Monday, January 28, 2013

A Dirty Rotten Break: Syria

"I just got this memo from the Secretary of Defense’s office. It says we’re going to attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years – we’re going to start with Iraq, and then we’re going to move to Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran."

A distressed Pentagon underling conveyed this nugget from a Rumsfeld memo to General Wesley Clark just weeks after 9/11. With the election of George W. Bush, neocon political appointees throughout the government, but especially in Defense, State and Intelligence agencies, began coordinating projects to reshape the Middle East to fit their ideological agenda. Neocons finally had a chance to put into action plans which their leaders had been mapping out for years and marketing to heads of State through documents like the 1996, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm"::

The paper's recommendations pressed Israel's then-incoming Likud government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu to scrap the peace process in favor of a hardline posture aimed at attacking states like Syria and Iraq.[8] Several people associated with the production of the report—including Douglas Feith, David Wurmser, and Richard Perle—years later obtained posts in the Bush administration. The study group that produced "A Clean Break" included eight individuals representing a number of neocon think tanks. ...

The “Clean Break” report argued that a "focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq [was] an important Israeli objective in its own right." It advocated working closely with "Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll back" regional threats, and using "Israeli proxy forces" based in Lebanon for "striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon." If that should "prove insufficient, [Israel should strike] at select targets in Syria proper." Further, "Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, even rolling back Syria." This would create a "natural axis" between Israel, Jordan, a Hashemite Iraq, and Turkey that "would squeeze and detach Syria from the Saudi Peninsula." This "could be the prelude to a redrawing of the map of the Middle East, which could threaten Syria's territorial integrity."[10]

Shortly after 9/11, neocons from the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), joined by liberal interventionists and Christian Zionists, cosigned a letter to President George W. Bush urging on him similar goals to those outlined for Netanyahu five years earlier in A Clean Break:

In addition to their advocacy positions on Iraq (invade immediately), Israel (support unconditionally), and military spending (abide “no hesitation in requesting whatever funds for defense are needed”), the signatories urged a tougher stance on Hezbollah, as well as its state sponsors in Damascus and Tehran.

In the letter, they argued that “any war against terrorism must target Hezbollah,” and urged the administration to “demand that Iran and Syria immediately cease all military, financial, and political support for Hezbollah and its operations. Should Iran and Syria refuse to comply, the administration should consider appropriate measures of retaliation against these known state sponsors of terrorism.”

The Bush administration's drive toward war with Iraq was aided by neoconservative pundits and thinktanks as well as the Israel Lobby's allies across the political spectrum. Antiwar protesters, Progressive pundits and Moderate analysts and bureaucrats were ignored, sidelined, silenced or smeared when they tried to question, slow or stop the Iraq War -- all of whom were subsequently shown to have good reason for their skepticism. Capitalizing on momentum from the Iraq invasion, the Bush administration pushed toward regime change in several other countries on the neocons' list, including Syria:

...After supporting the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, the Bush administration capitalized on the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri to galvanize political opposition to Hezbollah (and Syria by proxy), culminating in the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanese territory.

Donald Rumsfeld, then Secretary of Defense, produced a “Road Map for Syria” proposing a number of military options for weakening the Syrian regime, including “docking an aircraft carrier within Syrian territorial waters” and “using proxies to undermine Syrian intelligence agents inside Lebanon.”[4] Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell presented Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad with a long list of U.S. demands, including that Syria cooperate in the “war on terrorism” in Iraq, end its support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, and withdraw its troops from Lebanon.[5]

In the intervening years, a more cautious and war-weary nation is not as eager to be drawn into the rest of the neocons' plans for reshaping the Middle East. A few months into the Arab Spring, Glenn Greenwald recalled Wes Clark's insights about the neocon's plans and methods leading up to the Iraq War as he noted many similarities in the fates of their other targeted countries:

The current turmoil in the Middle East is driven largely by popular revolts, not by neocon shenanigans. Still, in the aftermath of military-caused regime change in Iraq and Libya ... with concerted regime change efforts now underway aimed at Syria and Iran, with active and escalating proxy fighting in Somalia, with a modest military deployment to South Sudan, and the active use of drones in six — count ‘em: six — different Muslim countries, it is worth asking whether the neocon dream as laid out by Clark is dead or is being actively pursued and fulfilled, albeit with means more subtle and multilateral than full-on military invasions (it’s worth remembering that neocons specialized in dressing up their wars in humanitarian packaging: Saddam’s rape rooms! Gassed his own people!). ...

The difference between seven and four overt wars isn’t non-existent or unimportant, of course, but it’s a question of means. The neocon end as Clark reported them — regime change in those seven countries — seems as vibrant as ever. It’s just striking to listen to Clark describe those 7 countries in which the neocons plotted to have regime change back in 2001, and then compare that to what the U.S. Government did and continues to do since then with regard to those precise countries.

Indeed many of the Clean Break strategies initiated under Bush have continued under Obama, with PNAC intellectuals writing letters and columns urging regime change:

In February [of 2012], many of the same individuals who signed the September 2001 PNAC letter—this time operating under the mantle of successor organizations like the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies—penned a missive to President Barack Obama, arguing that the only way to “win” the civil war, and ensure that Syrian security forces do not regain the upper hand, is to supply the Syrian opposition movement with sufficient capital, weapons, and intelligence to overwhelm government forces on the battlefield. The signers urged Obama to “immediately establish safe zones within Syrian territory,” as well as to “provide a full range of direct assistance, including self-defense aid to the [Free Syrian Army].”[10]

The neoconservative establishment, along with a growing number of liberal interventionist allies, explicitly rejected all overtures for negotiation and compromise. They consistently mocked or undermined efforts by the United Nations and the Arab League to mediate the dispute and reach a diplomatic settlement, warning that “the United States cannot continue to defer its strategic and moral responsibilities in Syria to regional actors such as the Arab League, or to wait for consent from the Assad regime’s protectors, Russia and China.”[11]

While Obama has espoused an approach that relies more on diplomatic pressure and crippling economic sanctions, political appointees in State, Defense and Intelligence have continued facilitating regime destabilization and change in the remaining two countries on PNAC's list, Iran and Syria. The kind of destabilizing activities that Seymour Hersh noted in these countries in 2007 laid the groundwork for those that Charles Glass noted in 2011:

The Bush administration in 2006 began funding Syrian oppositionists and subsidised Barada TV with $6 million (Dh22 million) to cover the cost of broadcasting to Syria. Last January, Vanity Fair published an interview with Blackwater founder Eric Prince in which he said: "In Syria, we did the signals intelligence to geo-locate the bad guys in a very denied area." In March, Reuters reported that the Syrians had intercepted a truckload of weapons sent over the border from Iraq. Who sent them? The Iraqi government, now almost as closely allied to Iran as Syria is, was not the likely culprit. The other armed force in Iraq with the means to send weapons across the border was the United States.

While neocon pundits have been banging the drums for direct American intervention in Syria throughout the Arab Spring, US overt support for regime change in Syria has increased from supplying communications training and equipment to rebels, and vetting acceptable Syrian opposition figures to head a pre-transitional government to preventing weapons from being transferred to Al Qaeda-linked groups among the insurgents. On many occasions over the past year, Obama's Secretary of State has stated not only that regime change for Syria is a US policy, but that Assad is on his last legs. Hillary Clinton's continual sponsorship of liberal interventionist policies -- whether under the guise of Right to Protect, Safe Zones or Weapons of Mass Destruction -- have been a Democrat's route to the Clean Break promised by the neocons.

A few months ago, Ramzy Baroud noted in Counterpunch:

... neoconservatives are now trying to weasel in their version of an endgame in Syria. Their efforts are extremely focused and well-coordinated, making impressive use of their direct ties with the Israeli lobby, major US media and Syrian leaders in exile. They are being referred to as ‘foreign policy experts’, although their ‘expertise’ is merely confined to their ability to destroy and remake countries to their own liking – and even these are unmitigated failures.

The actions the neocons promoted have left a trail of shattered countries which we have been unprepared to repair. None of these breakages have been clean. Preceded by false intelligence and followed by deteriorating societies, in their quest to secure the realm and remake the map of the Middle East, the neocons have delivered nothing but dirty, rotten breaks.

Neocons have excelled at crafting interventionist messages for Israel and the United States, both in position papers for heads of state and in op-eds for the mainstream media. It's past time for the progressive grassroots to craft a message of our own: whether overt or covert, no more neocon adventures in our name.

Crossposted at Daily Kos