The question that makes up the title of this blog article has been running around in my head ever since the BBC reported this morning that a Qatar funded report (a country who backs the Syrian rebels), and top U.K. lawyers (Desmond de Silva, former chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone; Geoffrey Nice, the former lead prosecutor in the trial of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic; and David Crane, who indicted Liberian president Charles Taylor) have generated and released a war crimes report on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and had conclusive evidence – photographs, film footage, and various other documents obtained by a defected Syrian military official that reveal the systematic torture and murder of over 11,000 Syrians. Recent U.N. reports also suggest over 100,000 Syrians have died as a result of the three year civil-war now coming to a close with President Assad winning.
This highly damning report of Assad’s regime has come to light at a very interesting time indeed. The information has been published right before the Syrian peace talks are about (or were set) to begin in Geneva, Switzerland. Accusations of war crimes against the Syrian President, along with the Syrian rebels not wanting to attend the talks at all, but being pressured to attend nevertheless, along with Iran being invited to attend the talks by the U.N.’s Ban Ki-Moon, then invited not to attend by the U.N., as a result of Secretary of State John Kerry’s outrage over the invite, reveal underlying political tensions and strategy that are not so easily understood. Clearly, Russia is also none to happy about the not so subtle slight against Iran. However, surprisingly, Iran doesn’t seem to be all that bothered by it. I wonder why that would be the case? The U.S. Secretary of State almost blows a gasket, but Iran appears to take the invite, and the un-invite in stride, and although supporting a transitional power change initially, announces just before the Syrian talks that they will not support a transitional coalition government to eventually replace Assad.
The largest and most moderate Syrian rebel group living in exile, despite U.S. pressure, has chosen to withdraw from the talks altogether since the talks are not beginning with the premise that President Assad will be replaced. But conversely, Iran’s invitation was revoked by the U.N. supposedly because they refused to support the original agreement that the purpose of the peace talks was to create a transitional government! At this point, is anyone else confused? All these competing and clearly contradictory political factors have served to almost derail the peace talks before they even start. All the countries in attendance are supposed to have agreed to back a Geneva 1 resolution that required all parties involved in the conflict to agree to a peace-talk plan that would result in the formation of a transitional government, but obviously Assad doesn’t support that conclusion, neither does Iran. But President Assad is still welcome to come to the peace talks, but Iran can’t, now does that make any sense? But why should it be all that surprising that these talks are not going so well before they even begin?
To the casual observer of this process (if there is such a thing), most people probably think these peace talks are about ending the Syrian civil war by getting the rebel opposition and Assad’s government to agree to a cease fire, then resolving the political unrest, and ethnic tensions via diplomacy. Iran would not agree to support a transitional government, so that is why they supposedly have been uninvited by the U.N., when the real reason for their absence from the peace talks is likely simply because the U.S. does not want them to attend. On the rebel opposition side, the rebels are adamant about wanting to see President Assad removed from power, and believe peace cannot occur in Syria until he is removed from office and indicted for war crimes. They would not want Iran to attend either, because they view them as being their enemy as well, and don’t want the Iranians to have any influence or a proverbial “seat at the table” in negotiations.
Not surprisingly, President Assad wants to remain in power, and wants to focus the talks on combating terrorism in his country, and quelling all rebel opposition of the type that initiated the conflict around the same time as Egypt’s Arab Spring. However, it is clear these talks are about far more than what is being discussed in public on the surface, what they really appear to be about is trying to resolve the multinational civil-war throughout the Middle East that has erupted between the Sunni’s and the Shiites during the U.S. led Iraq war. The Iraq war has become the spark that has set the Muslim world on fire. Thus, what the talks are really about is the fighting that has spilled into various other regions (most notably at the moment – Syria), fighting that threatens the stability of the entire Middle East. What they are almost assuredly also about is Iranian oil, and the U.S.’s desire to take an intricate part in the process of extracting it, refining it, and purchasing it for export over the potential objections of the Russians or the Chinese.
In other words, the Syrian peace talks have to do with far more than resolving the Syrian problem, they must eventually solve a Sunni-Shiite hatred that the U.S. has generated and exploited for it’s own objectives. President George W. Bush’s advisers knew what they were doing, and they knew that they could destabilize the entire region if they utilized ethnic differences to their advantage. The same tactic has been used for centuries in American domestic politics. So once they toppled Saddam Husein, they may have been naive, or they may have strategically chose not to build a true coalition government between the Shia-led government and the Sunni opposition to purposely destabilize the region, because they knew ethnic conflict would spark civil unrest. Either way, whether out of incompetence, or shrewd political manipulation, an insurgency of Sunni opposition forces escalated ethnic tensions in Iraq. The IEDs, and burning and bombing of Shia and Sunni mosques, and ethnic killings in neighborhoods all over Iraq caused tensions to ultimately escalate and boil-over across the nation in the wake of Iraq’s occupation by U.S. military forces, and these ethnic tensions then spread across the Iraqi boarder to other regions of the Middle East – particularly Syria.
Either way, I have the following questions I feel compelled to ask: 1) Why the change in foreign policy regarding Iran?; 2) Why the support for diplomacy over air-strikes in Syria?; 3) Does the U.S. really change its foreign policy drastically based on who is elected in any given presidential election?; or rather 4) Is this just the way in which a bi-polar nation is manipulated by it’s ruling elite to accomplish predetermined objectives?
Saudi Arabia supported the U.S. when we were after Saddam Hussein for not being a good neighbor to Kuwait’s royal family. However, after Saddam was toppled from power, and hanged for our viewing pleasure for the dual benefit of securing the Bush family legacy, and for creating an impetus for destabilizing the entire region, it did not take long for the Saudi monarchy to conclude U.S. foreign policy was no longer aligned with Sunni interests no matter how much oil they sold the U.S.. In other words, it would appear the U.S. has decided to find a new cheaper supplier of oil for their foreign oil purchases in the future.
The domestic oil extraction “fracking” process has given the U.S. some breathing room regarding the choke-hold Saudi Arabia has held over the U.S.’s oil policies, and has given the U.S. more economic and political leverage in general. So, as a result, this “game-changer,” has bought the U.S. time to create the means for a long-time enemy to become a major oil supplier in waiting once they clean-up their act radioactively, and thirty-three years of economic sanctions are finally lifted. In effect, if my calculations and political prediction powers are accurate, this drastic change in U.S. foreign policy is likely to provide Iran with a “get out of jail free” card regarding international economic sanctions, much to Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s chagrin, simply so U.S. oil companies and their wealthy share-holders can directly benefit again from a huge supply of oil that has been unobtainable for them ever since the Shah of Iran was toppled by the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution.
President Barack Obama’s support for diplomacy with Iran against the wishes of Saudi Arabia, Israel, and more recently, cash-strapped France, reveals a U.S. desire to rekindle it’s interest in an oil-rich Iran. Likewise, France, a country that is dealing with it’s economic woes by making big military arms deals with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations, made it public recently at the Iranian peace talks, what the Saudi’s had already realized, a major shift in American foreign policy is under way that will likely serve to jeopardize long-held alliances with Sunnis, Sunni-Muslim supporters, or those generally fearful of a oil-rich and economically empowered Iran gaining political and perhaps even military strength after international sanctions are lifted via direct U.S. involvement. The fact that France is up to it’s armpits in recession debt, and is making major arms deals with Sunni nations, should help to explain why France was so quick to try to throw a major “monkey-wrench” in recent U.S. foreign policy plans, despite France being an influential EU member. It also may even help to explain why the French President’s adulterous relationship has recently come to light, with potentially devastating consequences for his future political career, but I digress, or do I really?
It would appear the U.S., or at least the Obama administration, wants to avoid going to war in Syria, and despite wanting to keep Iran out of the peace talks, it also appears to want to do business with Iran in the long-run even if that ends-up upsetting Syrian rebels, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and even France. Which leads me yet another question: why does the U.S. support diplomacy with Iran in their nuclear peace talks, but gets outraged at the U.N. when they invite Iran to attend the Syrian peace talks? The most likely answer is that the U.S. is trying (with limited success) to compartmentalize the Syrian peace talks separate from the Iranian peace talks so as to perpetuate the misconception that they are not related. The ultimate objective, as alluded to above, so the U.S. can manipulate international politics, and be the nation that has the best deal for buying Iranian oil.
Ironically then, in the short run, this recent U.S. diplomatic slight against Iran (pressuring the U.N. to uninvite Iran to the Syrian peace talks) may appease Saudi Arabia, and Israel superficially, but even though it could upset Russia, and perhaps to a lesser extent a back-peddling U.N., I doubt it will do either. It is unlikely to really appease Saudi Arabia or Israel, nor is it really likely to upset Russia or the U.N. either. We live in an era when Russia is relying on U.S. warships for security in the Black Sea for the Winter Olympics this year, and they own part of our national debt, even though they won’t release Edward Snowden to the U.S. (unless the Olympics security deal covertly involved his extradition, and he and we just don’t know it yet)! It is a brave new world indeed.
Likewise, the U.N., and to a lesser extent, Iran look like they now take their orders from the U.S. anyways. For whenever John Kerry sees a strategic reason for Iran to offend the U.N. at the last possible political second, for the benefit of being un-invited to peace-talks that will not serve the U.S.’s interests, you can see some unexpected politics is being played behind the scenes. If this most recent diplomatic strategy mishap between the U.N.’s Ban Ki-Moon and U.S.’s John Kerry reveals anything, it is that it would appear the U.N.’s “good-will” towards all nations, and diplomatic desires to be all-inclusive – i.e. to invite all the potential political players involved in the Syrian civil war – must ultimately take a back-seat to U.S. foreign policy objectives. This conclusion has dire consequences for the world, if the U.N. is actually being led by the U.S. covertly.
With that massive statement uttered, let me change the subject, and assert that another possible reason why the U.S. has made a drastic shift in foreign policy in the Middle East, is that it appears Saudi Arabia’s monarchy may have been backing terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda for far longer than what the U.S. originally believed. Clearly they have been untrustworthy since the OPEC oil embargo of the late 1970s, and many other terrorist activities have apparently been funded by U.S. oil purchases.
Likewise, Israel has shown a willingness to act in an offensive and provocative way, and use their military might given to them by the U.S. for defensive purposes to protect themselves against Muslim nations in the region who would like to see them leave, and to bring the fight to Sunni or Shia-led nations, but perhaps often without tacit U.S. approval. An uncontrollable Israel may have possibly irked some in Washington D.C., but now it would appear the U.S. is willing to risk upsetting and destabilizing long-held alliances with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and other Sunni-led nations, because the U.S. is beginning to recognize that some of their long-held alliances are perhaps not as important as they once were. Some nations see an emboldened Iran backed in the nuclear peace talks by the U.S. as a major threat to political stability in the region. They see the U.S.’s decision to use diplomacy rather than drone-strikes or air-strikes against Assad as a major policy shift away from the decisive military action they have grown accustomed to, and were hoping to rely on in ousting Syria’s President once the proverbial “red-line” had been crossed.
John Kerry, likely by accident, has stumbled his way into a chemical-weapons removal program that has perpetuated Assad’s regime, has given Assad the time to consolidate his power, and it has generated a U.S. foreign policy that appears “wishy-washy.” Furthermore, it may only serve to embolden Assad, and the goals of other Shia Muslims and interests throughout the region. I’m sure Kerry now regrets his off-the-cuff remarks related to chemical weapons removal for Assad’s regime, but once that genie was let out of the bag, it wasn’t easily put back in. Likewise, now that Mr. Moon’s invitation has been extended and revoked, at least part of the U.S.’s “card hand” has been revealed to the other political “poker players” involved.
The turmoil in Syria does reveal a sticky situation, and a high wire act of immense risk for the U.S., because they now appear to have made strange bed-fellows in the Syrian conflict. They are sending “half-hearted” support to the Syrian rebels, perhaps largely because some are in fact Al Qaeda members, while at the same time they are trying to topple the Assad regime in public with diplomacy (and perhaps covertly with intelligence and by assisting in the leaking of war atrocity reports). While at the same time, they are trying to avoid giving Russia or Iran the impression that they are willing to use force to topple his regime, since they don’t wish to provoke Russia, or undermine their chances to obtain lucrative Iranian oil contracts in the future. So even though the U.N. and the U.S. may express shock over the recent revelations of documented Syrian war crimes, and the U.S. may even be covertly involved in them coming to light, we are still left to wonder about many, many loose ends.
First, did Qatar and the U.K. actually receive help from the U.S.’s huge intelligence community in creating the “war crimes” evidence against Assad? Secondly, were chemical weapons, barrel bombs, and war atrocities systematically implemented by an Assad regime determined to combat terrorism and maintain power and control over a divided nation? Or, can it actually be possible that his denials of war atrocities are actually genuine, and they have been orchestrated by the rebels? In other words, is it possible many of these horrific atrocities have been orchestrated by militant rebel forces (i.e. Al Qaeda terrorists) determined to over-throw the Assad regime by any means necessary? There is no clear way of knowing for sure, unless we ourselves are there on the battle-field that is Syria today. Are the Assad Syrians and the Iranians fighting Al Qaeda militants, and if so, does that explain the U.S.’s hesitancy to arm the rebels or topple Assad via air-strikes? Or, are Sunni-led militant rebel groups ruthless enough and manipulative enough to capture chemical weapons from Syrian government forces, and use them against innocents? Could they be the ones who captured, tortured, and killed the civilians caught in the cross-fire, caught on tape by a Syrian military official. Is this timely report authentic, or a rouse to dupe the international media into further duping all those who might initially want to support President Assad into believing he has committed war atrocities that they themselves (the Al Qaeda militants) actually committed! Or, is President Assad actually the war criminal by all accounts he appears to be? Who are the real war criminals here? The Assad regime backed by the Iranians, or the militant Syrian rebels backed by Al Qaeda terrorists, or both? And why is the timing of these revelations so perfect each time – i.e. chemical weapons being dropped while the U.N. is in Syria, war atrocities being discovered on the eve of peace talks?
Either way, I think it is very telling that Secretary of State John Kerry got so upset about Ban Ki-Moons U.N. invitation to Iran to attend the Syrian peace talks, because if Iran were to get mired in the Syrian peace talks, and it is proven that they are in fact providing Syria’s President and his military with assistance in committing war crime atrocities, it will likely be much more difficult for international economic sanctions against them to be lifted in the near future. This could explain why the U.S. would like to distance Iran from the Syrian peace-talks in general. If they are there, they can be blamed for war atrocities as well. If they are not present, talks can be directed away from blaming Shia-led nations not in attendance.
John Kerry’s open hostility towards the U.N.’s overture, sends the Syrian rebels (whether true or false) the message that the U.S. really does support them – and are not supportive of Iran’s political objectives in the region – even if the U.S. has exacerbated the suffering of so many Syrians by collecting chemical weapons and sitting on their hands, and by allowing President Assad to do his worse against the Syrian people while he still can, rather than targeting his regime with smart-bombs. So the move simultaneously protects Iran, while at the same time it creates the impression that the U.S. would like to see the Syrian rebels objectives met. For according to the rebel opposition, they (the rebels) were particularly infuriated at Ban’s U.N. invitation to Iran to attend the Syrian peace talks, because they say Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force are helping pro-Assad Syrian forces in Aleppo, and training Mr. Assad’s militias. Thus, if this claim has merit, it would appear it will not be easy for the U.S. to just skirt over Iran’s involvement in Assad’s apparent war-crimes if they were in attendance at the peace-talks.
Clearly President Assad is not a nice guy, and those that back him (like Iran or Russia) aren’t either. On the other hand, Al Qaeda and other militant Sunni groups associated with the Rebels in Syria aren’t necessarily very nice guys either, and basically, now that the most moderate of the Syrian rebels are sitting this one out, those are the two groups that the U.S. is trying to get to sit down and negotiate a peace deal (with Iran specifically not invited). Likewise, with President Assad now being outed on the international stage as a President who has orchestrated war-crimes against his own people, it would appear the peace talks have been upstaged by war-crime atrocity revelations to ensure peace-talk discussions center on a transitional government, rather than focusing on combating terrorism – President Assad’s stated goal for attending. So despite Russia’s objections, the Assad regime’s days may yet be numbered.
So, to answer the question I posed in the tile of this article; “How can the U.S. support Syrian peace talks when Syria’s President is a war criminal?, I would have to say they support the talks, but don’t support Assad. In fact, it would appear the U.S. is attempting to support peace talks, while simultaneously trying to topple Assad from power perhaps more covertly with a form of character assassination via providing him with enough rope to hang himself, rather than by dropping bombs and getting Russia all “up-in-arms” about the issue. Why? So perhaps Russia and Iran won’t realize we are in fact waging a far different type of war against Assad, and his Iranian-trained forces.
The U.S. has taken a less robust military strategy against President Assad, because the U.S. views him currently as a necessary evil means to an important political and economic end. Even if he is a war criminal, removing him from power via the U.N. and international war-crimes tribunals, rather than via U.S. bombs, helps the U.S. to avoid more open hostilities and diplomatic conflicts with Russia and/or Iran. This strategy may help to ensure we will get first dibs on the lucrative Iranian oil contracts to come, if (or rather, when) economic sanctions are lifted against them in the Iranian nuclear peace talks. However, all this falls apart if Saudi Arabia, Israel, France, Russia, or China recognize their getting screwed, and don’t go along with the plan.
For surely, even if the Syrian peace talks go nowhere fast, and talks take years and years to create any type of positive enduring result that finally ends the bloodshed, they will give the global community the impression that the U.S. is trying to use diplomacy over force. This impression will also serve to give the American people (and perhaps even more moderate Syrian rebels) the impression that the U.S. is trying to take the moral high-ground on the issue, even if they are getting their hands very bloody by proxy in the process.
Thus, in the final analysis, it would appear covert behind the scenes political tactics are becoming an effective means for undermining political influences adverse to U.S. foreign policy all over the region (if not the world). Likewise, revelations of these types of “chess-game” tactics help to reveal a U.S. foreign policy that is far more cold, calculating, and perhaps devious than most might have ever imagined. If President Assad was wise, he would not leave Syria, because in Switzerland, he is liable to find a one-way ticket to an international war-crimes tribunal waiting to bring him up on charges. However, in my heart of hearts, I would rather see the U.S. make that a political reality covertly behind-the-scenes, than see America’s elected representatives openly negotiate with a war criminal in public.