22 March 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.

Notes
[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.

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