Above Photo: From Activistpost.com
Despite the bulk of the attempted destruction of Syria having taken place during the Obama administration, the fact is that the agenda began marching years before Obama took office and it is continuing to do so today. Ample evidence has been provided demonstrating that a plan to destroy the Syrian government goes back at least to the Bush Jr. administration and the desire to do so goes even further back than that.
One such piece of evidence is a secret State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks entitled “Influencing the SARG In The End Of 2006” which was distributed from the US embassy in Damascus to requisite officials in the Department of Treasury, National Security Council, White House, Secretary of State, League of Arab States, US Mission To European Union in Brussels, United Nations (NY), US Central Command, and Tel Aviv.
The entire cable was a discussion of a number of available strategies to bring about regime change in Syria and was written during 2006 under the Bush administration.
The cable takes a number of potentially exploitable conditions and expounds upon the realities of the situation, the vulnerabilities of the Syrian government and the “possible action” that can be taken to capitalize on the perceived weaknesses.
The cable begins by stating,
The SARG ends 2006 in a much stronger position domestically and internationally than it did 2005. While there may be additional bilateral or multilateral pressure that can impact Syria, the regime is based on a small clique that is largely immune to such pressure. However, Bashar Asad’s growing self-confidence )- and reliance on this small clique — could lead him to make mistakes and ill-judged policy decisions through trademark emotional reactions to challenges, providing us with new opportunities. For example, Bashar’s reaction to the prospect of Hariri tribunal and to publicity for Khaddam and the National Salvation Front borders on the irrational. Additionally, Bashar’s reported preoccupation with his image and how he is perceived internationally is a potential liability in his decision making process. We believe Bashar’s weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as a the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of these vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising. These proposals will need to be fleshed out and converted into real actions and we need to be ready to move quickly to take advantage of such opportunities. Many of our suggestions underline using Public Diplomacy and more indirect means to send messages that influence the inner circle.
The Hariri Scandal
One “vulnerability” considered potentially useful by the State Department was the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the resulting scandal and tribunal proceedings. The document states,
The Hariri investigation ) and the prospect of a Lebanon Tribunal — has provoked powerful SARG reactions, primarily because of the embarrassment the investigation causes. Rationally, the regime should calculate that it can deal with any summons of Syrian officials by refusing to turn any suspects over, or, in extreme cases by engineering “suicides.8 But it seems the real issue for Bashar is that Syria,s dignity and its international reputation are put in question. Fiercely-held sentiments that Syria should continue to exercise dominant control in Lebanon play into these sensitivities. We should seek to exploit this raw nerve, without waiting for formation of the tribunal.
The plan was then to take advantage of the “embarrassment” and pressures of the scandal by:
Publicly highlighting the consequences of the ongoing investigation a la Mehlis causes Bashar personal angst and may lead him to act irrationally. The regime has deep-seated fears about the international scrutiny that a tribunal — or Brammertz accusations even against lower-echelon figures — would prompt. The Mehlis accusations of October 2005 caused the most serious strains in Bashar’s inner circle. While the family got back together, these splits may lie just below the surface.
The Iranian Alliance
The State Department cable then discussed the probability of being able to exploit Syria’s closer cooperation with Iran by presenting it as inherently anti-Sunni, thus causing friction between Syria and its Sunni allies and neighbors as well as causing friction between Syrian society misinterpreted by the West as being as sectarian as other countries in the Middle East. It states,
Bashar is walking a fine line in his increasingly strong relations with Iran, seeking necessary support while not completely alienating Syria,s moderate Sunni Arab neighbors by being perceived as aiding Persian and fundamentalist Shia interests. Bashar’s decision to not attend the Talabani ) Ahmadinejad summit in Tehran following FM Moallem,s trip to Iraq can be seen as a manifestation of Bashar’s sensitivity to the Arab optic on his Iranian alliance.
Thus, the document explicitly states that it would be possible to “play on Sunni fears of Iranian influence.” It says,
There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis. Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business. Both the local Egyptian and Saudi missions here, (as well as prominent Syrian Sunni religious leaders), are giving increasing attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue.
Assad’s Inner Circle
Another discussion centered around the possibility of using corruption and inter-familial squabbles as well as power grabs by members of Assad’s family and the inner circle of the Syrian government’s power structure in order to foster distrust and division within the government. The cable discussed using targeted sanctions aimed at specific individuals to exacerbate these tensions. It reads,
At the end of the day, the regime is dominated by the Asad family and to a lesser degree by Bashar Asad’s maternal family, the Makhlufs, with many family members believe to be increasingly corrupt. The family, and hangers on, as well as the larger Alawite sect, are not immune to feuds and anti-regime conspiracies, as was evident last year when intimates of various regime pillars (including the Makhloufs) approached us about post-Bashar possibilities. Corruption is a great divider and Bashar’s inner circle is subject to the usual feuds and squabbles related to graft and corruption. For example, it is generally known that Maher Asad is particularly corrupt and incorrigible. He has no scruples in his feuds with family members or others. There is also tremendous fear in the Alawite community about retribution if the Sunni majority ever regains power.
. . . .
Targeted sanctions against regime members and their intimates are generally welcomed by most elements of Syrian society. But the way designations are applied must exploit fissures and render the inner circle weaker rather than drive its members closer together. The designation of Shawkat caused him some personal irritation and was the subject of considerable discussion in the business community here. While the public reaction to corruption tends to be muted, continued reminders of corruption in the inner circle have resonance. We should look for ways to remind the public of our previous designations.
Abdul Halim Khaddam, even as far back as 2006, was an integral part of attempts to destabilize Syria. The leverage with Khaddam was that he was a high-profile “old guard” defector that began cooperating with the West in its criticism and attempted destabilization of the Syrian government, even playing an important role in the creation of the “National Salvation Front” and acting as a potential “government in exile” and replacement for Bashar al-Assad. In regards to Khaddam, the document states,
Khaddam knows where the regime skeletons are hidden, which provokes enormous irritation from Bashar, vastly disproportionate to any support Khaddam has within Syria. Bashar Asad personally, and his regime in general, follow every news item involving Khaddam with tremendous emotional interest. The regime reacts with self-defeating anger whenever another Arab country hosts Khaddam or allows him to make a public statement through any of its media outlets.
. . . . . .
We should continue to encourage the Saudis and others to allow Khaddam access to their media outlets, providing him with venues for airing the SARG,s dirty laundry. We should anticipate an overreaction by the regime that will add to its isolation and alienation from its Arab neighbors.
Divide And Conquer – Governmental Departments
The document points out that a newly crowned leader of Syria was immediately faced with the old guard, new guard, and a guard loyal only to money and power. Bashar al-Assad was well aware of this fact – that some elements in the government were not loyal to him or even to Syria – and thus may have been hyper-aware of the possibility of a coup from both internal and external factors. As a result, the document states the potential to cause distrust and rifts between personalities in the government, possibly even setting events in motion that would lead to a coup. At the very least, the US was looking to create the perception and suspicion of a coup taking place so as to facilitate distrust and division within the ranks of the Syrian government. The document says,
Bashar constantly guards against challenges from those with ties inside the military and security services. He is also nervous about any loyalties senior officers (or former senior officers) feel toward disaffected former regime elements like Rifat Asad and Khaddam. The inner circle focuses continuously on who gets what piece of the corruption action. Some moves by Bashar in narrowing the circle of those who benefit from high-level graft has increased those with ties to the security services who have axes to grind. –
. . . . .
The regime is intensely sensitive to rumors about coup-plotting and restlessness in the security services and military. Regional allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be encouraged to meet with figures like Khaddam and Rif, at Asad as a way of sending such signals, with appropriate leaking of the meetings afterwards. This again touches on this insular regime’s paranoia and increases the possibility of a self-defeating over-reaction.
Propaganda Against Economic Reforms
When Assad took power, he was immediately seen as a reformer not just in the social and political sector, but also the economic sector. While some of Assad’s attempts at reforms were not productive, others were. However, the United States intelligence community desperately wanted to paint Assad’s reform attempts as, on one hand, failures, while, on the other hand, nothing more than a smokescreen for more corruption. The idea was to pressure Assad in the run-up to the 2007 presidential election and sow seeds of disappointment in the minds of the Syrian people. The document reads:
Bashar keeps unveiling a steady stream of initiatives on economic reform and it is certainly possible he believes this issue is his legacy to Syria. While limited and ineffectual, these steps have brought back Syrian expats to invest and have created at least the illusion of increasing openness. Finding ways to publicly call into question Bashar,s reform efforts )- pointing, for example to the use of reform to disguise cronyism — would embarrass Bashar and undercut these efforts to shore up his legitimacy. Revealing Asad family/inner circle corruption would have a similar effect.
. . . . . .
Highlighting failures of reform, especially in the run-up to the 2007 Presidential elections, is a move that Bashar would find highly embarrassing and de-legitimizing. Comparing and contrasting puny Syrian reform efforts with the rest of the Middle East would also embarrass and irritate Bashar.
The document also describes how economic stagnation should be used to sow seeds of discontent with the Syrian population. The document states,
Perpetually under-performing, the Syrian economy creates jobs for less than 50 percent of the country,s university graduates. Oil accounts for 70 percent of exports and 30 percent of government revenue, but production is in steady decline. By 2010 Syria is expected to become a net importer of oil. Few experts believe the SARG is capable of managing successfully the expected economic dislocations.
. . . . .
Syria has enjoyed a considerable up-tick in foreign direct investment (FDI) in the last two years that appears to be picking up steam. The most important new FDI is undoubtedly from the Gulf.
Noticeably, while pointing out the horrible unemployment rate of the Syrian economy, the document fails to mention the crippling sanctions put in place against Syria by the United States in 2004which plunged Syria’s economy into despair.
The United States has a well-documented history of using Kurdish fanaticism as a method of destabilization and proxy war. Interestingly enough, the Kurds constantly reveal themselves to be easy prey for the United States, resembling Charlie Brown always giving in to the temptation to kick the football that is inevitably going to yanked away from them. Still, the Kurds are easily manipulated by the United States, used as destabilization actors and proxy soldiers such as they are being used today in Northern Syria and Western Iraq. In regards to the Kurds, the document states,
The most organized and daring political opposition and civil society groups are among the ethnic minority Kurds, concentrated in Syria,s northeast, as well as in communities in Damascus and Aleppo. This group has been willing to protest violently in its home territory when others would dare not. There are few threats that loom larger in Bashar,s mind than unrest with the Kurds. In what is a rare occurrence, our DATT was convoked by Syrian Military Intelligence in May of 2006 to protest what the Syrians believed were US efforts to provide military training and equipment to the Kurds in Syria.
. . . . .
Highlighting Kurdish complaints in public statements, including publicizing human rights abuses will exacerbate regime’s concerns about the Kurdish population. Focus on economic hardship in Kurdish areas and the SARG’s long-standing refusal to offer citizenship to some 200,000 stateless Kurds. This issue would need to be handled carefully, since giving the wrong kind of prominence to Kurdish issues in Syria could be a liability for our efforts at uniting the opposition, given Syrian (mostly Arab) civil society’s skepticism of Kurdish objectives.