By: Cliff Kincaid
Accuracy in Media
As President Obama prepares to speak to the nation on his desire for war in Syria, critical attention is being focused on the conflicts of interest and hidden agenda of an influential writer for The Wall Street Journal who has argued for U.S. military intervention on behalf of the Syrian “rebels.” The writer, an attractive young woman by the name of Elizabeth O’Bagy, has appeared on CNN, Fox News and PBS, but her controversial connection to one side in the Syrian civil war had been carefully concealed during these appearances.
As a result of the cover-up, she is now at the center of a growing controversy over whether Obama’s policy is being manipulated by foreign interests such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and whether military intervention could lay the groundwork for the obliteration of Christians in Syria. Some of her work, labeled disinformation by critics, has influenced such figures as Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and William Kristol.
For example, McCain, who has praised Al Jazeera and also appeared on the channel, has called the Syrian rebels “moderates,” openly citing O’Bagy’s work.
Daniel Greenfield of FrontPage wrote the blockbuster article, “Meet the Syrian Islamist Organization Controlling Senator McCain’s Agenda,” exposing O’Bagy’s role as political director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), the group which organized Senator McCain’s trip to Syria to meet with the rebels and made him into the leading congressional supporter of Obama’s policy.
After analyzing the record and background of the organization, conservative publications such as FrontPage Mag and Pajamas Media describe the SETF as an Islamist front and say that O’Bagy’s connection to the group represents, at a minimum, “a massive conflict of interest” that throws her commentaries on Syria into serious doubt.
O’Bagy is now trying to play down the growing scandal. Charles C. Johnson of The Daily Caller interviewed O’Bagy, who claimed that despite her “political director” title, she is paid as a contractor and not an employee of the group, as if this makes a lot of difference.
She is typically identified simply as a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, supposedly an unbiased think tank. However, it is run by a board of directors that includes William Kristol, who has himself made numerous media appearances in support of Obama’s war policy.
A veteran investigative journalist, Jerome Corsi of WorldNetDaily, describes the 26-year-old O’Bagy as the unlikely “brainchild” behind the Obama Administration’s policy of war against Syria. His article labels her the architect of media “spin” on behalf of the campaign for war.
Her views, for example, were featured prominently in the USA Today article, “Syrian rebels said to seek Islamic democracy,” depicting the opposition to the Assad regime as desiring an American experiment in democratic government for their country. The article said, “Many Syrian opposition members she [O’Bagy] has spoken to compared what they want [in Syria] to the United States.”
The controversy over O’Bagy’s central role in Obama’s war policy emerges as Pope Francis issued a letter to leaders of the G20 nations meeting in Russia about “the futile pursuit of a military solution” in Syria. Christians gathered in Damascus, Syria, at religious services on Saturday to openly express support for the regime—which tolerates and accommodates religious minorities—over the rebels.
In this context, Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again, has just given an interview to Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review in which he flatly declared that Syrian Christians would be better off if the U.S. does not strike the Assad regime. “That is not because Assad is a great guy, but because the alternatives—the same alternatives we saw in Libya and Egypt, that is, the Islamists and jihadis—are hostile to ‘infidel’ Christians, a fact with ample doctrinal, historical, and current-affair proof,” he said.
One leading Catholic thinker told Accuracy in Media that while Obama is coming across as indifferent to the suffering and plight of Christians in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking like “a potential good guy” by speaking up for the rights of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere.
O’Bagy’s most influential article appeared in The Wall Street Journal, titled, “On the Front Lines of Syria’s Civil War.” In the article, she claimed that “Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al-Qaida die-hards.” Commentary magazine called the article “a very good place to start” in understanding Syria.
The Journal has added a “clarification” to O’Bagy’s article, saying, “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.”
Before that, on June 22, 2012, she appeared on Al Jazeera, the television channel serving as the mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood, as an “expert” on Syria. This appearance seemed to also make her an “expert” in the eyes of many others in the international and U.S. media.
Later that year, she argued against designating one of the Syrian rebel groups a terrorist organization.
Greenfield cites evidence that the board of SETF, which employs O’Bagy, is under the influence of individuals associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that the Obama Administration helped bring to power in Egypt, but which has since been overthrown by the military after massive street demonstrations. This new government has banned the Al Jazeera TV channel.
He also says some of her statements defy common sense.
In her Journal article, for example, O’Bagy said, “While traveling with some of these Free Syrian Army battalions, I’ve watched them defend Alawi and Christian villages from government forces and extremist groups.”
Greenfield countered, “Since when is the Syrian military attacking Alawi or Christian villages? The assertion makes no sense. Assad is Alawi and Syrian Christians have been ethnically cleansed by Syrian rebels, not government troops.”
While O’Bagy is the “friendly Western face” of the group and makes regular media appearances in order to influence the American people, Mouaz Moustafa, a Palestinian Arab and the Executive Director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, is the key operative in the SETF, Greenfield’s article says.
Greenfield notes that Moustafa pushed regime change in Libya, laments the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and spouts “anti-Israel material, including calls for a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem.”
Moustafa’s Twitter account currently describes him as working for the “Libyan Revolution, and now Syrian Revolution good times.”
Our examination of Moustafa’s “linkedin profile” says he was a staff member of the United States Senate and a field organizer for the Democratic National Committee in 2008. Further inquiry determined that he worked for Senator Blanche Lincoln and former U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder—both Democrats from Arkansas.
That is when, according to one report, he “took his interests to another level.”
In response to the controversy over her links to the SETF and identification as “political director” of the group, O’Bagy has posted a notice to her bio at the Institute for the Study of War: “The Institute for the Study of War employs Elizabeth O’Bagy as a senior analyst on its Syria portfolio,” the group says. “She also has a role in the Syria Emergency Task Force that she wishes to clarify.”
O’Bagy goes on to insist she does not receive a salary from the organization, but is paid through “a number of contracts with the United States Department of State to provide an evaluation of the current aid and assistance programs inside Syria and provide guidance on how to better implement these programs.”
PJ Media called such descriptions “word games,” adding, “In Washington-speak, political director usually means lobbyist. Not an unbiased observer and dealer of facts, but an advocate for hire to push a point of view.”
The publication said that the Fox News Channel has since corrected its use of O’Bagy as an expert by noting her association with the SETF in detail. “Now Congress needs to take a step and ask Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain if they still stand by O’Bagy’s advocacy on behalf of the ‘moderate’ rebels,” it said.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.