So Elias commented on the lousy (really trashy, journalistically speaking) series about ISIS and the Syrian regime in Daily Beast.
This is not about politics but about methodology, journalistic standards and about the dominant political paradigm about Syria and beyond. Basically, in this piece, Eias reveals himself as fully March 14, while he used to be more careful in his analysis before. This piece reads like the talking points of March 14 really. But away from generalizations let us talk specifics (my responses to his words are in red):
1) His opening sentence set the stage: "Gutman’s articles have been championed by opposition supporters and critiqued by regime loyalists." So here he tells readers that anyone who is critical of the piece is a regime supporters. Look at this demagogic method. So end of story. Let us go home. If you dare disagree with the non-expert Gutman (who research basically constituted spending long hours in cafes in Istanbul). There is really no need to continue when he says that, but I will continue.
2) He then informs the readers this: "The most astute observers of the conflict have long recognized the alignment of certain interests between the regime and the most radical elements in the Islamist opposition." Here, you are to believe that if you are astute you have to agree with the premise of Gutman and Western media and government, otherwise you are not astute. No evidence is necessary.
3) Look at this line (and notice that Elias, like all other cheerleaders of the armed Jihadi groups in Syria) still insist that there was this really secular/feminist/democratic spectrum of secular armed groups, and then the regime came and produced those Islamists and then, voila, the secular armed groups suddenly disappeared in order for Bashshar to claim that his enemies are not the real Voltaire Battalions but the various Islamist Jihadi battalions: "The rise of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra has been disastrous for the secular political opposition".
4) Elias then proceeds to yet again complains that the fact that Gutman piece is short on data and research (unless sitting in cafes in Istanbul counts as solid research) is bad not from a journalistic standpoint but because it helps the opponents of his beloved Syrian rebels (former Voltaire battalions who were transformed by trickery by the regime to Jihadi battalions): "That’s unfortunate, because they have given regime apologists more ammunition for the claim that the Syrian uprising is nothing but a foreign conspiracy fueled by fake news and Gulf-funded think tanks." But I am not sure what he means by the side reference to Gulf-funded think tanks? Does he mean that those are valuable academic assets who should not be criticized or does he mean that their punditry should be respected and not maligned and ridiculed. Not sure here but he seems defensive about them.
5) Here he produces his theory (same as Gutman theory and same as the various theories about the Jihadi rebels from DAY ONE): "When the Assad regime released many of its Islamist prisoners from Sednaya Prison in 2011 — including individuals like Zahran Alloush, Yahia al-Hamawi, Hassan Abboud, and others who would go on to positions of leadership in Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, and ISIS — it did so in full knowledge that the Islamists spelled trouble for the nascent uprising." So the evidence marshaled by Elias is that since the regime released them from jail, it means it controls them and even controls them when they bomb the regime sites and when they kill regime supporters, etc. But here is what curious: if this is the evidence in itself, how come Elias never wrote that US is responsible for the Jihadi in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as the US release scores of Jihadi fighters INCLUDING BAGHDADI HIMSELF? And does this argument not apply to Jordan, Saudi, Pakistani, Afghani, and Moroccan regime? The Jordanian regime is most culpable among them all as it started to manipulate Jihadis long before any of those regimes. So if the evidence is the release from jail, then it can’t be true in the case of Syrian regime and not true in the case of all those other regimes including the US government and its occupation authorities in the region.
6) Then Elias produces another conspiracy theory more fascinating than the first one: "The intelligence services guessed correctly that the peaceful secular demonstrations would be overrun by violent former inmates". Here, what does overrun mean? I mean, if the rebels were mostly secular, why would the release of Jihadi “overrun” them? What would that happen if the majority are active in the Voltaire Battalions? Why did not the more popular (according to Elias and all other mainstream journalists) secular forces overrun the others?
7) Then Elias proceeds to make a Lebanon analogy: "That group was widely seen as a tool of Syrian intelligence". Widely seen? It was only “widely seen” by the Hariri family and the rest of the Saudi-run March 14 Movement. There was never any evidence presented about that. The only evidence is that its leader once spent time in Syrian regime jail, just as Baghdadi once spent time in US military jails in Iraq. And many of those Jihadi groups are openly and blatantly opposed to the Syrian regime on sectarian grounds and in fact the regime fought against them in Lebanon during the Syrian political domination of Lebanon. But it gets worse:
8) Elias then says: "Longtime Syria-watchers will recall that Hizbullah was adamantly opposed to the Lebanese Army’s assault on the camp". I consider myself “a long time Syria-watcher” — and an occasional bird-watcher — and I dont recall that. This is absolutely and totally untrue, and even Elias friends in March 14 would not mischaracterize the stance of Hizbullah as such. Hizbullah was NOT opposed to the assault on the camp: Nasrallah specifically said that entry into the camp “is the red line”. He meant that the civilian population of the camp should be spared and that the assault on Fath Al-Islam should have sparred the lives of civilians But unfortunatley, once the Lebanese Amy began the assault on the camp, Hizbullah never complained AS IT SHOULD HAVE. More than 45 Palestinian civilians were massacred by the Lebanese Army assault. I was and still am of the position that the Lebanese Army should not have assaulted the camp (I call on Elias to visit what is left of the camp to see for himself) in order to get rid of a small armed gang, especially that negotiations were going on. In fact, the lousy Syrian regime Army supported and helped and the lousy Lebanese regime Army in the assault of the camp. And unfortunately Hizbullhah provided intelligence and military support for the Army during the assault. So if my position against Army assault make me an accomplice with Fath Al-Islam, be my guest. But it was really incredible how Elias—desperate to find evidence of any kind—decided to distort the position of Hizbullah.
9) Finally, Elias concludes with his last evidence, that the Syrian regime had “infiltrated” those groups: "given the regime’s successful infiltration of these groups". Wait. Infiltration of groups means control and creation of those groups? Do you remember after Sep. 11 when George Tenet testified before US Congress that CIA had infiltrated Al-Qa`idah? Syrian, Jordanian, Saudi, and other Arab and Western and Israeli intelligence services had all infiltrated those groups, but why do you go from here to decide that only the Syrian regime is guilty of infiltration? Are you that desperate to validate a lousy piece of journalism by Roy Gutman? Finally, here is what I find interesting: Gutman built up his case on coffee shop chatter by Syrians in Istanbul, but usually Westerners mock unsubstanitated conspiracy theories by Middle Easterners. Yet, only in the case of Syria are those conspiracy theories believed and peddled and only because they serve the propaganda interests of of Western governments.
PS Do you notice that when people cite the lousy piece by Roy Gutman they always say: the award-winning Roy Gutman. I remember when people cited Judith Miller about WMDs of Iraq before 2003, they also always said: award-winning journalist, Judith Miller.
PPS Elias Responds here.