the Islamic militants: All throughout the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama are 'factory' pig farms. They all have 'lagoons', or holding ponds for their pig manure. The Pentagon can let contracts to pork 'rendering' plants for hog waste, and then drain all of the hog lagoons. Set a wood chipper shredder on the beaver tail of a C-130, and 'crop-dust' ISIS, Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan, and anywhere there are terrorists. They are then screwed. No more ideology. They are damned as far as Allah is concerned. They may as well convert to Christianity. Pork belly futures would go through the roof! You have to deal with radical ideology and extremists in a fashion that they will understand.

    August 24, 2014 at 4:11 pm |
    • arcaneone

      It is ironic to be posting on a site that includes Zbigniew Brzezinski. Dr. Brzezinski was one of President Carter's closest
      advisors,and I am under the impression that he was responsible for Carter's Sinai Accords placing the Egyptian border
      directly adjacent to Gaza, thereby turning Rafah into "Smuggling Central.".
      That $3billion per year Israel gets is not inexplicable largesse. It is a compensation to Israel for taking an offer it
      couldn't refuse. Egypt got the Sinai back, but that wasn't enough, so Egypt gets aid in the range of$2 billion per year,
      which doesn't seem to bother anyone. Israel does in fact get the largest piece of the US foreign aid pie, but the US
      sends dollars everywhere, and Muslim nations are together vastly ahead of Israel. How many Americans in the depth of the "Energy Crisis" of the 1970s would have given up the sole commercial oil field for a piece of paper signed by
      Breznev? That is what Israel was forced to do, and that is why Israel deserves every penny of that $3billion per year.

      September 6, 2014 at 9:45 am |
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