The Rapeutation of Bashar Assad of Syria, by U.S.A.

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Re: The Rapeutation of Bashar Assad of Syria, by U.S.A.

Postby admin » Sat Feb 06, 2016 9:17 am

The Red Line and the Rat Line: Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels
by London Review of Books
April 17, 2014

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In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.​* Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.

Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria -– and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’

The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ ( Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)

Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.

The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.

A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’

In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ -– he snapped his fingers -– ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.

The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’

In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.

Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force –- a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya –- was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.

By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.

At this stage, Obama’s premise –- that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin -– was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)

The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source -– someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used -– and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’

The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence ‘were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, ‘the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’

The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.

The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’

Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria -– under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack –- would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout -– the story the press corps told –- was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out.

The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush’s gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: ‘When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways -– wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.’
The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, ‘to talk through the options’. She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn’t asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.

Obama’s move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. ‘Congress was not going to let this go by,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings.’ At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. ‘And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision.’ At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: ‘The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting.’ But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: ‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week … But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’ As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. ‘There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error,’ the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. ‘They could not afford to say: “We were wrong.”’ (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.’)

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)

The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation.
The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress –- the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.

The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’

Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said.
Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.

By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdoğan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’ In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government -– through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation -– was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. ‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training -– including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdoğan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics -– the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdoğan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond in March and April.’

There was no public sign of discord when Erdoğan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad ‘needs to go’. Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, ‘it is important for us to make sure that we’re able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.’ The red line was still intact.

An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdoğan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks’ insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdoğan was joined by Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdoğan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.

The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdoğan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdoğan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ Erdoğan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ At that point, an exasperated Erdoğan said, ‘But your red line has been crossed!’ and, the expert told me, ‘Donilon said Erdoğan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”.’ Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria.’ (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn’t respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdoğan, Fidan and Davutoğlu sitting at a table. ‘Beyond that,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to read out the details of their discussions.’)

But Erdoğan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country’s ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a ‘golden loophole’: gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.

The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. ‘The middlemen did what they always do,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers.’ The illicit skimming flared into a public ‘gas for gold’ scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdoğan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.

Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but ‘lobbied to make sure the legislation … did not take effect for six months’. They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to ‘accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime’.

The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdoğan exposed politically and militarily. ‘One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘It can’t come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can’t come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon -– you can’t be sure who you’d meet on the other side.’ Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdoğan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him -– where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’

A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’

As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ -– who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas -– ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey -– that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’

The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’

Turkey’s willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of a government national security meeting, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdoğan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan’s spoke of creating a provocation: ‘Now look, my commander, if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.’ The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.

Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’

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Re: The Rapeutation of Bashar Assad of Syria, by U.S.A.

Postby admin » Sat Feb 06, 2016 9:18 am

WikiLeaks Reveals How the US Aggressively Pursued Regime Change in Syria, Igniting a Bloodbath
By Robert Naiman
Verso Books
09 October 2015

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Image
Syrian soldiers and children at a checkpoint in the besieged and devastated city of Homs, Syria, March 23, 2014. For both sides of Syria's civil war, Homs, a central Syrian crossroads with a diverse prewar population of 1 million, is crucial to the future. (Sergey Ponomarev / The New York Times)

In 2010, WikiLeaks became a household name by releasing 251,287 classified State Department cables. Now, a new book collects in-depth analyses of what these cables tell us about the foreign policy of the United States, from authors including Truthout staff reporter Dahr Jamail and our regular contributors Gareth Porter, Robert Naiman, Phyllis Bennis and Stephen Zunes. "The essays that make up The WikiLeaks Files shed critical light on a once secret history," says Edward Snowden. Click here to order your copy today with a donation to Truthout.

The following is Chapter 10 of The WikiLeaks Files:

On August 31, 2013, US president Barack Obama announced that he intended to launch a military attack on Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack in that country that the US blamed on the Syrian government. Obama assured the US public that this would be a limited action solely intended to punish the Assad government for using chemical weapons; the goal of US military action would not be to overthrow the Assad government, nor to change the balance of forces in Syria's sectarian civil war.

History shows that public understanding of US foreign policy depends crucially on assessing the motivations of US officials. It is likely inevitable as a result that US officials will present themselves to the public as having more noble motivations than they share with each other in private, and therefore that if members of the public had access to the motivations shared in private, they might make different assessments of US policy. This is a key reason why WikiLeaks' publishing of US diplomatic cables was so important.

The cables gave the public a recent window into the strategies and motivations of US officials as they expressed them to each other, not as they usually expressed them to the public. In the case of Syria, the cables show that regime change had been a long-standing goal of US policy; that the US promoted sectarianism in support of its regime-change policy, thus helping lay the foundation for the sectarian civil war and massive bloodshed that we see in Syria today; that key components of the Bush administration's regime-change policy remained in place even as the Obama administration moved publicly toward a policy of engagement; and that the US government was much more interested in the Syrian government's foreign policy, particularly its relationship with Iran, than in human rights inside Syria.

A December 13, 2006 cable, "Influencing the SARG [Syrian government] in the End of 2006,"1 indicates that, as far back as 2006 -- five years before "Arab Spring" protests in Syria -- destabilizing the Syrian government was a central motivation of US policy. The author of the cable was William Roebuck, at the time chargé d'affaires at the US embassy in Damascus. The cable outlines strategies for destabilizing the Syrian government. In his summary of the cable, Roebuck wrote:

We believe Bashar's weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of these vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising.


This cable suggests that the US goal in December 2006 was to undermine the Syrian government by any available means, and that what mattered was whether US action would help destabilize the government, not what other impacts the action might have. In public the US was in favor of economic reform, but in private the US saw conflict between economic reform and "entrenched, corrupt forces" as an "opportunity." In public, the US was opposed to "Islamist extremists" everywhere; but in private it saw the "potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists" as an "opportunity" that the US should take action to try to increase.

Roebuck lists Syria's relationship with Iran as a "vulnerability" that the US should try to "exploit." His suggested means of doing so are instructive:

Possible action:

PLAY ON SUNNI FEARS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE: There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis. Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business.

Both the local Egyptian and Saudi missions here (as well as prominent Syrian Sunni religious leaders) are giving increasing attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue. [Emphasis added.]


Roebuck thus argued that the US should try to destabilize the Syrian government by coordinating more closely with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to fan sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia, including by the promotion of "exaggerated" fears of Shia proselytizing of Sunnis, and of concern about "the spread of Iranian influence" in Syria in the form of mosque construction and business activity.

By 2014, the sectarian Sunni-Shia character of the civil war in Syria was bemoaned in the United States as an unfortunate development. But in December 2006, the man heading the US embassy in Syria advocated in a cable to the secretary of state and the White House that the US government collaborate with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to promote sectarian conflict in Syria between Sunni and Shia as a means of destabilizing the Syrian government. At that time, no one in the US government could credibly have claimed innocence of the possible implications of such a policy. This cable was written at the height of the sectarian Sunni-Shia civil war in Iraq, which the US military was unsuccessfully trying to contain. US public disgust with the sectarian civil war in Iraq unleashed by the US invasion had just cost Republicans control of Congress in the November 2006 election. The election result immediately precipitated the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense. No one working for the US government on foreign policy at the time could have been unaware of the implications of promoting Sunni-Shia sectarianism.

It was easy to predict then that, while a strategy of promoting sectarian conflict in Syria might indeed help undermine the Syrian government, it could also help destroy Syrian society. But this consideration does not appear in Roebuck's memo at all, as he recommends that the US government cooperate with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to promote sectarian tensions.

Note that, while Roebuck was serving in the George W. Bush administration, he was a career Foreign Service officer, a permanent senior member in good standing of the US government's foreign policy apparatus. He went on to serve in the US embassies in Iraq and Libya -- in the latter as chargé d'affaires -- in the Obama administration. There is no evidence that anyone in the US foreign policy apparatus found the views expressed by Roebuck in this cable particularly controversial; its publication did not cause scandal in US foreign policy circles.

So, while the sectarian character of the civil war in Syria is now publicly bemoaned in the West, it seems fair to say that in 2006 the US government foreign policy apparatus believed that promoting sectarianism in Syria was a good idea, which would foster "US interests" by destabilizing the Syrian government.

This view of US policy -- happy to make common cause with Saudi Arabia in fostering Sunni-Shia sectarianism in Syria, and preoccupied with Syria's relationship with Iran above all else -- is buttressed by a March 22, 2009 cable from the US embassy in Saudi Arabia, "Saudi Intelligence Chief Talks Regional Security with Brennan Delegation."2

This cable summarizes a March 15 meeting including then US counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan and US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ford Fraker with Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the head of Saudi Arabia's external intelligence agency. Ambassador Fraker's summary recounted:

7. (C) PERSIAN MEDDLING: Prince Muqrin described Iran as "all over the place now." The "Shiite crescent is becoming a full moon," encompassing Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen among Iran's targets. In the Kingdom, he said "we have problems in Medina and Eastern Province." When asked if he saw Iran's hand in last month's Medina Riots (reftels), he strongly affirmed his belief that they were "definitely" Iranian supported. (Comment: Muqrin's view was not necessarily supported by post's Saudi Shi'a shia sources.) Muqrin bluntly stated "Iran is becoming a pain in the ..." and he expressed hope the President "can get them straight, or straighten them out." [Emphasis added.]


Ambassador Fraker's comment that "Muqrin's view was not necessarily supported by post's Saudi Shi'a sources" was a severe understatement. Indeed, in a February 24, 2009 cable, "Saudi Shia Clash With Police In Medina,"3

Ambassador Fraker had reported in detail on the February 20 clashes between Saudi security forces and Saudi Shia pilgrims in Medina, without any mention of Iran. Fraker's February 24 cable primarily attributed the clashes to, first, Saudi police having denied the Saudi Shia pilgrims access to the Baqi'a cemetery opposite the Prophet's Mosque, and second, the Saudi Shia community's long-simmering anger over historical grievances.

This indicates that the US government knows perfectly well that the Saudi government blames Iran for things that the Iranian government has nothing to do with, and is unconcerned about this. For the US government's own internal information, the ambassador wanted to make clear that, as far as the US embassy knew, the Medina clashes had nothing to do with Iran. But as the 2006 cable makes clear, the US was happy to make common cause with Saudi Arabia in blaming Iran for things happening in Syria with which Iran had no connection.
The next paragraph in the cable is also instructive:

8. (C) WEANING SYRIA FROM IRAN: Brennan asked Muqrin if he believed the Syrians were interested in improving relations with the United States.

"I can't say anything positive or negative," he replied, declining to give an opinion. Muqrin observed that the Syrians would not detach from Iran without "a supplement."


This suggests that, for the US government in March 2009, Syria's interest in "improving relations with the United States" was equivalent to its being "weaned" from Iran. Thus, the thing that the US really cared about in Syria was not, for example, the Syrian government's respect for human rights, but Syria's relationship with Iran.

Another theme that recurred in the 2006 cable focusing on Syria's "vulnerabilities" and how the US should try to exploit them was that the US should take actions to try to destabilize the Syrian government by provoking it to "overreact," both internally and externally. One of the "vulnerabilities" of the Syrian government listed by Roebuck that the US should try to exploit was its "enormous irritation" with former Syrian vice president Abdul Halim Khaddam, leader of the opposition-in-exile National Salvation Front. Roebuck wrote:

Vulnerability:

THE KHADDAM FACTOR: Khaddam knows where the regime skeletons are hidden, which provokes enormous irritation from Bashar, vastly disproportionate to any support Khaddam has within Syria. Bashar Asad personally, and his regime in general, follow every news item involving Khaddam with tremendous emotional interest. The regime reacts with self-defeating anger whenever another Arab country hosts Khaddam or allows him to make a public statement through any of its media outlets.


Roebuck proposed a means of exploiting this vulnerability:

Possible Action:

We should continue to encourage the Saudis and others to allow Khaddam access to their media outlets, providing him with venues for airing the SARG's dirty laundry. We should anticipate an overreaction by the regime that will add to its isolation and alienation from its Arab neighbors.


Note that the goal of encouraging the Saudis and others to "allow Khaddam access to their media outlets" was not to promote democracy and human rights in Syria, but to provoke the Syrian government to do things that would "add to its isolation" from its Arab neighbors. Of course, if the Syrian government acted in ways that would "add to its isolation," then the US could cite such actions as evidence that the Syrian government was a rogue government, unable or unwilling to conform to international norms, threatening to US allies in the region, and therefore that the US government had to take some action in response. But now we know that such actions by the Syrian government would not have been unfortunate developments to which the US would be reluctantly forced to respond, but the explicit goal of US policy.

For example, in August 2007 -- eight months after the above cable -- Khaddam told the Saudi daily Al-Watan that reported remarks of Syrian vice president Faruq al-Sharaa criticizing Saudi Arabia were "part of the policy pursued by the ruling clique, which aims at severing Syrian links with the Arab world and tying it further to Iran's regional strategy," the Beirut Daily Star reported.4 The newspaper noted that the Syrian government was actually trying to "calm the spat," saying that statements attributed to Sharaa had been "distorted." In the context of Roebuck's cable, these developments make sense: it was the US and its ally Khaddam that were trying to inflame tensions between Syria and Saudi Arabia, not the Syrian government.

Whatever one thinks of Khaddam or the Syrian government, it is not surprising that the latter would have been provoked in 2006 by countries like Saudi Arabia giving Khaddam a media platform, given what Khaddam had used such platforms to say in the past. Note that there is no question that the Saudi government controls the country's media for a purpose like this, exactly as Roebuck implied -- indeed, the Riyadh embassy cable about the Medina clashes between Saudi police and Shia pilgrims noted that the Saudi government had successfully pressured Saudi media to suppress reports of the clashes.

Here is what Khaddam told the Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat about his goals in an interview in Paris in January 2006:

Q: What are you[r] current priorities? Do you want to reform the regime, reform it, or topple it?

A: This regime cannot be reformed so there is nothing left but to oust it.5


One imagines that if Iran had given a former Bahraini or Egyptian vice president a platform to say about the government of Bahrain or Egypt that "this regime cannot be reformed so there is nothing left but to oust it," the US government would not have responded well. This was eleven months before Roebuck's cable, and five years before the "Arab Spring" protests in Syria. We are told in the West that the current efforts to topple the Syrian government by force were a reaction to the Syrian government's repression of dissent in 2011, but now we know that "regime change" was the policy of the US and its allies five years earlier.

Indeed, another of Roebuck's proposed actions to exploit Syria's "vulnerabilities" carried the same message:

Possible Action:

ENCOURAGE RUMORS AND SIGNALS OF EXTERNAL PLOTTING:

The regime is intensely sensitive to rumors about coup-plotting and restlessness in the security services and military. Regional allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be encouraged to meet with figures like Khaddam and Rif'at Asad as a way of sending such signals, with appropriate leaking of the meetings afterwards. This again touches on this insular regime's paranoia and increases the possibility of a self-defeating over-reaction.


According to Roebuck, if Egypt and Saudi Arabia met with Khaddam and news of the meetings were "appropriately leaked," that would send a signal to the Syrian government that these countries were plotting against Syria, perhaps trying to organize a coup.

It is revealing that Roebuck described the regime as "paranoid" for having fears that appear to have been quite rational -- fears based in significant measure on the actions of the United States and its allies. The most powerful government in the world and its allies in the region aspired to overthrow the Syrian government. The US has a long track record6 of trying to overthrow governments around the world, including in the region -- and, as Roebuck's cable makes clear, far from trying to allay such fears, the US wanted to exacerbate them. In 2014, the US was arming insurgents who were trying to kill Syrian government officials. Was the Syrian government's fear of the US government irrational, or was it rational?

Failure to acknowledge that US adversaries' fears of the US are rational suggests a world-view in which US threats are normal, unremarkable, an inevitable part of the landscape, which only mentally unstable people would object to, their fears serving as proof of their irrationality.
During the US-organized Contra war against Nicaragua in the 1980s, Alexander Cockburn recounted the view of a visiting US congressman toward Nicaragua: "Nicaraguans tell stories about these US fact-finders with a certain wry incredulity. One congressman listened to a commandante outlining the murderous rampages of the contras and then burst out, 'Suppose 5,000 contras cross your border. Suppose you are invaded by the entire Honduran army, why should you worry. Are you that insecure?'"7

Listing resistance to economic reforms as a "vulnerability," Roebuck wrote:

Vulnerability:

REFORM FORCES VERSUS BAATHISTS - OTHER CORRUPT ELITES:

Bashar keeps unveiling a steady stream of initiatives on economic reform and it is certainly possible he believes this issue is his legacy to Syria. While limited and ineffectual, these steps have brought back Syrian expats to invest and have created at least the illusion of increasing openness. Finding ways to publicly call into question Bashar's reform efforts -- pointing, for example to the use of reform to disguise cronyism -- would embarrass Bashar and undercut these efforts to shore up his legitimacy. [Emphasis added.]


Presumably, a key goal of economic reforms would have been to "[bring] back Syrian expats to invest," so if they had that effect, then they were not ineffectual. This makes clear what Roebuck was and was not interested in. He was not interested in Syrian economic reforms succeeding in facilitating private investment, but in their failure. Even if they had some success, he wanted to present them as a failure and "undercut these efforts to shore up his legitimacy."

The notion of "legitimacy" is a key one in US foreign policy toward adversary governments in countries that the US does not fear militarily (for example, because they have nuclear weapons). In the context of US foreign policy, the term "legitimacy" is a term of art that has a specific meaning. The usual notion of government "legitimacy" in international law and diplomacy, which the US applies to its allies without question, has nothing to do with whether we like the policies of the government in question or consider them just. Either you are the recognized government of the country, holding its seat at the United Nations, or you are not. Hardly anyone in Washington would suggest that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, or Israel are not "legitimate" because they were not elected by all of their subjects or because they engage in gross violations of human rights. Nor would many in Washington suggest that the governments of Russia or China are not "legitimate," however one might dislike some of their policies, their lack of democracy, or their violations of human rights. These countries have nuclear weapons and a permanent seat and veto on the UN Security Council, so challenging their legitimacy could have dangerous consequences. The US may complain about their policies, but there is no chance that it will challenge their "legitimacy."

Countries like Syria, Iraq before the 2003 US invasion, and Libya before the 2011 US-NATO military campaign to over-throw Qaddafi, on the other hand, belong to a different category. If the US government thinks that their governments can be overthrown, then it may declare them to be "illegitimate." A US declaration that a government is "illegitimate" means that the United States is likely to try to overthrow it.

Roebuck underscored his point as follows:

DISCOURAGE FDI, ESPECIALLY FROM THE GULF: Syria has enjoyed a considerable uptick in foreign direct investment (FDI) in the last two years that appears to be picking up steam. The most important new FDI is undoubtedly from the Gulf.


Again, the increase in investment would seem to suggest that economic reforms were working to encourage investment. But Roebuck saw this as bad. If the most important FDI was from the Gulf, that suggested that, contrary to the US and Khaddam's claims that Syria was trying to have bad relations with the Gulf countries, it was succeeding in projecting an image of a country that was trying to get along. But in Roebuck's view, this was not a good thing; this was a bad thing, which the US should try to counteract.

Roebuck spoke glowingly of violent protests against the Syrian government:

Vulnerability:

THE KURDS: The most organized and daring political opposition and civil society groups are among the ethnic minority Kurds, concentrated in Syria's northeast, as well as in communities in Damascus and Aleppo. This group has been willing to protest violently in its home territory when others would dare not. [Emphasis added.]


The word "daring" in English usually connotes exemplary courage. US newspapers, for example, do not generally describe the Palestinian use of violence against the Israeli occupation as "daring," because, while using violence in this instance obviously requires courage, it is not seen in the US as exemplary. This shows how US diplomats like Roebuck see the world: if you are protesting governments that are US allies, like Bahrain, Egypt, or Israel, then your protests should be nonviolent. But if you are protesting a government that the US would like to overthrow, then the use of violence demonstrates "daring." Roebuck suggested a means of taking advantage of this "vulnerability":

Possible Action:

HIGHLIGHT KURDISH COMPLAINTS: Highlighting Kurdish complaints in public statements, including publicizing human rights abuses will exacerbate regime's concerns about the Kurdish population.


There is no pretense here that the goal of this action would be to encourage greater respect by the Syrian government for the human rights of Kurds -- the goal would be to destabilize the Syrian government. Roebuck also made clear his attitude toward terrorism in Syria:

Vulnerability:

Extremist elements increasingly use Syria as a base, while the SARG has taken some actions against groups stating links to Al-Qaeda. With the killing of the al-Qaida [sic] leader on the border with Lebanon in early December and the increasing terrorist attacks inside Syria culminating in the September 12 attack against the US embassy, the SARG's policies in Iraq and support for terrorists elsewhere as well can be seen to be coming home to roost.

Possible Actions:

Publicize presence of transiting (or externally focused) extremist groups in Syria, not limited to mention of Hamas and PIJ. Publicize Syrian efforts against extremist groups in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback. The SARG's argument (usually used after terror attacks in Syria) that it too is a victim of terrorism should be used against it to give greater prominence to increasing signs of instability within Syria. [Emphasis added.]


Note that, in private correspondence, Roebuck has no problem acknowledging that Syria is the victim of terrorism and that the Syrian government is trying to take action against terrorists. But if Syria is the victim of terrorism and is trying to do something about it, according to the view that Roebuck wants the US to present to the world, that is evidence that Syria is weak and unstable and is suffering "uncontrolled blowback" as its support for terrorists elsewhere "comes home to roost."

Imagine if a diplomat from a country perceived to be a US adversary suggested that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and US efforts to prevent such attacks in the future, were evidence that the US is weak and unstable, suffering from "uncontrolled blowback" as past US support for terrorists elsewhere "came home to roost." How would this be perceived in the United States?


It is not hard to speculate. In May 2007, when Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul suggested that "blowback" from US foreign policy had helped cause the September 11 attacks,8 Republican frontrunner Rudy Giuliani denounced him as a conspiracy theorist.9 When in 2010, in a speech at the United Nations, the president of Iran noted the then widespread minority belief that the US government was behind the September 11 attacks, the US led a walkout and denounced the speech.10 So it seems reasonable to conclude that, if the US put forward the view that terrorism in Syria were Syria's own fault, the Syrian government would be likely to perceive that as a very hostile act.

This cable shows that, in December 2006, the top US diplomat in Syria believed that the goal of US policy in Syria should be to destabilize the Syrian government by any means available; that the US should work to increase Sunni-Shia sectarianism in Syria, including by aiding the dissemination of false fears about Shia proselytizing and stoking resentment about Iranian business activity and mosque construction; that the US should press Arab allies to give access in the media they control to a former Syrian official calling for the ouster of the Syrian government; that the US should try to strain relations between the Syrian government and other Arab governments, and then blame Syria for the strain; that the US should seek to stoke Syrian government fears of coup plots in order to provoke the Syrian government to overreact; that if the Syrian government reacted to external provocations, it proved that the regime was paranoid; that the US should work to undermine Syrian economic reforms and discourage foreign investment; that the US should seek to foster the belief that the Syrian government was not legitimate; that violent protests in Syria were praiseworthy and exemplary; that if Syria is the victim of terrorism and tries to do something about it, the US should exploit that to say that the Syrian government is weak and unstable, and is experiencing blowback for its foreign policy.

We also know that, in the eyes of the US embassy in Riyadh, Syria was interested in improving relations with the United States if and only if it was interested in being "weaned" from Iran.

From other cables, we know that the US was funding Syrian opposition groups. The US government acknowledged this funding after the cables were published by WikiLeaks.11 The US had previously announced funding to "promote democracy" in Syria, but what was not previously publicly known was the extent to which the US government was engaged in funding opposition groups and activities which it had internally conceded would be seen by the Syrian government as proof that the US was seeking to overthrow it. A February 21, 2006 cable noted:

Post contacts [i.e., US embassy contacts in Syria] have been quick to condemn the USG's public statement announcing the designation of five million USD for support of the Syrian opposition, calling it "na[i]ve" and "harmful." Contacts insist that the statement has already hurt the opposition, and that the SARG will use it in the coming months to further discredit its opponents as agents of the Americans.12


The cable also noted: "Several contacts insisted that the initiative indicated the US did not really care about the opposition, but merely wanted to use it as 'a chip in the game.'" Judging from the December, 2006 "vulnerabilities and actions" cable, it is hard to dispute this conclusion of the embassy's Syrian contacts.

The February 2006 cable elaborated:

Bassam Ishak, a Syrian-American activist who ran as an independent candidate for the People's Assembly in 2003, said that the general consensus among his civil society and opposition colleagues had been that the USG is "not serious about us" and that the public announcement was "just to put pressure on the regime with no regard for the opposition." "We are just a chip in the game," he asserted.


Note that the view that there could be severe negative consequences from US funding of opposition groups, including by helping the government delegitimize opposition groups and individuals as agents of foreign powers, was shared by many of the embassy's own contacts in the Syrian opposition. Some of the people who were delegitimized in this way might otherwise have been credible interlocutors in negotiations toward more inclusive governance; thus, the strategy of funding opposition groups could have the effect of foreclosing diplomatic and political options. Some of the criticism expressed of the US announcement was that it was made publicly; but, as the cables demonstrate, it was likely that the Syrian government would find out what the US was doing in the long run, and therefore that the distinction between secret and public was not meaningful.

Another critic noted that the US was already secretly funding the Syrian opposition:

MP Noumeir al-Ghanem, a nominal independent and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament, dismissed the funding plan as a stunt, saying the amount of money was small and that the US had already been funding the opposition secretly, without impact. The new initiative would make no real difference. In his view, the announcement angered most Syrians, who viewed it as interference in the internal affairs of Syria, something that the US always insisted that Syria should not do regarding Lebanon.

Al-Ghanem said the US should engage in dialogue with the Syrian regime and work for a stable, slowly democratizing country that could further US interests in the region, instead of putting up obstacles to such dialogue.


An April 28, 2009 cable, "Behavior Reform: Next Steps for a Human Rights Strategy" -- from a period of "policy review" in which the new Obama administration was exploring a less confrontational policy toward Syria -- outlining US government–funded "ongoing civil society programming" in Syria, acknowledged that "[s]ome programs may be perceived, were they made public, as an attempt to undermine the Asad regime, as opposed to encouraging behavior reform." It also stated: "The SARG would undoubtedly view any US funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change. This would inevitably include the various expatriate reform organizations operating in Europe and the US, most of which have little to no effect on civil society or human rights in Syria."13 It noted that the State Department's US-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) had sponsored eight major Syria-specific initiatives, some dating back to 2005, that will have received approximately $12 million by September 2010.

One of those initiatives was described as follows: "Democracy Council of California, 'Civil Society Strengthening Initiative (CSSI)' (USD 6,300,562, September 1, 2006 - September 30, 2010). 'CSSI is a discrete collaborative effort between the Democracy Council and local partners' that has produced a secure Damascus Declaration website (http://www.nidaasyria.org) and 'various broadcast concepts' set to air in April."

A February 7, 2010 cable, "Human Rights Updates -- SARG Budges On TIP, But Little Else," indicates that "various broadcast concepts" referred to Barada TV, a London-based Syrian opposition satellite television network. The February 2010 cable referred to Barada TV as "MEPI-supported" and said: "If the SARG establishes firmly that the US was continuing to fund Barada TV, however, it would view USG involvement as a covert and hostile gesture toward the regime."14

But while the April 2009 cable had noted that the Syrian government "would undoubtedly view any US funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change," the February 2010 cable shows that such funding continued, even though the April 2009 cable had identified "how to bring our US-sponsored civil society and human rights programming into line [with] a less confrontational bilateral relationship" as a "core issue" facing a US human rights strategy for Syria. The April 2009 cable had argued:

The majority of DRL [the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Affairs] and MEPI programs have focused on activities and Syrians outside of Syria, which has further fed regime suspicions about US intentions. If our dialogue with Syria on human rights is to succeed, we need to express the desire to work in Syria to strengthen civil society in a non-threatening manner.


It appears, however, that the shift argued for in the April 2009 cable never occurred. This apparently remained true even as the US embassy became increasingly aware of evidence that the Syrian government knew about the activities funded by the US that the April 2009 cable had warned that the Syrian government would see, if they became aware of them, as evidence of a regime-change policy, and would thus be likely to undermine US efforts to engage the Syrian government.

A July 8, 2009 cable on rifts in the Syrian opposition, "Murky Alliances: Muslim Brotherhood, the Movement for Justice and Democracy, and the Damascus Declaration," noted the "worrisome" fact of "recent information suggesting the SARG may already have penetrated the MJD [Movement for Justice and Development] and learned about sensitive USG programs in Syria."15 The cable expanded on the issue as follows:

MJD: A Leaky Boat?

8. (C) [Damascus Declaration member Fawaz] Tello had told us in the past that the MJD ... had been initially lax in its security, often speaking about highly sensitive material on open lines ... The last point relates to a recent report from lawyer/journalist and human rights activist Razan Zeitunah (strictly protect) who met us separately on July 1 to discuss having been called in for questioning by security services on June 29.

9. (S/NF) Zeitunah told us security services had asked whether she had met with anyone from our "Foreign Ministry" and with anyone from the Democracy Council [recipient of the US grant for the MJD to run Barada TV]. (Comment: State Department Foreign Affairs Officer Joseph Barghout had recently been in Syria and met with Zeitunah; we assume the SARG was fishing for information, knowing Barghout had entered the country. Jim Prince was in Damascus on February 25, and it is our understanding he met with Zeitunah at that time, or had done so on a separate trip.
End Comment.) She added that her interrogators did not ask about Barghout by name, but they did have Jim Prince's. [Jim Prince is the head of the Democracy Council.]

...

11. (S/NF) Comment continued: Zeitunah's report begs the question of how much and for how long the SARG has known about Democracy Council operations in Syria and, by extension, the MJD's participation. Reporting in other channels suggest the Syrian Muhabarat may already have penetrated the MJD and is using MJD contacts to track US democracy programming.


A September 23, 2009 cable, "Show Us the Money! SARG Suspects 'Illegal' USG Funding," gave further evidence that the Syrian authorities were increasingly aware of what the US was funding:

1. (S/NF) Summary: Over the past six months, SARG security agents have increasingly questioned civil society and human rights activists about US programming in Syria and the region, including US Speaker and MEPI initiatives. In addition to reported interrogations of the Director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and employees of USG-supported Etana Press, new criminal charges against detained human rights lawyer Muhanad al-Hasani for illegally receiving USG funding reflect the seriousness with which the regime is pursuing these "investigations."

2. (S/NF) Over the past six months, civil society and human rights activists questioned by SARG security have told us interrogators asked specifically about their connections to the US Embassy and the State Department. As previously reported, Razan Zeitunah (strictly protect) recounted a June interrogation during which she was questioned about MEPI-funded Democracy Council activities as well as visiting State Department officials. Kurdish Future Movement activist Herveen Ose (strictly protect), brought in for questioning in August, was also asked about funding from "foreign embassies." MEPI grantee Maan Abdul Salam (strictly protect) recently reported one of his employees was called in on September 4, at which time security agents zeroed in on her participation in a MEPI- funded People In Need (PIN) seminar in Prague approximately eight months earlier.

...

4. (C) The ongoing case of human rights lawyer Muhanad al-Hasani took a turn for the worse on September 15 when, reportedly, the SARG introduced a new charge against him. According to a September 18 e-mail we received from his colleague Catherine al-Tali (strictly protect), the SARG accused Hasani of accepting USG funding that was routed to him through the Cairo-based Al-Andalus Center ... Embassy Cairo also informed us that the Center was not currently receiving funding from either the Embassy or MEPI, though it had in the past.

...

8. (S/NF) Comment: It is unclear to what extent SARG intelligence services understand how USG money enters Syria and through which proxy organizations. What is clear, however, is that security agents are increasingly focused on this issue when they interrogate human rights and civil society activists. The information agents are able to frame their questions with more and more specific information and names. The charge that Hasani received USG funding vis-a-vis the Al-Andalus Center is especially worrying since it may suggest the SARG has keyed in on MEPI operations in particular.16


The February 7, 2010 cable cited earlier, "Human Rights Updates -- SARG Budges On TIP, But Little Else," gave further evidence that the Syrian government was pursuing the funding of Barada TV:

Barada TV: The Opposition in Klieg Lights?

9. (C) Damascus-based director of MEPI-supported Barada TV Suheir Attasi outlined the many challenges facing the channel in a December 23 meeting.

...

10. (C) Attasi confirmed reports we had heard from other contacts about the SARG's interest in chasing down the financial and political support structure behind Barada. Security agents called her in for questioning in October and repeatedly asked her about her affiliations with the US Embassy and whether she knew Jim Prince ... If the SARG establishes firmly that the US was continuing to fund Barada TV, however, it would view USG involvement as a covert and hostile gesture toward the regime. Just as SARG officials have used the US position on Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report to shut down discussions on human rights, it could similarly try to use Barada TV to diminish our credibility on the issue.17


Note that, although the July 2009, September 2009, and February 2010 cables address exactly the situation that the April 2009 cable had warned about -- that the Syrian government would find out what the US was funding -- there was no further discussion or concern expressed about what the April 2009 cable had warned would be the likely consequence: that the Syrian government would conclude that the US government was pursuing a regime-change policy in Syria, which would undermine US efforts to engage the Syrian government. Nor was there any further discussion of what the April 2009 cable had suggested: that this funding be reviewed to bring it in line with the policy of engagement.

What emerges from these cables is that, while there was undoubtedly a shift between the policy of the Bush administration after 2005 and the policy of the Obama administration in 2009–10 with respect to the question of regime change versus engagement, the shift was substantially less than publicly advertised. The US continued to fund opposition activities that it believed would, if known to the Syrian government, cause it to believe that the US was not serious about shifting to an engagement policy; the US continued to fund these activities as it came increasingly to believe that the Syrian government was becoming more aware of them. When they became public, the US denied that they amounted to a regime-change policy,18 but we now know from the US government's internal communication that the US did not think that the Syrian government would give credence to such a denial.

This leads us to question the extent to which the Obama administration really shifted to a policy of engagement, or how much, when Saudi Arabia and others pushed it to adopt an explicit regime-change policy in 2011 -- a shift the administration eventually did make -- these countries were pushing on an open door. The story that was presented to the US public was that its government had tried to engage Syria and failed, and that after the Syrian government cracked down on protests in 2011, the US had no choice but to abandon its efforts at engagement.

But reading the cables, it appears that the US was never really committed to a policy of engagement: it had one hand in the engagement policy, while keeping another hand in the regime-change policy. The Iranian government cracked down on protests in 2009, but the US did not completely abandon efforts to engage the Iranian government. Perhaps the danger of abandoning efforts at engagement with Iran were perceived to be higher, given Iran's nuclear enrichment program and the political pressure on the Obama administration to use force against Iran if diplomacy failed; perhaps the belief among the US and its allies that the Syrian government could be toppled by force, and the Iranian government could not, also played a role.

Knowing that the US never really abandoned a regime-change policy in Syria informs our understanding of the question of US military intervention in Syria today. It shows us that the US is not an innocent victim of circumstance, having to consider the use of force because diplomacy has been exhausted; rather, the US faces a situation that it helped create, by pursuing regime change for years and never fully switching to diplomacy.

_______________

Notes:

1. "Influencing the SARG in the End of 2006," December 13, 2006, https://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/12/06DAMASCUS5399.html.

2. "Saudi Intelligence Chief Talks Regional Security with Brennan Delegation," March 22, 2009, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09RIYADH445_a.html.

3. "Saudi Shia Clash with Police in Medina," February 24, 2009, http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/0 ... 346_a.html.

4. "Khaddam Slams Syria over Row with Saudi Arabia," Beirut Daily Star, August 20, 2007, at dailystar.com.lb.

5. "Interview with Former Syrian Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam," Asharq Al-Awsat, January 6, 2006, at aawsat.net.

6. See, for example, Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (New York: Times Books, 2006).

7. Alexander Cockburn, "Fact Finding," Village Voice, December 27, 1983, republished in Alexander Cockburn, Corruptions of Empire (London: Verso, 1987), p. 349.

8. Andy Sullivan, "Candidate Paul assigns reading to Giuliani," Reuters, May 24, 2007, at reuters.com.

9. Nitya Venkataraman, "Ron Paul Recruits Anonymous to Attack Rudy's Foreign Policy," ABC News, May 22, 2007, at abcnews. go.com.

10. "US Walks Out on Ahmadinejad's 9/11 Comment," CBS News, September 23, 2010, at cbsnews.com.

11. "US admits funding Syrian opposition," CBC News, April 18, 2011, at cbc.ca.

12. "Announcement to Fund Opposition Harshly Criticized by Anti-Regime Elements, Others," February 21, 2006, https://wikileaks.org/ plusd/cables/06DAMASCUS701_a.html.

13. "Behavior Reform: Next Steps for a Human Rights Strategy," April 28, 2009, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09DAMASCUS306_a. html.

14. "Human Rights Updates - SARG Budges on TIP, but Little Else," February 7, 2010, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10DAMASCUS106_a.html.

15. "Murky Alliances: Muslim Brotherhood, the Movement for Justice and Democracy, and the Damascus Declaration," July 8, 2009, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09DAMASCUS477_a.html.

16. "Show Us the Money! SARG Suspects 'Illegal' USG Funding," September 23, 2009, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09DAMA SCUS692_a.html.

17. "Human Rights Updates -- SARG Budges On TIP, But Little Else."

18. Elise Labott, Brian Todd, and Dugald McConnell, "US Denies Support for Syrian Opposition Tantamount to Regime Change," CNN, April 19, 2011, at cnn.com.

Copyright of (2015) of Robert Naiman. Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher, Verso Books.
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Re: The Rapeutation of Bashar Assad of Syria, by U.S.A.

Postby admin » Sat Feb 06, 2016 9:18 am

BBC News Caught Staging FAKE Chemical Attack In Syria!
by RT.com

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Re: The Rapeutation of Bashar Assad of Syria, by U.S.A.

Postby admin » Sat Feb 06, 2016 9:18 am

Biden blames US allies in Middle East for rise of ISIS
by rt.com
3 Oct, 2014

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US Vice-President Joe Biden has accused America’s key allies in the Middle East of allowing the rise of the Islamic State (IS), saying they supported extremists with money and weapons in their eagerness to oust the Assad regime in Syria.

America’s “biggest problem” in Syria is its regional allies, Biden told students at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University on Thursday.

“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria,” he said, explaining that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were “so determined to take down Assad,” that in a sense they started a “proxy Sunni-Shia war” by pouring “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons” towards anyone who would fight against Assad.

“And we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them,” said Biden, thus disassociating the US from unleashing the civil war in Syria.


“The outcome of such a policy now is more visible,” he said, as it turned out they supplied extremists from Al-Nusra Front and Al-Qaeda.

Image

All of a sudden the regional powers that sponsored anti-Assad rebels awakened to the dawn of a major international security threat in the face of ISIS -– now called Islamic State. After being essentially thrown out of Iraq it found open space and territory in eastern Syria and established close ties with the Al-Nusra Front which the US had earlier declared a terrorist group.

Now Washington needs a coalition of Sunni states to fight the Islamic State because “America can't once again go in to Muslim nation and be the aggressor, it has to be led by Sunnis, to attack a Sunni organization [the IS],” Biden said, acknowledging that it is for the first time that the US uses a geopolitical strategy.

“Even if we wanted it to be, it cannot be our fight alone,” Biden said. “This cannot be turned into a US ground war against another Arab nation in the Middle East.”

“But of what I’m more astonished is of his apparent amnesia about what America and Britain were trying to ferment in Syria only a year ago. They were not only putting staff intelligence personnel on the ground, and providing logistical support to the rebels in Syria; they were spearheading the campaign to try to oust Assad,” former MI5 agent Annie Machon told RT.


She added that “Perhaps, the Vice President is finally learning some lessons from history. It does not matter who you think your friends are going to be in the region. Very often they will be taken over or subsumed into a more radical group.”
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Re: The Rapeutation of Bashar Assad of Syria, by U.S.A.

Postby admin » Sat Feb 06, 2016 9:29 am

Mehlis report
by Wikipedia
2/6/16

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The Mehlis Report[1] is the result of the United Nations' investigation into the 14 February 2005 assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri. The investigation was launched in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1595 and headed by the German judge, Detlev Mehlis. It involved questioning of Lebanese and Syrian officials.

This report was preceded by, and should not be confused with, the UN's FitzGerald Report.

The final draft of the Mehlis Report was released on 20 October 2005, and found that high-ranking members of the Syrian and Lebanese governments were involved in the assassination. The report based its findings on key witnesses and on a variety of evidence including patterns of telephone calls between specific prepaid phone cards that connected prominent Lebanese and Syrian officials to events surrounding the crime.

Upon release of the first report, the term of the investigation was extended to 15 December 2005; a second report with further findings was released on 10 December 2005.

On 15 December, the Security Council voted unanimously to extended the investigation again to 15 June 2006. On 15 December, Detlev Mehlis stepped down as chief investigator to return to Berlin. On 11 January 2006, Mehlis was replaced by Serge Brammertz.

Revealed edits

The official Mehlis Report made no specific mention of anyone in the Syrian government as responsible for the assassination. However, the report was first erroneously released as a Microsoft Word document which preserved changes that had been made in the document since its creation. According to that document, the original U.N. report had specifically named many high-ranking Syrian government and military officials by name as being personally responsible for the death of Rafik Hariri.

For example, a previous editing of the report stated that "Maher al-Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamil Al Sayyed" were behind the killing of Hariri. But in the official version, this is replaced by "senior Lebanese and Syrian officials". Maher al-Assad is the brother of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and Assef Shawqat, a powerful figure within the government, was married to their sister Bushra. Suleyman is a top Syrian security official and Al Sayyed, the only Lebanese of the four, was the head of Lebanon's General Security Department at the time of Hariri's assassination.

Some suggest that the document indicates the report was altered to remove these names during a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, despite the fact that he had personally stated that this would not happen. Mehlis himself denied outside influence on the report, and said that Annan did not suggest any changes. The motivation for removing the names is not known.

Witnesses recanted and killed

In December 2005, the UN's case against Syria came under scrutiny when a main witness of the Mehlis Report (Hussam Taher Hussam) was publicly identified and dramatically recanted his testimony, claiming he had been bribed and tortured by Lebanese interests to testify against Syria.[2]

However, the 10 December Mehlis Report asserts receipt of "credible information that, prior to Mr. Hussam's recent public recantation of his statement to the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIC), Syrian officials had arrested and threatened some of Mr. Hussam's close relatives in Syria."

Similar circumstances surround Zuhair Ibn Muhammad Said Saddik, who was later revealed to be the unnamed primary witness in the report. He originally approached the commission with detailed information about the planning of the attack but then later changed his testimony and confessed to participating in the attack. In his testimony, Saddik said that senior Syrian and Lebanese officials had met in his apartment to plan the assassination. He is currently under arrest in Paris at the request of Mehlis for his possible involvement in the Hariri assassination.[2] Subsequent to this, the UN commission which had submitted the Mehlis Report to the UN security council has raised serious doubts about the reliability and the credibility of Saddik's declarations.

Nawar Habib Donna, a Tripoli cell phone dealer, who sold five of the eight prepaid phone cards connected to the killing, was killed in an apparent car accident in November 2005.[2]

References

1. S/2005/662 of 20 October 2005

2. "Syria Attacks Evidence as U.N. Case Turns More Bizarre". The New York Times. 7 December 2005. p. 3. Retrieved 16 March 2013. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)

3. Robyn Creswell (20 July 2013). "Chasing Beirut’s Ghosts". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
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