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home : opinion : news views December 17, 2014

8/31/2013 12:17:00 AM
Not Too Sure About Striking Syria
Gary Gerard
Times-Union General Manager

I am just a little uneasy about the whole notion of lobbing missiles at Syria.
It seems eerily similar to the run-up to the war against Iraq.
I remember back then being highly skeptical of the U.S. attacking Iraq and Saddam Hussein. I actually wrote that there was “no way” the U.S. should attack Iraq without the support of the United Nations, largely because I knew the United Nations would never support it.
Well, George W. Bush didn’t take my advice and did it anyway. Once the U.S. invades or attacks a country, I believe you have to get behind the troops, which I did. And I think you have to rationalize a little bit to do that. Saddam was a bad guy. He killed 300,000 of his own people. He had terrorist training camps, etc., etc. I did that, too.
I remember when Colin Powel was trying to convince the U.N. that an invasion was the right thing to do. He had all manner of intelligence data from the U.S., Germany and Britain.
Then-Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet called the evidence against Saddam a slam dunk.
I was convinced. And so were virtually all the Democrats and Republicans in Washington. So off we go to war with Iraq. I’ll let readers come to their own conclusions about the results.
Comes now the big question of what to do in Syria, where chemical weapons were used to kill – depending on what new report you read – somewhere between 100 and 1,300 innocent civilians, including women and children.
There is no doubt that some level of unacceptable atrocity has occurred, but by who is not crystal clear.
President Obama, however, says he has no doubt the use of those weapons was at the hands of the Assad regime, and he has laid out his plans for some level of expected military action against.
"We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out," Obama said on PBS.
OK, but then I read the Associated Press story Thursday morning.
It started out like this:
WASHINGTON (AP) – The intelligence linking Syrian President Bashar Assad or his inner circle to an alleged chemical weapons attack is no "slam dunk," with questions remaining about who actually controls some of Syria's chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike, U.S. intelligence officials say.
Now, when the President says “we have concluded,” exactly who is “we?” Because some of his own intelligence officials are telling the AP they’re not sure.
So while President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden are all saying it’s “undeniable” and “certain” that a chemical weapons attack occurred and that it was carried out by the Syrian military, AP reports, “U.S. intelligence officials are not so certain that the suspected chemical attack was carried out on Assad's orders. Some have even talked about the possibility that rebels could have carried out the attack in a callous and calculated attempt to draw the West into the war. That suspicion was not included in the official intelligence report, according to the official who described the report.
For his part Assad flatly denies using chemical weapons – for whatever his word is worth – saying it would be folly from a military perspective because there is no defined front line, his own soldiers would have been at risk and the attack targeted mainly civilians.
There are reports, most notably, in the The Daily Star of Beirut that four or five Hezbollah members – fighting alongside government troops in Damascus – were struck down by the same gas on the same day while clearing rebel-held tunnels. If government troops gassed the rebel tunnels, why would they enter them?
The other thing I think is really unsettling about the Syria mess is just who the “rebels” are and who is supporting them.
Here’s an excerpt from The Guardian from July 12:
Al-Qaida elements fighting with rebels in Syria constitute the most serious terrorist threat to Britain, and if they were to get their hands on Syria’s chemical weapons the consequences could be catastrophic, according to British spymasters.
The warnings, in the latest annual report of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) published on Wednesday, come amid growing reports that Syrian rebels are trying to acquire chemical weapons.
Russia said on Wednesday it had proof Syrian rebels used the nerve agent sarin in a missile attack on a government-controlled suburb of Aleppo in March. The British prime minister, David Cameron, said last month that al-Qaida-linked elements in the rebel movement had tried to capture chemical weapons for probable use in Syria.
There are numerous reports from credible sources that say the Syrianrebels would be much weaker today were it not for al-Qaida fighters joining their ranks.
Al-Qaida fighters bring discipline, religious extremism and Iraq battle experience to the fight.
In February 2012, President Obama’s own director of U.S.National Intelligence said Iraq was infiltrating the Syrian uprising and extending its network into Syria. At about the same time, al-Qaida leaders were urging fighters from all over the Mideast to head to Syria to fight the Assad regime.
In November, Bruce Reidel, a former CIA guy who specialized in Middle East counterterrorism, told The Washington Post that al-Qaida in Iraq was now rebuilding a network of safe houses and sympathizers in Syria it previously used during the Iraq war. Rediel said al-Qaida was rebuilding those networks “at an alarming rate” and warned the new Iraqi branch of al-Qaida was coming back as a “regional movement.”
Seems to me, the Free Syrian Army and al-Qaida’s Iraqi branch are joined at the hip. It also is well-known that al-Qaida in Iraq has no qualms about using chemical weapons.
CNN reported the following in May:
The most effective Syrian opposition group is widely considered to be al-Nusra Front. The U.S. State Department says that al-Nusra Front is simply a cover name for al-Qaida in Iraq, which has long operated in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
It is a worrisome fact that al-Qaida in Iraq is the only al-Qaida franchise ever to have actually used chemical weapons.
Al-Qaida in Iraq detonated a series of crude chlorine bombs in Iraq from late 2006 through mid-2007.
Let’s think this through for a minute. The most effective Syrian opposition group is al-Qaida in Iraq. The Syrian opposition is trying to oust Assad. Obama starts lobbing missiles at Assad for a chemical weapons attack that may or may not have been carried out by Assad. Isn’t that playing into the hands of al-Qaida? Isn’t that helping al-Qaida? The U.S. and al-Qaida are fighting side-by-side now? What?
So what if al-Qaida and the FSA eventually win and get control of Syria’s cache of chemical weapons?
I’m just a dopey Indiana newspaper guy with an Internet connection and a little free time, but I can see there’s no way bombing Syria ends well.





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