WASHINGTON — The outgoing administration of US President Barack Obama overestimated the outcome of the Arab Spring, in expecting democracy to take root in the region, CIA Director John Brennan said.
In an interview broadcast late Tuesday on CNN, Brennan said that although the people in the region wanted individual freedom, "the concept of democracy is something that really is not engrained in a lot of the people and the cultures and the countries out there." Brennan, who spent years stationed in the Middle East, offered a sober assessment about the prospect of Western-style democracies taking root in that arid terrain.
"I think there were very, very unrealistic expectations in Washington, including in some parts of the administration, that the "Arab Spring" was going to push out these authoritarian regimes and democracy is going to flourish because that's what people want," he said.
Brennan singled out the 2003 invasion of Iraq as "the reason why there was the tremendous slide into violence and bloodshed in that part of the world." He also argued "history would have been different" if the United States had kept some troops in Iraq instead of fully withdrawing from the country in 2011.
While Brennan said he does not believe the decision to leave Iraq was the root cause for the sectarian violence that has subsequently plagued the country, he does see it as "a contributing factor" to the instability that helped Daesh terror group flourish there.
"I don't believe it was the reason for it. I think it was a contributing factor to the subsequent events that took place. Because we were not there, and we weren't able to do the training, we weren't able to do the advising and the assisting," he explained.
"If we knew then what we know now in terms of what ISIL was able to do, in terms of just this explosive growth in Iraq that then was able to lop over into Syria, would we have pursued the same course? Probably not," Brennan added.
With regard to Syrian crisis, the CIA chief said: "If additional support was provided by various international actors to the Free Syrian Army, early on, might that have made a difference? Maybe," Brennan considered. "Because at that time, the Syrian regime was reeling and was more vulnerable." He cautioned, however, that providing military support earlier to the Syrian opposition -- as critics of the Obama administration's policy suggest should have been done -- would have presented its own challenges. Noting that the opposition is a "very eclectic" mix of secular and extremist elements, Brennan said, "Supporting the opposition blindly and throwing weapons over the transom into Syria could have led to a worse outcome than today.