A street in Halabja after the attack
ASSAD POISONS THE MINDS OF WESTERN POLICY MAKERS
* Nadim Shehadi: “Assad has diverted attention from what is happening on the ground and focused it on the red line that the U.S. has drawn itself behind and seems unable to enforce. In the meantime, the daily massacres and destruction continues with impunity and the regime is triumphantly declaring victory over its opponents and gleefully celebrating the impotence of the United States. It all started in July last year with the Syrian regime itself throwing the cat among the pigeons by leaking information and acknowledging the existence of chemical weapons for the first time…”
* “Chemical weapons are not the only tool in the regime’s mind games with the West. In the summer of 2011, while teenage female bloggers and peaceful protesters were being arrested by the thousands, the regime released an estimated 1,500 Islamist prisoners from its jails including some connected to al Qaeda that it has a long experience in dealing with to create chaos in both Iraq and Lebanon.”
* Andrew Roberts: “Although both the Axis and Allied powers in World War II considered using poison gas, neither did, possibly through fear of retaliation. Adolf Hitler did use gas to perpetrate his Holocaust against the Jews. But he did not unleash this weapon on the battlefield – not even on the Eastern Front, where he considered that he was fighting against Slavic untermenschen (sub-humans)…”
* In 1987 and 1988, Saddam Hussein launched attacks on 40 Kurdish villages in northern Iraq, using new mixtures of mustard gas and Sarin, Tabun and VX. (Ten milligrams of VX on the skin can kill a man, while a single raindrop weighs eighty milligrams.)
* The late Richard Beeston of the Times of London, writing from Halabja in 1988: “Like figures unearthed in Pompeii, the victims of Halabja were killed so quickly that their corpses remained in suspended animation. There was a plump baby whose face, frozen in a scream, stuck out from under the protective arm of a man, away from the open door of a house that he never reached.”
* An estimated 5,000 civilians, the majority of them women and children, died within a few hours at Halabja, through asphyxiation, skin burns and progressive respiratory shutdown. However, a further 10,000 were “blinded, maimed, disfigured, or otherwise severely and irreversibly debilitated,” according to a report by the University of Liverpool. These victims later suffered neurological disorders, convulsions, comas and digestive shutdown. In the years to come, thousands more, the State Department noted, were to suffer from “horrific complications, debilitating diseases, and birth defects” such as lymphoma, leukemia, colon, breast, skin and other cancers, miscarriages, infertility and congenital malformations, leading to many more deaths.
* Tom Gross: Had the West acted forcefully against Saddam then, instead of appeasing him, perhaps he would never have thought he had a green light to later invade Kuwait and then to defy UN WMD inspectors, and the Iraq war may never have been necessary.
* Saudi agents flew an injured Syrian to Britain, where tests showed sarin gas exposure.
* Saudi official: “You can’t as president draw a line and then not respect it.” (Tom Gross: … with all the implications that will have, including giving a green light to the nuclear weapons programs of Iran – and others. And to say that the use of WMDs is now permitted may well, in the future, open the floodgates to many other regimes and terror groups using them.)
* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.
1. Welcome to the Middle East, episode 2
2. “Halabja and the BBC” (by Tom Gross, The Weekly Standard, Aug. 27, 2013)
3. “How Assad used chemical weapons to poison debate on Syria” (By Nadim Shehadi, CNN, Aug. 26, 2013)
4. “Syria’s gas attack on civilization” (By Andrew Roberts, Wall St Journal, Aug. 26, 2013)
5. “A veteran Saudi power player works to build support to topple Assad” (Wall St Journal, Aug. 25, 2013)
6. “Obama’s ‘war’ by wordplay” (By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, Aug. 8, 2013)
7. “Syrian rebels receive huge Gulf-financed weapons shipment” (Al Bawaba, Aug. 25, 2013)
WELCOME TO THE MIDDLE EAST, EPISODE 2
I attach six articles below. The authors of three of them – London-based Lebanese academic Nadim Shehadi, British historian Andrew Roberts, and Washington Post syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer – are subscribers to this list, as is the late foreign editor of the Times of London, Richard Beeston, and some others quoted in these articles.
Another subscriber to this list, Edward Lutwak, writes in The New York Times: There is only one outcome that the United States can possibly favor: an indefinite draw. By tying down Mr. Assad’s army and its Iranian and Hizbullah allies in a war against Al Qaeda-aligned extremist fighters, four of Washington’s enemies will be engaged in war among themselves and prevented from attacking Americans or America’s allies: Chemical weapons were fired by Assad’s brother Maher’s unit.
Welcome to Middle East, episode 2: if you need a drawing to better understand how complicated it can get, see here.
HALABJA AND THE BBC
By Tom Gross
(To be published in The Weekly Standard)
August 27, 2013
Concerning the latest use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, at least the media are reporting on it properly.
In the 1990s, when I interviewed for a job at BBC News in London, I was asked in the final interview stage to provide an example of a news item which I thought the BBC had not covered properly.
I answered “Halabja” and pointed out that when watching the BBC's (then) flagship Nine o'clock 30 minute evening news, Halabja had only been mentioned briefly in the second half of the bulletin, as the sixth item, after a (non)-story about a visit Prince Charles had made that day (I think it was to a factory).
I said, timidly, that I realized that the BBC could not cover every atrocity in the third world, but surely the genocidal gassing of thousands of women and children -- because they were Kurds -- was an event that needed highlighting prominently?
The interview panel -- comprising senior BBC news editors -- looked at each other with amused expressions before one turned to me, and said "Don't be ridiculous. You will be telling us you are a Zionist next." He then said the interview was over. I didn’t get the job.
“THE COST OF NON-INTERVENTION IS NOW ALAS TOO OBVIOUS TO ELABORATE UPON”
How Al-Assad used chemical weapons to poison debate on Syria
By Nadim Shehadi
August 26, 2013
There may still be doubts whether the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its own civilian population [Tom Gross – I don’t think there are any doubts at this point: he has already used them on several occasions in the last year] ; but there is however conclusive evidence that it has effectively used the toxic stuff to poison the minds of western policy makers and paralyze the debate over intervention.
This is so much so that it has diverted attention from what is happening on the ground in and focused it on the red line that the U.S. has drawn itself behind and seems unable to enforce. In the meantime, the massacres and destruction continues with impunity and the regime is triumphantly declaring victory over its opponents and gleefully celebrating the impotence of the United States.
It all started in July last year with the Syrian regime itself throwing the cat among the pigeons by leaking information and acknowledging the existence of chemical weapons for the first time.
This was followed by three messages by the Syrian foreign ministry’s spokesperson: One was that the chemical weapons would not be used by the regime against its own population; two was an implication that the weapons would be used against an outside force while the third and most important message was that the regime was securing the weapons so that they do not fall into the hands of the rebels.
This was enough in itself to trigger so many reactions in the west, especially in the US. First and foremost, it evoked the WMD debate over the justification of the Iraq invasion, the effect of that was to create for the Syrian regime a host of unwitting allies among those that were opposed to the Iraq invasion and against any further intervention.
The issue of chemical weapons became a debate about intervention which then triggered reassuring statements by the Obama administration that there was no intention of intervening in Syria except if the red line of using chemical weapons on civilians was crossed. These statements, in August 2012, unintentionally also resulted in reassuring the regime that it could carry on its suppression of the revolt with no fear of intervention as long as chemical weapons were not used.
In May 2012, a couple of months before these statements, the deaths of 108 people in one day at Houla, according to the United Nations was considered as a massacre the repetition of which would warrant an intervention.
The regime emerged from the episode with what it considered as a green light to continue with suppressing the revolt and the tolerance level was raised to an average casualty rate of between 100 and 200 every day, equal to or double that of Houla.
If President Barack Obama’s huffs and puffs are not convincing anymore, their credibility is further undermined by one of his top military men, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who recently criticized the president for mentioning the red lines and the possibility of intervention.
At the same time Gen. Dempsey was laying down military options so costly and long term that their net effect would further strengthen the hand of the anti-intervention lobby. But there was an even better message from the Pentagon for the Assad regime in November 2012: despite its opposition to intervention, the Pentagon indicated that it could lay down plans for intervention in Syria to secure the chemical weapons stockpiles “to prevent them falling into the wrong hands” should the regime lose control with the emerging chaos.
One can imagine the relief in Damascus when this is interpreted as the U.S. and its military only worrying enough to think of intervention if and when the regime weakens and there is a possibility of its fall.
The flipside of this means that the U.S. cannot see beyond the regime and that it would therefore prefer President Bashar al-Assad to stay. Recent comments by Gen. Dempsey about the opposition being incapable of taking over post al-Assad echo similar statements made last October by then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Better still, this meant that the green light and the licence to kill its own citizens and regain control of the country was still in effect no matter what public statements say; and now even that red line about the use of chemical weapons has all but lost its significance.
The regime knows full well it can gain endless time by manipulating the mandates and bureaucratic arrangements of U.N. weapons inspectors. It is also further reassured by seeing the issue become part of party political rivalry.
Chemical weapons are not the only tool in the regime’s mind games with the West. In the summer of 2011, while teenage female bloggers and peaceful protesters were being arrested by the thousands, the regime released an estimated 1,500 Islamist prisoners from its jails including some connected to al Qaeda that it has a long experience in dealing with to create chaos in both Iraq and Lebanon.
This manoeuver also bore fruit and wreaked havoc both on the ground and in the western debate over Syria, all this while the oil still flows to the regime’s port of Tartus through territories held by those very Islamists that give a boost to the regime’s narrative of fighting terrorism.
Now that Syria is back on the international agenda, it may also be the time to re-evaluate what is happening there and look beyond the red herrings that the regime throws at us with the aim of diverting attention from its crimes.
The cost of non-intervention is now alas too obvious to elaborate upon. After more than 100,000 dead, refugees and displaced in the millions and much of the country destroyed, the international community can no longer watch a regime killing its people and do nothing about it.
“IT TAKES A BARBARIAN TO EMPLOY POISON GAS. ASSAD JOINS THE RANKS OF MUSSOLINI, HITLER AND SADDAM HUSSEIN”
Syria’s Gas Attack on Civilization
By Andrew Roberts
The Wall Street Journal
August 26, 2013
‘Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling, fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; but someone still was yelling out and stumbling, and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . . .”
Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” describing his experience of a chlorine-gas attack in World War I, highlights its horror and explains in part the thinking behind the Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, which comprehensively outlawed such weapons in 1925.
Only 4% of all battlefield deaths in the Great War had been caused by gas, yet the foul nature of those deaths meant that gas held a particular terror in the public imagination. Since 1925, it has only been countries that are recognized to be outside the bounds of civilization that have taken recourse to it.
The latest outlaw to do so is Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, who deployed chemical weapons against opponents of his regime in the suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21, according to press reports and a statement over the weekend by Doctors Without Borders.
The first was Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, which unleashed mustard gas on the Ethiopian subjects of Emperor Haile Selassie in the Abyssinian campaign of 1935-41. The gas dropped by the Italian air force was known by the Ethiopians as “the terrible rain that burned and killed.”
The horrific results wrought upon unarmed civilians, photographed by the International Red Cross, were much the same as Wilfred Owen described in his poem about a comrade on the Western Front who had failed to put his gas-mask on in time: “Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, as under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”
Although both the Axis and Allied powers in World War II considered using poison gas, neither did, possibly through fear of retaliation. Adolf Hitler did use gas to perpetrate his Holocaust against the Jews in Europe. But he did not unleash this weapon on the battlefield – not even on the Eastern Front, where he considered that he was fighting against Slavic untermenschen (sub-humans).
His hesitation to use gas on the battlefield was not due to the fact that he had himself been gassed in the trenches of World War I, but because he rightly suspected an overwhelming Allied response to any first use of such a weapon. Winston Churchill actively considered using poison gas both defensively – in June 1940, when Britain faced invasion – and offensively, in July 1944, to aid the attacks on the Ruhr. Fortunately, no invasion came in 1940, and in 1944 he and the British chiefs of staff decided against the use of poison gas, putting moral considerations above the undoubted military benefits.
In the Korean War, the Chinese and North Korean intelligence services alleged that the United States had used aircraft to drop flies, fleas and spiders infected with anthrax, cholera, encephalitis, plague and meningitis in “germ bombs.” In January 1998, documents in the Russian presidential archives conclusively proved that the charges were entirely fraudulent – invented as a way of blaming America for outbreaks of these infectious diseases in their own countries.
Some Marxist fellow-travellers in the West, such as the British academic Joseph Needham, promoted these foul libels, but even they – and, significantly, the disinformation machines of Beijing and Pyongyang – never went so far as to accuse the U.S. of using poison gas. They recognized that no one would believe that United Nations forces in Korea would be so barbaric as to resort to such weapons.
In 1987 and 1988, Saddam Hussein launched attacks on no fewer than 40 Kurdish villages in northern Iraq, using new mixtures of mustard gas and various nerve agents such as Sarin, Tabun and VX. (Ten milligrams of VX on the skin can kill a man, while a single raindrop weighs eighty milligrams.) The worst attack came on March 16, 1988, in Halabja.
Iraqi troops methodically divided the town into grids, in order to determine the number and location of the dead and the extent of injuries, thereby enabling them scientifically to gauge the efficacy of various different types of gases and nerve agents. One of the first war correspondents to enter the town afterward, the late Richard Beeston of the Times of London, reported that “Like figures unearthed in Pompeii, the victims of Halabja were killed so quickly that their corpses remained in suspended animation. There was a plump baby whose face, frozen in a scream, stuck out from under the protective arm of a man, away from the open door of a house that he never reached.”
Between 4,000 and 5,000 civilians, many of them women and children, died within a few hours at Halabja, through asphyxiation, skin burns and progressive respiratory shutdown. However, a further 10,000 were “blinded, maimed, disfigured, or otherwise severely and irreversibly debilitated,” according to a report by the University of Liverpool’s Christine Gosden.
These victims later suffered neurological disorders, convulsions, comas and digestive shutdown. In the years to come, thousands more, the State Department noted, were to suffer from “horrific complications, debilitating diseases, and birth defects” such as lymphoma, leukemia, colon, breast, skin and other cancers, miscarriages, infertility and congenital malformations, leading to many more deaths.
It takes a barbarian to employ poison gas. Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler (with Zyklon B) and Saddam Hussein were three such, and today another is Assad. Yet the Chinese and Russians continue to excuse and defend him, and the White House ties itself into rhetorical knots in order to avoid having to topple him.
It’s true that in this civil war, shrapnel and Kalashnikov bullets have killed many more of the 100,000 Syrians than has poison gas. Nevertheless, it is right that the use of poison gas by Assad be singled out for special condemnation.
Wilfred Owen, who was himself killed a week before the end of the Great War, recalled in “Dulce et Decorum Est” his gassed comrade’s “white eyes writhing in his face, his hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin” and how he heard “the blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues.” There is a long and honorable history of the civilized world treating those dictators who use poison gas as qualitatively different from the normal ruck of tyrants whose careers have so stained the 20th and 21st centuries.
President Obama, who talks endlessly of the importance of civilized values, must now uphold this one.
QATAR IS “NOTHING BUT 300 PEOPLE…AND A TV CHANNEL,” THE SAUDI PRINCE YELLED INTO A PHONE
A Veteran Saudi Power Player Works To Build Support to Topple Assad
By Adam Entous, Nour Malas, Margaret Coker
The Wall Street Journal
August 25, 2013
Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud maneuvers behind the scenes to defeat the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies.
Officials inside the Central Intelligence Agency knew that Saudi Arabia was serious about toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when the Saudi king named Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud to lead the effort.
They believed that Prince Bandar, a veteran of the diplomatic intrigues of Washington and the Arab world, could deliver what the CIA couldn’t: planeloads of money and arms, and, as one U.S. diplomat put it, wasta, Arabic for under-the-table clout.
Prince Bandar – for two decades one of the most influential deal makers in Washington as Saudi ambassador but who had largely disappeared from public view – is now reprising his role as a geopolitical operator. This time it is to advance the Saudi kingdom’s top foreign-policy goal, defeating Syrian President Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies.
Prince Bandar has been jetting from covert command centers near the Syrian front lines to the Élysée Palace in Paris and the Kremlin in Moscow, seeking to undermine the Assad regime, according to Arab, American and European officials.
Meanwhile, an influential protégé, current Saudi Ambassador to Washington Adel al-Jubeir, is leading a parallel campaign to coax Congress and a reluctant Obama administration to expand the U.S. role in Syria.
The conflict there has become a proxy war for Middle East factions, and Saudi Arabia’s efforts in Syria are just one sign of its broader effort to expand its regional influence. The Saudis also have been outspoken supporters of the Egyptian military in its drive to squelch the Muslim Brotherhood, backing that up with big chunks of cash.
The Saudi lobbying is part of the calculus as the U.S. weighs its options in the wake of a suspected chemical attack last week. Damascus suburbs allegedly targeted are at the heart of what the Saudis now call their “southern strategy” for strengthening rebels in towns east and south of the capital.
As part of that, intelligence agents from Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Jordan and other allied states are working at a secret joint operations center in Jordan to train and arm handpicked Syrian rebels, according to current and former U.S. and Middle Eastern officials.
The CIA has put unspecified limits on its arming efforts. But the agency has been helping train rebels to better fight. Earlier this year it also began making salary payments to members of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, U.S. and Arab officials said. There are now more CIA personnel at the Jordan base than Saudi personnel, according to Arab diplomats.
Jordan denied any training or arming of Syrian rebels was taking place in the country, something Minister of State for Media Affairs Mohammad Momani said would be contrary to Jordan’s national interest and policy “to remain neutral” on Syria.
“There are no military bases in Jordan for the Syrian opposition…There are no bases of any sort. This is inconsistent with the Jordanian position that calls for a political solution to the Syrian crisis,” Mr. Momani said. He added that Jordanian King Abdullah has said firmly “Jordan will never be a base of training to anyone and will never be the launching base of any military action against Syria.”
For decades, wasta has been Prince Bandar’s calling card. The prince also wins U.S. officials’ trust in part because his background is, in its own way, so American. Though his father was a Saudi crown prince, his mother was a commoner, and he rose through the crowded royal ranks by force of will.
He attended U.S. Air Force officer training in Alabama, did graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University and worked his way into the good graces of several U.S. presidents. He has painted his personal airplane in Dallas Cowboy colors, and his son attended the pro-football draft this year at the table of owner Jerry Jones. Prince Bandar declined to be interviewed for this article.
Not everyone in the Obama administration is comfortable with the new U.S. partnership with the Saudis on Syria. Some officials said they fear it carries the same risk of spinning out of control as an earlier project in which Prince Bandar was involved – the 1980s CIA program of secretly financing the Contras in Nicaragua against a leftist government. The covert program led to criminal convictions for U.S. operatives and international rebukes.
“This has the potential to go badly,” one former official said, citing the risk weapons will end up in the hands of violent anti-Western Islamists.
Many top U.S. intelligence analysts also think the Syrian rebels are hopelessly outgunned by Assad allies Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group, according to congressional officials and diplomats.
Prince Bandar and Mr. Jubeir have told the U.S. they don’t necessarily expect a victory by the Syrian rebels anytime soon, but they want to gradually tilt the battlefield in their favor, according to American officials who have met with them.
The Saudi plan is to steadily strengthen carefully selected groups of rebel fighters not in the radical Islamist camp, with the goal of someday seeing them in control in Damascus. Difficult as such an effort is proving to be, the Saudi thinking goes, not trying would risk a future in which Syria was dominated either by extremist Muslims from among the rebels or by Iran, Riyadh’s arch rival in the quest for regional dominance.
In Jordan, officials said they couldn’t yet tell whether the joint operation has reaped success in sifting moderate Syrian rebels from the extremists. Some said they couldn’t rule out the possibility some Saudi funds and arms were being funneled to radicals on the side, simply to counter the influence of rival Islamists backed by Qatar. U.S. officials said they couldn’t rule out that mistakes would be made.
Saudi King Abdullah, whose mother and two of whose wives hail from a cross-border tribe influential in Syria, tried for a decade to woo Mr. Assad away from Iran’s sway. He failed. The king’s attitude hardened in 2011 after the Assad regime, rebuffing the king’s personal advice on how to ease tension, cracked down brutally on political opponents and did so during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The king then decided to do whatever was needed to bring down Mr. Assad, American and Arab diplomats said.
Qatar also wanted the autocratic Assad regime out. While the Saudi princes initially were divided about how to proceed, some worrying that armed insurgents in Syria could later threaten Saudi stability, Qatar intervened quickly and gained influence with the rebels, according to Arab and American officials.
The Saudis stepped up rebel support in early 2012, at first by joining forces with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to fund what was then the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council. Saudi Arabia quickly soured on the effort because the Council wasn’t buying arms with the money, diplomats said, and began to push for directly arming the insurgents. It also began to work with Qatar through a command center in Turkey to buy and distribute arms.
But tensions grew over which rebels to supply. Both Saudi and American officials worried Qatar and Turkey were directing weapons to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Qatari and Turkish officials denied they favored certain rebel groups.
The Saudi king also was uncomfortable at sharing control with Qatar, a Persian Gulf rival. At a meeting to coordinate arms shipments last summer, Prince Bandar took a swipe at Qatar, a tiny nation with one of the region’s largest broadcasters.
Qatar is “nothing but 300 people…and a TV channel,” the Saudi prince yelled into a phone, according to a person familiar with the exchange. “That doesn’t make a country.” Saudi officials declined to comment on the exchange.
It marked the start of a new, more aggressive drive by Prince Bandar, and a Saudi shift to operate out of Jordan instead of Turkey. In July 2012, the Saudi king – his uncle – doubled the prince’s duties; already head of the national-security office, Prince Bandar took over the Saudi General Intelligence Agency as well.
“His appointment to head intelligence marked a new phase in Saudi politics,” said Nohad Machnouk, a Lebanese legislator with close ties to the Saudi leadership.
Some critics of Prince Bandar within the kingdom and in Washington described him as inclined to be impulsive and overoptimistic about what he can achieve. Defenders said his enthusiasm and drive were what made him the king’s go-to problem solver.
The Saudi ambassador, Mr. Jubeir, has long been courting members of Congress who could pressure the administration to get more involved in Syria. He found early support from Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
He also reached out to centrists, helping set up a rare one-on-one meeting for one of them, then-Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.), with King Abdullah in Riyadh. Mr. Nelson said he told the king that if regional powers pulled together with a common strategy, it would be easier for the U.S. to become a partner.
Mr. Jubeir used his access to policy makers, including the president, to push the message that U.S. inaction would lead to greater Middle East instability down the road, American officials said.
A senior U.S. intelligence official called the Saudis “indispensable partners on Syria” and said their efforts influenced American thinking. “No one wants to do anything alone,” the official said in explaining why the partnership expanded.
The Saudi goal was to get the U.S. to back a program to arm and train rebels out of a planned base in Jordan. Then-CIA chief David Petraeus was an early backer of the idea, said Arab and U.S. officials, and helped clinch Jordanian military support for the base. Gen. Petraeus declined to comment.
Prince Bandar met with the uneasy Jordanians about such a base. His meetings in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah sometimes ran to eight hours in a single sitting. “The king would joke: ‘Oh, Bandar’s coming again? Let’s clear two days for the meeting,’ “ said a person familiar with the meetings.
Jordan’s financial dependence on Saudi Arabia gave the Saudis strong leverage, officials in the region and the U.S. said. They said that with the blessing of the Jordanian king, an operations center in Jordan started going online in the summer of 2012, including an airstrip and warehouses for arms. Saudi-procured AK-47s and ammunition then started arriving, Arab officials said.
Prince Bandar sent his younger half-brother and then-deputy national-security adviser, Salman bin Sultan, to oversee the operation in Jordan. Some regional officials took to calling him “mini-Bandar.” Earlier this summer, Prince Salman was elevated to deputy defense minister.
Mr. Petraeus in mid-2012 won White House approval to provide intelligence and limited training to Syrian rebels at the base, including in the use of arms provided by others. Saudi and Jordanian agents began vetting the fighters to be trained, said Arab diplomats and a former U.S. military official.
Prince Bandar has largely stayed out of Washington but held meetings with U.S. officials in the region. One was in September 2012. Sens. McCain and Graham, who were in Istanbul, met him in an opulent hotel suite on the banks of the Bosporus.
Mr. McCain said he made the case to Prince Bandar that the rebels weren’t getting the kinds of weapons they needed, and the prince, in turn, described the kingdom’s plans. The senator said that in succeeding months he saw “a dramatic increase in Saudi involvement, hands-on, by Bandar.”
In September and October, the Saudis approached Croatia to procure more Soviet-era weapons. The Saudis got started distributing these in December and soon saw momentum shift toward the rebels in some areas, said U.S. officials, Arab diplomats and U.S. lawmakers briefed on the operation. Officials in Croatia denied it was involved in weapons sales.
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.
After Mr. Petraeus’s November resignation over an affair, his job was handled by his deputy, Michael Morell, who privately voiced skepticism the agency could make sure any arms supplied by the U.S. wouldn’t end up with hard-line Islamists, said congressional officials.
Ultimately, the new CIA chief was John Brennan, whose closest Saudi confidant when he was White House counterterrorism adviser was also focused on the risk of inadvertently strengthening al Qaeda. Since moving to the CIA, Mr. Brennan has been in periodic contact by phone with Prince Bandar, officials said.
Despite its caution, the CIA expanded its role at the base in Jordan early this year. At that point, though, the U.S. still wasn’t sending weapons.
In early April, said U.S. officials, the Saudi king sent a strongly worded message to Mr. Obama: America’s credibility was on the line if it let Mr. Assad and Iran prevail. The king warned of dire consequences of abdicating U.S. leadership and creating a vacuum, said U.S. officials briefed on the message.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who was the first Saudi official to publicly back arming the rebels, followed with a similar message during a meeting with Mr. Obama later that month, the officials said.
By late spring, U.S. intelligence agencies saw worrisome signs that Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, in response to the influx of Saudi arms, were ramping up support to Mr. Assad. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed arming the rebels, and Mr. Jubeir and Prince Bandar turned their attention to skeptics on the House and Senate intelligence committees.
They arranged a trip for committee leaders to Riyadh, where Prince Bandar laid out the Saudi strategy. It was a reunion of sorts, officials said, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) warmly scolding Prince Bandar about his smoking.
Mr. Obama in June authorized the CIA to provide arms at the Jordanian base, in limited quantity and firepower, on the understanding the U.S. could reverse course if there weren’t sufficient controls on who got them, congressional officials said.
Prince Bandar flew to Paris soon after for talks with French officials. In July he was in Moscow to meet with one of Mr. Assad’s prime supporters, President Vladimir Putin.
A generation ago, Prince Bandar, in a role foreshadowing his current one on behalf of Syrian opposition, helped the CIA arm the Afghan rebels who were resisting occupation by Soviet troops.
Arab diplomats said that in meeting with Russian officials this summer, the prince delivered the same message he gave the Soviets 25 years ago: that the kingdom had plenty of money and was committed to using it to prevail.
This past weekend, as the White House weighed possible military attacks against Mr. Assad, Saudi Arabia and its allies pressed Mr. Obama to take forceful action in response to the chemical-weapons reports, according to a U.S. official. The Arab message, according to another official, was: “You can’t as president draw a line and then not respect it.”
– Siobhan Gorman, Julian E. Barnes and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this article.
“IN THE END, THIS ISN’T ABOUT LANGUAGE. IT’S ABOUT LEADERSHIP”
Obama’s “war” by Wordplay
By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
August 8, 2013
Jen Psaki, blameless State Department spokeswoman, explained that the hasty evacuation of our embassy in Yemen was not an evacuation but “a reduction in staff.” This proved a problem because the Yemeni government had already announced (and denounced) the “evacuation” – the word normal folks use for the panicky ordering of people onto planes headed out of the country.
Thus continues the administration’s penchant for wordplay, the bending of language to fit a political need. In Janet Napolitano’s famous formulation, terror attacks are now “man-caused disasters.” And the “global war on terror” is no more. It’s now an “overseas contingency operation.”
Nidal Hasan proudly tells a military court that he, a soldier of Allah, killed 13 American soldiers in the name of jihad. But the massacre remains officially classified as an act not of terrorism but of “workplace violence.”
The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others are killed in an al-Qaeda-affiliated terror attack – and for days it is waved off as nothing more than a spontaneous demonstration gone bad. After all, famously declared Hillary Clinton, what difference does it make?
Well, it makes a difference, first, because truth is a virtue. Second, because if you keep lying to the American people, they may seriously question whether anything you say – for example, about the benign nature of NSA surveillance – is not another self-serving lie.
And third, because leading a country through yet another long twilight struggle requires not just honesty but clarity. This is a president who to this day cannot bring himself to identify the enemy as radical Islam. Just Tuesday night, explaining the U.S. embassy closures across the Muslim world, he cited the threat from “violent extremism.”
The word “extremism” is meaningless. People don’t devote themselves to being extreme. Extremism has no content. The extreme of what? In this war, an extreme devotion to the supremacy of a radically fundamentalist vision of Islam and to its murderous quest for dominion over all others.
But for President Obama, the word “Islamist” may not be uttered. Language must be devised to disguise the unpleasantness.
Result? The world’s first lexicological war. Parry and thrust with linguistic tricks, deliberate misnomers and ever more transparent euphemisms. Next: armor-piercing onomatopoeias and amphibious synecdoches.
This would all be comical and merely peculiar if it didn’t reflect a larger, more troubling reality: The confusion of language is a direct result of a confusion of policy – which is served by constant obfuscation.
Obama doesn’t like this terror war. He particularly dislikes its unfortunate religious coloration, which is why “Islamist” is banished from his lexicon. But soothing words, soothing speeches in various Muslim capitals, soothing policies – “open hand,” “mutual respect” – have yielded nothing. The war remains. Indeed, under his watch, it has spread. And as commander in chief he must defend the nation.
He must. But he desperately wants to end the whole struggle. This is no secret wish. In a major address to the National Defense University just three months ago he declared “this war, like all wars, must end.” The plaintive cry of a man hoping that saying so makes it so.
The result is visible ambivalence that leads to vacillating policy reeking of incoherence. Obama defends the vast NSA data dragnet because of the terrible continuing threat of terrorism. Yet at the same time, he calls for not just amending but actually repealing the legal basis for the entire war on terror, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
Well, which is it? If the tide of war is receding, why the giant NSA snooping programs? If al-Qaeda is on the run, as he incessantly assured the nation throughout 2012, why is America cowering in 19 closed-down embassies and consulates? Why was Boston put on an unprecedented full lockdown after the marathon bombings? And from Somalia to Afghanistan, why are we raining death by drone on “violent extremists” – every target, amazingly, a jihadist? What a coincidence.
This incoherence of policy and purpose is why an evacuation from Yemen must be passed off as “a reduction in staff.” Why the Benghazi terror attack must be blamed on some hapless Egyptian-American videographer. Why the Fort Hood shooting is nothing but some loony Army doctor gone postal.
In the end, this isn’t about language. It’s about leadership. The wordplay is merely cover for uncertain policy embedded in confusion and ambivalence about the whole enterprise.
This is not leading from behind. This is not leading at all.
FOUR HUNDRED TONNES OF WEAPONS WERE SMUGGLED INTO SYRIA FROM TURKEY ON SUNDAY
Syrian rebels receive huge Gulf-financed weapons shipment
August 25, 2013
Four hundred tonnes of weapons were smuggled into Syria from Turkey on Sunday in a bid to boost opposition capabilities, rebel sources told Reuters, following a suspected chemical weapons strike on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus last Wednesday.
The source told Reuters the Gulf-financed shipment, which came from the Turkish province of Hatay in the past 24 hours, was one of the single biggest shipments of weapons to reach rebel forces since the uprising against President Bashar Assad turned deadly more than two years ago.
“Twenty trailers crossed from Turkey and are being distributed to arms depots for several brigades across the north,” Mohammad Salam, a rebel operative who witnessed the crossing from an undisclosed location in Hatay, told Reuters.
A senior official in the Gulf and Western backed Supreme Military Council, an umbrella group for rebel troops, confirmed the arms delivery, and said that weapons airlifts into Turkey have significantly increased since rebel held Sunni neighbourhoods and suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus were allegedly gassed last Wednesday.
Syrian opposition sources say between 500 and well over 1,000 civilians were killed this week by deadly nerve gas fired by pro-Assad forces. The attack caused international outrage following video footage of young children killed by the alleged gas attacks went viral on the internet. It has increased calls abroad for military intervention after over two years of international inertia over Syria’s conflict.
Syrian authorities sought to avert blame on Saturday by saying its government troops discovered chemical weapons in suburban Damascus tunnels frequently used by rebels. However, Western powers cited preliminary evidence indicating that troops loyal to the Syrian government were behind the chemical attack, and the United States is repositioning naval forces in the Mediterranean to give President Barack Obama the option of a military strike in Syria, should it be required.
Iran’s foreign minister said the Syrian government had told Tehran it would allow U.N. inspectors to visit areas reportedly affected by chemical weapons, Iran’s Press TV said on Sunday, according to Reuters. This follows hints made by Syrian minister of information Omran Zoabi that the UN team, already in Damascus, would not be allowed access to the chemical weapons site as it was not previously agreed on by the UN and the Syrian government.