What began in Syria as modest protests in 2011 driven largely by widespread hunger from four years of drought in the Middle East’s breadbasket known as the Fertile Crescent (including Iraq), grew into a full scale civil war with unbelievable suffering thanks to foreign intervenors intent on ousting Syrian President Bashar alAssad. According to the UN, famine conditions are expected to continue for the foreseeable future and now threaten to exacerbate an already dire refugee crisis.
Late last summer, the American public spoke with one voice in opposition to the Obama Administration’s proposed bombing of Syria. Even as Secretary of State John Kerry promised an “unbelievably small” strike, the response from Americans spanned the political spectrum with a resounding No. The denial of the British Parliament’s participation in the strike on Syria represented a historic break with US policy as Russian President Vladimir Putin initiated (at Pope Francis’ behest) negotiations to rid Syria of its chemical weapons; providing President Obama with an opportunity to avoid a disastrous foreign policy blunder.
Imagine today’s reaction if the American people knew that the US is, in fact, invigorating the war in Syria – true, there are no boots on the ground; at least no boots that we know for certain are American boots but who would be willing to bet that somewhere between Aleppo and Damascus there is a US military presence engaged in perpetuating the violence. The American public deserves to know.
While Ahmad al-Jarba, president of Syria’s National Coalition for Revolutionary and Opposition Forces visited President Obama and National Security Adviser Susan Rice last week seeking support for anti-aircraft missiles, the President warned of “risks posed by growing extremism in Syria and on the need to counter terrorist groups on all sides of the conflict.” With all of its sophisticated intel and CIA presence, it is difficult to believe that the president remains unaware of the growing liaison between the mythical ‘moderate’ Coalition and radical Sunni extremists.
Is the president aware of Coalition leader Jarba’s criminal background in Saudi Arabia?
In the White House ‘readout’ of his meeting with Jarba, a shady character with close ties to the Sunni monarchy in Saudi Arabia, the president “reaffirmed that Bashar al-Assad has lost all legitimacy to rule Syria” but the president cannot be unaware that the loss of the strategically important city of Homs represents a distinct shift over the last several months with the opposition, which has never been able to solidify a base of support with the Syrian population, having now ‘surrendered’ a distinct military advantage. With evidence of a growing split amongst the armed extremists themselves, how does the US identify the difference between multiple islamist rebel groups and how do we know, with any certainty, where their loyalties lie?
In an earlier meeting with Jarba and despite Secretary of State John Kerry touting a “negotiated political settlement that puts an end to the violence,” the White House approved the use of American-made anti-tank missiles to Jarba’s Coalition eschewing the Administration’s earlier concern that such weapons could eventually end up in the hands of al-Qaeda related groups and pose a threat to commercial aircraft. That same day, UN Special Envoy for Peace Lakhdar Brahimi resigned. What intelligence did the President receive to accelerate the proxy war to justify US weaponry to the rebels?
Despite a ceasefire that returned Homs to the Syrian military marking a significant turn in the conflict with Assad seen as more firmly in control, other high-level US officials met with Jarba who remained in hot pursuit of surface-to-air missiles. After making the diplomatic rounds, the Coalition was awarded with official foreign mission status since the US gave up on a negotiated settlement and suspended its relationship with the Syrian Embassy in March thereby ceasing all diplomatic contact. An additional $27 million was pledged to the rebel cause bringing the total to $287 million in non-lethal military aid in addition to the $1.7 billion in ‘humanitarian’ aid; complemented by weapons and additional funds from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Conferring official diplomatic status on the rebel group appears to be a replay of the State Department role in Libya when the US officially recognized a questionable opposition force as it engineered the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi. A more moderate ruler than acknowledged, Qaddafi was less a fan of international financiers and the existing monetary structure than permissible. Today, the US State Department, which had a hand in Qaddafi’s removal, considers Libya a ‘safe haven’ for terrorists. Has anyone in the White House or the National Security Council (which apparently has more influence formulating foreign policy than the State Department) learned anything from former DOD Secretary Robert Gates caution in Duty regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions that “We entered both countries oblivious to how little we knew.”
As reported by IntelNews.org, the agreed to ‘pilot program’ will provide sophisticated weapons to Syrian rebels as part of “new clandestine program” to be coordinated by US and Saudi intelligence in “close collaboration.” In early April, Israel’s Debkafile reported that the Pentagon had supplied Syrian rebels with the powerful armor-piercing, optically-guided BGM-71 TOW missiles. Citing anonymous military sources, Debkafile further reported that US Joint Chief Chair Gen. Martin Dempsey requested Israeli officials to help Saudi Arabian fighter jets provide air cover as American forces moved the weapons into southern Syria. The Jerusalem Post reported that during their visit in Riyadh in late March, Obama assured King Abdullah that Saudi concerns that “Washington was slowly disengaging from the Middle East and no longer listening to its old ally were unfounded.” If the Wall Street Journal and the international media report on budding cooperation between US-supported ‘moderates’ and the Islamic Front as long ago as last January, does the President of the United States have that information at his fingertips?
While the Administration’s public position had been no weapons to Syria, the American public remains unaware that in December, 2013 the Congress (via classified Defense appropriation bills) secretly agreed to provide small anti-tank rockets. In other words, several months after the bombing of Syria was shelved by popular demand, the Congress and Administration used a back-door to circumvent public opinion and provide weapons to the ‘moderate’ rebels. Why would the rocket shipment be kept secret other than in fear of the American public’s reaction?
Of more immediate concern is the news of a major shift in US policy that up to 13,000 troops have arrived in Jordan and Israel for ‘joint exercises’ near the Syrian border and the deployment of two Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean off the Israeli coast with additional US reinforcements due to arrive in Aqaba, Jordan this weekend. Hezbollah, a long time Syrian ally, is reportedly on the move to south Syria to reinforce the outnumbered Syrian Army. At stake is control of areas in the Golan Heights and control of a highway from Quenitra to Damascus, recently abandoned by the rebels. A phone call initiated by President Obama to the King of Jordan regarding the situation in Syria does not bode well for peace.
The timeline of events raise considerable questions of exactly what role American public opinion plays in the government’s foreign policy decision-making – an issue of contention since the 1960’s war in Vietnam. As if all of the unanswerable questions were not troubling enough to conclude that US foreign policy is a distorted mish-mash beyond comprehension, US Joint Chief General Martin Dempsey spoke recently to the Atlantic Council indicating that Syria would not necessarily benefit from removal of Assad and offered a less than enthusiastic appraisal of the ‘rebels’ as not having the necessary ‘counterterrorism capability’ to defeat the al-Qaeda related groups. In Pentagon-ese lingo, one guess is that Dempsey, who has proven to be a thoughtful Chief, is saying No – just like the American people.
Renee Parsons was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives and a lobbyist on nuclear energy issues with Friends of the Earth. in 2005, she was elected to the Durango City Council and served as Councilor and Mayor. Currently, she is a member of the Treasure Coast ACLU Board.