Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Intelligence reports show Islamic extremists dominate Syrian opposition

Reuters reports on it with the headline “Kerry portrait of Syria rebels at odds with intelligence reports”.

Excerpt:

Secretary of State John Kerry’s public assertions that moderate Syrian opposition groups are growing in influence appear to be at odds with estimates by U.S. and European intelligence sources and nongovernmental experts, who say Islamic extremists remain by far the fiercest and best-organized rebel elements.

At congressional hearings this week, while making the case for President Barack Obama’s plan for limited military action in Syria, Kerry asserted that the armed opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership, and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution.

“And the opposition is getting stronger by the day,” Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

U.S. and allied intelligence sources and private experts on the Syrian conflict suggest that assessment is optimistic.

While the radical Islamists among the rebels may not be numerically superior to more moderate fighters, they say, Islamist groups like the al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front are better organized, armed and trained.

Kerry’s remarks represented a change in tone by the Obama administration, which for more than two years has been wary of sending U.S. arms to the rebels, citing fears they could fall into radical Islamists’ hands.

As recently as late July, at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado, the deputy director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, David Shedd, estimated that there were at least 1,200 different Syrian rebel groups and that Islamic extremists, notably the Nusra Front, were well-placed to expand their influence.

“Left unchecked, I’m very concerned that the most radical elements will take over larger segments” of the opposition groups, Shedd said. He added that the conflict could drag on anywhere “from many, many months to multiple years” and that a prolonged stalemate could leave open parts of Syria to potential control by radical fighters.

U.S. and allied intelligence sources said that such assessments have not changed.

As an aside, the mainstream media has not been reporting on these intelligence reports.

Excerpt:

A new survey of the coverage of the Syrian civil war and the U.S. response to it by the big three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, shows that 94 percent of their stories have not mentioned that some of the rebel forces include America’s enemy, al Qaeda.

The survey, reported by the Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor, finds that since August 21, 171 stories about the conflict have aired on the networks. Of those, only 11 stories mentioned the al Qaeda element of the war.

ABC, for instance, has aired 51 stories about the Syrian conflagration but only mentioned al Qaeda in 3 of those reports. NBC was worse: out of its 64 stories, only 3 mentioned the notorious terrorist group. NBC was a little better, mentioning al Qaeda 5 times in its 56 stories.

Al Qaeda is not yet ubiquitous among the rebel forces, but its presence is growing, something the networks should be warning their viewers about.

Now, I was initially in favor of a targeted strike aimed at the leadership of the Syrian regime, assuming two things were cleared up first. 1) We had to be sure that Assad was responsible for the use of the chemical weapons. Despite what the Obama administration says, we are still not sure who used the chemical weapons. 2) We had to be sure that there were moderate elements in the leadership of the Syrian opposition. Well, we now know that this is not the case. So, my position has changed, and now I am in favor of not launching a strike at the leaders of the Assad regime. (Note: this option was not what Obama was suggesting, anyway – his strike was not targeted at the leaders).

I do think that it is important to deter the use of chemical weapons. That is a valid concern, and a strike at leaders who use chemical weapons is a valid way of achieving that goal of saving civilians from future attacks. But we have to be sure that we don’t do more harm, and right now it doesn’t look like that will happen.

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Heritage Foundation recommends no military action in Syria

Map of Middle East

Map of Middle East

I posted earlier in the week about how our best option was a targeted strike (SSM or standoff) to the top level of the Assad regime, but it looks like there is another viable conservative view on what to do about Syria.

Here’s the post from the Heritage Foundation, my favorite conservative think tank.

Five reasons:

  1. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine is not adequate justification for direct military intervention.
  2. A vital U.S. interest is not at stake.
  3. It would not be a wise use of military force.
  4. Missile attacks would only make President Obama look weaker.
  5. It would distract from what the U.S. should be doing.

Here’s the detail on Number 4:

4. Missile attacks would only make President Obama look weaker. Much like President Clinton’s ineffective cruise missile strikes on Osama bin Laden’s terrorist camps, strikes would only be seen as a sign that the U.S. is lacking a clear, decisive course of action. The Middle East would see this as another effort from the Obama Administration to look for an “easy button” and lead from behind rather than exercise real, constructive leadership.

The other concern that people have is the opposition is even more penetrated by Al Qaeda than I first thought.

More Heritage Foundation:

What should America be doing?

We should not be doing missile strikes, as many reports have indicated could be a possibility.

Al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups have been the principal beneficiaries of Obama’s passive, “hands-off” approach to the worsening Syria crisis. The Obama Administration urgently needs to develop a strategy not only to counter Assad’s use of chemical weapons but prevent those weapons from falling into the hands of al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, or other Islamist terrorist groups that have flocked to Syria.

Rather than attempting to intervene directly in the conflict, the U.S. should be working with other countries in the region to hasten the end of the Assad regime and deal with the refugee crisis and terrorist strongholds.

I don’t think that Heritage is responding to the idea of a targeted strike against the key people in the Assad regime as much as they are opposed to a general military strike against military targets. Everyone agrees on that, though. The strike option I presented (from Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal) was aimed at Assad and his henchmen.

The other concern that’s emerged (in the Associated Press, no less) is that it’s not 100% certain that the Assad regime was responsible for the use of chemical weapons. (H/T ECM)

Excerpt:

 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.

[...]A report by the Office of the Director for National Intelligence outlining that evidence against Syria includes a few key caveats — including acknowledging that the U.S. intelligence community no longer has the certainty it did six months ago of where the regime’s chemical weapons are stored, nor does it have proof Assad ordered chemical weapons use, according to two intelligence officials and two more U.S. officials.

[...]A three-page report released Thursday by the British government said there was “a limited but growing body of intelligence” blaming the Syrian government for the attacks. And though the British were not sure why Assad would have carried out such an attack, the report said there was “no credible intelligence” that the rebels had obtained or used chemical weapons.

Like the British report, the yet-to-be-released U.S. report assesses with “high confidence” that the Syrian government was responsible for the attacks that hit suburbs east and west of Damascus, filled with a chemical weapon, according to a senior U.S. official who read the report.

The official conceded there are caveats in the report and there is no proof saying Assad personally ordered the attack. There was no mention in the report of the possibility that a rogue element inside Assad’s government or military could have been responsible, the senior official said.

ECM wonders why the Assad regime would try to hasten their own demise by using chemical weapons, especially when they are winning. Still, I think it’s more likely than not right now that Assad is responsible for using the chemical weapons.

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air notes that Obama has not presented a comprehensive case for intervention in Syria. Who says? Donald Rumsfeld! Morrissey says that Bush administration’s case for war was much more thorough and had more support than Obama’s case against Syria.

My reasons for initially supporting the strike at the top level of the regime was to deter the future use of chemical weapons. I still favor that course of action, but on the condition that we clear up these uncertainties *first* and get Congressional approval *first*. You can’t just do these things willy-nilly, especially when there are uncertainties.

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How the weak Democrat foreign policy caused the Syria crisis, and what to do now

Map of the Middle East

Map of the Middle East

The UK Telegraph’s Nile Gardiner explains how Democrat foreign policy made the current crisis in Syria worse.

Excerpt:

Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is monstrous. A hundred thousand civilians have died at its hands in the last two years, and more than a million Syrians have fled the country since it began its war of attrition against rebel groups. It is almost certainly responsible for the massacre of up to 1,300 people in a suburb of Damascus last week through the use of chemical weapons. Many of the victims included women and children. Assad is a Baathist thug of the highest order, a figure of unremitting evil with few parallels in the modern world. The downfall of his dictatorship cannot come soon enough, and no peace can be realistically achieved in Syria until Assad goes.

In the face of Assad’s brutality, however, Washington and the West as a whole have been largely impotent. The White House’s strategy has been one of abject confusion, with no clear leadership from the president. Barack Obama’s approach has been one of “leading from behind,” a phrase first coined by one of his own advisers. He has been content to farm out US foreign policy to a feckless United Nations, and has kowtowed to a ruthless Moscow, which views Syria as a client state, a useful bulwark against American influence in the Middle East, and a thorn in the side of the world’s superpower.

The Russian “reset,” pioneered by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, has been one of the biggest foreign policy flops of the modern era, involving an extraordinary degree of deference towards a major strategic adversary. Clinton, it should be recalled, referred to Assad as “a reformer” as recently as April 2011, while former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, made a number of trips to Damascus to meet with Assad prior to the civil war.

Similarly, the Obama administration has been content to allow the Iranians to plough money, arms and military personnel into Syria in support of Assad, providing a vital lifeline for the pariah state. Washington’s engagement strategy with Tehran has been a massive folly, simply emboldening the Mullahs with no consequences.

My Dad and I were talking about what the United States should do now to deter the use of chemical weapons, and we came up with two alternatives. Use our covert operations capability (such as it is) to kill Assad or go with a tactical military strike against the top of the Assad regime – either surface-to-surface missiles or standoff air strike. I think that Obama has weakened the clandestine services so much over the years by exposing their methods, exposing their sources, prosecuting them for doing their jobs, etc. that they are not strong enough to do the job. So it’s going to have to be a more messy military strike against the top level of the Assad regime, if the goal is to solve the problem.

Foreign policy expert Bret Stephens writes about that option in the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

Should President Obama decide to order a military strike against Syria, his main order of business must be to kill Bashar Assad. Also, Bashar’s brother and principal henchman, Maher. Also, everyone else in the Assad family with a claim on political power. Also, all of the political symbols of the Assad family’s power, including all of their official or unofficial residences. The use of chemical weapons against one’s own citizens plumbs depths of barbarity matched in recent history only by Saddam Hussein. A civilized world cannot tolerate it. It must demonstrate that the penalty for it will be acutely personal and inescapably fatal.

[...]As it is, a strike directed straight at the Syrian dictator and his family is the only military option that will not run afoul of the only red line Mr. Obama is adamant about: not getting drawn into a protracted Syrian conflict. And it is the one option that has a chance to pay strategic dividends from what will inevitably be a symbolic action.

[...]On Monday John Kerry spoke with remarkable passion about the “moral obscenity” of using chemical weapons, and about the need to enforce “accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.” Amen, Mr. Secretary, especially considering that you used to be Bashar’s best friend in Washington.

[...]The world can ill-afford a reprise of the 1930s, when the barbarians were given free rein by a West that had lost its will to enforce global order. Yes, a Tomahawk aimed at Assad could miss, just as the missiles aimed at Saddam did. But there’s also a chance it could hit and hasten the end of the civil war. And there’s both a moral and deterrent value in putting Bashar and Maher on the same list that once contained the names of bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.

The rest of the article evaluates alternatives like striking Syria’s chemical weapons dumps, but concludes that a strike against the top of the Assad regime as the best option, if the goal is to solve the problem. I am not even sure if it is possible to get the top of the Assad regime this way, since we need intelligence to know where they are, and maybe even to point LTIDs at the targets. That can’t be done with the push of a button. These options require intelligence work to have been done up front, and we haven’t done it. Now we are stuck with the need to deter chemical weapon use, but we have few options and fewer capabilities.

There are two problems with Bret Stephens’ preferred scenario. First, the Assad regime has the backing of the Russians and the Iranians. They might not like it if we took out their puppet and his helpers. Second, the influence of the moderates in the Syrian opposition is uncertain. We don’t have a clear ally in the Syrian opposition, like we do in Egypt with the Egyptian army. From what I am hearing, the rebels are significantly Al Qaeda. We could have been cultivating those relationships with the moderate faction, but we were not doing that. So the whole thing is very risky. It didn’t need to be this bad, but we elected the pacificist multiculturalist moral relativist CYA Democrats in charge, and they’ve made a mess of the Middle East. Instead of elevating the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya and Egypt, we should have been focused like a laser beam on Syria. We weren’t engaged like we should have been.

To quote again from Nile Gardiner’s UK Telegraph article:

Syria is not Iraq or Afghanistan, where the United States had clear-cut military objectives and national interests at stake when it went to war. The conflict in Syria is further complicated by the rise of Islamist groups with links to al-Qaeda, who have thrived amidst the chaos, and in some cases have targeted the Christian minority in the country. The Obama administration has made little serious effort to cultivate pro-Western, non-Islamist rebels in Syria, whose influence has waned, while the Islamists have gained strength.

Ultimately, the Syrian debacle has exposed the emptiness of the Obama doctrine, one that is based upon hand-wringing, appeasement, and the scaling back of American power. President Obama has been content to weaken US influence, while playing a back seat role on the world stage. There are many things the White House could have done to erode Assad’s regime over the past two years while strengthening the hand of pro-Western rebels, including aggressively challenging Iranian support for Damascus, forcefully standing up to Moscow at the UN Security Council, coordinating support for the Free Syrian Army among the Gulf States and Turkey, and pressuring the Saudis to crack down on Islamist networks fueling al-Qaeda-tied groups in Syria.

But, of course, the Obama administration did none of those things, because those things would require leadership and vision.

By the way, in case you are wondering where Syria’s chemical weapons came from, the most likely scenario is that they were moved from Iraq. We had reliable intelligence before the Iraq war that Saddam had chemical weapons, and evidence emerged later that Iraq’s WMDs were moved to Syria.

UPDATE: Ralph Peters who is an expert in foreign policy is saying no to the strike idea. He prefers do nothing to an effective strike (the Bret Stephens option). But Peters doesn’t think that Obama will do an effective strike. So I am not sure what to do now. I am hearing that the opposition is not moderate in any way, and we shouldn’t be helping them at all by attacking Assad.

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Surprise! WMDs from Iraq were moved to Syria by Saddam Hussein

As I expected. I wonder if the mainstream media will apologize now that the truth is out.

Expected:

As the regime of Bashar Assad disintegrates, the security of his chemical arsenal is in jeopardy. The No. 2 general in Saddam Hussein’s air force says they were the WMDs we didn’t find in Iraq.

King Abdullah of neighboring Jordan warned that a disintegrating Syria on the verge of civil war puts Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons at risk of falling into the hands of al-Qaida.

“One of the worst-case scenarios as we are obviously trying to look for a political solution would be if some of those chemical stockpiles were to fall into unfriendly hands,” he said.

The irony here is that the chemical weapons stockpile of Syrian thug Assad may in large part be the legacy of weapons moved from Hussein’s Iraq into Syria before Operation Iraqi Freedom.

If so, this may be the reason not much was found in the way of WMD by victorious U.S. forces in 2003.

In 2006, former Iraqi general Georges Sada, second in command of the Iraqi Air Force who served under Saddam Hussein before he defected, wrote a comprehensive book, “Saddam’s Secrets.”

It details how the Iraqi Revolutionary Guard moved weapons of mass destruction into Syria in advance of the U.S.-led action to eliminate Hussein’s WMD threat.

As Sada told the New York Sun, two Iraqi Airways Boeings were converted to cargo planes by removing the seats, and special Republican Guard units loaded the planes with chemical weapons materials.

There were 56 flights disguised as a relief effort after a 2002 Syrian dam collapse.

There were also truck convoys into Syria. Sada’s comments came more than a month after Israel’s top general during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Moshe Yaalon, told the Sun that Saddam “transferred the chemical agents from Iraq to Syria.”

Both Israeli and U.S. intelligence observed large truck convoys leaving Iraq and entering Syria in the weeks and months before Operation Iraqi Freedom, John Shaw, former deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, told a private conference of former weapons inspectors and intelligence experts held in Arlington, Va., in 2006.

Well, there you have it. Should you believe the mainstream media?

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Exceptional speech on foreign policy by Tim Pawlenty

Tim Pawlenty delivered this must-read speech on foreign policy to the Council on Foreign Relations today.

Excerpt:

President Obama has failed to formulate and carry out an effective and coherent strategy in response to these events.  He has been timid, slow, and too often without a clear understanding of our interests or a clear commitment to our principles.

And parts of the Republican Party now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments.  This is no time for uncertain leadership in either party.  The stakes are simply too high, and the opportunity is simply too great.

No one in this Administration predicted the events of the Arab spring – but the freedom deficit in the Arab world was no secret.  For 60 years, Western nations excused and accommodated the lack of freedom in the Middle East.  That could not last.  The days of comfortable private deals with dictators were coming to an end in the age of Twitter, You Tube, and Facebook.  And history teaches there is no such thing as stable oppression.

President Obama has ignored that lesson of history.  Instead of promoting democracy – whose fruit we see now ripening across the region – he adopted a murky policy he called “engagement.”

“Engagement” meant that in 2009, when the Iranian ayatollahs stole an election, and the people of that country rose up in protest, President Obama held his tongue.  His silence validated the mullahs, despite the blood on their hands and the nuclear centrifuges in their tunnels.

While protesters were killed and tortured, Secretary Clinton said the Administration was “waiting to see the outcome of the internal Iranian processes.”  She and the president waited long enough to see the Green Movement crushed.

“Engagement” meant that in his first year in office, President Obama cut democracy funding for Egyptian civil society by 74 percent.  As one American democracy organization noted, this was “perceived by Egyptian democracy activists as signaling a lack of support.”  They perceived correctly.  It was a lack of support.

“Engagement” meant that when crisis erupted in Cairo this year, as tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, Secretary Clinton declared, “the Egyptian Government is stable.”  Two weeks later, Mubarak was gone.  When Secretary Clinton visited Cairo after Mubarak’s fall, democratic activist groups refused to meet with her.  And who can blame them?

The forces we now need to succeed in Egypt — the pro-democracy, secular political parties — these are the very people President Obama cut off, and Secretary Clinton dismissed.

The Obama “engagement” policy in Syria led the Administration to call Bashar al Assad a “reformer.”  Even as Assad’s regime was shooting hundreds of protesters dead in the street, President Obama announced his plan to give Assad “an alternative vision of himself.”  Does anyone outside a therapist’s office have any idea what that means?  This is what passes for moral clarity in the Obama Administration.

By contrast, I called for Assad’s departure on March 29; I call for it again today.  We should recall our ambassador from Damascus; and I call for that again today.  The leader of the United States should never leave those willing to sacrifice their lives in the cause of freedom wondering where America stands.  As President, I will not.

I blogged quite a bit about the peaceful protestors in Iran. Remember Neda Soltan who was shot down in the streets? And yet Obama had almost nothing to say about the pro-democracy movements. And Obama was on the wrong side in the Honduras election, as well – he backed Manuel Zelaya. It’s good that Tim Pawlenty has something to say about it.

And a bit more  of his speech:

The third category consists of states that are directly hostile to America.  They include Iran and Syria.  The Arab Spring has already vastly undermined the appeal of Al Qaeda and the killing of Osama Bin Laden has significantly weakened it.

The success of peaceful protests in several Arab countries has shown the world that terror is not only evil, but will eventually be overcome by good.  Peaceful protests may soon bring down the Assad regime in Syria.  The 2009 protests in Iran inspired Arabs to seek their freedom.  Similarly, the Arab protests of this year, and the fall of regime after broken regime, can inspire Iranians to seek their freedom once again.

We have a clear interest in seeing an end to Assad’s murderous regime.  By sticking to Bashar al Assad so long, the Obama Administration has not only frustrated Syrians who are fighting for freedom—it has demonstrated strategic blindness.  The governments of Iran and Syria are enemies of the United States.  They are not reformers and never will be.  They support each other.  To weaken or replace one, is to weaken or replace the other.

The fall of the Assad mafia in Damascus would weaken Hamas, which is headquartered there.  It would weaken Hezbollah, which gets its arms from Iran, through Syria.  And it would weaken the Iranian regime itself.

To take advantage of this moment, we should press every diplomatic and economic channel to bring the Assad reign of terror to an end.  We need more forceful sanctions to persuade Syria’s Sunni business elite that Assad is too expensive to keep backing.  We need to work with Turkey and the Arab nations and the Europeans, to further isolate the regime.  And we need to encourage opponents of the regime by making our own position very clear, right now:  Bashar al-Assad must go.

When he does, the mullahs of Iran will find themselves isolated and vulnerable.  Syria is Iran’s only Arab ally.  If we peel that away, I believe it will hasten the fall of the mullahs.  And that is the ultimate goal we must pursue.  It’s the singular opportunity offered to the world by the brave men and women of the Arab Spring.

The march of freedom in the Middle East cuts across the region’s diversity of religious, ethnic, and political groups.  But it is born of a particular unity.  It is a united front against stolen elections and stolen liberty, secret police, corruption, and the state-sanctioned violence that is the essence of the Iranian regime’s tyranny.

So this is a moment to ratchet up pressure and speak with clarity.  More sanctions.  More and better broadcasting into Iran.  More assistance to Iranians to access the Internet and satellite TV and the knowledge and freedom that comes with it.  More efforts to expose the vicious repression inside that country and expose Teheran’s regime for the pariah it is.

And, very critically, we must have more clarity when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program.  In 2008, candidate Barack Obama told AIPAC that he would “always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel.”  This year, he told AIPAC “we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”  So I have to ask: are all the options still on the table or not?  If he’s not clear with us, it’s no wonder that even our closest allies are confused.

The Administration should enforce all sanctions for which legal authority already exits.  We should enact and then enforce new pending legislation which strengthens sanctions particularly against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who control much of the Iranian economy.

Here’s a clip from the discussion with CFR after the speech:

You know, I was listening to a fiscal conservative being interviewed on the radio the other day and the person was saying that he had more fear of Obama’s foreign policy than of Obama’s economic policy. This was after he had laid out a gloomy economic picture.

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