FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

We Need to Talk About Prince Bandar

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.

More articles by:

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

September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
Jeff Ballinger
Nike and Colin Kaepernick: Fronting the Bigots’ Team
David Rosen
Why Stop at Roe? How “Settled Law” Can be Overturned
Gary Olson
Pope Francis and the Battle Over Cultural Terrain
Nick Pemberton
Donald The Victim: A Product of Post-9/11 America
Ramzy Baroud
The Veiled Danger of the ‘Dead’ Oslo Accords
Kevin Martin
U.S. Support for the Bombing of Yemen to Continue
Robert Fisk
A Murder in Aleppo
Robert Hunziker
The Elite World Order in Jitters
Ben Dangl
After 9/11: The Staggering Economic and Human Cost of the War on Terror
Charles Pierson
Invade The Hague! Bolton vs. the ICC
Robert Fantina
Trump and Palestine
Daniel Warner
Hubris on and Off the Court
John Kendall Hawkins
Boning Up on Eternal Recurrence, Kubrick-style: “2001,” Revisited
Haydar Khan
Set Theory of the Left
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail