Posted by Joshua on Friday, November 7th, 2008
[Addendum: Mon. Nov. 10, 2008] An assistant to Robert Malley has written me the following note denying the truth of any part fo the following story:
A quick word to stress that the story about Rob Malley visiting Egypt and Syria to deliver a message from the president-elect are a pure fabrication. The “aides” quoted in the piece are equally fictional. I would greatly appreciate if you could post this to correct the record.
Original post below:
Will Obama appoint Robert Malley, a director of the International Crisis Group, as a point man on the Middle East? If he does, it is a sign of restored sanity and promise for the future.
Malley is one of the few Americans who has taken the time and energy to understand Syria’s point of view and make contacts in Damascus when this was not easy to do. He was compelled to clarify that he had no official link to the Obama campaign in January, when some accused him of terror sympathising because he met with Khalid Mishaal, the head of Hamas.
Here is a quote from Martin Peretz taken from Mondoweiss‘s coverage of the issue:
“Martin Peretz says, with relief, that [Obama] is not [an Obama advisor]:
There are all kinds of spooky rumors that a man named Robert Malley is one of Obama’s advisers, specifically his Middle East adviser… Malley, who has written several deceitful articles in The New York Review of Books, is a [further hogwash removed for the sake of the tranquility of the Sabbath]… Malley is not and has never been a Middle East adviser to Barack Obama. Obama’s Middle East adviser is Dan Shapiro.
The following article does not spell our when the Malley trip is to take place or if it is refering to a past trip. I don’t think we can trust this story yet. The first version of this article, copied below, first appeared in the World Tribune?
In First Mideast Policy Initiative, Obama Sends Adviser To Egypt, Syria
By David Bedein, Middle East Correspondent
Jerusalem – The Middle East Newsline has confirmed that Presidential-elect Barack Obama has dispatched his senior foreign policy adviser Robert Malley to Egypt and Syria to outline the Democrat’s policy on the Middle East.
Mr. Malley, who served in the Clinton administration, relayed a pledge from Mr. Obama that the United States would seek to enhance relations with Cairo as well as reconcile differences with Damascus.
“The tenor of the messages was that the Obama administration would take into greater account Egyptian and Syrian interests,” an aide to Mr. Malley said.
The aide said Obama plans to launch a U.S. diplomatic initiative toward Syria, regarded by the Bush administration as a leading supporter of the al-Qaida insurgency in Iraq. Mr. Obama, unlike President George W. Bush, has also supported Israeli peace negotiations with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Mr. Malley, his aides said, met both Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and with Mr. Assad to explain Mr. Obama’s agenda for the Middle East.
These aides said that Mr. Obama told Mr. Mubarak that the United States would maintain military and civilian aid and sell advanced F-16 aircraft to Cairo. Egypt has not ordered F-16s in nearly a decade.
Mr. Malley, in his capacity as a senior advisor to President Clinton at the failed Camp David talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, incurred the wrath of many Israeli officials when he laid some of the blame for the failure of the Camp David talks on Israel.
Syrians stare terror in the face by Sami Moubayed in Asia Times
State television showed what it said were 12 members of the Islamist militant group Fatah al-Islam, confessing that they had helped plan the suicide car bombing.
The interview sent shivers down the spine of most Syrians, who were horrified to hear that there was something called a “Syria branch” for al-Qaeda. These people looked like ordinary Syrians. They came from places like Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. One was a 24-year-old smuggler of gasoline between Syria and Lebanon. Another was a dental expert, while a third was an information technology expert. A fourth was a student at one of the private schools that recently started operating in Syria. Some of them said that they had baby children.
Originally it was believed that the terrorist who drove an automobile into the premises of a security building on the road to Damascus International Airport had come from Iraq. The license plate was Iraqi and most of the militants who had carried out attacks in Syria since 2003 came from the wilderness of Iraq.
It was too abstract for Syrians to believe that their countrymen could plot such a bloody crime against innocent fellow Syrians. The Thursday broadcast proved them wrong.
The new information confirms that the terrorists were a mixture of Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians, operating not directly with al-Qaeda, but a sister organization called Fatah al-Islam, which is based in neighboring Tripoli, Lebanon.
The suicide bomber himself was a Saudi named “Abu Aysha”, whose picture was also shown on Syrian TV. This group wanted to “harm the Syrian regime” and had several targets on their hit list, including the central bank of Syria. They also had a hit list that included an Italian and a British diplomat, both based in Damascus.
One of the men who appeared on TV was Abdul-Baqi Hussein, head of security in the Syria-branch of Fatah al-Islam, and Wafa Abbsi, the daughter of Fatah al-Islam founder Shaker al-Abbsi. They said the car was in fact stolen from Iraqis and loaded with 200 kilograms of explosives at a farm on the outskirts of Damascus.
Very troubling was the confession of Wafa, the only woman among the group, who spoke with her husband Yasser Unad. They seemed the most disturbed among the group of terrorists. Wafa said her father received money transfers to conduct his military activities from the Future Movement of Lebanese parliamentary majority leader Saad al-Hariri. Her father never trusted Hariri, Abbsi implied, saying that he feared that the latter would “trade him” for a cheap price. Wafa, whose first husband was a Syrian killed on the Syrian-Iraqi border, came to Syria with her second husband – also a Syrian – and was arrested with the terrorist team after September 27.
Wafa’s tale takes us back to an earlier argument made by veteran US journalist Seymour Hersh, who wrote in The New Yorker that Hariri, the US and certain figures in Saudi Arabia were responsible for creating Fatah al-Islam. Speaking to CNN International’s Your World Today in May 2007, Hersh said that all three parties wanted a Sunni military group in Lebanon to combat Hezbollah – which was backed by Iran – in the event of an outbreak of Sunni-Shi’ite violence. While Hersh was speaking, violence was ranging in the infamous Naher al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon, between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army. Those battles, which lasted for weeks, led to the killing of about 400 people. ….
Naturally, the anti-Syrian team in Lebanon writes off the entire story as a hoax. They claimed from day one that Fatah al-Islam was created by the Syrians. That is difficult to believe, since his prison record in Damascus – along with Syria’s history of combating Islamic fundamentalism – would certainly prevent it from engaging in such a risky scheme with such a notorious terrorist. Additionally, the terrorist bombing of September 27 adds proof that if anything, Fatah al-Islam is certainly not allied to Damascus. On the contrary, it is bent on destroying Syria. …(read the rest)
….Why doesn’t Sami just state the obvious, namely that nobody really has any idea what Fatah al-Islam is. All the theories are more or less outlandish, ranging from Seymour Hersh’s spooky conspiracy tale in The New Yorker (which I’m convinced he heard from a Lebanese service taxi driver and later had ‘confirmed’ by Michel Samaha), to the notion that it was created by the Syrian mukhabarat and controlled directly from Damascus. Who knows what is really true? There is nothing resembling actual proof, just more or less glorified conspiracy theories supported by anonymous sources and government-sponsored confessions…. (read the entire article)
[Landis comment] Sami Moubayed is not a government employee; none of his income comes from the government. Yoav Stern writes in the article copied below that his “analyses are considered the official standpoint of the Syrian government.” Of course, Sami is well connected and a good journalist so he has a keen sense of what Syria’s official position is, but it is misleading to consider his opinion the official standpoint of the Syrian government. Independent journalists like Sami exist in Syria. His last article, ““American dream expelled from Syria” ,copied on Syria Comment, was a critique of the government’s closing of the “American School” in Damascus. It did not reflect the official standpoint of the Syrian government in any way.
Like any Syrian journalist, he must figure out where the red lines are, but he has latitude to express his opinion and to dissent from the official line, as he did in his last article. Sami was invited to come to Washington in August as part of a three man team of “second track” diplomacy precisely because he is not a government employee. The reason that he was included is that Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador in DC, likes and respects Sami. He knows that Sami is an effective and smart opinion maker who is read by people like Stern and his Haaretz counterparts; he would put Syria’s best face forward. It was Sami’s first visit to the US. The same was true of Samir Saifan, who also participated on the team. He is an independent businessman, economist and consultant who understands Syria’s needs and is in constant contact with government officials, but he is not an official voice of the government nor paid by it.
Hamas praises Obama, hopes for ‘new page’ in relations with U.S.
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent, and Associated Press, 07/11/2008
Hamas strongman Mahmoud Zahar says he hopes the election victory of Barack Obama will open a new page in relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world.
However, Zahar says he does not expect immediate change in U.S policy toward Hamas. The Bush administration is boycotting the Islamic militants, along with most of the international community.
Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel. Last year, Hamas seized Gaza by force, and Zahar was instrumental in the takeover.
He said Friday that “we hope, we hope, that Obama opens a new page with the world, including the Muslim world.” But citing what he believes is undue Israeli influence on U.S. policy, he said he doesn’t expect Obama to talk to Hamas, at least at the start of his presidency.
Meanwhile, a Syrian analyst on Friday said Syria would be prepared to restrain the militant activities of Hezbollah and Hamas if a U.S. administration led by President-elect Barack Obama shifts its policy toward Damascus.
In an article published on Friday on the Asia Times Web site, Syrian analyst Sami Mubayed called on Obama to endorse the renewed peace talks with Israel to ensure their success.
Mubayed, whose analyses are considered the official standpoint of the Syrian government, urged Obama to “normalize” relations between Washington and Damascus.
Such “normalization” of ties would include dispatching a new U.S. ambassador to Damascus, the first since the deterioration of the states’ ties in 2005.
Syria would also demand that the economic sanctions against it be dropped, a change in Western rhetoric toward Damascus and compensation for the recent deadly U.S. air strike in which eight Syrians were killed.
Damascus also seeks a further role in matters regarding Iraq. “Obama must recognize that no problem can be solved in the Middle East without Syria,” Mubayed wrote.
In exchange for U.S. implementation of these demands, Syria would be ready to use its weight in the region against the militant activities of Hezbollah and Hamas, and would work in tandem with Western powers to find a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.
Mubayed said that Syria has nicknamed Obama “Abu Hussein” – in reference to the president-elect’s middle name.
“When all this is done, Syria will be ready to open its arms to Abu Hussein and to accept him maybe as an honored guest in Damascus, as we did with Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton,” wrote Mubayad.
Source: U.S. meant to capture militant killed in Syria
From Nic Robertson
CNN Senior International Correpondent
LONDON, England (CNN) — The U.S. forces who killed a top militant in Syria last week intended to capture him, but he and his bodyguards were killed in a gunbattle, a Saudi source with access to detailed intelligence told CNN.
Palestinian refugee schoolboys in Damascus protest the U.S. attack in Syria, which called the strike barbaric.
U.S. officials last week confirmed that an American airstrike from Iraq into Syria killed Abu Ghadiya, described as a kingpin in al Qaeda’s smuggling of foreign fighters into Iraq.
Abu Ghadiya’sbody, initially taken away by U.S. Special Forces operatives for identification, has been returned to the Syrians, the source said.
The officials — who did not want to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media — also said members of his network were killed as well. The U.S. military has not officially confirmed the October 26 strike in the town of Abu Kamal.
The Saudi source said U.S. forces picked up Abu Ghadiya’s presence at the Syrian location in the morning of October 26 and acted quickly against him.
Abu Ghadiya’s name emerged many times during Saudi interrogations of al Qaeda suspects, the source said, noting that a profile emerged of the militant as an important part of the logistical chain in al Qaeda’s network.
He had been an effective and persuasive recruiter of Arab fighters intent on attacking U.S. forces in Iraq, and had been described as a Baathist, a member of the political movement that ran Iraq during the Saddam Hussein era, the source said.
The source said Abu Ghadiya used Baathist money to smuggle fighters, and pay off Syrian generals to ignore the cross-border activities. The Saudi source said plenty of Baathist money is stashed away, hidden before the 2003 invasion.
Thousands of people demonstrated last week in the capital of Syria to protest the U.S. airstrike — that Damascus says killed eight civilians, according to reports from the country.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem last week condemned the strike as “terrorist aggression,” said civilians died in the incident, and called the claim that Americans were targeting militants a lie.
Iraq’s government also denounced the attack, which was launched from its territory.
Syria has said it has tried to secure the sprawling desert border. But it immediately withdrew its border guards from the region after the strike, leaving border posts empty and forcing Iraq to secure the areas where foreign fighters crossed the border.
The Lebanese daily Assafir called Obama the “candidate of change based on all criteria,” and wrote that “the democratic candidate Barack Obama stands on the right side of American history with all his positions and his attractiveness.”
An opinion piece in the newspaper predicted that the new U.S. president, whoever he is, will lead a more pragmatic policy in the Middle East:
“Tomorrow a new American era starts marked by political pragmatism whether led by Obama or McCain after the world has rejected policies of force, arrogance and chauvinism that led to wars and economic catastrophes … Americans will vote tomorrow. Will the snake only shed its skin or will the problems of the world push it back into its pit?”
The official Syrian newspaper, Al-Watan, published an op-ed piece entitled, “Who is less bad … Obama or McCain?”
“Nobody should bet on a radical change in Washington’s foreign policy towards the Middle East,” said the article, adding that the U.S. had been showing a clear bias toward Israel for decades.
It concluded that Obama’s election might improve the U.S.-Syrian relations but would not end disputes between the two countries.
– Raed Rafei in Beirut
Syria’s Second Chance, by Roula Khalaf, Middle East editor, Financial Times
[E]ight years after Bashar al-Assad took over upon the death of his father Hafez, Syria [is] still struggling to decide in which direction it wanted to go, politically and economically. The economy rumbles on with a massive unemployment rate, rampant inflation and dwindling oil reserves. …
Meanwhile, Syria’s behavior in the region—whether in Lebanon, where it is alleged to have been involved in the killing of Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister, or in Iraq, where it was accused of sending foreign fighters to join the insurgency—has angered foes and friends, leaving hardly anyone to argue Damascus’ case. But Syria now has a second chance. Nicholas Sarkozy, the French president, traveled to Damascus in September, opening the door to rehabilitation. [Last] week Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, [was] in London. A new U.S. president will soon be in office, and could engage with those whom the Bush administration was determined to isolate. Access the full article>>
Sarkozy and Obama
By Judah Grunstein
World Politics Review, 5 November 2008
Nikolas Gvosdev wonders out loud whether Nicolas Sarkozyis hoping to play trans-Atlantic interlocutor between America and Russia. I’ve argued before that a good deal of Sarkozy’s conciliatory posture towards the U.S. — which has gotten him accused here in France of an Atlanticist alignment with Washington — was in fact a gambit designed to make Paris the fulcrum upon which American-EU relations pivot.
Sarkozy has been very careful to balance his gestures towards Washington with demands for concessions (NATO vs. EU defense, for instance), and has also not been reluctant to oppose American positions (on NATO expansion, for instance) when it was both in his interest and he had sufficient support to come out on top.
But I think Gvosdev is onto something, and it goes beyond the Washington-Paris-Moscow conduit. His suggestion brings to mind the possibility that France’s recent insistence upon engaging Syria has been in anticipation of an end to America’s isolation of Damascus. (It’s interesting to note that the Syrian ambassador to the U.S. suggested that a McCain administration would have supported engaging Damascus as well.) Certainly the progress Sarkozy and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner have made in restoring French-Syrian relations will put them in good position to help smooth the way for Washington.
But on the back end (because when it comes to quid and quo, Sarkozy’s a pro), my hunch is that he’s going to do everything he can to make sure that Obama’s willingness to engage Iran directly does not undermine the enormous efforts that have gone into maintaining a very firm and consistent EU3 negotiating position on Tehran’s nuclear program, perhaps even pushing for an American presence at jumpstartedP5+1 talks with Iran before any bilateral channels are opened up between Washington and Tehran.
Libya to Start $20 Million Syrian Cement Project, SANA Reports
By Nadim Issa
Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) — A Libyan delegation will visit Syria next week to commence a $200 million cement plant, the Syrian Arab News Agency said, citing Syrian Finance Minister Mohammad Al Hussein.
Jonathan Steele in the Guardian, here
“…In this arc of conflict – Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan – Obama’s approachis preferable to Bush’s or McCain’s. The century-old paradigm of Republicans as the party of realism and the Democrats as the party of ideologues was turned upside down by the neocons. Bush led an administration of crusaders and took the country to disaster. Obama offers a return to traditional diplomacy. ….
Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia will resist this. They will tell Obama that a US retreat hands victory to a resurgent Iran and Shias everywhere. But it is not a US withdrawal that will help Iran. Bush’s war has already done that, since it was bound to empower Iraq’s majority community. The best way to prevent Iran’s strong relationship with the government in Baghdad from becoming a regional threat is for the US to engage with Iran and forge a new relationship…
The challenge for Obama is to show the world whether he is ready to offer Tehran a grand bargain rather than a big bang…”