Syria could be Turkey’s Vietnam

 The recent polls have repeatedly shown that the Turkish public opinion is strongly opposed to any military intervention in Syria.

The curious part is that this opinion is present even within the ruling party, AKP, despite PM Recep Erdogan’s “forward policy” toward Syria.

The prominent Islamist daily Zaman, which is identified with the AKP’s ideological guru Fethullah Gulen (living in exile in the United States), has been lately featuring articles warning Erdogan from going overboard over the Syrian situation... Zaman’s exclusive interview today with former Turkish FM Yasar Yakis becomes highly significant.

Yakis is a highly respected former diplomat with deep experience in the Middle East affairs; in fact, he could be considered as one of Turkey’s best “Arabists”, having served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria.

Most important, he is an MP belonging to the AKP and he is considered close to President Abdullah Gul (who in a meaningful recent remark described the Syrian situation as a “civil war”)

Yakis’ expert opinion is that Syria could turn out to be Turkey’s “Vietnam”... He rubbishes the idea of a “safe zone” within Syria adjacent to the Turkish border because that region is Kurdish-dominated and Turkish troops will have to be stationed there right inside Syria for that zone to be kept “free”.

But, Yakis warns, Syrian Kurds will inflict a million cuts on the Turkish soldiers deployed there, who will increasingly find themselves trapped in a quagmire.

Yakis flags the danger of Syria’s fragmentation. Interestingly, he sees western intervention in Syria as unlikely.

A Mitt Romney administration in the US might begin to supply arms to the Syrian rebels, but not otherwise.

His warns against “proxy wars”; these wars will be fought on the basis of the respective interests of outside powers — that is, it is entirely up to Turkey to coolly weigh where its interests would lie even if it were to act in concert with the US.

 

Turkey should readjust its policies in Syria, says Yakış

Regarding Turkey's foreign policy in the Middle East and particularly in Syria, Yaşar Yakış, a former minister of foreign affairs and the president of the Center for Strategic Communication (STRATİM), told Today's Zaman that “Turkey should make an adjustment to its foreign policy route just like the captain of a ship would.”

 Yakış, who is also a retired ambassador and the country's longest-serving diplomat in the Middle East, added that "you cannot insist on a policy just because it was a part of your foreign policy in the past. Each new situation requires an adjustment in foreign policy because if the captain of a ship holds the steering wheel in a constant position, the ship changes its direction due to external factors.”

“Turkey took part on the right side of history [when] a dictator was confronted by his people, but while doing this our actions went beyond the actions of other actors and destroyed all bridges with the regime.” He claims that in Syria Turkey acted with the motivation of “not repeating the mistake it made in Libya, where it expressed misgivings regarding the relevance of the NATO operation, and he went on to say: “The Western countries encouraged us, but then put on the brakes because of a fear that fundamentalists could take over in Syria. Turkey was caught off guard and remained alone, in the offside position.”

Commenting on a statement that Syria might become Turkey's Vietnam if involved, Yakış gives a conditional response, saying, “If Turkey becomes involved, it might become a Vietnam for Turkey as some argue, but if it stays away, there is no such danger,” as he strongly recommends Turkey “act with caution,” while hoping that it would not become involved at all.

Referring to internal and external encouragement for Turkey to establish a “secure zone in Syria,” Yakış warns against the possible dangers of the deployment of Turkish soldiers in a Kurdish and Arab region. “Most of the secure zone will be in the Kurdish regions of Syria. Both because of the PKK's [Kurdistan Workers' Party] existence there and the fact that the current regime is hostile to Turkey, it would be wrong for Turkish soldiers to enter Syria. If they did, it is almost impossible to come back with success.” He also directs attention to the ambiguity around the term “secure zone” as he comments that even if established, soldiers from overseas should protect it. “In Sinai, for example, there are Guatemalan soldiers,” he said, supporting his argument.

 Yakış, who served in Syria as a diplomat between 1980 and 1984, argues that Assad acted like a chess player and gave Turkey a message when “he withdrew his forces from the Kurdish populated northeast portion of Syria -- called al-Hasakah -- and left it to Kurds.” According to Yakış, “It is safe to assume that this may have contributed to the increasing PKK terrorism in Turkey lately.”

In response to a question over whether Kurds had gained a historic opportunity in the region, Yakış says, “This ideal, an independent Kurdish state, exists in the mind of every Kurd.” The former foreign minister added that “Kurds are the most well-organized group in Syria who would take advantage of the situation there if thing get worse.”

If chaos lingers, there is the risk of the dissolution of Syria, and it is not only Kurds who would have their autonomy, says Yakış.

“When the Ottomans withdrew from Syria in 1921, France established six autonomous republics: Damascus, Aleppo, Jabal Druze, Jabal Lebanon, Alexandretta and Jabal Alawite. Now, a Kurdish region has been added to that. There is a base for such separation,” he said.

However, according to Yakış, international intervention is less than likely. “The international community may never be involved in Syria. The US might or might not become involved [after the election] because Americans do not want their sons to die there.” He further comments that “what matters in terms of the US election results is whether or not the country will start providing lethal weapons to Syria or not.”Yakış, stating that countries will decide on Syria based on their own interests, warned against “proxy wars” in which the Syrian people would continue to die while others clash for power. “If Turkey and the US are more involved, it would be a proxy war not only for them, but also France, Russia and Iran would be a part of such proxy wars,” he claims.

 Based on his long diplomatic vocation, Yakış points out that “foreign policy aims are moving targets,” calling on Turkey to adapt its policies to the changing conditions, especially in Syria. According to Yakış, “the biggest difference in Syria is that now the low intensity civil war seems to be leaning towards becoming chronic.”

 

The Turkish Today's Zaman

Compiled: M.A. Al-Ibrahim

 

 

 

"Rebel" Arms Flow Is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria

 WASHINGTON — Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian "rebel" groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats.

That conclusion, of which President Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives, casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.

“The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” said one American official familiar with the outlines of those findings, commenting on an operation that in American eyes has increasingly gone awry.

The United States is not sending arms directly to the Syrian opposition. Instead, it is providing intelligence and other support for shipments of secondhand light weapons like rifles and grenades into Syria, mainly orchestrated from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The reports indicate that the shipments organized from Qatar, in particular, are largely going to hard-line Islamists.

The assessment of the arms flows comes at a crucial time for Mr. Obama, in the closing weeks of the election campaign with two debates looming that will focus on his foreign policy record. But it also calls into question the Syria strategy laid out by Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger.

In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute last Monday, Mr. Romney said he would ensure that ''rebel'' groups “who share our values” would “obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.” That suggests he would approve the transfer of weapons like antiaircraft and antitank systems that are much more potent than any the United States has been willing to put into ''rebel'' hands so far, precisely because American officials cannot be certain who will ultimately be using them.

But Mr. Romney stopped short of saying that he would have the United States provide those arms directly, and his aides said he would instead rely on Arab allies to do it. That would leave him, like Mr. Obama, with little direct control over the distribution of the arms.

American officials have been trying to understand why hard-line Islamists have received the lion’s share of the arms shipped to the Syrian opposition through the shadowy pipeline with roots in Qatar, and, to a lesser degree, Saudi Arabia. The officials, voicing frustration, say there is no central clearinghouse for the shipments, and no effective way of vetting the groups that ultimately receive them.

Those problems were central concerns for the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, when he traveled secretly to Turkey last month, officials said.

The C.I.A. has not commented on Mr. Petraeus’s trip, made to a region he knows well from his days as the Army general in charge of Central Command, which is responsible for all American military operations in the Middle East. Officials of countries in the region say that Mr. Petraeus has been deeply involved in trying to steer the supply effort, though American officials dispute that assertion.

One Middle Eastern diplomat who has dealt extensively with the C.I.A. on the issue said that Mr. Petraeus’s goal was to oversee the process of “vetting, and then shaping, an opposition that the U.S. thinks it can work with.” According to American and Arab officials, the C.I.A. has sent officers to Turkey to help direct the aid, but the agency has been hampered by a lack of good intelligence about many rebel figures and factions.

Another Middle Eastern diplomat whose government has supported the Syrian ''rebels''- mercenary terrorists- said his country’s political leadership was discouraged by the lack of organization and the ineffectiveness of the disjointed Syrian opposition movement, and had raised its concerns with American officials. The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing delicate intelligence issues, said the various ''rebel'' groups had failed to assemble a clear military plan, lacked a coherent blueprint for governing Syria afterward if the Assad government fell, and quarreled too often among themselves, undercutting their military and political effectiveness.

“We haven’t seen anyone step up to take a leadership role for what happens after Assad,” the diplomat said. “There’s not much of anything that’s encouraging. We should have lowered our expectations.”

The disorganization is strengthening the hand of Islamic extremist groups in Syria, some with ties or affiliations with Al Qaeda, he said: “The longer this goes on, the more likely those groups will gain strength.”

American officials worry that, should Mr. Assad be ousted, Syria could erupt afterward into a new conflict over control of the country, in which the more hard-line Islamic groups would be the best armed. That depends on what happens in the arms bazaar that has been feeding the rebel groups. In several towns along the Turkey-Syria border, ''rebel'' commanders can be found seeking weapons and meeting with shadowy intermediaries, in a chaotic atmosphere where the true identities and affiliations of any party can be extremely difficult to ascertain.

Late last month in the Turkish border town of Antakya, at least two men who had recently been in Syria said they had seen Islamist rebels buying weapons in large quantities and then burying them in caches, to be used after the collapse of the Assad government. But it was impossible to verify these accounts, and other ''rebels'' derided the reports as wildly implausible.

Moreover, the ''rebels'' often adapt their language and appearance in ways they hope will appeal to those distributing weapons. For instance, many ''rebels'' have grown the long, scraggly beards favored by hard-line Salafi Muslims after hearing that Qatar was more inclined to give weapons to Islamists.

The Saudis and Qataris are themselves relying on intermediaries — some of them Lebanese — who have struggled to make sense of the complex affiliations of the ''rebels'' they deal with.

“We’re trying to improve the process,” said one Arab official involved in the effort to provide small arms to the ''rebels''. “It is a very complex situation in Syria, but we are learning.”

New York Times

By DAVID E. SANGER

Published: October 14, 2012

Robert F. Worth and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russia bridges Middle Eastern divides

A multi-billion dollar arms deal with Iraq, a summit meeting with Turkey, a fence-mending exercise with Saudi Arabia, a debut with Egypt's Sphinx-like Muslim Brothers - all this is slated to happen within the period of a turbulent month in the Middle  East. And all this is to happen when the United States' "return" to the region after the hurly-burly of the November election still seems a distant dream.

  Simply put, Russia is suddenly all over the Middle East.

 Moscow announced on Tuesday that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was in town and the two countries signed contracts worth "more than" US$4.2 billion in an arms deal that includes Iraq's purchase of 30 Mi-28 attack helicopters and 42

 Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile systems that can also be used to defend against attack jets.

 The joint Russian-Iraqi statement issued in Moscow revealed that discussions had been going on for the past five months over the arms deal and that further talks are under way for Iraq's purchase of MiG-29 jets, heavy-armored vehicles and other weaponry.

 A Kremlin announcement said Maliki is due to meet President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday and the focus of the discussions will be energy cooperation between Russia and Iraq.

 The stunning news will send US politicians into a tizzy... Reports say the phone kept ringing in Maliki's office in Baghdad as soon as it transpired that he was to travel to Moscow and something big could be in the works.

 Queries were coming in from the US State Department and the National Security Council as to what warranted such a trip at this point in time.

 The point is, Maliki still remains an enigma for Washington.

  He is no doubt a friend of the US, but he is also possibly more than a friend of Iran. Now, it seems, he is also fond of Russia - as Saddam Hussein used to be.

 Washington and Ankara have annoyed him repeatedly, taking him for granted, even writing off his political future, by consorting with the northern Kurdistan over lucrative oil deals, ignoring his protests that Iraq is a sovereign state and Baghdad is

  its capital and that the country has a constitution under which foreign countries should not have direct dealings with its regions bypassing the capital and the central government.

 Booting out Big Oil

 They not only ignored Maliki's protests but also chastised him for opposing the plan for "regime change" in Syria and for robustly supporting President Bashar al-Assad.

  Lately, they even started needling him on providing facilities for Iran to send supplies to the embattled regime in Syria. They then exceeded all proprieties and gave asylum to an Iraqi Sunni leader who is a fugitive under Iraqi law.

 They are currently endeavoring to bring together the disparate Sunni groups in Iraq in an ominous move that could lead to the balkanization of Iraq.

 Kurdistan is already a de facto independent region, thanks to US and Turkish interference.

  The game plan is to further weaken Iraq by sponsoring the creation of a Sunni entity in central Iraq similar to Kurdistan in the north, thus confining the Iraqi Shi'ites to a moth-eaten southern region.

 The Russia visit shows that Maliki is signaling he has had enough and won't take this affront to Iraqi sovereignty anymore.

  What is almost certain is that he will propose to Putin on Wednesday that Russian oil companies should return to Iraq in full battle cry with investment and technology and pick up the threads from where they left at the time of the US invasion in  2003.

 Maliki can be expected to boot out Big Oil and the Turkish companies from Iraq's oil sector.

  The implications are profound for the world oil market since Iraq's fabulous oil reserves match Saudi Arabia's.

 Clearly, Maliki intends to assert Iraqi sovereignty.

 Recently, he decided to terminate the Saddam-era agreement with Turkey, which allowed a Turkish military presence in northern Iraq to monitor the PKK separatists' activities.

 But Ankara balked, telling off Maliki... The Russian deal enables him now to rebuild the Iraqi armed forces and make the Turks think twice before they violate Iraqi air space or conclude that their military presence in northern Iraq could continue unchallenged.

 Does this mean Iraq is on a course of strategic defiance of the US? What needs to be factored in is that the US still remains Iraq's number one arms supplier.

 Iraq is expecting the delivery of 30 F-16 aircraft.

 A strategic defiance of the US is far from Maliki's thoughts - at least, for now.

 Maliki's message needs to be taken more as one of assertively stating that Iraq is an independent country.... Simply put, the US needs to come to terms with such happenings as Maliki's decision to revive the military ties with Russia.

  Conceivably, it could be Egypt's turn next to revive the ties with Russia... As a matter of fact, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to visit Cairo in early November in the first high-level exchange with Morsi's leadership.

 Indeed, much depends on the composure with which the US is able to adapt itself to the new realities in the Middle East.

  As things stand, the US has succeeded in selling $6 billion worth of arms to Iraq. It is indeed comfortably placed.

 The US State Department's initial reaction exuded confidence.

 Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the Russian deal doesn't signify any scaling down of Iraq's "mil-to-mil" ties with the US, which are "very broad and very deep".

 She revealed that discussions are going on for "some 467 foreign military sales cases" with Iraq worth more than $12 billion "if all of those go forward." Nuland said, "We're doing some $12.3 billion worth of military business with Iraq, so I don't think  one needs to be concerned about that relationship being anything but the strongest."

 New, untried alchemy

 But the touch of anxiety in Nuland's words cannot be glossed over, either.

  The plain truth is, the "Russians are coming" and this time they are capitalists and globalists; they also know the Iraqi market, while the Iraqi soldier is familiar with the Russian weapon.

  During the Saddam era, Iraq was a major buyer of Russian weaponry and Moscow is estimated to have lost contracts worth about $8 billion due to the US-sponsored "regime change" in Baghdad in 2003.

 Conceivably, Russia will do its utmost to claw its way back to the top spot in the Iraqi market and to make up for lost time.

  But then, arms deals invariably have political and strategic content as well.

  In the near term, the "unknown unknown" is going to be whether Maliki might choose to share the Iraqi capabilities with his close Iranian and Syrian allies.

 Significantly, high-level Syrian and Iranian delegations have also visited Moscow in recent months.

  Eyebrows will be raised that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is scheduling a visit to Baghdad shortly.

 In fact, even as the Russian-Iraqi arms deal was signed in Moscow, the commander of the navy of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrived on a visit to Iraq, signifying the close ties between Baghdad and Tehran.

  No doubt, Washington will remain on its toes on this front.

 Equally, Russian experts have written in the past about the emergence of a new "bloc" in the heart of the Middle East comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon with which Moscow can hope to have special ties.

 However, the incipient signs as of now are that Moscow's regional diplomacy in the Middle East is shifting gear, determined to bridge the regional divide that the Syrian crisis has brought about.

 Of course, the enterprise seems awesome in its sheer audacity... But then, Putin is scheduled to travel to Turkey next week; Lavrov hopes to travel to Riyadh in early November to attend the second session of Russia's Strategic Dialogue with the

 Gulf Cooperation Council states (which was once abruptly postponed by the Saudi regime as a snub to Moscow for its dogged support for the Assad regime in Syria); Lavrov will also make a "synchronized visit" to Cairo for meeting with the new

 Egyptian leadership and Arab League officials.

 Disclosing Lavrov's scheduled diplomatic missions, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov added, "We [Russia] are interested in the dialogue and open partnership discussion with our Arab colleagues from the Gulf, which, in particular

  Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others, play a rather active and not one-meaning role in Syrian affairs... We always favor discussion of these issues, even disagreements, at the negotiating table, especially since we have the Strategic Dialogue mechanism."

 Without doubt, Russian alchemists are experimenting with new, untried formulations that may help heal the Syrian wounds... But, as Bogdanov sought to explain, these formulations are also broad spectrum medications that will help induce the  overall metabolism of Russia's regional ties with recaltricant partners who are upset for the present over Syria.

 Ideally, Moscow would like to see that healing process is embedded within an overall enhancement of mutually beneficial economic ties.

 Russia's ties with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, for instance, were going strong during the phase of the pre-crisis period in Syria.

 While the ties with Turkey lately have somewhat stagnated, Russian-Saudi ties have run into serious difficulty.

  Evidently, Moscow is keen to restore the status quo ante.

 The interesting part is the Russian diplomacy's assessment that the present juncture provides a window of opportunity to make overtures to Ankara and Riyadh, no matter the incessant blood-letting in Syria.

 The backdrop to which this is happening is significant... In Moscow's assessment, evidently, there could be hopeful signs for a renewed approach to seeking a political solution to the Syrian crisis even though the skies look heavily overcast... There  may be merit in making such a shrewd assessment.

 As things stand, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are facing an acute predicament over the Syrian situation... Neither thought that the Syrian regime would have such a social base and political will to hang on; both are frustrated that any "regime change" in  Syria is going to be a long haul fraught with uncertain consequences not only for the Syrian nation but also for the region as a whole and even for themselves.

 Again, while there is no let-up in the dogged opposition to outside intervention in Syria, which Moscow and Beijing have amply displayed, a UN Security Council mandate for intervention is to be ruled out.

  Without a UN mandate, on the other hand, a Western intervention is unlikely, and in any case, the US remains disinterested while the European attitudes will be guided by their priorities over their economies, which, according to the latest

 International Monetary Fund estimation, are sliding into a prolonged recession from which a near-term recovery seems highly improbable.

 Sultan with a Nobel

 In short, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are holding a can of worms containing the Syrian rebel elements that are not only disparate but also could prove troublesome in future.

 As for Turkey, with or without a UN mandate, the popular opinion is overwhelmingly against an intervention in Syria.

 The Turkish people remain far from convinced that their vital national interests are at stake in Syria.

  Besides, the Turkish economy is also slowing, and a deep recession in Europe can play havoc with Turkey's economic fortunes.

 The ruling AKP's trump card so far has been that it steered Turkey to a period of unprecedented economic prosperity.

 Increasingly, therefore, all this proactivism on Syria looks more like the hare-brained idea of the academic-turned Foreign Minister Ahmet Davitoglu and Prime Minister Recep Erdogan than a well-thought out foreign policy initiative.

 But even here, Erdogan's political priorities are going to change as he prepares for his bid to become the executive president of Turkey under a new constitution in 2014.

 A Syrian quagmire can threaten his political ambitions, and already he senses rivalry from the incumbent President Abdullah Gul, whose popular ratings are manifestly far better than his own.

 In sum, Erdogan wants regime change in Syria and he is still pushing for it, but he wants it now... He can't wait indefinitely, since that will upset his own political calendar... He is upset, on the other hand, that US President Barack Obama is not a man in a hurry and the Europeans are distracted by ailments.

 All factors taken into consideration, therefore, it should come as no surprise that Putin has made a visit to Turkey such an urgent priority - although Erdogan visited Russia hardly two months ago.

 Putin has excellent personal equations with Erdogan... They were instrumental in taking Russian-Turkish relationship to such qualitatively new level in recent years.

 Putin is a very focused statesman... He wants to revive the verve of the Russian-Turkish tango... In the process, the contract for building a $25 billion nuclear power plant in Turkey could be advanced to the implementation stage, and Russia may

also secure contracts to sell weaponry to Turkey.

 In the Russian assessment, Erdogan's underlying ideology in terms of pursuing an independent foreign policy needs to be encouraged, despite the recent deviations such as the decision to deploy the US missile defence system on Turkish soil.

 Putin's expectation will be that within the framework of a revival of the Russian-Turkish bonhomie and taking advantage of Erdogan's travails and dilemma over Syria, a meaningful conversation between Moscow and Ankara might be possible leading to a purposive search for a political solution to the crisis in Syria.

 This is the season of Nobel, after all... If Erdogan could be persuaded that he could be the first ever sultan - and probably the last, too, in Ottoman history - to win a Nobel prize for peace, Putin would have made a huge contribution himself to world peace.

 Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service.  His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

 By   M K Bhadrakumar

Asia Times, Oct 11, 2012

 

Why America and Israel Are the Greatest Threats to Peace

It is not easy to escape from one's skin, to see the world differently from the way it is presented to us day after day. But it is useful to try. Let's take a few examples.

The war drums are beating ever more loudly over Iran. Imagine the situation to be reversed.

Iran is carrying out a murderous and destructive low-level war against Israel with great-power participation. Its leaders announce that negotiations are going nowhere. Israel refuses to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and allow inspections, as Iran has done. Israel continues to defy the overwhelming international call for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region. Throughout, Iran enjoys the support of its superpower patron.

Iranian leaders are therefore announcing their intention to bomb Israel, and prominent Iranian military analysts report that the attack may happen before the U.S. elections.

Iran can use its powerful air force and new submarines sent by Germany, armed with nuclear missiles and stationed off the coast of Israel. Whatever the timetable, Iran is counting on its superpower backer to join if not lead the assault. U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta says that while we do not favor such an attack, as a sovereign country Iran will act in its best interests.

All unimaginable, of course, though it is actually happening, with the cast of characters reversed. True, analogies are never exact, and this one is unfair -- to Iran.

Like its patron, Israel resorts to violence at will. It persists in illegal settlement in occupied territory, some annexed, all in brazen defiance of international law and the U.N. Security Council. It has repeatedly carried out brutal attacks against Lebanon and the imprisoned people of Gaza, killing tens of thousands without credible pretext.

Thirty years ago Israel destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor, an act that has recently been praised, avoiding the strong evidence, even from U.S. intelligence, that the bombing did not end Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program but rather initiated it. Bombing of Iran might have the same effect.

Iran too has carried out aggression -- but during the past several hundred years, only under the U.S.-backed regime of the shah, when it conquered Arab islands in the Persian Gulf.

Iran engaged in nuclear development programs under the shah, with the strong support of official Washington. The Iranian government is brutal and repressive, as are Washington's allies in the region. The most important ally, Saudi Arabia, is the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist regime, and spends enormous funds spreading its radical Wahhabist doctrines elsewhere. The gulf dictatorships, also favored U.S. allies, have harshly repressed any popular effort to join the Arab Spring.

The Nonaligned Movement -- the governments of most of the world's population -- is now meeting in Teheran. The group has vigorously endorsed Iran's right to enrich uranium, and some members -- India, for example -- adhere to the harsh U.S. sanctions program only partially and reluctantly.

The NAM delegates doubtless recognize the threat that dominates discussion in the West, lucidly articulated by Gen. Lee Butler, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command: "It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East," one nation should arm itself with nuclear weapons, which "inspires other nations to do so."

Butler is not referring to Iran, but to Israel, which is regarded in the Arab countries and in Europe as posing the greatest threat to peace In the Arab world, the United States is ranked second as a threat, while Iran, though disliked, is far less feared. Indeed in many polls majorities hold that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons to balance the threats they perceive.

If Iran is indeed moving toward nuclear-weapons capability -- this is still unknown to U.S. intelligence -- that may be because it is "inspired to do so" by the U.S.-Israeli threats, regularly issued in explicit violation of the U.N. Charter.

Why then is Iran the greatest threat to world peace, as seen in official Western discourse? The primary reason is acknowledged by U.S. military and intelligence and their Israeli counterparts: Iran might deter the resort to force by the United States and Israel.

Furthermore Iran must be punished for its "successful defiance," which was Washington's charge against Cuba half a century ago, and still the driving force for the U.S. assault against Cuba that continues despite international condemnation.

Other events featured on the front pages might also benefit from a different perspective. Suppose that Julian Assange had leaked Russian documents revealing important information that Moscow wanted to conceal from the public, and that circumstances were otherwise identical.

Sweden would not hesitate to pursue its sole announced concern, accepting the offer to interrogate Assange in London. It would declare that if Assange returned to Sweden (as he has agreed to do), he would not be extradited to Russia, where chances of a fair trial would be slight.

Sweden would be honored for this principled stand. Assange would be praised for performing a public service -- which, of course, would not obviate the need to take the accusations against him as seriously as in all such cases.

The most prominent news story of the day here is the U.S. election. An appropriate perspective was provided by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who held that "We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both."

Guided by that insight, coverage of the election should focus on the impact of wealth on policy, extensively analyzed in the recent study "Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America" by Martin Gilens. He found that the vast majority are "powerless to shape government policy" when their preferences diverge from the affluent, who pretty much get what they want when it matters to them.

Small wonder, then, that in a recent ranking of the 31 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of social justice, the United States placed 27th, despite its extraordinary advantages.

Or that rational treatment of issues tends to evaporate in the electoral campaign, in ways sometimes verging on comedy.

To take one case, Paul Krugman reports that the much-admired Big Thinker of the Republican Party, Paul Ryan, declares that he derives his ideas about the financial system from a character in a fantasy novel -- "Atlas Shrugged" -- who calls for the use of gold coins instead of paper currency.

It only remains to draw from a really distinguished writer, Jonathan Swift. In "Gulliver's Travels," his sages of Lagado carry all their goods with them in packs on their backs, and thus could use them for barter without the encumbrance of gold. Then the economy and democracy could truly flourish -- and best of all, inequality would sharply decline, a gift to the spirit of Justice Brandeis.

 Noam Chomsky

 Alternet, September 3, 2012

Compiled: M.A. Al-Ibrahim

Syria's Foreign Minister: the violence in Syria is a war against terrorists

In a rare interview, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem covers numerous points with Al-Monitor:

• Syria is willing to work with the new UN envoy.
• Israel isn't ready for peace but is "happy to see Syrian killing Syrian."
• Assad is "not in a bunker. He's in Damascus."
• America is ignoring the lessons of Afghanistan in which freedom fighters became terrorists (as seen recently in Libya).
• How Turkey "destroyed" the 10-year relationship built with Syria and is "causing the bloodshed."
• Why he isn't calling his friends while in the US.

By: Andrew Parasiliti and Laura Rozen posted on Saturday, Sep 29, 2012

In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, who rarely speaks to the Western press, cast the violence in Syria as a war against Salafi terrorists, who are backed by predominantly Sunni Arab nations that expected the Bashar al-Assad regime to fall quickly amid the Arab uprisings that swept Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen.

About this Article

Summary:

In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, who rarely speaks to the Western press, cast violence in Syria as a war against Salafi terrorists backed by predominantly Sunni Arab nations. "If ending the violence was in the hands of the Syrian government, then I assure you we would have ended it yesterday," Moallem said.

Author: Andrew Parasiliti and Laura Rozen

Published on: Sat, Sep 29, 2012

 

But those who anticipated Assad's fall and armed anti-regime militants miscalculated, Moallem said, and the result has been the dramatic escalation of armed conflict that has taken an estimated 20,000 Syrian lives over the past 20 months.

"If ending the violence was in the hands of the Syrian government, then I assure you we would have ended it yesterday," Moallem said. "Unfortunately, it is not a Syrian government decision. It is in fact Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, who are arming, hosting, and financing these armed groups. So the decision is there."

“When they started this crisis in Syria they felt that within a couple of months everything would change, as it's happened in Tunis and Egypt and Libya,” Moallem, himself a Sunni Muslim, said. But Turkey and other Western and Arab powers were "mistaken,” because the Syrians, he said, “are different.” Despite casting blame for the conflict on external powers, Moallem told Al-Monitor that Syria welcomes mediation efforts, including those of Lakhdar Brahimi, the new join UN/Arab League Syria envoy."I met Brahimi yesterday," Moallem said. "I assured him of our readiness again to cooperate with his efforts. We are ready to work with him."

Moallem also said he welcomed a new mediation offer proposed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari to broker discussions between the Syrian government and the opposition, under Brahimi's auspices. Moallem questioned, however, whether the Syrian opposition was ready to take up the offer of dialogue with the Damascus regime. That reluctance might be explained in part by Moallem's expressed resistance to hold early Syrian presidential elections, currently scheduled for 2014. "Under Syria's constitution, there cannot be early elections," he explained.

Moallem singled out Turkey especially for blame in the Syrian crisis. He reflected how over a decade he had built a “strategic relationship with Turkey in all fields,” which was, he said, destroyed by the anti-Assad stance adopted by Turkish Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan. One of the reasons for the falling out, Moallem said, was Turkish pressure on Syria to engage the Muslim Brotherhood. Moallem, who at one time was personally close to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, said Erdogan’s government is “causing the bloodshed” and “hosting terrorist groups and sending them to Syria ... harming the Syrian people.” Moallem said that he saw no sign that Turkey was considering shifting course, saying some 200, 300 fighters are entering Syria from Turkey every day.

Asked about the role of Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani in convening meetings of the Syrian Kurds, Moallem said he has received "assurances" from Barzani that "he is not interfering" in Syria.

Moallem was also highly critical of Washington’s stance toward the Syrian conflict.

“I don't understand why at this juncture in Syria they are helping, supporting a terrorist group,” he said, likening US support for the Syrian opposition to its covert support of the mujahedeen anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s who later gave rise to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The Syrian envoy scoffed when a reporter pointed out that the United States has shown little appetite to wade more deeply into Syria’s civil war, and ostensibly limited its acknowledged role to providing humanitarian and non-lethal assistance — such as communications equipment — to the Syrian opposition.

“Communication instruments are part … of any army,” he said. “It is military help. Second, you make people hungry and suffer because of your sanctions and then you pay few dollars .. to feed them — isn't it double standard policy?”

Despite his criticism of the United States, Moallem acknowledged nostalgia for the country, which sanctioned him and other Assad regime leaders last year. "I miss Washington a lot," he said. Moallem lived in the Kalorama section of the city for ten years when he served as Syria’s envoy to the United States from 1990-2000, during which time he was involved in Ameerican-brokered peace talks with the Israelis at Wye River Plantation.

“Frankly speaking, we tried all types of talks with Israel — direct, indirect,” he said. “From my personal experience, I assure you that Israel is not ready for peace. Israel wants to impose peace, but not to have a peace treaty which is fair for both sides.”

Moallem spoke Saturday to Al-Monitor's Andrew Parasiliti and Laura Rozen at the Waldorf Hotel in New York, where he is attending meetings surrounding the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The full interview continues below ...

Al-Monitor: Mr. Minster, I'll begin. The war in Syria is taking a terrible toll. Special Envoy Brahimi this week described the situation as “grim,” a “stalemate,” and going “from bad to worse.” What is your plan to end the violence in Syria?

Moallem: Well, if ending the violence is in the hand of the Syrian government, I assure you we are happy to end it yesterday. But unfortunately it is not a Syrian government decision. It is, in fact, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, who are financing, arming, hosting, training this armed group. So the decision is there. And from there you can take it to Washington, DC.

Al-Monitor: You mentioned some of the key regional players. As you know, there are several regional initiatives to support a negotiated solution to the crisis in Syria. One includes Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. [One was] announced yesterday is by Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari, to organize a transition, a meeting between the Syrian opposition and your government. There's Special Envoy Brahimi. Which of these, if any, do you support, and, if so, on what terms?

Moallem: In principle, we support all initiatives who has goodwill and honesty. If Turkey [is] part of this initiative which contains Iran and Egypt — so Turkey has to show goodwill and to stop what Turkey is doing by sending armed group, by training them — it is not only Syrian. Armed groups coming from al-Qaeda, countries in North Africa, in Afghanistan, in Chechnya. They all gather in Turkey and [are] sent to Syria. So, as I said, we welcome all initiatives which contain goodwill and honesty. We — you referred to Lakhdar Brahimi — I met him yesterday. I assured him again our willingness to cooperate with his efforts. He's a man who is experienced in the region and we are willing to work with him.

Al-Monitor: There are also the initiatives by Iran, coming out of the Non-Aligned Summit [and the one] announced by the Iraqi foreign minister. Do you consider those goodwill initiatives as well?

Moallem: Yes. I just came from a meeting with Mr. Zebari, the foreign minister of Iraq, and I told him we welcome publicly their initiative.

Al-Monitor: Will you be meeting with the Syrian opposition under Foreign Minister Zebari's hosting or is that something [that you] — do you see the Syrian leadership and the Syrian opposition sitting down under the hosting of Foreign Minister Zebari?

Moallem: No, it has to be under the hosting of Mr. Brahimi. But the idea came from Zebari. We are ready, but are the opposition ready? Until today, they refuse. [If] they are ready, this is important.

Al-Monitor: You mentioned Turkey at some length. It was not so long ago that Syria was quite close to Turkey and you personally were close to your counterpart —

Moallem: No, it has to be under the hosting of Mr. Brahimi. But the idea came from Zebari. We are ready, but are the opposition ready? Until today, they refuse. [If] they are ready, this is important.

Al-Monitor: You mentioned Turkey at some length. It was not so long ago that Syria was quite close to Turkey and you personally were close to your counterpart —

Moallem: Without a doubt.

Al-Monitor: … Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Now Turkey is literally on the front lines of the fight against your government. Could you just reflect for a minute — what happened? And how do you see Turkey’s present role, and do you see any prospects, in your view, for Turkey in helping to end the fighting in Syria?

Moallem: Well, during 10 years we built a strategic relationship with Turkey in all fields. Politically, economically, socially, because the relations between the Syrian people and the Turkish people are very well-rooted in history. So we came to see this relation with the people and between the people restored. …

I’m speaking and complaining from Mr. Erdogan government policy vis-à-vis Syria. In fact, they [Turkey] destroyed what we built during the 10 years of relations. They drifted from a friendly neighborhood country to a country which is harming the Syrian people.

They're causing the bloodshed. They are hosting terrorist groups and sending them to Syria. They mobilize their armed forces to the border. All these hostile policies and activities put the Turkish role in question. Now if Turkey was to play a role in the future for stability and security, they have to show their goodwill by stopping what they are doing today. This is very important. A practical goodwill.

Al-Monitor: Do you see any sign that Turkey may be changing its position —

Moallem: No, no, no. Every day, we receive more than two or three hundred fighters coming from Turkey.

Al-Monitor: Laura and I were both with — and at several events with — Iranian President Ahmadinejad Monday. He described the fighting in Syria as “tribal warfare”. Others have characterized the fighting as kind of ground zero for a regional sectarian Sunni/Shiite conflict in the region. Is the war in your country tribal warfare? Is it a sectarian war? Or something else?

Moallem: They want it to be like that. They want to make it like that. But the Syrian people succeeded not to make it like that. Today, the war — I can describe it correctly — it is a struggle against terrorism of al-Qaeda, against the extremist Salafists.

Al-Monitor: When you say they would want to describe it as a sectarian war, who are they?

Moallem: Well, you can start from Washington to Doha ...

Al-Monitor: Why would such a wide axis, not always seeing the region the same way, perceive a tribal war or sectarian war in Syria and not just a fight against terrorism?

Moallem: Well, unfortunately this crisis came with a chain called ‘Arab Spring.’ It started from Morocco to Tunisia to Libya to Egypt to Yemen. So it started in Syria. But their calculation was mistaken. When they started this crisis in Syria they felt that within a couple of months everything would change, as it's happened in Tunis and Egypt and Libya. But the Syrians are different Why they are different? We have in our society many components, religious and ethnic bases. In Syria, we are proud during our history of the coexistence policy. You can't [define] a Syrian citizen because he is Muslim or he's Christian, he is Sunni or Shiite. We never stop on this. We consider all these components as a Syrian citizen. For that, they felt the base is not there in the society.

Al-Monitor: In the past you worked with and through Turkey to engage Israel. You were involved in the Wye talks, and the key peace initiatives under the Clinton Administration and after. How vital, in your view, is the Israeli role in conflict resolution in Syria and throughout the region? What are your thoughts on direct talks with Israel, for you, Iran, or other regional powers?

Moallem: Well, frankly speaking we tried all types of talks with Israel — direct, indirect since Madrid, this conference, and after. And I've been the chief negotiator. From my personal experience, I assure you that Israel is not ready for peace. Israel wants to impose peace, but not to have a peace treaty which is fair for both sides. We tried direct talks in Washington through the American mediation. Then we tried through Turkey. Then we tried through Mr. Fredrick Hof indirectly. But no result. So, as Shamir said once, it is talks for the sake of talks.

Al-Monitor: Who said that?

Moallem: Shamir — Prime Minister Shamir before Madrid Peace Conference. Now I believe that peace between Syria and Israel, between Israel and the Palestinians, are vital for the stability of the region. But it has to have political goodwill. There came a time we were very close to a peace agreement during late Prime Minister Yitzakh Rabin. But the man was assassinated.

So, today, I don't see [an] Israeli will to achieve this peace. To the contrary, I can see the American foreign policy in the Middle East has to take in its account and priority the Israeli interest. And the Israeli interest today is to continue this violence in Syria as long as it's Syrian killing a Syrian, as long as the country infrastructure is destroyed. For that, we don't see any American initiative to end this violence

Al-Monitor: I mean in some ways the Israelis see at some point that if the Assad regime leaves that there's likely to be an Islamist successor in Syria and they're not at all happy about that ... Just the way they're not thrilled about the Muslim Brotherhood playing a larger role in Egypt and that crisis. So I think they're more ambivalent in some ways. They did have a cold peace with Assad. You know, are you sure it's fair to characterize them —

Moallem: I don't know what the Israelis are thinking, but what I see practically, on the ground — first, Israel is not ready for peace with Syria. Second, Israel is happy to see Syrian killing Syrian, so violence to continue. Thirdly, I can see American-Israel-coordination concerning this policy.

Al-Monitor: To shift back to another part of the conflict, what's happening in Syria is giving attention to the role of the Kurds, not just in Syria but throughout the region. From your perspective, what is the role of the Kurds in Syria in the present conflict? And how do you see the Kurdish question playing out now in Syria, Turkey, Iraq?

Moallem: Well, in Iraq they are [unintelligible] according to the constitution. In Turkey, there were some clashes between the PKK and the government army. In Syria, according to the new constitution, we fulfilled the condition — demands. We recognize them as an important component of the Syrian people. For that, the region where are the Kurds [live] is stable in Syria.

Al-Monitor: A related question. Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, has convened meetings of Syrian Kurdish groups and is attending the AK Party conference in Turkey. What does this mean, in your view, for Syria, and your relationship with the KRG of Iraq, and Syria-Kurdish issues?

Moallem: Well, according to their assurances we are receiving from Mr. Barzani, he's not interfering in the Syrian issue and he does not forget what we did for the Kurds during Saddam era. We hosted them, we helped them in Syria for many years. Mr. Hoshyar Zebari used to live in Damascus for 15 years. So I think these are the type of assurances we are receiving from Mr. Barzani.

Al-Monitor: How is the war in Syria influenced by Iraq or more broadly? How do you describe your relationship with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki?

Moallem: Well, we have good relations with Mr. al-Maliki. He understands well the root of the crisis in Syria. [For that], the Iraqi role in the world arena is active role. But without doubt, because of the neighborhood, the Syrian crisis affects them and the result of this crisis affects Iraq. For that, Iraq is very sensitive towards this crisis.

Al-Monitor: Can I ask what is the Iranian role in Syria now?

Moallem: Well, first, if you meant by this question that Iran is interfering on the ground, I assure you no Iranian whatsoever is playing a role on the ground. The only thing Iran is trying to help by initiatives ... to solve the crisis. They have received some of the opposition in Tehran and they are trying to convince them to resolve through dialogue with the government.

Al-Monitor: I mean I thought they've talked about having advisors [and] playing an advisory role, not on the ground fighting but —

Moallem: Absolutely not.

Al-Monitor: And which type of opposition [are they] —

Moallem: They received members of so-called — the Syrian National Council, they received Muslim Brother organization, they are receiving a group of interior opposition. And today they are [partner] with Egypt to initiate a solution.

Al-Monitor: You're here in New York as foreign minister, dealing with this issue, what would be your message to the Syrian opposition outside and inside Syria and to the Syrian expatriate community.

Moallem: I assure you my message is very clear. And my message not as a Syrian foreign minister, but as a Syrian citizen. I call all of them to work together through the dialogue to build the future of Syria — not through arms, not through violence, but through peaceful talks.

Al-Monitor: Can I ask — sorry — but what is the situation of President Al-Assad these days. Is he hiding in a bunker? He's more invisible to us in Washington.

Moallem: He's not in a bunker. He's in Damascus doing his duty every day in his office, follow us of what we are doing, follow other ministries. Especially he focuses on the Syrian economy and the wellbeing of the Syrian people.

Al-Monitor: I saw an interview you gave to Foreign Policy in 2009, the beginning of the Obama administration. You expressed optimism about the administration. I know the administration also was more interested to engage the Syrians and the Iranians and others and that Chairman Kerry [of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee] came to Damascus, [State Department official Fred Hof, and [former US Envoy] George Mitchell as well. Some of those people now have said that they feel like President Al-Assad's promises of reform have not materialized and have expressed a sense of disappointment or even being deceived. Can you speak at all about that period of engagement and why people seem to be disappointed?

Moallem: Well, it was welcome period of engagement, but unfortunately the American administration did not make use of their experience of Afghanistan. At once in the mid of1980s, during Reagan Administration, they considered Bin Laden and his group as freedom fighters. And they changed after that, considered them — Al-Qaeda terrorist group. The same issue — they did it in Libya. And now they are repeating it in Syria. In Libya, they were a victim of this group they support, as they are victim in Afghanistan by al-Qaeda they created in the middle of 1985, which hit in 9/11 the towers up in New York, and elsewhere. Terrorism has no country or border limits. And there are Security Council resolutions which the international community has to work together to combat terrorism. For that, I don't understand why at this juncture in Syria they are helping, supporting a terrorist group.

Al-Monitor: [The] United States — because honest to God — you talk to senior U.S. officials, they're giving humanitarian aid and some communications equipment, but they do not want to get involved in Syria's civil war.

Moallem: ... Communication instruments are part or branch of any army. The armies cannot [be] active on the ground without communication facilities. So it is not, as they say, nonmilitary help. It is a military help. Second, you make people hunger and suffer because of your sanction and then you pay few dollars for them to feed them — isn't it double standard policy? The last question.

Al-Monitor: Given your past relationships with the Clinton administration and others, are you in touch with any US policy makers?

Moallem: No. I've got a lot of friends, but I did not offend anybody by calling them.

Al-Monitor: You haven't called anyone.

Moallem: No.

Al-Monitor: And do you miss — I know you were in Washington for 10 years? Do you —

Moallem: Yes. I miss Washington a lot.

Compiled: M.A. Al-Ibrahim