How state interests stoked radicalism and abandoned the moderates in the opposition.
There is a striking symmetry between the foreign policy agendas of George W. Bush and Barack Obama in the Middle East: they produced similar results in opposite ways—military aggression in Bush’s case and denial of assistance in Obama’s. The symmetry does not stop at the devastation of both the countries affected, namely Iraq and Syria. It also concerns one of the dreadful consequences of this devastation: whereas the Bush-run US invasion of Iraq created the conditions that led to the emergence of the “Islamic State of Iraq” (ISI) that al-Qaida proclaimed in 2006, as well as to the expansion of the parent organization across the Arab region, the Obama-adjudicated denial of crucial support to the Syrian opposition created the conditions that allowed the ISI to develop in Syria and mutate into ISIS in 2013. This was followed the year after by the announcement of the “Islamic State” tout court as a successful franchise, opening branches in its turn all over the Arab region and way beyond.
Moderate factions were swiftly eclipsed by more radical elements that were in turn aided, directly or indirectly, by other states.
Robert Ford, who resigned from his position as US ambassador to Syria in February 2014 due to his disagreement with Barack Obama’s Syrian policy, very clearly attributed responsibility for this disastrous course of events to the US president. In an interview on PBS Newshour a few months after his resignation, he even issued a premonitory warning against future attacks on US soil, as was to happen with the ISIS-inspired shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando. Ford maintained that the US was too reticent in lending assistance to the moderate forces in the Syrian opposition who have, he says, “been fighting constantly with arms tied behind their backs, because they don’t have the same resources that either Assad does or the al-Qaida groups in Syria do” and who in Ford’s estimation “frankly, we have much in common with.”