Ambassador Robert Ford, Colonal al-Okaidi, and the Curious Case of Theo Padnos.


In this essay, I discuss curious case of journalist Theo Padnos, who was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Syria in 2012 and held for 22 months before he was finally released. Having survived a kidnapping in Iraq myself, I have followed the case of Padnos, and those of other Western hostages taken during the Syrian conflict, with great interest. What is curious about Padnos’ case is that US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford knew where Padnos was being held captive, had the opportunity to try to save him, and yet appears to have been indifferent to doing so.

Padnos entered Syria in the fall of 2012 with what he thought were rebels from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA). Once inside Syria, the men revealed themselves to be members of al-Qaeda in Syria, known as the Nusra Front (hereafter, Nusra). Padnos was held captive for 22 months by Nusra. He managed to escape twice, seeking refuge with the FSA, only to have the FSA return him to his Nusra captors. FSA groups and the Nusra Front have collaborated closely throughout the Syria war. Padnos’ captors held him for a period in a children’s hospital in Aleppo and tortured Padnos at various times throughout his lengthy captivity. Padnos was finally freed in August 2014, through the efforts of the Qatari government, which is a strong backer of Nusra.

Continue reading “Ambassador Robert Ford, Colonal al-Okaidi, and the Curious Case of Theo Padnos.”

There is No FSA, There is Only Al-Qaeda

By William Van Wagenen

Originally published at the Libertarian Institute here.

Among Syria commentators in the West, both left and mainstream, it is commonly claimed that the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad has attempted to crush the supposedly moderate, secular rebels of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), while at the same time deliberately supporting extremist rebel groups in order to “Islamize” the Syrian rebellion and to convince the West the Syrian government is really fighting terrorism. It is argued that if Assad could claim his government was fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, rather than secular freedom fighters struggling for democracy, this would force the US and other Western powers to end their support for the Syrian rebels trying to topple the Syrian government, and to instead embrace Assad as a partner with the West in the so-called War on Terror.

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Is There a Western “Plot” to Overthrow Assad?

By William Van Wagenen

Originally published at the Libertarian Institute here.

The Western narrative of the Syrian conflict, which began in the Spring of 2011, suggests that the Syrian people began to peacefully protest for an end to the Assad regime, which then responded with brutal oppression; killing, imprisoning and torturing innocent Syrian civilians in an effort to maintain power. In time, Syrian soldiers defected from the army (because they refused orders to shoot peaceful protesters), began to arm themselves, and created the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to fight the regime. The West then began to support the Syrian rebels, in an effort to protect civilians and allow Syrians to realize their aspirations for democracy and freedom.

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Should Anti-Imperialists Support the Syrian Revolution?

By William Van Wagenen

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist.” – Kaiser Sose

Western propaganda regarding the role of US imperialism in the Middle East has become increasingly sophisticated and successful; so much so that in recent years large sections of the Western left have been convinced that US imperialism essentially no longer exists. As a result, since the start of the insurgency in Syria in 2011, many on the left have taken the same side as their traditional enemies, the US and Israel, in wishing to see the Syrian government, led by Bashar al-Assad, overthrown.

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Why Does Assad Buy Oil From ISIS?

By William Van Wagenen

Originally published by the Libertarian Institute here.

A common claim in the mainstream narrative about the Syrian conflict is that the “Assad regime” is “colluding” with the notorious terror group, ISIS. Some commentators even suggest that the Syrian government actually created ISIS in an effort to “Islamize” the Syrian revolution, and thereby destroy the supposedly secular, democratic, moderate rebel forces allegedly fighting for freedom against the Syrian dictatorship. By doing so, Assad would force “the world to choose between his regime and ISIS.”

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Does the Left Have an “Islamophobia” Problem?

By William Van Wagenen


Recently, the website Muftah published a series of articles, several of which attempted to defend the reputation of Salafism/Wahhabism, lamenting the fact that many on the Left, and indeed many Muslims, seek to scapegoat Salafism/Wahhabism for the crimes committed by militants from the Islamic State (henceforth, “Daesh”).1 One author, Ramah Kudaimi, went so far as to say that criticism of Wahhabism is tantamount to Islamophobia, and that such criticisms should have no place among Leftists attempting to resist the so-called “War on Terror.”

Kudaimi writes that “When these leftists are inevitably challenged for their bigotry, they insist their remarks are not Islamophobic because they specifically target the ‘extremist, genocidal ideologies’ of Salafism and Wahhabism – as though this is somehow a sensible justification. In reality, these articulations are blatantly Islamophobic. “2

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Was CIA Support for Extremist Rebels in Syria Accidental?

By William Van Wagenen


President Trump’s recent decision to halt the once covert CIA effort to arm Syrian rebels caused considerable debate recently among observers of the Syrian conflict. Syria analyst Sam Heller welcomed this decision, noting accurately that “the program no longer made sense, if it ever did. The United States couldn’t just keep fueling a war that had no definable end and feeding a rebel host body from which al-Qaeda could suck blood,” as “much of America’s support has gone to ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) factions that have functioned as battlefield auxiliaries and weapons farms for larger Islamist and jihadist factions, including Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate.”

While acknowledging that al-Qaeda benefited from the CIA program, Heller insists this was not intentional, expressing the mainstream view that “The [CIA] program was intended to build a moderate rebel force that could apply serious enough military pressure on the regime to force Assad to step aside as part of a negotiated political settlement [emphasis mine].”

Such a view is hard to reconcile with statements made by then Secretary of State John Kerry, however. Like Heller, Kerry suggested that US policy was to apply military pressure on the Syrian government to force Assad to step aside as part of a negotiated settlement. In contrast to Heller, however, Kerry has stated clearly that US planners anticipated that extremist rebel groups, specifically ISIS, would apply this military pressure, not the so-called moderate rebels who directly received CIA support.

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