"Twilight Struggle" by Eli Lake - Syria Comment

“Twilight Struggle” by Eli Lake

Qunfuz has an excellent article on the raid into Syria and the sentiments of Syrians.

PRI interview with Landis on Syria Raid

Twilight Struggle
In its closing days, the Bush administration escalates the war on terror.
By Eli Lake,  The New Republic  Published: Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On Sunday, U.S. helicopters accompanied by a special forces team struck in Sukkariyeh, Syria, just over the border from Iraq. It was a raid with enormous implications for the war in Iraq and the broader war on terror. The target of the raid was a man named Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih, better known in his circles as Abu Ghadiya. Since 2004, intelligence officials have been targeting Abu Ghadiya for his pernicious role in Iraq: helping fuel the Sunni insurgency by transporting foreign fighters, money, and weapons. Never before had Americans struck within Syria with such visible fingerprints. But officials believe that killing Abu Ghadiya justified that kind of action. One military official told me that the elimination of Abu Ghadiya represents a significant triumph over al Qaeda in Iraq. “The organization is pretty much finished now,” he told me.

That is a big story. But it doesn’t begin to capture the magnitude of the strike in Sukkariyeh. We have entered a new phase in the war on terror. In July, according to three administration sources, the Bush administration formally gave the military new power to strike terrorist safe havens outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Before then, a military strike in a country like Syria or Pakistan would have required President Bush’s personal approval. Now, those kinds of strikes in the region can occur at the discretion of the incoming commander of Central Command (Centcomm), General David Petraeus. One intelligence source described the order as institutionalizing the “Chicago Way,” an allusion to Sean Connery’s famous soliloquy about bringing a gun to a knife fight.

The new order could pave the way for direct action in Kenya, Mali, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen–all places where the American intelligence believe al Qaeda has a significant presence, but can no longer count on the indigenous security services to act. In the parlance of the Cold War, Petraeus will now have the authority to fight a regional “dirty war.” When queried about the order from July, deputy spokesman for the National Security Council Ben Chang offered no comment.

Strikes within Iran could be justified by the order, since senior al Qaeda leaders such as Saif al Adel are believed to have used that country as a base for aiding the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda affiliates in Iraqi Kurdistan. For now, however, any action inside Iranian territory will require at least sign off from the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff because of Iran’s capacity to retaliate inside the western hemisphere.

Why has the administration changed policy at this late date? For starters, the administration is genuinely worried about al Qaeda’s resurgence, not just in Pakistan, but across Asia and Africa. Within the administration, there is growing frustration with security services that are either unable or unwilling to root out al Qaeda within their borders. Pakistan is perhaps the best example of this. And even friendly services, like the one in Kenya, have made maddeningly little progress in their fight against terrorism.

When the administration first proposed this approach, it met with internal resistance. The National Intelligence Council produced a paper outlining the risk associated with this change in policy such as scuttling the prospect for better security cooperation in the future. And Admiral William Fallon, who preceded Petraeus at Centcomm, opposed taking direct action against al Qaeda and affiliated targets in Syria. But with the clock winding down on the administration, it has a greater appetite for racking up victories against al Qaeda–and less worries about any residual political consequences from striking. Roger Cressey, a former deputy to Richard Clarke in the Clinton and Bush administrations, says, “[W]ith the administration in the final weeks, the bar for military operations will be lowered because the downsides for the president are minimal.”

The big mystery now is whether the next administration will dismantle this policy or permit Petraeus to follow it to fruition. Obama has said nothing about Sunday’s strikes in Syria (a silence that has rightly earned him taunting from the McCain campaign). On one level, this new policy conflicts with Obama’s stated desire for opening up diplomatic channels to places like Tehran and Damascus. On the other hand, this is precisely the type of policy that he has repeatedly promised at least for Pakistan, whose territory is believed to host Osama bin Laden: If America has actionable intelligence on al Qaeda leaders, and the country housing those terrorist sits on its hands, we will act. His campaign rhetoric has now become the official war policy he will inherit. Is this a development that pleases him?

Eli Lake was the national security reporter for the now defunct New York Sun

Guards in front of the US embassy in Damascus

Guards at Rawda circle in front of the US embassy in Damascus

Syria says it could take further steps over US helicopter raid.  AFP

Syria demands US apology for helicopter raid
Damascus foreign minister dismisses claim senior al-Qaida man was killed
Guardian, By Mark Tran

Syria today demanded an apology and compensation from the US after a helicopter raid into its territory left at least eight people dead.

The deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, also rejected US claims that Sunday’s attack killed a top operative of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Ghadiyah, who had been about to conduct an attack in Iraq, according to US intelligence.

Mekdad told the Associated Press all the victims were Syrian civilians, and Damascus did not know the whereabouts of the wanted Iraqi. He added that the search for Abu Ghadiyah by Syrian and foreign intelligence agencies should continue…..

…Last year, the then US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, praised Syria’s cooperation in reducing violence in Iraq. But Syria has since refused to restart intelligence-sharing with the US until Washington recognises its assistance by returning an ambassador to Damascus.

Villagers in Syria after the strike

Villagers in Syria say their relatives were killed in the strike

Profile: Abu Ghadiya
BBC

Mystery surrounds the fate of a top al-Qaeda operative reportedly targeted by an alleged US strike on Syria….

US officials have identified Syrian militant Abu Ghadiya as a key figure behind the smuggling of foreign fighters into Iraq.  They are reportedly claiming that his death in the raid will have a major impact on al-Qaeda’s capabilities.

But this runs at odds with statements made by the militant’s organisation, al-Qaeda in Iraq, which announced his death on jihadist web sites over two years ago.

According to an al-Qaeda obituary of the militant released in August 2006, Abu Ghadiya died on the Saudi-Iraqi border sometime after the US-Iraqi offensive on Fallujah in November 2004. The group said he had been sent to the area to meet with a leader of al-Qaeda’s Saudi branch.

Both men died in an airstrike which targeted a house they were meeting in, the group claimed.

Major target: But al-Qaeda’s story is not accepted by the US……

In Syria, a short-sighted attack
29 Oct 2008 – Editorial: International herald Tribune

The weekend attack inside Syria by U.S. Special Operations Forces hunting for an alleged smuggler of Al Qaeda recruits into Iraq may have a fleeting tactical benefit, at best. In all other ways, it runs counter to the interests of the United States and its allies.

If this operation was not authorized at the highest level, there is something wrong with the administration’s chain of command. And if President Bush and Vice President Cheney did authorize an action that risks sabotaging Israeli-Syrian peace talks, reversing the trend of Syrian cooperation in Iraq and Lebanon, and playing into the hands of Iran, then Bush and Cheney have learned nothing from their previous mistakes and misdeeds.

The attack came shortly after U.S. commanders praised Syria for reducing the flow of guerrillas into Iraq from 100 per month to 20. The helicopter assault – in which Syria claims seven civilians were killed – also coincided with Syria’s establishing, for the first time, full diplomatic relations with Lebanon. This was a sign that Syria’s ruler, Bashar Assad, is serious about ending his pariah status in the West. It was also a signal to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan that Assad, whose alliance with Iran they abhor, is now eager to return to the Arab fold.

The timing of the cross-border assault could not have been worse. And the justification given – that Syria sacrificed the inviolability of its territory by failing to eliminate the infiltration of would-be fighters and suicide bombers – exhibits disdain for the principles of international law.

Syria demands UN action against U.S. over raid
Haaretz.com, 28 October 2008

Syria demanded on Tuesday that the United Nations Security Council take action against the U.S. over a helicopter raid on its soil on Sunday….

In a letter to the UN secretary general and the Security Council, Syria asked that the attack be condemned and that Washington held responsible, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported.

“Syria …, as it draws attention to this blatant act of aggression, expects the Security Council and United Nations members to shoulder their responsibilities to prevent such a dangerous violation in the future and hold the aggressor responsible,” said the letter, carried by SANA.

In another move reflecting Syria’s revolt at the U.S. raid and apparently also at Baghdad’s lack of a stronger response to it, the Syrian government Tuesday postponed a meeting of the joint Iraqi-Syrian Supreme Committee that was scheduled to convene in Baghdad on Nov. 12.

Iraq has said it doesn’t approve of the raid into Syria even if the U.S. claims such operations were legitimate. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraq doesn’t want its territory used for attacks in neighboring nations, but also urged Syria to crack down on organizations operating on its territory that have the intention of harming Iraq.

The Syrian letter to the UN said also that the Iraqi government should investigate the attack and shoulder responsibility to prevent use of its territories as a base for aggression.

Iraq denounces Syria raid, seeks U.S. pact changes
By Mariam Karouny and Waleed Ibrahim
Reuters, 28 October 2008

Iraq drew up amendments on Tuesday that it will demand of the United States in a bid to salvage an agreement allowing U.S. forces to remain beyond the end of this year.

Baghdad also issued a belated rebuke of Washington for a helicopter strike on Syria, a sign of the pressure Iraq’s government is under to reassure its neighbors that it is not letting U.S. forces use its territory against them.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will now send U.S. negotiators the proposed amendments to the security deal, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

Dabbagh did not provide details of the proposed amendments. Asked if they covered just the wording of the deal, he said: “the wording, yes, and some of the content.” But a cabinet member indicated that the proposed changes would not require the pact’s main points to be renegotiated.

“We worked to avoid any ambiguity.” The pact already includes a number of key concessions to Baghdad, such as a 2011 withdrawal date and a mechanism for Iraq to try U.S. troops for major crimes committed while off duty. Othman said the proposed amendments would not alter the pact’s wording on the issue of legal jurisdiction over U.S. troops.

U.S. School in Syria Ordered Shut After Attack
The Wall Street Journal, 28 October 2008

The Syrian government ordered an American school and a U.S. cultural center in Damascus closed in response to a deadly U.S. attack on a village near the Iraq border, the state-run news agency said.

The state news agency, SANA, didn’t say when the school and the center would be closed but said the closures will continue until further notice.

There is a small American community in the Syrian capital and one American school and a cultural center.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman said he had heard about the order but declined to comment further because the U.S. hadn’t been officially notified by the Syrian government.

Diplomats: IAEA says Syrian nuke info needs probe
By GEORGE JAHN
AP, 28 October 2008

Freshly evaluated soil and air samples from a Syrian site bombed by Israel on suspicion it was a covert nuclear reactor provide enough evidence to push ahead with a U.N probe, diplomats said Tuesday.

The findings are important after months of uncertainty about the status of the investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Preliminary results regarding environmental samples collected from the site by an IAEA team and made public earlier this year were inconclusive, adding weight to Syrian assertions that no trips beyond the initial IAEA visit in June were necessary. But the diplomats told The Associated Press that the IAEA’s final evaluation, completed a few days ago, has the agency convinced it needs to press on with its investigation.

The agency feels “there is enough evidence there to warrant a follow-up” said one of the diplomats. He, and a colleague from another IAEA country demanded anonymity in exchange for divulging confidential information, which is not meant to be made public until the IAEA’s meeting of its 35-nation board of governors next month.

Russia’s Medvedev shrugs off U.S. sanctions on arms
By Denis Dyomkin
Swissinfo.ch, 28 October 2008

U.S. sanctions on Russia’s state arms exporter are short-sighted and will not have a significant impact on its sales, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday.

The U.S. State Department last week imposed sanctions on firms in China and Russia for alleged sales of sensitive technology that could help Iran, North Korea and Syria develop weapons of mass destruction or missile systems.

Terrorism Comes to Damascus: Syria Faces its Own Islamist Threat
By Fadhil Ali
The Jamestown Foundation, 24 October 2008

After a generation of internal stability Syria was struck by a terrorist attack in its capital of Damascus on September 27. According to an official Syrian source, 17 people were killed and 14 injured when a car bomb detonated in a crowded area on the busy main road that links the city with Damascus international airport. Though the explosion took place near the headquarters of the Palestine Security Service, a branch of Syria’s extensive security complex, all of the casualties were reported to be civilians, save for a military officer and his son. Later reports cited claims by Syrian opposition groups that the officer killed was Brigadier General Abdul Karim Abbas, who was questioned by the international commission investigating the assassination of Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri (Naharnet, September 29; Middle East Times, October 6). The car was estimated to have held 200 kg of explosives. General Bassam Abdul Majeed, the Syrian interior minister, described the attack as a terrorist act (sana.sy, September 28).

A day later Syrian authorities issued a statement with more details about the attack. Authorities detailed the results of the initial investigation:

[A] terrorist was driving the car used in the attack. The vehicle is a GMC, plate number 83115 and had entered the country on September 26, 2008, through a border check point coming from a neighboring Arab country… the process of identifying the suicide attacker is continuing by checking the DNA of his dead body… the investigation with the arrested suspects has shown that the terrorist attacker is linked to a Takfiri [Islamic extremist] group. Members of that group had been arrested previously and their interrogation and the search for fugitives will continue (sana.sy, September 29).

The Syrian statements did not initially specify the group alleged to be involved or the country from which the car originated. In addition to non-Arab Turkey and Israel, Syria shares a border with three Arab countries: Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon.

After announcing the arrest of the alleged Syrian ringleader charged with responsibility in the Damascus bombing, President Assad claimed that some members of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian “March 14” political coalition were financing terrorist activities in Syria. The president added that Syria was threatened by “radical fundamentalist groups in north Lebanon trying to use Syria as a passage between Lebanon and Iraq” (Ya Libnan, October 17)…

We Should Talk to Our Enemies
By Nicholas Burns
Newsweek, 25 October 2008

One of the sharpest and most telling differences on foreign policy between Barack Obama and John McCain is whether the United States should talk to difficult and disreputable leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. In each of the three presidential debates, McCain belittled Obama as naive for arguing that America should be willing to negotiate with such adversaries. In the vice presidential debate, Sarah Palin went even further, accusing Obama of “bad judgment … that is dangerous,” an ironic charge given her own very modest foreign-policy credentials.

Are McCain and Palin correct that America should stonewall its foes? I lived this issue for 27 years as a career diplomat, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations. Maybe that’s why I’ve been struggling to find the real wisdom and logic in this Republican assault against Obama. I’ll bet that a poll of senior diplomats who have served presidents from Carter to Bush would reveal an overwhelming majority who agree with the following position: of course we should talk to difficult adversaries—when it is in our interest and at a time of our choosing.

The more challenging and pertinent question, especially for the McCain-Palin ticket, is the reverse: Is it really smart to declare we will never talk to such leaders? Is it really in our long-term national interest to shut ourselves off from one of the most important and powerful states in the Middle East—Iran—or one of our major suppliers of oil, Venezuela?

During the five decades of the cold war, when Americans had a more Manichaean view of the world, we did, from time to time, cut off relations with particularly odious leaders such as North Korea’s Kim Il Sung or Albania’s bloodthirsty and maniacal strongman, Enver Hoxha. But for the most part even our most ardent cold-war presidents—Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, none of whom was often accused of being weak or naive—decided that sitting down with our adversaries made good sense for America. They all talked to Soviet leaders—men vastly more threatening to America’s survival than Ahmadinejad or Chávez are now. JFK negotiated a nuclear Test-Ban Treaty with his mortal adversary, Nikita Khrushchev, just one year after the two narrowly avoided a nuclear holocaust during the Cuban missile crisis. Perhaps more dramatically, Nixon, the greatest anticommunist crusader of his time, went to China in 1972 to repair a more than 20-year rupture with Mao Zedong that he believed no longer worked for America.

All of these cold-war presidents embraced a foreign-policy maxim memorialized by one of the toughest and most experienced leaders of our time, Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin, who defended his discussions with Yasir Arafat by declaring, “You don’t make peace with friends, you make peace with very unsavory enemies.” Why should the United States approach the world any differently now? Especially now? As Americans learned all too dramatically on 9/11 and again during the financial crisis this autumn, we inhabit a rapidly integrating planet where dangers can strike at any time and from great distances. And when others—China, India, Brazil—are rising to share power in the world with us, America needs to spend more time, not less, talking and listening to friends and foes alike.

The real truth Americans need to embrace is that nearly all of the most urgent global challenges—the quaking financial markets, climate change, terrorism—cannot be resolved by America’s acting alone in the world. Rather than retreat into isolationism, as we have often done in our history, or go it alone as the unilateralists advocated disastrously in the past decade, we need to commit ourselves to a national strategy of smart engagement with the rest of the world. Simply put, we need all the friends we can get. And we need to think more creatively about how to blunt the power of opponents through smart diplomacy, not just the force of arms…

Lebanon’s Hariri, Nasrallah hold rare meeting
By Yara Bayoumy
Reuters, 27 October 2008

Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has met his main political foe, Sunni majority leader Saad al-Hariri, for the first time since the war with Israel in 2006, a statement said on Monday…..

The rare meeting, which occurred on Sunday night, marks a breakthrough in the relationship between the two opponents and is likely to cool tensions before 2009 parliamentary elections.

“There was an affirmation of national unity and civil peace and the need to take all measures to prevent tension … and to reinforce dialogue and to avoid strife regardless of political differences,” the statement issued by both sides said.

Hezbollah’s al Manar television aired footage of the meeting which was attended by aides to both leaders. The statement also said that Nasrallah and Hariri would be in “mutual contact.”

The political crisis reached breaking point in May when Hezbollah and its allies briefly took control of the predominantly Muslim half of Beirut, sparking fighting with followers of rival leaders, including Hariri’s.

…The statement said Hariri and Nasrallah were also committed to implementing the Qatari-mediated deal which had called for “national dialogue” talks, the first of which were held last month. The next session is due on November 5.

Central to the dialogue is a discussion on the fate of Hezbollah’s weapons….

Saad al-Hariri, his father’s political heir, has insisted that the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons be discussed. Hezbollah says it needs its weapons to defend Lebanon from Israel. The group stood its ground in the 34-day war with Israel in 2006.

Hezbollah, which is the most powerful faction in Lebanon and heads an alliance with veto power in government, is not expected to yield to its opponents who want the group’s weapons to be folded under state control.

However it has expressed a willingness to discuss a defense strategy that would define the role of its guerrillas, who outgun the Lebanese army and are armed with thousands of missiles that can hit Israel.

The next president will have to bring U.S. policy back in compliance with those norms and restore a diplomacy that balances the interests of different powers in the region. We hope the latest Syria operation does not reflect a deliberate effort by Bush and Cheney to foil such efforts.

Syria comes down on dissidents
By Stephen Starr

DAMASCUS – On Wednesday, 12 Syrian dissidents were sentenced to two-and-a-half years each by the National Security Court in Damascus. The 12 were held behind a cage in a court room packed with family members and well-wishers. After the sentences were read out, several of the detained shouted cries of defiance and locked hands together.

The trial, which lasted several months, has been charged by international human-rights groups of being a violation of “the activists’ right to freedom of movement and an undue interference with their rights to freedom of expression and association”. About a dozen diplomats from various embassies, including Canadian and Dutch representatives, attended the proceedings

Iran’s Comeback Kid and the Quest for Reform
By JOE MACARON (Middle East Times), October 29, 2008

Many young Iranians are seeking political change after the failed policies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, giving reformists an opportunity to make a comeback. Reformist and former President Mohammad Khatami was received with tears and roses and calls of “long live the next president” at a recent rally. Photo shows Iranian women watching a football skills contest in Tehran on Oct. 10. (Image by ABACAPRESS.COM via Newscom)

Many young Iranians are seeking political change after the failed policies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, giving reformists an opportunity to make a comeback. Reformist and former President Mohammad Khatami was received with tears and roses and calls of “long live the next president” at a recent rally. Photo shows Iranian women watching a football skills contest in Tehran on Oct. 10. (Image by ABACAPRESS.COM via Newscom)

On extra-judicial executions
Posted by Helena Cobban
October 28, 2008 4:50 PM EST | Link

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