Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Syria and the Saudi obsession.

In December 2006, William Roebuck, the political counselor at the American Embassy in Damascus, sent a classified cable to Washington, later released by WikiLeaks, proposing “actions, statements, and signals” that could help destabilize Assad’s regime. Among other recommended initiatives was a campaign, coordinated with the Egyptian and Saudi governments, to pump up existing alarm among Syrian Sunnis about Iranian influence in the country.

Roebuck could count on a receptive audience. A month earlier, Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, testified on Capitol Hill that there was a “new strategic alignment” in the Middle East, separating “extremists” (Iran and Syria) and “reformers” (Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states). Undergirding these diplomatic euphemisms was something more fundamental. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who returned to Riyadh in 2005 after many years as Saudi ambassador in Washington, had put it bluntly in an earlier conversation with Richard Dearlove, the longtime head of Britain’s MI6. “The time is not far off in the Middle East,” Bandar said, “when it will be literally God help the Shia. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough.” The implications were clear. Bandar was talking about destroying the Shiite states of Iran and Iraq, as well as the Alawite (which is to say, Shia-derived) leadership in Syria.[1]
So Saudi Arabia is extraordinarily focused on countering the Shiites nearby. Instead of working to stabilize the region by keeping either side from each other's throats, the U.S. has taken the side of the Saudis.

Instead of staying out of a dispute that has no significance to non-Muslims, we have a then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mouthing patent hogwash about the Saudis as "reformers."

We are still squandering huge amounts of money and materiel -- and helping cause the deaths of over 200,000 Syrians -- to help one side in this ancient dispute that fewer than 50 people in the U.S. can explain. If it strikes you as strange that we're taking sides in a Muslim controversy involving who got to succeed Mohammed 1,400 years ago, you're not alone.

Just so's you know, we're Abu Bakr guys.

OK, there might be a smidgen of geopolitics involved now but it's just as much a mystery why we have any kind of a dog in this fight now. Having Congress debate, like, a Declaration of War might clarify matters here, radical as that concept is, I know.

Do read Alexander Cockburn's article. If you want to try to begin to understand why we're joined at the hip with, yes, al Qaida, and how we ended up in bed with ISIS. It's as lucid a treatise on these subjects as you'll find this side of the Home Shopping Channel. I never thought I'd recommend anything by Cockburn, who always struck me as a dogmatic leftie. Given the upside down nature of our world, I should take another look.

[1] "A Special Relationship. The United States is teaming up with Al Qaeda, again." By Andrew Cockburn, Harper's Magazine, 3/22/16.

H/t: Pundita.

Correction (3/24/16):
I confused Andrew Cockburn, above, with the late Alexander Cockburn, the writer for The Nation magazine and editor of Counterpunch.


daniel_day said...

Muslim "refugees" from Syria are fleeing from other Muslims who do not agree with how the "refugees" practice Islam. By definition, the "Muslim refugee" problem is a problem internal to Islam, which we are not qualified, let alone obligated, to solve.

The same principle applies IMO to quarrels between Sunni and Shia. (And Alawaite, and Wahhabi, etc.)

My givadam's broken and I see no obligation to repair it.

Col. B. Bunny said...

It's like problems in the minority community here. I don't know what keeps the black underclass from getting a grip and getting on with life as independent, responsible, civic-minded citizens but I long ago ceased to care. If they want to bitch about white privilege and structural racism, they can have at it for all I care.

Ditto for Muslim theological splits and community upheavals. If Shia want to bang their heads with a carving knife they should do that to their heart's content. Just not in Tulsa.

0007 said...

Damascus was one of my constituent posts from 2002-2005. While I was there, the city/country was a calm quiet place where my wife and I could walk through the souk and be invited in for tea by the local shopkeepers. Lots of restored old American iron there - most of the cabs at the border were '57 Chevies.
We took a short road trip outside of town to the oldest Americ(sp?) city in the world. Bought a couple of bottles of the local whiskey there.
Damn whatever government(s) decided that this needed to change.

Col. B. Bunny said...

0007, that's a sad story. OT: I was in Beirut in January 1963 for a day. It was a peaceful Mediterranean city and I enjoyed walking around unmolested.

The tragedy of Syria was an event orchestrated by the U.S., Saudi, etc. Punidta publishes an interesting article on that point by Sharmine Narwani.

I'm sure you're aware of the videos by Syrian Girl who punctures all arguments that Assad is unpopular. A most impressive person. The whole ghastly enterprise fascinates me for the degree of mendacity the USG engages in, not least the pretend air attacks on ISIS or, more to the point, the absence of attacks on it. JSTARS was used by the U.S. in support of Britain and France planes in Libya. It wasn't a surveillance system available to detect heavy oil truck traffic or Toyota pickup convoys of, what?, 50-100 vehicles?

The Spanish Civil War is interesting for the goulash of players involved. And the unrelenting propaganda that gushed out of that tragedy. Syria is much like SCW 2.0. It seems like every pathology afflicting the civilized world is playing out there. The most fascinating thing of all is how the American political class sucks its thumb while we yet again dabble in geostrategery, as Rush would put it, without a declaration of war against Syria. The nation interest vindicated by this is a complete mystery to me and the U.S. seems in the thrall of the terror-sponsoring Saudis and the neocon lunatics who are doing their best to tame and damage the Russians. The falling dominoes of commitments kicking in mindlessly in WWI come to mind. The U.N. was supposed to bring a degree of rationality of global disputes but I'm missing the "rational" component in what I see at any point on the compass.

It's a bit like the Brussels airport bombing. It's a microcosm of Western stupidity. Huge explosions take place and even at this very minute there are European leaders who will scramble to light a candle and lay down a teddy bear but would rather stab themselves in the thigh with an ice pick that than talk about whether Muslims of any kind should be inside Europe.

Bit of a romp through the woods but you get what you pay for. :-)