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America’s Role in the Syrian Civil War

This interview with world-renowned scholar and leading dissident Noam Chomsky has two goals. The primary goal is to understand America’s role in one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 21st century, the Syrian civil war. While there has been a lot of commentary on the Syrian civil war, there is confusion about the exact nature of the American involvement in it. First, while the facts suggest that America’s role in the Syrian civil war was relatively marginal compared to that of others like the Assad government and its backers, primarily Iran and Russia, this goes against a belief held by sections of the anti-war left that America’s role was prominent. Second, there was a sharp difference between American involvement in the Syrian civil war and American involvement in the Kurdish regions of north-east Syria. While the former was through a combination of inaction and a CIA-sponsored covert operation with no direct involvement of the military, the latter was based on policies that came out of the Pentagon and involved the US military directly, primarily to fight ISIS. In fact, there is reporting to suggest that the two operations, when they co-existed, caused some confusion on the ground as well. While the CIA was offering support to rebel groups fighting Assad, the Pentagon offered to support groups only on the condition that they would fight ISIS and not Assad. Third, even focusing specifically on the Syrian civil war, the topic of this interview, American policy changed with time, depending on the circumstances of the war. Hence, there was no single policy. As such, even though the American role in the Syrian civil war was relatively marginal as noted above, examining it is of some interest.

A second and more minor goal of this interview is as follows. There has been some controversy over Noam Chomsky’s views on Syria. Since Chomsky has not had much to say about Syria, the controversy is befuddling. It appears to be based on quoting bits and pieces of interviews out of context, rather than an examination of his core arguments. As such, this interview is an attempt to capture Chomsky’s core views of American involvement in the Syrian civil war. His views are necessarily brief owing to the relatively marginal nature of US involvement. Yet, this interviewer found them to be interesting and original. People who criticize his views can at least examine his views in their entirety and decide for themselves the exact nature of their disagreement. Those who read it with an open mind might even be surprised to discover areas of agreement.

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