Which Bush Administration Official Should We Trust on Syria?

14 Jun

Colin Powell I guess this is a start.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said on “CBS This Morning” Wednesday that he opposed the United States directly intervening in the violence in Syria even as he acknowledged that the international community’s strategy to stop the bloodshed is “not working.”

(…)

“I don’t know that there is much that the United States can do,” said Powell, “other than work with the international community and try to apply sufficient economic, political and diplomatic pressure on President Assad — who I know and I worked with and he’s a liar of the first order — anything you can do to get this guy to realize the urgency of the situation and start to work with the opposition or get out of the country.”

But, how can anyone take advice from Colin Powell? What is this “opposition“?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And Rafif Jouejati, can I just ask you to clarify who it is? If there are funds or arms going to the Syrian opposition, who is the Syrian opposition, the Syrian National Council and other affiliated groups?

RAFIF JOUEJATI: So, we’ve had pledges of support from various nations, but in reality, that support is not reaching the Free Syrian Army, which is only one part of the opposition. Instead, there are light weapons being smuggled across borders. So to say that the Free Syrian Army is heavily armed would imply that they are smuggling attack helicopters or tanks from Lebanon, and that would just be ridiculous.

In terms of who constitutes the Syrian opposition, you have the Syrian National Council, which is an umbrella organization that encompasses, I would say, the majority of opposition groups. And then you’ve got the armed portion of it, which is the Free Syrian Army, which is composed primarily of defected soldiers who refused orders to shoot unarmed civilians.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: How many people have defected from the Syrian army to the Free Syrian Army?

RAFIF JOUEJATI: It’s difficult to give precise numbers, because some of this is obviously quite secretive, but the estimates are ranging in the 40,000 area at this point, with defections every day. Just yesterday, there were three high-ranking officials who defected from the Syrian air force.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Patrick Seale, can you say a little about your sense of who constitutes the opposition and whether the opposition is sufficiently united?

PATRICK SEALE: Well, as we all know, the opposition is deeply divided. The strongest, best funded, best organized element in it are the Muslim Brothers. Now, they have a longstanding grievance against the Assad regime, father and son, going back over 30 years-indeed, ever since the Ba’ath Party came to power in Syria in 1963-Ba’ath Party, which is a secular movement. And from that moment on, some elements of the Muslim Brothers went underground, started taking arms, and mounted a terrorist campaign against the Syrian regime in the late six-in the late ’70s, culminating in the seizure of Hama, which the state then retook with great loss of life. Now, after that, the Muslim Brothers were banned. Membership was punishable by death. So they have a great deal to want revenge for from this regime.

Now, in addition to the Muslim Brothers, which are the many, many strands of them in Syria and outside Syria, there are also large numbers now of armed Islamic extremists, jihadis, so-called Arab fighters coming in from neighboring countries but also from countries further afield, from Afghanistan, from Pakistan, from Tunisia. Now, these people, a lot of them coming from Iraq, where they’ve been carrying out suicide operations, which they’re replicating now in Syria-gross acts of terror. Now, this is the problem. The number two man in al-Qaeda, Abu Yahya al-Libi, whom the Americans claim to have killed the other day, has just issued a video accusing Bashar al-Assad. So, does the United States want to be on the side of al-Qaeda?

How can anyone be so bold, to think he knows what to do?

The reliably hawkish Mr. Bolton at least tries to make the case. He argues in a piece for the National Review this week that President Barack Obama should ignore the concerns of some that unilateral action could put the US at loggerheads with Russia, and undermine whatever slim hopes that negotiations with Iran (another key backer of Mr. Assad) over its nuclear program could succeed. In fact, he seems to relish the prospect.

First, he regrets that President George W. Bush didn’t extend the war in Iraq to Syria in 2003. He writes: “In the days just after Saddam’s ouster in 2003, conditions were optimal (if nonetheless imperfect) for overthrowing Assad and replacing his regime with something compatible with American interests.”

Then he asserts that since Syria is close to Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah in Lebanon that “regime change in Syria is prima facie in America’s interest, as well as the interests of Israel and our Arab friends in the region.”

Then he suggest a broader conflict might be a good idea: “Significantly, US intervention could not be confined to Syria and would inevitably entail confronting Iran and possibly Russia,” he writes. “This the Obama administration is unwilling to do, although it should.”

Does he remember what happened the last time he successfully led the charge for a US-led war in the Middle East?

It doesn’t seem Colin Powell ever knew that much, but at least he’s reticent.

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