Small Wars Journal

Useful Idiots: How a Facebook Campaign Became Propaganda For Bashar Assad

Fri, 09/13/2013 - 4:51pm

Syria is a proverbial Gordian Knot; the two-year old conflict is a vexing web of proxy armies, tenuous allies, and a myriad of factions with competing goals.

But just as the real conflict has been a lightning rod for all manner of hidden agendas, so has the domestic debate been here in the United States.  According to polls, the country remains deeply divided over the prospect of air and missile strikes on Syria.

Of course, war is the most serious undertaking of any state, and should only be embarked upon after great deliberation.  After all, debate is healthy in a democracy.

Still, partisan rancor often trumps careful analysis.  Nowhere was this more true than on the 43,000-strong Facebook page for the “Armed Forces Tea Party“, in which purported service members–in full uniform–masked their faces with signs protesting involvement in Syria.

Not only was this an egregious transgression in civil-military relations (Psst, here’s some great reading), but the campaign played directly into the Assad regime’s propaganda, as hackers from the Syrian Electronic Army defaced the US Marine Corps’ website with the aforementioned images, urging the United States not to interfere in Syria.

For decades, the Communist Party wooed influential Westerners into showing sympathy for their causes. Dozens of authors, actors, and celebrities have, intentionally or not, lent legitimacy to all manner of dictators.  Such activity isn’t limited to the Cold War, either, as we’ve recently seen with basketball star Dennis Rodman’s overtures towards North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, whom  he refers to as “my friend”.

During the Cold War, misguided elites were referred to as “useful idiots“; and whether through vanity or naiveté, they advanced the interests of some very unsavory characters.

Now, service members have fallen directly into that trap.

If there’s a lesson in this, it’s how easily the ease of posting to social media allows the politically naive to fall into the hands of those with a more sinister agenda.  Sure, there are over 1,000 insurgent groups in Syria, some with links to al-Qaeda and other terrorist organization.  On the other hand, the Assad regime is a proxy of Iran and Russia, propped up by fighters from Hezbollah.  His messaging campaign has been more effective than most are willing to admit, as pundits inadvertently pass on Syrian propaganda an an effort to score partisan points.

We don’t need America’s most respected institution giving Mr. Assad any help.



Fri, 09/13/2013 - 8:29pm

I must respectfully disagree with your assessment for multiple reasons. The intelligence coming from Syria, being comprised mostly of HUMINT and SIGINT, is not even close to being solid. As you must know, HUMINT is very subjective depending on the source, and our SIGINT is not what we would like, in Syria. They both only paint very sparse pictures of what is going on. If you read everything on SIPR, you would know what I am trying to skirt around...

In 1995, a Japanese cult produced Sarin and used it in the Tokyo subway system. In 2006, at a former Iraq military base (Taji), we found over 100 152MM shells containing sarin, buried by Saddam's forces......I am sure that was not the only cache buried in Iraq. It is very likeley that others may have been found, and not by us.

The recipe for sarin can be found in open source materials using google (just not the exact refining process), but if a cult was able to create it, you can bet Al Nursra and Al Qaeda has been trying, and possibly succeeding.

Who has the most to gain from a chemical strike in Syria? Not Assad, he risks losing everything if he did, and his enemies know this. The small tactical gain, would only be very, very temporary.........

I have been in the Army for over 20 years, and have served multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq...I am one of the soldiers that does not trust the sparse intel we have...until I see concrete proof that it was done by Assad, myself and thousands of other military personnel will believe it was our enemies that did the attack, to enlist our forces to help the Islamists overthrow Assad. Fighting Assad, is helping Al Nusra and Al does not matter under what guise we do it, they will be the beneficiaries of any help we give them. We do not have sympathy for Assad, or his forces...but we do not want to help our enemies create a non secular Islamic state.

Even if Assad is toppled, the FSA will not stay in power long, if at all. Al Nusra will end up in power, no matter what we do.

When I worked with Iraqi soldiers, they all said there cannot be peace in the arab world, without a strong dictator.....even they understood this.

I could go on much more about this, but I will stop.

The enemy we know is much better than the one we don't.