Is the US Raid is a “Parting Shot” by the White House?

(Addendum – Monday Morning): Recent information has caused me to trim my sails a bit on the notion that  Petraeus is angry about this raid. It was probably constructed by Special Forces and not Cheney’s office. Evidently there are real issues at the border and Petraeus has been warning the Syrians that they must do more. His interest in going to Syria in the fall of 2007 was as much to read Syria the riot act about compliance as it was to seek intelligence sharing, although that had been a principal subject of the Sharm al-Shaykh meeting between Mu`alem and Rice in May. Bashar al-Asad is no mood to give anything to Bush or Rice in the closing months of their administration.

Satellite intelligence probably picked up smugglers, which were interpreted to be al-Qaida. Quite possibly these poor people killed in the raid were a family of smugglers. The US is now claiming that the raid sucessfully killed their target, a facilitator for Iraqis. Seymour Hersh wrote a brilliant story about a similar raid five years ago that killed a eight smugglers. Here is a bit of “The Syrian Bet: Did the Bush Administration burn a useful source on Al Qaeda?

Army helicopters and Bradley Fighting Vehicles attacked two groups of cars heading into Syria, triggering enormous explosions and fireballs that lit up the night sky. A gas station and nearby homes were destroyed. Task Force 20 sped across the border into Syria….

“The operation was a fiasco in which as many as eighty people—occupants of the cars and trucks as well as civilians living nearby—were killed. The vehicles, it turned out, were being used to smuggle gasoline….

In short, this may have been a simple botched operation based on bad intelligence. But in the larger scheme of things, it is the price of refusing to repair relations with the Syrians when they could have been.

[Older Landis Analysis]:Overnight, the US has managed to turn the press coverage to its favor by putting out releases that focus on "rat lines" and the like, i.e. "The US and Iraqi government accuse Damascus of being reluctant to guard its borders and not doing enough to stop militants, including those from al-Qaeda, crossing the border into Iraq."

But the real question is why now. Syria has been improving border compliance steadily.  Petraeus announced this month that Syria has brought down infiltration from 100 to 20 a month. (As quoted in the LA Times)

In the past 5 years, the US has had plenty of reason and opportunity to pursue cross border raids, but did not do so because it believed that the way to solve the problem was by cooperating with Syria, not by bombing it. Undoubtedly, policy makers also feared that Syria might punish the US in response. Both the State Department and DOD have consistently pushed for intelligence sharing with Damascus only to be shot down by the Vice President’s office. This was told to me by a high ranking intelligence officer in Washington.

Secretary of State, Rice asked Syria’s F.M. at Sharm al-Shaykh in May 2007 for permission to send two US generals to Damascus to restart intelligence sharing. Damascus was excited by this prospect because it is in Syria’s national interest. But Damascus demanded that Washington appoint an Ambassador to Damascus in recognition of Syria’s support and cooperation. The White House refused to permit the normalization of relations, so Syria refused to allow the US generals into Syria.

In Dec. 2007,  Petraeus himself tried to go to Damascus to restart intelligence cooperation. The Vice President refused him permission. This was the time that  Petraeus announced that Syria had improved compliance and cut back infiltration across the border.

I think we can assume that this cross border raid was not inspired by Petraeus. It has the finger prints of the White House.  Petraeus and Rice have consistently fought to improve relations with Syria in order to win better coordination on the border.

This would explain why press releases on this issue are being released from “sources” in Washington and not being made by boots on the ground in Iraq. My hunch is that Centcom in Iraq is furious about being pressed to carry out this raid during the last minutes of Bush authority. They understand that it will complicate any future efforts to improve Syrian-US relations, which is the only real way to get better cooperation on the border issue. By ordering this raid, the Bush administration has administered a poison pill to US-Syrian relations and to Syrian-Iraq relations. 

As Jonathan Marcus of the BBC has written, “With the Bush administration on the way out, this US military incursion may represent something of a parting shot against the Syrians.”

The White House may be counting on Syria not to respond to this provocation, believing that Damascus will be constrained by its interest in cultivating a new relationship with an Obama administration. There is much hope in Damascus that an Obama administration will resume dialogue and allow the Defense Department to re-establish intelligence sharing and allow the State Department ot restore proper relations with Damascus.

[end of Landis analysis]

LA Times:

"This month Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former top commander in Iraq, said [Syrian] efforts had helped cut the number of foreign fighters crossing the Syrian border from about 100 to 20 a month. But he made it clear that more needed to be done."

Baghdad (Deutsche Presse- Agentur )

The Iraqi government on Monday said that it is talking to US officials over the American raid on the remote Syrian border village of Al-Sukariya and that it hoped the incident would not spoil Iraq’s ties with Damascus.

“The Americans failed to reply to all the requests by the Syrian government and to allow the Iraqis to build up security co-ordination across the border,” Samir al-Taqi, director of the Orient Centre for International Studies, a Syrian think-tank, told al-Jazeera.

Aljazeera English reports on the US raid into Syria.

 

LONDON (Reuters) – An alleged U.S. attack on a Syrian village near the border with Iraq was an “outrageous crime”, a Syrian diplomat told the BBC.

Syria says U.S. military helicopters attacked the Bou Kamal border area on Sunday, killing eight civilians. The United States, which accuses Syria of not doing enough to stop al Qaeda fighters and other insurgents crossing into Iraq, has neither confirmed nor denied the incident.

"This is an outrageous crime and an act of aggression, of course," Syria’s press attache in London, Jihad Makdissi, told the BBC.

He said the U.S. strike hit “a building under construction, a civilian building”.

"If they (the United States) have any proof of any insurgency, instead of applying the law of the jungle and penetrating, unprovoked, a sovereign country, they should come to the Syrians first and share this information," Maqdisi said.

“This administration … have proved to be irrational and they have no respect for international law or human rights. We expect a clarification, and of course Syria reserves the right to respond accordingly in the proper way.”

Syria’s foreign ministry has summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires in Damascus to protest over the raid.

Syria also called on the Iraqi government to carry out an immediate inquiry into the attack and to ensure that Iraq was not used for “aggression against Syria”, the state news agency SANA said.

Comments (64)


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51. Rumyal said:

The scent of blood in the air draws so many creatures out of the woodwork…

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October 27th, 2008, 7:48 pm

 

52. Solomon2 said:

AP reports that the local officials say that there were seven people killed and that they were all men – implying that the Syrian government story of women and children being killed is a lie.

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October 27th, 2008, 7:51 pm

 

53. Shai said:

Alex,

Yes, you were right. But I’m afraid the polls were taken before the campaign really got under way, before any candidate other than Livni uttered a single word, and more than likely attributed a few extra seats to Kadima based on Labor’s disastrous record. In fact, if you look carefully at the poll results, the Likud’s accomplishment seat-wise is far more impressive than Kadima’s. From 12 to 29. Kadima gains merely 2 seats, from 29 to 31.

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October 27th, 2008, 8:13 pm

 

54. Rabia said:

Innocent_criminal
[Ask most Pakistanis in the know and they will agree that the Paki army has given the US army green light to get rid of the problem on their behalf. its not something that is easily proven but it is somewhat of an obvious given]

Well, I wish I were one of these Pakistanis in the know so I could get a perfect understanding of the Pakistani military establishment’s master plan in the tribal areas the way you seem to have! OK, so your argument is that Gen. Kayani is actually calling in US special ops to target high value al Qaeda targets in Waziristan because he believes that given enough of these raids, the insurgency in the tribal areas will magically disappear?

If you are arguing that these raids are conducted with the full knowledge of the Pakistani establishment, I will certainly agree with you. However I do not think that they are conducted on BEHALF of the Pakistani establishment.

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October 27th, 2008, 8:20 pm

 

55. Naji said:

Joshua is on Al Jazeera Arabic right now… a relatively extensive interview about the raid… doing very well, but why in English…?!! For more credibility…?! 😉

(Just teasing, of course!)

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October 27th, 2008, 8:29 pm

 

56. Akbar Palace said:

Professor Josh writes:

Recent information has caused me to trim my sails a bit on the notion… It was probably constructed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and not Cheney’s office. Evidently there are real issues at the border and Petraeus has been warning the Syrians that they must do more. His interest in going to Syria in the fall of 2007 was as much to read Syria the riot act about compliance as it was to seek intelligence sharing, although that had been a principal subject of the Sharm al-Shaykh meeting between Mu`alem and Rice in May. Bashar al-Asad is no mood to give anything to Bush or Rice in the closing months of their administration.

Professor Josh,

Why are we supposed to take your hypotheses as fact? “Probablies” don’t cut it. One minute you say “Syria has curtailed infiltration into Iraq even though Washington has refused to reward it…” and the next minute you say “there are real issues at the border”.

Just a suggestion, instead of the “yes men” surrounding you in Syria, academia, and on this forum, get some facts instead of presenting your “probablies”. That’s all we need is more conspricacy theories. I have enough of those to fill a shoe box!

Akbar Palace … go ahead and vote for her! : )

Alex,

Thanks – I’m way ahead of you!

Lastly, Professor Josh adds a profound and ominous statement:

Bashar al-Asad is no mood to give anything to Bush or Rice in the closing months of their administration.

Damn that Bush. He ruins everything!;)

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October 27th, 2008, 8:54 pm

 

57. Shai said:

Akbar,

If you guys (the good ‘ole conservatives still supporting McPalin) are doing so well, where’s all the anger coming from? You’re tired of liberals, now you include academics, “yes-men” in Syria and on this forum, what’s next? Book burnin’? Starting sentences with Yeehaw? Did you see my earlier post about Alaska’s largest newspaper? It’s endorsing Obama! Isn’t freedom a wonderful thing? 🙂

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October 27th, 2008, 9:06 pm

 

58. Ghat Albird said:

Came across an item on a web site that reported the execution of Israel’s chief of Mossad along with the head of the Jordanian Government’s head of intelligence within the last two weeks.

Could that possibly be the rational behind this “parting shot” done by the US “in lieu” of the Israeli Air force in an eye for eye?

Must be Elliot Abrams’s [Norman Podhoretz’s son in law] last act in the Bush Administration.

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October 27th, 2008, 9:33 pm

 

59. qunfuz said:

Friend in America – I have been to Aal Bukamal. Sadly, like everywhere in the world, poor places included, there are breezeblock and concrete buildings aplenty.

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October 27th, 2008, 9:34 pm

 

60. Jen said:

This is the October Surprise from the Bush Administration to put fear in the american people so that they can vote for McCain. We are not fooled no matter which way you cut it!

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October 27th, 2008, 9:39 pm

 

61. Friend in America said:

Alex, my friend –
Sorry for interruptions that caused my delay in replying to #33. I thought my comment would be taken as humor. I apologize to anyone here who took offense. No, this is not a matter of wmd. It is a small matter of smugglers being paid to lead Saudi recruits across the border. Now that Abu Ghaduya has been found and killed, the number of identified terrorist facilitators is Syria is down to three.
I assume Syrian authorities were warned that if the border is not closed (as it has been in Jordan and Saudi Arabia) to people who wish to travel into Iraq and kill innocent civilians (mostly Shia), a risk of assertive action is created. I assume so because it is standard diplomatic procedure to do so. Do not expect the governments to acknowledge this soon after the incident. Maybe in several years.

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October 28th, 2008, 12:39 pm

 

62. Roger said:

No one seems to have asked why, if the US knew where this guy was, why it couldn’t have waited until he crossed the border again into Iraq. Has the hands of Cheney & Bush all over it, probably for election gain.

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October 28th, 2008, 9:30 pm

 

63. Stephen R said:

Killing members of al Qaeda who target Iraqi police and U.S. troops is now nothing more than playing political games with Assad’s disgusting regime?

Take off the hate-Bush goggles Josh please. They make the truth very difficult to see.

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November 1st, 2008, 3:22 pm

 

64. Syria Comment » Archives » Imad Moustapha on Raid: Newsweek & FP said:

[…] are signs that Petraeus remains skeptical about Syria’s stated desire for cooperation. Landis reported that “there are real issues at the border,” and that Petraeus’s interest in going […]

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November 1st, 2008, 8:45 pm

 

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