Just what the great Syria clown show really needed: another crazy pratfall. Elizabeth O’Bagy, a researcher for the Institute for the Study of War whose Wall Street Journal editorial boosting the “moderate” elements of the Syrian rebellion was cited by both Senator John McCain and Secretary of State John Kerry, has been fired from the Institute following the discovery that she falsified her academic credentials on her resume. She falsely claimed to have a Ph.D from Georgetown, but in truth her degree is still pending, following the submission of her doctoral dissertation.
The Institute for the Study of War has not renounced O’Bagy’s work, as they made clear in an interview with Politico:
Kimberly Kagan, who founded the ISW in 2007, said in an interview that while she was ???deeply saddened??? by the situation, she stands by O???Bagy???s work on Syria.
???Everything I???ve looked at is rock solid,??? Kagan told POLITICO. ???Every thread that we have pulled upon has been verified through multiple sources.???
O???Bagy started at the institute as an unpaid intern and was pulled into their work on Syria when a researcher needed a fluent Arabic speaker, which transformed her internship into a much longer gig. Kagan hired O???Bagy as an analyst around August or September 2012, and said her understanding was that O???Bagy was working toward her Ph.D. at Georgetown.
The other big problem with O’Bagy is that she actually works for the Syrian rebellion, a fact the Wall Street Journal took some heat for initially failing to disclose. As her op-ed was later amended to explain, “In addition to her role at the Institute for the Study of War, Ms. O???Bagy is affiliated with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a nonprofit operating as a 501(c)(3) pending IRS approval that subcontracts with the U.S. and British governments to provide aid to the Syrian opposition.” The soon-to-be doctor herself says she never intended to conceal this affiliation, and notes that her close relationship with the rebel forces allows her to “travel more safely in Syria.”
The Daily Caller clarifies that her contracts come from an organization funded by the U.S. State Department, which would mean she’s getting paid by American taxpayers – somehow not a surprising revelation, since everyone is paid by the American taxpayer these days, except the people who foot the bill, and face charges of inhuman greed if they complain about its size.
O’Bagy describes herself in the Daily Caller piece as “working for the Syrian people.” She also breezily admitted in that September 9 article that she’s not technically a doctor, but “you can call me doctor if you want,” an offer the Institute for the Study of War apparently decided not to take her up on.
Her Wall Street Journal piece was cited by Syria hawks as evidence that reports of al-Qaeda dominance among Bashar Assad’s opponents were overstated:
The conventional wisdom holds that the extremist elements are completely mixed in with the more moderate rebel groups. This isn’t the case. Moderates and extremists wield control over distinct territory. Although these areas are often close to one another, checkpoints demarcate control. On my last trip into Syria earlier this month, we traveled freely through parts of Aleppo controlled by the Free Syrian Army, following roads that kept us at safe distance from the checkpoints marked by the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq. Please see the nearby map for more detail.
Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al Qaeda die-hards. The jihadists pouring into Syria from countries like Iraq and Lebanon are not flocking to the front lines. Instead they are concentrating their efforts on consolidating control in the northern, rebel-held areas of the country.
Groups like Jabhat al Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate, are all too happy to take credit for successes on the battlefield, and are quick to lay claim to opposition victories on social media. This has often led to the impression that these are spearheading the fight against the Syrian government. They are not.
Here’s what those powerless little scamps in Jabhat al Nusra have been up to lately, according to the Associated Press:
Syrian rebels led by al-Qaida-linked fighters seized control of a predominantly Christian village northeast of Damascus, sweeping into the mountainside sanctuary in heavy fighting overnight and forcing hundreds of residents to flee, activists and locals said Sunday.
The battle over Maaloula, an ancient village that is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria, has thrown a spotlight on the deep-seated fears that many of Syria’s religious minorities harbor about the growing role of Islamic extremists on the rebel side in the civil war against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
It sounds like the Christians of Maaloula might take issue with O’Bagy’s assurances of Islamist irrelevance:
Residents of Maaloula reached by telephone described fierce battles in the streets that forced them and other locals to flee as opposition fighters flooded the village.
One resident said the rebels ??? many of them wearing beards and shouting, “God is great!” ??? attacked Christian homes and churches shortly after seizing the village.
“They shot and killed people. I heard gunshots and then I saw three bodies lying in the middle of a street in the old quarters of the village,” the resident said by telephone. “So many people fled the village for safety.”
Now, he said, Maaloula “is a ghost town.”
“Where is President Obama to see what befallen on us?” asked the man, who fled the village on Sunday. He declined to give his name out of fear for his safety.
Another resident who escaped earlier in the day said Assad’s forces were deployed on the outskirts of the village, while gunmen inside refused to allow anybody in. He said that one of the churches, called Demyanos, had been torched and that gunmen stormed into two other churches and robbed them.
A third resident reached by phone said he saw militants forcing some Christian residents to convert to Islam.
“I saw the militants grabbing five villagers Wednesday and threatening them: ‘Either you convert to Islam or you will be beheaded,'” he said.
The two other residents said they heard rumors about such conversions but did not see them. The reports could not be independently verified. All three residents spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
Meanwhile, the moderate cavaliers of the Free Syrian Army have been busy taking journalists hostage, and saying highly inconvenient things about how the Assad regime isn’t actually responsible for the “red line” chemical weapons attack, within earshot of said hostages.
It is, to put it mildly, embarrassing for Syrian war enthusiasts to rely on O’Bagy’s work as their primary justification for claiming the rebels are a great host of secular moderate reformers orbited by a few tiny bands of al-Qaeda miscreants. For the record, she assured Politico she’s “not a war monger” herself: “I’m not advocating the United States start a war or get in the middle of one. At heart, I’m just a researcher. I love being in the field. I love doing the interviews and collecting the data.” Sounds like she’d have a great time in Maaloula.