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Is U.S. aid to Syrian rebels helping al-Qaida?

A recent intelligence leak confirms something that regular readers of this column already know: that the Obama administration has officially authorized covert support of local "rebel" groups, through government agencies like the CIA, with the goal of destabilizing and subverting the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. The interesting consequence is that al-Qaida is likely among the groups President Obama's directive now supports.

Just think about this for a minute. The president of the United States, according to an intelligence leak initially reported by Reuters, has secretly authorized support of an undisclosed nature for armed fighters in a region, including members of the group now synonymous with terrorism against American and Western interests in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Presumably, Mr. Obama is leaving it up to those responsible for distributing said "support" to ensure that no arms fall into the hands of any al-Qaida members. But the reality is that, given the fog of war permeating Syria right now, Mr. Obama would have better luck determining which trick-or-treating children arriving at his door on any given Halloween are little hellions undeserving of candy.

Mr. Obama reportedly signed the order earlier this year, closer to when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggested to the Senate Armed Services Committee that al-Qaida had taken a discreet approach in Syria, choosing not to draw attention to itself. The Washington Post quoted Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess as saying that there was no "clarion call to outsiders coming in."

Well, Mr. Burgess must not have gotten the memo, because just a few days earlier, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had issued that call, declaring in an eight-minute video: "Wounded Syria is still bleeding day after day, and the butcher (Assad) isn't deterred and doesn't stop. However, the resistance of our people in Syria is escalating and growing despite all the pains, sacrifices and blood."

Mr. Obama has now engaged America in a covert war against a regime trying to wipe out al-Qaida. If this was at all about fighting global terrorism, Mr. Obama would just sit back and do precisely nothing while al-Qaida spilled into Syria and Mr. Assad's forces wiped them out. Mr. Assad is a horrible guy, but is it really worth getting in bed with al-Qaida to have a hand in his ouster?

If Mr. Obama's order had anything to do with humanitarian intervention to assist the Syrian civilian population, he would be following Canada's lead in differentiating between genuinely innocent civilians and the undifferentiated mass of rebel fighters -- providing strictly humanitarian aid and protection to the former while letting the latter fight it out with Mr. Assad.

Russian officials once rebuffed the Islamic extremists of the region when they actively sought Russian cooperation against America in Afghanistan post-9/11. Why couldn't Mr. Obama find the sense to do the same?

It's because this is about economics and position, nothing else. And for some harebrained reason, Mr. Obama sees fit to take a chance on dealing with al-Qaida in order to make inroads rather than being upfront, honest and authentic with China and Russia over what America really wants out of Mr. Assad's ouster in Syria: economic benefits and favorable geopolitical positioning. Could there possibly be a bigger slap in the face to the leaders of Russia and China than to suggest, via covert yet concrete action, that taking a chance on the group responsible for the most heinous act of terrorism on American soil is preferable to dealing with the leaders of those nations forthrightly and honestly?

Now it's all too late, and a hangover likely awaits. Russia and China have every right to be offended by Mr. Obama trying to play them for fools all while attempting to bring them to the table under false pretenses. Does Mr. Obama think Vladimir Putin, a former director of Russian intelligence, doesn't understand subversive tactics, or that the Chinese don't understand Sun Tzu's "Art of War" principle of leveraging chaos? It's like a friend who's constantly trying to rope you into some kind of pyramid scheme under the guise of a great business opportunity. At what point do you just get fed up with it all?

Mr. Obama could have done things much differently and laid out an economic impetus for action in Syria, bringing the two major opposing geopolitical players in this particular game to the table on an honest footing rather than insulting them in seemingly every way possible. Is there no one in this administration capable of constructing an honest, forthright, respectful diplomatic pitch? Subterfuge and deception should be reserved for those lacking the intelligence, creativity and character to do anything else.

Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host who writes regularly for major publications in the U.S. and abroad. Her new book, "American Bombshell: A Tale of Domestic and International Invasion," is available through Her website can be found at

Copyright © 2015, CT Now
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