The CIA run program that empowered and directed ISIS was canceled last week by President Trump. ISIS is merely the most recent iteration of Islamist groups founded by American presidents and run by leadership in the CIA until the groups, invariably, jump the rails and turn their guns on American soldiers and interests around the region and the world. American terrorism in the Middle East and Central Asia dates back to the 1970s and has cost American taxpayers untold millions over the last four decades.
In keeping with the theme of his administration, Jimmy Carter, unwittingly, began the tradition of arming militant Islamist organizations for immediate political gain without bothering to think too carefully about the long term implications. When Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the CIA (in coordination with Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf) worked to thwart their expansionist ambitions by training and arming Afghan, Pakistani, and Iranian guerrillas alongside the inaugural collection of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network of fighters. This operation succeeded in repelling the Russian invasion and left Afghanistan under the uncertain tutelage of numerous militant Islamist organizations that made the remote, lawless country an ideal refuge for al-Qaeda.
An unstable Afghan countryside was precisely what the CIA wanted during the Soviet-Afghan war. Any country governed by traditional power structures and rife with militant groups were immune to the socialist, third world nationalism that lead to the rise, and eventual CIA-backed overthrow, of leaders like Salvador Allende in Chile and Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran. Unfortunately for the leadership in Washington and Langley, the al-Qaeda network eventually turned their ambitions, and U.S. supplied weapons, to other Islamist struggles around the world culminating in the 9/11 attacks and guerilla warfare against the U.S. troops in the newly destabilized, post-Saddam Iraqi countryside, yet another sanctuary for the al-Qaeda courtesy of the U.S. government.
By 2011 bin Laden was dead, the Iraqi government’s sphere of influence was growing, and al-Qaeda was without a clear objective. From the remains of al-Qaeda and the broader Iraqi insurgency, ISIS emerged with American weapons and al-Qaeda veterans in tow. The group quickly joined the swarm of rebel groups fighting against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. At risk of fighting for U.S. interests against Assad, as well as Russia and Iran by proxy, with weapons from the 20th century, ISIS was saved by a CIA run program to train and arm rebels in Syria in 2013. This program was sold by the Obama administration as an attempt to empower the “moderate” rebel groups fighting against Assad. Unfortunately, Syrian drivers licenses do not have a space to indicate the religious fervor of the identified party which made weeding out the extremists all but impossible for CIA operatives working amongst the reportedly porous divisions between rebel groups.
There was, however, no incentive to arm only the moderate groups in Syria. Deposing Assad is a task that would require an organization unencumbered by pointed questions from journalists, international law, or snarky Congressional representatives with interns who can reference any line of the Geneva Convention at a moment’s notice. A group of moderate rebels who will take Damascus without committing any war crimes and subsequently work with Western powers to install an inclusive, democratic government in Syria simply doesn’t and never did exist. ISIS, who now appears similarly incapable of defenestrating Assad, represented the CIA’s best chance. They were willing to take Syria by hook or by crook, and if it hadn’t been for the Russian and Iranian support of Assad, they probably would have done it. Now ISIS presides over a shrinking tract of land in Iraq and Syria. Rest assured, they will cling to their Caliphate and execute attacks across the globe, emboldened by their top of the line, American weapons, and training.