FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

We Need to Talk About Prince Bandar

by PETER LEE

In the back and forth about Syria, there is surprisingly little discussion about Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar.

Even though Bandar apparently took over the Saudi covert account last year and has driven the Kingdom’s hard line against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria.

It’s also clear that Saudi Arabia has slipped the leash and is no longer a cooperative US ally.  The general narrative is that the Saudis got disgusted and disillusioned by the Obama administration’s dithering in Egypt.

Maybe it wasn’t just dithering.  Maybe the Obama administration was consistently supportive of civilian rule and insufficiently sedulous in the attention it paid to the Egyptian army and its role in assuring the institutional continuity (ahem) and stability of Egyptian political life.

It is also possible that the Saudis finally decided that it would not try to paper over the disagreements between the US and the KSA over persistent US support for the Morsi regime, especially since the Saudi government was determined to overwhelm US attempts to control the Egyptian military through withholding the US aid package of $1.2 billion by “flooding the zone” with a promise of $12 billion from Riyadh.

So a clean break was marked by a coup, a defiant massacre of America’s preferred political partners in Egypt, and orchestration of a vociferous and extremely public anti-US PR campaign that has made the Obama administration’s name mud in pro-coup activist circles.

My thoughts returned to Prince Bandar on the occasion of a piece on Kevin Drum’s blog about President Obama’s miserable Syrian options.

In a previous post I speculated that the Syrian gas attack might have been a false flag attack designed to force the Obama administration to intervene in Syria.

At the time I wasn’t aware of the reporting on Prince Bandar’s extensive involvement in Saudi Arabia’s Syria project, so I coyly referred to the hypothetical visitor as “Prince B—“.  But based on Mour Malas’ August 25 piece in the Wall Street Journal—including the revelation that Saudi Arabia had already been trying to push the Obama administration over the chemical weapons red line several months ago—we can certainly fill in the blanks and speculate about Prince Bandar’s possible role in a false flag attack:

That winter, the Saudis also started trying to convince Western governments that Mr. Assad had crossed what President Barack Obama a year ago called a “red line”: the use of chemical weapons. Arab diplomats say Saudi agents flew an injured Syrian to Britain, where tests showed sarin gas exposure. Prince Bandar’s spy service, which concluded in February that Mr. Assad was using chemical weapons, relayed evidence to the U.S., which reached a similar conclusion four months later. The Assad regime denies using such weapons.

According to Malas, Saudi Arabia has also been repeatedly telling the Obama administration its stature in the Middle East is toast unless it acts firmly on Syria.

Connoisseurs of US Congressional diplomacy will also be pleased to know that Senator John McCain, who has been all over the airwaves pushing for a US response of regime-change dimensions and not a symbolic slap on the wrist, is hand-in-glove with Prince Bandar.

Anyway, as cited by Kevin Drum, Malas’ most recent piece fills in (boldface by Drum) some of the blanks, making the case that President Obama’s rather more genuine dithering on Syria resulted from the unwillingness to knock down the Assad regime until the U.S. and Syrian opposition moderates had gotten their act together and could field a plausible team to handle New Syria transition and governance.

The delay, in part, reflects a broader U.S. approach rarely discussed publicly but that underpins its decision-making, according to former and current U.S. officials: The Obama administration doesn’t want to tip the balance in favor of the opposition for fear the outcome may be even worse for U.S. interests than the current stalemate.

….The administration’s view can also be seen in White House planning for limited airstrikes—now awaiting congressional review—to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons. Pentagon planners were instructed not to offer strike options that could help drive Mr. Assad from power: “The big concern is the wrong groups in the opposition would be able to take advantage of it,” a senior military officer said. The CIA declined to comment.

….Many rebel commanders say the aim of U.S. policy in Syria appears to be a prolonged stalemate that would buy the U.S. and its allies more time to empower moderates and choose whom to support….Israeli officials have told their American counterparts they would be happy to see its enemies Iran, the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and al Qaeda militants fight until they are weakened.

“Slow and steady” is manifestly not the strategy that Prince Bandar prefers in Syria.  Given the dysfunction of the Syrian overseas opposition—as opposed to the murderous efficiency of the distinctly non-democratic jihadis—one can’t really blame him.

The Geneva peace talks, by the way—which embodied the US hopes of some kind of negotiated transition involving the Syrian opposition democratic goodniks—are not going ahead, thanks to the gas attack.

As the Russian media reported:

Earlier on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the timing of the chemical attack “suited” the opposition, “who obviously do not want to negotiate peacefully”, instead they want to “sabotage” the talks.

Why go to a conference if you believe that the regime’s infrastructure will all be destroyed anyway by allies, and then you can just march into Damascus unopposed, and take control?” said the official in Moscow.

Good question.

Anyway, Prince Bandar has been very active on the Syrian brief.  He arranged the high profile shipment of arms to the rebels out of Croatia and also—according to disputed but plausible reports—unsuccessfully cajoled/threatened Vladimir Putin to drop Assad by promising that Saudi Arabia could in return deliver a) support for Russia’s gas export ambitions and b) hold in check the Chechen rebels who otherwise might do awful, awful things to Putin’s Olympics in Sochi.

Inevitably, there are also mumblings linking Saudi Arabia to the supply of sarin gas to the rebels.

Now, thanks to President Obama’s injudicious red line/chem munitions remark, he’s being forced to make a choice, to “get off the fence”.

Well, maybe the choice has been made for him.  Maybe he got pushed off the fence.  By Prince Bandar.

I think we are creeping closer to confirmation of the hypothesis I’ve been advancing since November of last year: that Saudi Arabia had not only decided to push the Qatar-backed Muslim Brotherhood out of the leadership of the Syrian opposition (something which has subsequently been confirmed and reconfirmed), but that the Saudi strategy for Syria involved regime collapse first, rejecting the strategy of cutting a deal with  Assad to get him to the bargaining table after prolonged bleeding for some kind of negotiated capitulation and a democratic transition.

Anyway, in the proxy war for Syria it looks like we now have a debate between the rather conflicted but intensely risk-averse and regime-transition fixated Obama administration and Saudi Arabia + John McCain’s regime collapse advocacy.

And everybody’s waiting for Israel—which is uncomfortable with a jihadi-led insurrection but probably feels that clout and initiative are slipping out of President Obama’s fingers—to get off its fence and either push for a strike, a big strike, or nothing at all.

Wonder how that will work out.

In any case, if we’re talking about Syria, we need to talk about Prince Bandar.

Peter Lee edits China Matters. His ground-breaking story on North Korea’s nuclear program, Japan’s Resurgent Militarism, appears in the March issue of CounterPunch magazine. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.

Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail