Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Analysts Question Syria Raid

(Inter Press Service) A cross-border raid into Syria by U.S. forces in Iraq, and the subsequent stonewalling by U.S. officials unwilling to divulge details, has led to rampant ...

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

(Inter Press Service)

A cross-border raid into Syria by U.S. forces in Iraq, and the subsequent stonewalling by U.S. officials unwilling to divulge details, has led to rampant speculation among U.S. analysts about the origins and meaning of the attack.

"So the question is: Why?" wrote geostrategic analyst and journalist Helena Cobban on her blog (Just World News), wondering if the raid could have been pulled off without explicit permission from the highest levels of the George W. Bush administration.

Middle East correspondent Borzou Daragahi echoed the thought on the Los Angeles Times website: "So why now at the end of the Bush administration, with Washington trying to play nice with Damascus and tensions easing throughout the region, would U.S. forces stage such a gambit?"

The questions started to swirl late Sunday afternoon when U.S. helicopters allegedly crossed 5 miles over the desert border between Syria and Iraq. According to reports, eight U.S. soldiers alighted when a helicopter landed, attacking the al-Sukkari farm in the Syrian Abu Kamal border area.

The cross-border raid—the first of its kind involving a helicopter attack and U.S. boots on the ground that far into Syrian territory—left eight dead, according to Syrian press reports.

The attack is especially curious since, according to a report this weekend in the New York Times, Bush appears to have rolled back his initiative to lead troop-driven cross-border attacks—initially approved this summer—by Afghan-based U.S. forces into Pakistani territory.

The raid also comes as Syria is negotiating with Israel, through Turkish mediation, presumably in a calculated effort to alleviate tensions with the West and the United States. The Bush administration’s take on the Israel-Syria talks has been lukewarm at best.

More immediately for the United States, the raid could complicate negotiations on a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraqi authorities to allow U.S. forces to continue operating in Iraq after the U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year. The talks on SOFA have been bogged down, and a persistent Iraqi demand has been that Iraqi soil not be used as a launch pad for attacks on other countries.

"The Iraqi government rejects U.S. aircraft bombarding posts inside Syria," a government spokesperson, Ali al-Dabbagh, said Tuesday. "The constitution does not allow Iraq to be used as a staging ground to attack neighboring countries."

The U.S. Department of Defense has repeatedly declined to comment on the Syria incident, including to a direct request, but several press reports have quoted unnamed U.S. officials confirming the attack and saying that it was ordered by the CIA.

One U.S. official anonymously told Agence France-Presse that the strike was aimed at Abu Ghadiya, whom the official called "one of the most prominent foreign fighter facilitators in the region." The official said he believed the target was killed. The spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in Washington, Ahmed Salkini, told the Inter Press Service (IPS) that the name did not appear on the official Syrian list of those dead.

In retaliation, Syria shut down a U.S. school and cultural center in Damascus, and its U.N. envoy has requested that the Security Council intervene to prevent further incursions into Syrian territory.

Neoconservatives and hawks within the administration have long clamored for expanding Middle Eastern conflicts into Syria, which was named as one of the three countries in Bush’s famous "Axis of Evil." Indeed, Bush’s neoconservative deputy national security advisor, Elliott Abrams, told Israeli officials during a high-level meeting that the United States would not object if Israel extended its 2006 war with Hezbollah into Syria.

But if the cross-border attack was an attempt by hawks to lure Syria into a war, it appears to have failed; Syria has engaged in a measured and strictly diplomatic response.

"[T]he Syrians have not responded, and are not about to respond, in any way that is violent or otherwise escalates tensions," wrote Cobban, a well-respected commenter and veteran analyst.

"I’ve been studying the behavior of this Baathist regime in Syria closely for 34 years now. They have steely nerves. They are just about impossible to ‘provoke,’ at any point that they judge a harsh response is not in their interest," she wrote.

While foreign fighters from Syria have long been problematic to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, since 2006, U.S. patrols along the border and some Syrian cooperation have dramatically reduced the number of foreign fighters flowing into Iraq.

Last December, Gen. David Petraeus—the former U.S. commander in Iraq and now the Central Command chief—said, "Syria has taken steps to reduce the flow of the foreign fighters through its borders with Iraq."

Petraeus reiterated that notion this month when he reported that the monthly number of fighters moving from Syria into Iraq has been reduced from about 100 to 20.

But last Thursday, the commander of U.S. troops in western Iraq, Maj. John Kelly, said that while there has been progress, it wasn’t enough.

The suspected involvement of some of the most vociferous anti-Syria hawks of the Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have combined with U.S. silence on the matter to fuel a guessing game as to just exactly who ordered or approved Sunday’s cross-border raid.

"This operation is pretty clearly run by U.S. special operations forces pursuing a terrorist target," Col. Pat Lang, a retired U.S. military intelligence officer, told IPS. "Their sole mission is like a SWAT team to go around and hunt terrorists."

Lang said that these special operations forces sometimes operate distinctly outside the normal military chain of command by design of hawkish former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld.

"If left to themselves, they would do this kind of thing [the Syria raid]. That’s what they do," said Lang. "They don’t follow policy; they carry out their assigned mission."

Because the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, is dealing with mounting concerns about the SOFA, Lang suspects that he’d be hesitant to directly approve such a bold a provocative attack as Sunday afternoon’s.

"I haven’t established it yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the authority to do this came right out of the White House," Lang told IPS.

Asked if the decision doesn’t undermine pressing U.S. goals for commanders in Iraq, Lang said that while the considerations are there, they don’t always filter up into decision making in the executive branch.

"Usually command arrangements of various kinds are messy," Lang said, "and this White House has shown a tendency to want to bypass the established chain of command and influence what’s going on [in the field]."

But in addition to being a bold foreign policy move, the raid has also been interpreted by some as a political stunt. Some journalists and experts have speculated that the raid was a Bush administration attempt to deliver an "October surprise"—a late game-changing development favoring one candidate—for Republican candidate Sen. John McCain just over a week before the presidential election; McCain has been seen as holding an advantage in issues of national security.

Ali Gharib writes for the Inter Press Service and is a contributor to PRA’s Right Web (https://rightweb.irc-online.org).

Citations

Analysis by Jim Lobe, "Analysts Question Syria Raid" Right Web with permission from Inter Press Service (Somerville, MA: PRA, 2008). Web location:
https://rightweb.irc-online.org/rw/4962.html Production Information:
Author(s): Right Web
Editor(s): Right Web
Production: Political Research Associates   IRC logo 1310 Broadway, #201, Somerville, MA   02144 | pra@publiceye.org

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was a leading framer of the “global war on terror” and a staunch supporter of aggressive U.S. military action around the world.


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Right Web readers will be familiar with Mr. Fleitz, the former CIA officer who once threatened to take “legal action” against Right Web for publicizing reports of controversies he was associated with in the George W. Bush administration. Fleitz recently left his job at the conspiracy-mongering Center for Security Policy to become chief of staff to John Bolton at the National Security Council.


Norm Coleman is chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former senator from Minnesota known for his hawkish views on foreign policy.


Billionaire hedge fund mogul Paul Singer is known for his predatory business practices and support for neoconservative causes.


Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, is a passionate supporter of Trump’s foreign policy.


Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest “pro-Israel” advocacy group in the United States, is known for its zealous Christian Zionism and its growing influence in the Republican Party.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.


RightWeb
share