Syria: The Most Sought After Chess Piece


JESSICA DESVARIEUX: Welcome to The Real News
Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. U.S. authorities have indicated that they
are sticking to their timetable for a possible attack on Syria in response to the alleged
use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. However, the AP is reporting on
Thursday morning from a U.S. intelligence official that, quote, the intelligence linking
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or his inner circle to an alleged criminal chemical attack
is no slam dunk. Meanwhile, Russia, which along with China
has opposed the calls for the use of military force in Syria, is convening a meeting of
the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to discuss the possible strike. Russia
has also reportedly dispatched two warships to the region. Britain, a close U.S. ally,
will hold a debate this weekend prior to deciding whether or not to take part in an attack.
The Obama administration has not indicated whether or not it will seek congressional
approval prior to launching a strike. Now joining us to discuss all this is Larry
Wilkerson. Larry was the former chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
He’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William & Mary, and he’s
a regular contributor to The Real News. Thanks for being with us, Larry. LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Good be with you, Jessica. DESVARIEUX: So, Larry, it sounds like there’s
no smoking gun here. UN inspectors, they’re still in Syria currently. But the Obama administration
seems to be pushing forward, saying that they are blaming Assad for this chemical attack.
Why would the Obama administration come out with such aggressive language towards Assad
and this strike if there’s no smoking gun? What wouldn’t they just wait for the UN inspectors
to have hard evidence before proceeding? WILKERSON: That’s an excellent question. And
if I hadn’t lived through this sort of operation with three other presidents, I’d have difficulty
answering that question. As it is, I would say that probably they got
too far forward in the foxhole, too aggressive. The president probably acted on an NSA intercept
or something like that and made some conclusions he probably shouldn’t have made. And now they’re
trying to walk it back a little bit. I just heard that the inspectors have been
asked through Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, to not go to the area because we claim the
area is contaminated by conventional munitions that Assad has continued to use. That’s preposterous,
because if it was a neurotoxic agent, we wouldn’t necessarily have to find things on the ground.
It would be nice if we did, but what we’re going to do is take blood samples and so forth
of the alleged victims and see if they have indeed been affected by some sort of chemical
agent, in this case VX or sarin or a facsimile thereof. So this really looks bad right now. It looks
a lot like what I went through in 2003 in preparing Colin Powell for his now infamous
presentation at the United Nations in February of that year, where we said Saddam had an
active nuclear program, had vast stocks of chemical and biological weapons, had major
contacts with al-Qaeda and an active nuclear program, all of which we now know was patently
false. DESVARIEUX: Okay. And, Larry, for our viewers,
can you explain what is the strategic importance of Syria? And specifically, can you talk about
Hezbollah and Iran? And what role do they plan a small in this whole chess game? WILKERSON: When you talk about Hezbollah and
Iran and Russia, you have to talk about them in the same breath with Bashar al-Assad. And here’s another counterintuitive ingredient
in this. If they’re on his side and he’s holding his own, if not winning, in this really tragic
civil war, then why would he use chemical weapons and invite international intervention?
This is very counterintuitive. I’m not saying that dictators don’t do stupid things, and
Assad could be one of those who does stupid things, but it is just not reasonable for
him to have done this, whereas if you do like the detectives do, follow the money, where
is the motivation, the motivation is in the opposition or in portions of the opposition.
The motivation is elsewhere than Assad to use chemical weapons and get the international
community to intervene. But you just brought up an important point.
This is not just a serious civil war. This is Saudi Arabia funding like mad those people
fighting against Assad. This is Iraq fighting on both sides, with Maliki on one side and
people like Muqtada al-Sadr on the other side. This is Turkey furiously fighting against
Syria, not so much on the on the ground, as Iran is, in support of Assad. But this is
a whole group of people. This is Russia furnishing Assad with weapons. This is not an isolated civil war, which it
is–it makes it very dangerous for the United States to think it’s just taking the side
of the opposition if it should choose to intervene militarily. This is a very dangerous move
by the president. Moreover, if he’s just trying to send a signal, if he’s just trying to say
to Assad, don’t use chemicals again and just going to fire some cruise missiles, maybe
drop some precision munitions, Assad would be very smart if he just said, so what, and
went right on prosecuting his war. Well, then what does the president do? In for a pound,
in for a ton. And then we’ve got a catastrophe on our hands. DESVARIEUX: Yeah. And we also have a lot of
different interests pulling the president in different directions. Let’s talk about
Washington specifically and McCain, who has come out calling for the president to intervene
directly. And I want to get a sense from you: why would he do something like this? Who does
he represent? What sort of interests does he represent? Because McCain always comes
out saying that we need to listen to our generals. But if we listen to our generals in this case–let’s
take a look at a quote from General Dempsey. He actually says that we need to take a step
back when it comes to Syria. Quote, he says, Syria today is not about choosing between
two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides. It is my belief that the side
we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their
favor. Today they are not. What do you make of all this, Larry? WILKERSON: Well, General Dempsey’s comment
is wise, sagacious, and smart. I wouldn’t want to touch this tar baby with my left hand
and then get my right hand, my head, my feet, and everything else ensnarled in it, which
is probably what we’re going to do. Let’s back up for a moment. First of all,
Syria is not in the national interest of the United States of America. That’s a major point
to be made. It is in the humanitarian interest of the
United States that the killings stop. And the best way to do that is through diplomacy,
hard talks, an embargo on arms that’s as enforced as our current sanctions regime against Iran
is, for example, or our embargo against Cuba is, and forcing people to sit down and talk,
including the Iranians, the Syrians, the Saudis, the Turks, the Russians, the Chinese, all
the people that have a dog in this fight. They ought to all sit down and talk. That’s
the only way we’re going to end this is with a political solution. If it means Assad stays
in power for a little bit longer and an interim government comes in to share power with them,
so what? As long as it stops the killing. A few cruise missiles aimed at a red line
the president ineptly laid down with regard to chemical weapons is not going to do anything
except exacerbate and add and increase in violence. So this doesn’t make any sense. General Dempsey
is absolutely right that it’s not and in the interests of the United States to be ensnared
in this civil war and ultimately probably a much wider regional conflict. DESVARIEUX: So, Larry, it sounds like you’re
advocating for a political solution. And in your opinion, is this the most constructive
foreign policy for the Syrian people themselves? WILKERSON: Absolutely. I do not see any way,
as General Dempsey pointed out, any way that you get anything other than what, for example–and
we just walked right over this–what we have in Libya today, which is a haven for al-Qaeda,
which has transferred al-Qaeda into the northern part of Mali and caused that state to become
unstable, caused us to have to place a drone outfit in that region, for example, widening
the so-called war on terror, not narrowing it, not eliminating it, keeping us in a constant
state of warfare. So Libya is no example to use. For that matter, people are throwing Kosovo
out. Kosovo is no example to use. Kosovo’s GDP right now is 90 percent criminality–trafficking
in humans, in drugs, in arms, much the same way Albania, its sister state over there,
is. So these great examples of humanitarian intervention over the last few years are not
very positive examples. And Syria, I think, would trump them tenfold.
It’d be much worse. We don’t know who’s going to control Syria. And we’re not about to put
boots on the ground and occupy that place for ten or 12 years to ensure that whoever
controls it, to ensure that their interests are compatible with Israel’s and others’. We’ve got a collapsing Arab Spring right now.
I’d call it an Arab winter. We’ve got Egypt falling apart. We’ve got Lebanon being destabilized
by the refugees in it. We’ve got Jordan looking precarious. We’ve got Iraq going back to civil
war. This is not a time to widen this conflict and to add another state to the United States’
groups that it’s going to occupy and build democracy in. It’s preposterous to think that
we can do that. The best we can do is to talk, force others
to talk, put an arms embargo on the place so people like the Saudis quit flooding it
with weapons, and bring everybody to the table and sit down and make some kind of agreement
that also, by the way, advantageously, might lead to a better situation in Afghanistan,
a better situation in Iraq, a better situation with Iran and its nuclear program. We could
have all manner of things that we can talk about if we’ll just sit down and talk. The
problem is we seem to have forgotten how to do that. DESVARIEUX: Okay. Thanks so much for joining
us, Larry. WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Jessica. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on
The Real News Network.

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