That 51 US diplomats reproached President Obama’s Syria policy by calling for greater American military force deployed against the Damascus government was itself a remarkable sign of official dissent within Washington. But the president’s authority was further brazenly undermined when a few days later the Saudi rulers endorsed the dissenting US diplomats – while being received at the White House.
Several things can be discerned here. For one, the US policy on Syria is reeling from failure. The objective of regime change – which has impelled the whole war in that country for the past five years – seems to be fading as an obtainable goal. Russia’s military intervention beginning last October to stabilize the Syrian state put paid to that. Reports that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the top commander of the so-called Islamic State (IS or Daesh), has been killed in a Syrian/Russian air strike in the group’s eastern stronghold of Raqqa suggests that the foreign-backed terrorist insurgency is indeed facing final defeat.
The US covert tactic of using a dual-track political process of supposed peace negotiations to allow for mercenary proxies to regroup has also come unstuck. Syria and its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies have not relented in targeting terrorist militia, even those whom Washington disingenuously refers to as “moderates” and “on ceasefire.” The cessation in hostilities called for by Russia and the US back in February is sundered because it never was a bona fide ceasefire in the first place, as far as Washington was really concerned. It was only a side-way maneuver to facilitate regime change by political means.
As it stands, US policy has been checked decisively in Syria. And that would seem to explain the eruption in frustration among the US diplomats and the foreign planners at the State Department – as illustrated by the “leaking” of large-scale criticism of the Obama administration last week. Failure begets frustration.
The contrarian diplomats are calling for the US to directly attack the Syrian government forces of President Bashar al-Assad. For the past two years, US air strikes in Syria are purportedly aimed at targeting the Islamic State while staying clear of Syrian army units. The rebellious Washington diplomats want US firepower to be henceforth directed at the Syrian army.
Russia immediately slammed the would-be American proposal as a grave violation of international law. Moscow knows that such a move seriously risks bringing US and Russian forces into direct confrontation.
Obama, for his part, is unlikely to go along with a change in his Syrian policy. He knows the risks of escalation are too dangerous, and with only months to go before his second term finishes, the 44th president is loath to end his White House stint in ignominy.
Nevertheless, the gung-ho restiveness within Washington for a wider war in Syria could well be countenanced by Obama’s successor. Democrat Hillary Clinton has called for a wider air campaign in Syria, and whoever the Republicans select can be safely assumed to be equally gung-ho, if not more.
Washington’s dissent on Syria is thus a signal for ramped-up war. It may be put on hold for a few months, but it seems almost certain that a wider war is being prepared. And that’s largely because US regime change objectives in Syria have been thwarted up to now. Failure begets petulance.
The extraordinary show of defiance towards President Obama is a disturbing calling card for future escalation in Syria and the wider Middle East. It seems beyond recklessness that Washington is, firstly, drumming up support for military intervention to salvage the lost cause of its proxy armies, and secondly, pushing for its forces to clash with those of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.
The seriousness of the revolt in Washington over Syria is testified by reports that John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, is planning to meet with the 51 diplomats calling for direct military intervention. Kerry went as far as describing their proposals as “very good,” although he did not explicitly say whether he endorsed them.
However, the fact that Obama’s foreign minister and Washington’s top diplomat is openly meeting with a caucus that has thrown down a gauntlet to the president over Syria goes to show that the War Party is building momentum.
Last week, Kerry issued a foreboding warning to Moscow that the US is “losing patience” on the future of Assad in Syria, indicating again that he appears to be stepping into the militarist camp. This after Kerry was almost tripping on his tears earlier this year about how the bloodshed in Syria has to stop. Well, after all, Vietnam War “hero” Kerry is a past-master at opportunistic political careering. Russia’s Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov hit back at Kerry’s belligerence, saying it is not the US that is losing patience, but rather it is Russia, which is fed up with Washington’s cynical games of peek-a-boo with terrorists and continually refusing to cooperate with Moscow in delineating terrorist targets.
In any case, the salient point, as noted in the opening of this commentary, is the way that the Saudi regime quickly rowed in behind the Washington show of defiance towards the American president. That is a sinister portent.
Only a matter of days after the broadside by the US diplomats, a Saudi delegation was received at the White House, with the customary sycophancy. The delegation included Saudi defense minister and deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Sultan (the king’s son) and the kingdom’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir. The Saudis later told a press briefing that they backed the call by the diplomats for Obama to “get tough” on Syria.
Of course, that has been the mantra of the Saudi regime over the past five years. When Obama reneged on his “red line” for open military intervention at the end of 2013, the House of Saud has been in a huge huff ever since.
But the audacious undermining of the American president by his Saudi guests shows how deeply in tune the House of Saud is with the War Party in Washington.
The sense of arrogant entitlement on the steps of the White House speaks of a formidable relationship between the House of Saud and powerful elements of secret American government. It also explains why the Saudis were so aghast by Congressional attempts to probe alleged Saudi involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks. Such probing will probably never arise to much anyway, and already the CIA director John Brennan has confidently stated that classified official documents from a Congressional inquiry into 9/11 will clear the Saudi state of alleged complicity.
Given the long historical collusion between US covert state power and the Saudi regime one can understand why the Saudis are so vexed by even mere tepid attempts within Washington to hang out the dirty laundry on the Arab despots.
From the Saudi point of view, knowing full well the depths of US collusion in covert ops, the mere mention of incriminating the oil-rich kingdom must seem like the height of treachery.
This murky US-Saudi relationship was alluded to in a rare report in the New York Times earlier this year when it was divulged that decades of American covert operations across the globe have been heavily reliant on Saudi money for financing. The NY Times candidly tells how the CIA’s clandestine subversive projects and rogue operations have been bankrolled by the Saudi regime. This partnership in crime goes well beyond the more notorious instance of how the Americans and the Saudis created and armed jihadist extremists in Afghanistan during the 1980s to fight the Soviet Union.
That is, the jihadi proxies that later went on to form Al Qaeda and various offshoots like Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and Iraq, are but just one arm of a global terrorist or insurgency machine, which the US has deployed to topple governments and destabilize enemies. Implicit here is that Saudi oil money has greased the wheels of covert US operations on a global scale, from Central and South America, to Iraq, to again in Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Balkans, Georgia, Libya and Syria, and as recently as the coup d’état in Ukraine in February 2014. Perhaps even in recent disturbances in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
In his book on the Bush dynasty, “Family of Secrets,” award-winning author Russ Baker documents how it was George H W Bush Sr, as head of the CIA in the mid-1970s, who cemented the Saudi role in funding US dirty operations around the world. That shadowy relationship has been a staple ever since, redoubled under the presidency of his son, George W Bush Jr.
Why the CIA courted billions of dollars of Saudi money from the mid-1970s onwards to fund its dirty work was because various Congressional committees and a recurring public outcry over the 1963 assassination of President John F Kennedy had furnished a political backlash against the CIA and its suspected involvement in clandestine activities, including the murder of political leaders. From the mid-1970s onwards, the CIA and its adjuncts within the US Deep State desperately needed a way to fund their operations with off-the-books money, not accountable to the Congress. Enter the Saudis, who glad-handed their way into perhaps the most destructive covert alliance since the Second World War.
And there is every reason to believe that this US-Saudi covert relationship pertains to this day. Hence, the fundamental reluctance within the Washington establishment to incite disfavor with its de facto covert-operations banker.
The converse of that arrangement is that the Saudi rulers know that they have important push within Washington when it comes to promoting a militarist agenda.
Obama up to now has, for whatever reason, resisted calls from within the CIA, the State Department and Saudi rulers for more military intervention in Syria.
The audacious undermining of Obama by the Saudis in their backing of a Washington revolt against the president’s policy strongly suggests that the war in Syria is going to escalate.
Reprinted with permission from the Strategic Culture Foundation.