Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jimmy Carter favors democracy for Egypt - in the distant indeterminate future

Jimmy Carter has become a caricature of Western colonialist from a century ago.

We'll recall Great Britain in 1922 offering formal independence constrained by a British prerogative to intervene in issues that it considered important.
When at last the combined forces of the occupying army and the Interior Ministry were able to quell months of strikes and protests, the British were compelled to reconsider their position towards Egypt. The eventual outcome of that process was the unilateral decision in March 1922 to grant Egypt a qualified independence. Although the country would be governed thereafter as a constitutional monarchy, the British retained the right to intervene in any matters seen to affect the security of imperial communications, the interests and safety of foreigners on Egyptian soil, the threat of foreign invasion, or the status of Egypt's relationship with the Sudan.
Western colonialism has always also had another aspect. Westerners presented their control over others' affairs as temporary, eventually to end, and as beneficial to the colonized. Despite the rhetoric, they actually ruled to favor their own perceived interests. But this rule was rhetorically in anticipation of later full sovereignty sometime in the indeterminate future.
British rhetoric constantly proclaimed that Britain's great colonial mission was to gradually bestow enlightened English traditions of parliamentary democracy and responsible government on "backward" colonial people.
This is exactly what Juan Cole evokes when he predicts that the military will retain power to the benefit of religious minorities and women. (A 'prediction' that the government he votes for can actively encourage, as Carter does here.) The same military that disenfranchised the entire country in favor of the United States for the last 30 years is presented, of course dishonestly, hopefully as the guardians of democracy.

Recently, Egypt's pro-US military dictatorship has committed at least to the New York Times that it will continue to control foreign policy in matters of interest to the United States.
The new majority is likely to increase the difficulty of sustaining the United States’ close military and political partnership with post-Mubarak Egypt, though the military has said it plans to maintain a monopoly over many aspects of foreign affairs.
Jimmy Carter, who is liberal compared to most Americans and Westerners, has publicly expressed support for Egypt's military's efforts to retain the power necessary to keep its promise to US news organizations.
" 'Full civilian control' is a little excessive, I think"
"I don’t think it is going to be detrimental for the military to retain some special status."
“If the civilian leadership decided to give the SCAF immunity from prosecution, say, for the death of the people in Tahrir Square over the last few months, I would have no objection to that,” Mr. Carter said. Protecting the military budget from full civilian scrutiny might be another point where civilian political leaders could compromise, he said.
So Carter believes full civilian control is both unlikely and excessive - excessive defined in English as "going beyond the usual, necessary, or proper limit or degree". But it turns out, possibly in the same interview but reported by the Jerusalem Post instead of the New York Times, that while Carter believes full civilian control is excessive for the forseeable future, he wants to send a clear message to the pro-US military dictatorship that in some indeterminate future, beyond June or this year, he would favor full Egyptian civilian control of its military like Carter's own country has had for centuries:
"I think to have an abrupt change in the totality of the military authority at the end of June or this year is more than we can expect," Carter told Reuters in an interview.

"A clear message has to go out that in the future for Egypt, whenever that time comes, there will be complete civilian control over all aspects of the government affairs and the military will play its role under the direction of an elected president and an elected parliament."

"My guess is that the military would like to retain as much control as possible for as long as possible, still accepting the results of the revolution and the election," he said.
In the future for Egypt, whenever that time comes? (Another "prediction", this from a former US president about the behavior of an institution that has followed US directions for the last three decades.)

So for now, the backwards natives of Egypt should have their foreign policy controlled by the US. For now, according to Carter it would be excessive to Egyptians to control their own foreign policy instead of the military on behalf of the US as it promised the New York Times. But in some glorious future, according to Carter, "whenever it comes" Egypt will be ready to assert full civilian control over its military.

Under Barack Obama, just as much as under George Bush, Ronald Reagan or Carter himself, the United States' great colonial mission is to gradually bestow enlightened American traditions of democracy and responsible government on "backward" colonial people. But until then, unless the people of Egypt (hopefully) thwart its plans, the US will set Egypt's foreign policy.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What role is the US playing in Syria and why?

The US' public position on Syria has been widely circulated and is well known by now.
"We don't want to take actions that would contribute to the further militarization of Syria because that could take the country down a dangerous path," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. "But we don't rule out additional measures if the international community should wait too long and not take the kind of action that needs to be taken."

The administration previously had said flatly that more weapons are not the answer to the Syrian situation. There had been no mention of "additional measures."
It is also well known that formal US treaty ally Turkey and US colonies Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been substantially supporting the opposition, and this foreign support has helped fund and organize the armed resistance to the Syrian government. The US has been at least quietly supportive of this assistance. There are persistent rumors that the US, particularly Jeffrey Feltman, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, has had a major role in coordinating this campaign.

I do not have evidence that these rumors are true. My expectation is that decades from now records will be declassified that detail US/Israeli involvement and direction of this campaign, just as almost half a century after the US' 1953 toppling of Iran's Mossedegh, contrary to vehement contemporary denials, the US involvement in that program was made public.

But quiet support in the widely known actions of the US' allies and colonies is enough to establish complicity even before evidence of direct involvement which may become available in the future. Here is Hillary Clinton expressing support for the efforts of others to support Syria's armed opposition:
"There will be increasingly capable opposition forces. They will from somewhere, somehow find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures," she told reporters after taking part in a London conference on Somalia.
"Somewhere, somehow" in this case means from the US' allies and colonies. There are some points that bear repeating about supporting armed resistance to any government, good or bad.

1) Armed resistance vastly increases the amount of deaths in any anti-government campaign. Syria's armed opposition creating actual firefights with the government has increased the total number of people who've died in this conflict by at least tenfold and quite plausibly 100-fold.

2) Every sovereign government, good or bad, will forcibly resist foreign-supported armed opposition to its rule. If foreigners were to provide weapons or funds to acquire weapons to anti-US government forces in Miami or Seattle and those forces managed to incorporate those cities into "liberated territory", or managed to remove all security forces loyal to Washington DC from those cities and surrounding areas, then Barack Obama's campaign to regain control of those cities would look very similar to Assad's campaigns to restore effective central government authority over Homs and Hama. The rhetoric would also be the same. Obama would call any such armed resistance foreign-influenced traitors and terrorists.

Barack Obama just relinquishing those cities would not be a consideration, much less would his leaving power be. US colonies of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, Kuwait and others would behave identically to Obama or Assad except for differences in the amounts and types of weapons at their disposal.

Would there still be an armed resistance of there was no outside support? Possibly. Clearly any armed resistance would be smaller. Clearly fewer people would be dying. An easy response to an argument that an intervention is having little to no effect on the outcome is to ask, then why are they bothering? Why are they wasting money?

It is safe to say that at the very least ten times as many Syrians are dying in the current conflict as would have died if the US' allies and colonies did not intervene. If 7,000 people have died, at least 6,300 would be alive but for a campaign the Barack Obama administration, did not disapprove of even if it did not organize it.

That raises the question of why. If we start from the presumption that Barack Obama does not favor more Syrians dying to fewer all things being equal, then what makes things unequal? What could the US gain from armed conflict in Syria that Barack Obama considers worth thousands of Syrian lives?

On this question Obama administration officials are open that they hope a future Syria will not be aligned with Iran. Here is Feltman on Syria and Iran:
"Syria is essential to the extremely negative role that Iran has been able to play in the region. Take Hezbollah. The transit routes for the arms to Hezbollah are via Syria. The facilitation that Iran gives to Hezbollah to undermine the state of Lebanon, to put Israel at risk, to basically destabilize the region, it comes via Syria. Syria is basically Iran's only friend."
Feltman's ideas about Iran playing an extremely negative role in the region and Syria's help in playing that role bears closer inspection. We will see how profoundly anti-democratic Feltman's contention is.

We can start with Lebanon, a country that Feltman thinks is being undermined by Hezbollah. Lebanon had elections that were considered fair in 2009. The electoral alliance that Hezbollah participated in won 54.5% of the popular vote. (Barack Obama beat John McCain with 52.9% of the popular vote.) While Feltman believes Hezbollah's arms are a threat, the people of Lebanon have not voted to support Feltman. Most of Lebanon's voters do not believe Hezbollah is an undermining, rather than representative influence. Feltman hopes though that Assad's overthrow will allow the United States to overrule Lebanon's voters.

From Lebanon, let's look at Iran which Feltman believes plays an extremely negative role in the region. Iran's government represents people who, by a seven to one margin, do not consider Israel a legitimate country.
18. Level of agreement - The state of Israel is illegitimate and should not exist.

Strong Agreement: 51.9%
Mild Agreement: 14.6% (total agree, 66.5%)
Neutral: 21.1%
Mild Disagreement: 4.6%
Strong Disagreement: 3.9% (total disagree 8.5%)
Barack Obama and Jeffrey Feltman disagree with the people of Iran and describe Iran's policies that are consistent with those beliefs to be extremely negative. But Obama and Feltman would disagree with any democratic or representative government of Iran.

This direct question asked of the Iranian population gives a very stark result that is very difficult to minimize. Since then, I've never seen this direct question asked again in a publicly available source of the Iranian population or any population in Israel's region.

On the other hand the Palestinians are mostly Sunni, and Arab. If there is an important distance between Sunni and Shiite and between Arab and Persian, then the populations of majority Sunni Arab states are likely to consider Israel illegitimate by even larger margins.

The questions we do see asked of Arab populations are more constrained, such as this from Brookings:
Which of the following statements is closer to your view?

24% - Prepared for peace if Israel is willing to return all 1967 territories including East Jerusalem, and Arab governments should put more effort into this

43% - Prepared for peace if Israel is willing to return all 1967 territories including East Jerusalem, but Israel will never give up these territories easily

23% - Even if Israel returns all 1967 territories, Arabs should continue to fight
But Israel is not willing to return all 1967 territories including East Jerusalem. Israel continuously says it is not and the respondents to the poll believe it is not.

So what the Brookings poll asks is "If something was true, that you know is in fact not true and will not be true, would you in that imaginary world be 'prepared for peace' with Israel?". 67% of Arab respondents in one form or other responded yes to that question. 67% of Arabs would, in that imaginary world, be 'prepared for peace' with Israel.

Note that 'prepared for peace' does not imply that they would even then consider Israel legitimate, that they would want to maintain that peace if circumstances such as Israel's current military edge were to change, or that they would not support efforts to end Israel's military advantage over its neighbors. What is being asked by Brookings is not a meaningful question. Every Western poll I've seen since 2006 supposedly asking non-Jewish Middle East populations about their acceptance of Israel has been flawed in this way.

Respondents pointedly, deliberately and misleadingly are not asked by Brookings if they accept Israel in the real world. Here, Brookings is actively working to mislead its Western audiences.

The Brookings poll is not inconsistent with and does not contradict the Readers Digest poll. It is a safe assumption that if asked the same direct question Readers Digest asked the Iranians, the people of Syria would disagree with Feltman and Obama about Israel and about what kind of role would be positive or negative even more vehemently than the people of Iran.

These polls and these non-Jewish populations of the Middle East expressing disagreement with Barack Obama and Jeffrey Feltman bring us back to the question of why things are not equal, why Barack Obama would prefer to see thousands of Syrians die than oppose the formation of an armed resistance in Syria.

If the goal is to prevent Syria from playing the negative role in the region Iran plays, then there are at least three ways to accomplish this. One might be a democratic Syria that agrees with Obama and Feltman that opposing Israel is a negative effect on the region. The US and its supporters lie when they present this as the outcome they hope for. There is no reason to believe Syria's voters would agree with Obama and Feltman about what kind of role Syria should play in the region and good reason to believe they would disagree.

There are two other ways: 2) Syria can come under the control of a pro-US dictatorship, rejoining the colonial structure that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt (for now), Jordan and Kuwait are part of. This is the colonial structure Iran escaped when the US-imposed Shah was overthrown and which made it possible for Iran to now pursue, with Syria, what Feltman and Obama consider a negative role in the region.

Short of that, Syria might, the US, Feltman and Obama may hope, ultimately reach what Obama would like to see in Egypt, a government that has a democratic facade but whose policy on issues the US cares about are set by the United States. Juan Cole and the Heritage Foundation favorably describe this arrangement as "partly free" for Morocco and Kuwait. Jimmy Carter openly supports this arrangement for Egypt. Cole doesn't openly advocate this outcome but refuses to offer any criticism of this arrangement if, as it has promised, Egypt's military was to bring it about.

The last way is that Syria can be destroyed. Whatever else happens, the destruction of a country is the most common outcome of a civil war that results from foreign-supported armed opposition fighting the government. Syria may never have a government that agrees with Feltman or Obama about what constitutes a negative effect on the region, but if its ability to impact the region beyond its borders is crippled, that would be the next best thing.

Hopefully Syria will, despite the efforts of the US, its allies and its colonies, avoid a further escalation of its civil war. Other than the September 2001 attacks on the US homeland, the US has not suffered much to deter it from policies that result in large amounts of death of Arabs and Muslims to subjugate the region on Israel's behalf. I hope this lack of consequences for the US continues, because I oppose people dying.

I also hope though, that the US one way or another stops being an evil nation, a nation that would rather see thousands of Syrians die then see them live in a country free to play what Feltman and Obama (but not Syria's own population) consider a negative role in the region by threatening Israel.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why so many fewer deaths in Bahrain than Syria?

Foreigners arming an opposition in any country is an active attempt to create a civil war that will almost always be more destructive than government repression of protest. Civil war often does not result, after all of the fighting has ended, in a less repressive regime than before and at least for those who died cannot be considered worth it.

Countries that are part of the hegemonic structure the US maintains in the Middle East on Israel's behalf - Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia; pro-US factions in Lebanon and US formal NATO ally Turkey are equipping and supplying the armed opposition to the Syrian government.

While the US' colonies and allies in the region are arming the opposition, the Obama administration officially has opposed providing the opposition with weapons.
In coordinated messages, the White House and State Department said they still hope for a political solution. But faced with the daily onslaught by the Assad regime against Syrian civilians, officials dropped the administration's previous strident opposition to arming anti-regime forces. It remained unclear, though, what, if any, role the U.S. might play in providing such aid.

"We don't want to take actions that would contribute to the further militarization of Syria because that could take the country down a dangerous path," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. "But we don't rule out additional measures if the international community should wait too long and not take the kind of action that needs to be taken."
At minimum, if the US opposed the further militarization of Syria there are many things it could have been saying and doing over the past year that it has not. Barack Obama, typically, seems more concerned with presenting an image of non-involvement than with the amount of unnecessary and avoidable deaths. What is public about the US' position, that Assad must step down as a precondition to any resolution is, by design, unacceptable to any sovereign country facing foreign-supported armed opposition and predictably leads to increased suffering of Syrians people.

Despite fairly transparent lies, the United States is today working to subject Syria to a civil war that it hopes, regardless of who wins in the end, will weaken the country so that it will pose less of a strategic threat to Israel. This is what was done to Iraq, most intensely after the 2003 US invasion of that country.

In Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the US under Barack Obama actively assists in maintaining governments as unrepresentative as Assad's in Syria. If Israel's viability was not the US' primary regional concern, all four of these countries could gracefully transition to representative governments. Civil war is not necessary for the US to support democracy if that was the US' objective.

The US can and should withhold and threaten to withhold military and intelligence cooperation from its colonies to increase the pressure for graceful transitions to representative government. Even if those dictatorships were to resist US pressure, the US could withdraw its support and no longer be morally complicit in their repression of their people.

But alas, the United States is the most evil nation on Earth today. The people of Syria, just as much as the people of Palestine and also the people of the US' colonies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and others are suffering from the US' idea that an enforced majority state for fewer than six million Jewish people in Palestine outweighs the rights and even lives of over 400 million non-Jews in that region.

Former CIA officer Robert Baer on the US colony of Saudi Arabia

I've recently come across a book by former CIA officer Robert Baer, Sleeping With The Devil:
How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude
The Saudi government probably spends more per capita than any other country in the world on arms. (It acknowledges only that it spends 13 percent of its gross domestic product, but half of its revenue is earmarked for the military.) That’s basically without having to provide for its own external defense; U.S. carrier groups and F-15 combat air patrols over the Gulf take care of that. (And the U.S. still manages to spend less than 4 percent of GDP on the military.) Also, Saudi Arabia has never fought in any Arab-Israeli war, from 1948 until today. In fact, the Al Sa’ud’s military hasn’t fought a war since the 1930s. To understand the significance of its spending on arms, look at the French for comparison. Although France has a modern, combat-ready mobile army that fights in a handful of African bush wars and participates in peace missions all over the world, it spends only 2.57 percent of GDP on its military.
Baer presents the Saudi monarchy as the corrupt alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood, which, to Baer includes Al-Qaeda and which would control the country if its leaders were elected.
This fantasy of a democracy is corrupting foolishness. We all know what version of “democracy” the State Department has in mind for Saudi Arabia. (Think Kuwait.) It’s insulting to try to make us believe it’s the real thing, just as it’s degrading for all those executive-branch officials and spokespersons who get trotted out to pay lip service to the myth. Say that the truth is something else for long enough, and you’ll forget what the truth really is.
In fact, Baer's position is that before allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to take control of the oil resources available, the US should be prepared to directly take control of the oil wells in Saudi Arabia by force.
Even if we confine a takeover to Saudi Arabia, we couldn’t count on it going smoothly. Whether the House of Sa’ud were still in power or had been supplanted by some sort of Wahhabi putsch, we would still have to contend with all those weapons Washington sold the Saudis, and all those fighter pilots and infantry officers trained by American military personnel and private contractors to use the planes and other weapons. Happily, the U.S. has an adequate base of operations in Qatar. Additionally, U.S.-trained Saudi forces would realize the futility of resisting, in part because they know that however many planes and missile launchers they have, the U.S. has the next generation in far greater numbers. Also, corruption in the kingdom is so thorough that spare parts for its planes and tanks would quickly be truly spare and sparse.

Sure, terrorism would likely increase, locally and globally. Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, you name it - none is going down without a fight. Even if the Saudis aren’t widely loved in the Middle East, the enemy of my enemy is still my friend. Vilified for the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. would take an even worse beating in international public-opinion polls. We would have to run roughshod over international organizations and our own long-standing principles, although the newly promulgated “doctrine of preemptive warfare” would certainly provide cover. But would all that be worse than standing idly by as the House of Sa’ud collapsed and the world’s largest known oil reserves fell into the hands of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired fundamentalists dedicated to jihad against Israel and the West? I don’t think so. Some things are more calamitous than others, and if the Bush-Cheney administration knows anything well, it ought to be how to rebuild and run an oil field.
Basically what one would expect a former CIA officer to write. A cog in the US' imperial apparatus, but never getting any deep appreciation of what that means. On the other hand, details are available in this kind of work that are difficult to find publicly discussed.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Who is going to tell Israel that Iran has legal nuclear weapons capabilities?

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

For the first time, I've seen a US media source reach the logical conclusion that sanctions will not prevent Iran from achieving the capabilities Japan, Brazil, Canada and many other countries have legally acquired within the NPT. A military strike would not prevent it. Nothing the US can do would prevent Iran from attaining legal nuclear weapons capabilities, so the US cannot stop Iran from acquiring these capabilities.
Andrea Mitchell (MSNBC): But what General Dempsey said and what other US officials are saying is that they do not believe Iran has actually made the decision to go and produce a bomb. Yes, they want to have the capacity and they want to develop, get the equipment, enrich to 20% and get the fuel ready to make the next leap to 90% for a weapon but that they have not actually made the decision. Do you agree?

Aaron David Miller (Guest): Maybe yes and maybe no. I think it's impossible to know. Unless you change the motivational character of the mullocracy in Tehran which is going to be very difficult to do without a new regime, then it seems to me that Iran like North Korea, like India, like Pakistan, to a degree even like Israel will want a weapon. It's a form of deterrence. It deals with their profound insecurities and can cover any regional ambitions that they may harbor. Now, whether or not they made a decision or whether or not they are rational actors and would be delayed or be convinced in a compelling way to not move forward is another matter. One thing that is clear to me, if we had no sanctions, if there were no cyber-attacks and even no threats of military action, then the Iranians would already actually have the capacity already to produce a weapon. It's important that we keep the pressure up.

MSNBC: Do you think the pressure alone could prevent them from proceeding?

Guest: I don't. I think diplomacy right now is not an option. A military option by the Israelis would be like mowing the grass. They could not do anything more than retard -- for them it may be good enough to retard for a year to three, but it's like mowing the grass, the grass is going to grow back and this time with a legitimacy and an intensity that the Iranians will use to actually accelerate their own program. So if there is no diplomatic solution and if there's no military action right now, then we drift. And the longer we drift the greater the chances over time that the Iranians will in fact develop a capacity.

MSNBC: What is the bottom line here?

Guest: The bottom line is ...

MSNBC: They are going to get the bomb whether we try to stop them or not?

Guest: I think the bottom line is that they will acquire at some point the capacity to actually produce a weapon if they want to, if they want to go that way.
Now of course Miller is deliberately using the word "capacity" to mean weapon. His examples of countries with capacity are not Brazil, Japan, Canada, Germany or any of the many countries that have legal nuclear weapons capabilities. His examples are India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.

Andrea Mitchell along with Miller is calling the capacity, legal under the NPT, to build a weapon "the bomb".

But the important issue is that there is an admission, even by a "former State Department negotiator" that sanctions and military attacks both cannot prevent Iran from gaining legal nuclear weapons capabilities.

Once a US President is able to say this publicly, there is no longer any dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

Israel wants there to be this dispute, and therefore these threats, these sanctions and these covert actions against Iran anyway, not because of the nuclear issue but because like probably every non-Jewish Middle Eastern population, Iran's population does not consider Israel legitimate and a government that reflects its population's views should be sabotaged just for that.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Almost no Americans consider Iran the most important issue

I don't know much about Poll Position, but it seems to be following standard and therefore reliable polling practices.

Almost no Americans consider Iran the most important issue facing the US' next president. The result is close to the margin of error, so it is impossible to confidently claim that the percentage of the US population who consider Iran the most important issue is greater than zero.
Americans believe the economy will be the number one issue facing whomever is elected U.S. president in November.

In our national scientific polling, we asked Americans to identify the most important issue facing the newly-elected president.

In response, 75% said the economy, 13% said health care, 3% said terrorism, 3% said Iran, 6% said some other issue, and 2% expressed no opinion.

Americans of all political affiliations agreed: 78% of Democrats, 74% of Republicans, and 72% of independent pinpointed the economy as issue number one for the president-elect.
While this is the response I would have expected when asking about the single most important issue, I suspect a relatively low proportion of Americans would even put Iran into the top three issues.

One conclusion I would draw is that the US does not have a population that would be willing to accept significant costs to make sure Iran does not enrich uranium.

More Americans than not believe Iran would respond to an attack by trying to attack the US mainland:
In our national scientific telephone survey, we asked this question: “If Israel or the U.S. attacks nuclear sites in Iran, do you believe that Iran or its allies will attempt to attack the U.S. mainland?”

49% said yes, 32% said no, and 19% expressed no opinion.

Democrats (50%), Republicans (47%), and independents (49%) agreed on the issue.
Americans do favor supporting Israel if Israel was to attack Iran.
Our national scientific telephone poll found Republicans would favor U.S. backing of Israel striking Iran by a 64%-15% margin, while Democrats would oppose doing so 47%-23%. Independents side with Republicans, backing the U.S. supporting any Israeli military action on Iran 51%-21%.

Overall nationwide, Americans favored backing any Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear facilities by a 47%-27% margin.
These Americans are far less informed than the US' foreign policy community, but would likely reverse positions and create a damaging backlash if the US ended up paying a heavy cost for any attack and Iran after the dust settled had either nuclear capabilities or nuclear weapons anyway.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why the US and Israel will not attack Iran

There is a consensus in the US policy establishment that attacking Iran would not resolve or improve the US' position with respect to the nuclear issue, while Iran's responses would be costly for the US. I've recently come across two expressions of that idea that I want to leave here.

The first is from a former US intelligence official.
U.S. intelligence officials are skeptical. Former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden told a group of foreign policy experts last month that Israel is not capable of inflicting significant damage on Iran's nuclear sites. Some are situated at the outer range of Israeli bombers, and others are underground, he said.

"The Israelis aren't going to [attack Iran] … they can't do it, it's beyond their capacity," Hayden said. "They only have the ability to make this worse."

A monthlong U.S. bombing campaign would inflict far more damage, Hayden said, but it wouldn't be worth it. The George W. Bush administration studied the issue, he said.

"The consensus was that [attacking Iran] would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent: an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret," Hayden said.
Suzanne Maloney expressed the same idea at a Brookings Institution panel earlier this month.
In terms of the New York Times Magazine article, I think we could do a whole session on that and I think all of my colleagues would have opinions on the number of questions that you posed. I will answer very briefly that I think -- I remain a sort of hopeful skeptic on the prospect of an Israeli attack, although I think the prospects today are higher than they have probably ever been, even after years of anticipation and expectation that such a strike would be imminent. I think the world jitters are legitimate this time around. I think the after-effects would be disastrous for U.S. interests and, for that matter, for Israeli interests, and it would not set back the program significantly enough to justify those after-effects.
It is fairly well understood in the United States that an attack on Iran would not achieve any US objective worth the risks and costs. As long as that is the case, we can be confident that we will not see an attack from either the United States, or from Israel, a country that, to the degree it is viable, is only viable because of US support.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

If you want to believe the Syria conflict is winding down, read Thierry Meyssan

According to Thierry Meyssan, after Russia and China's veto of the UNSC resolution, the US dropped its support for a civil war in Syria and though it has not been announced publicly, the supplies for Syria's armed opposition are now drying up.

If this is true, then Syria is avoiding the fate of Iraq and tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands more Syrians will be alive two years from now than would be alive if the Barack Obama administration of the US had felt able to go through with its plans.

I hope it is true, but I don't see much evidence either inside or outside Meyssan's article that it is. Anyway, I'll excerpt the Meyssan's article about a possible resolution to the Syrian conflict and encourage everyone to read it in full.
On 7 February, a large Russian delegation, including the highest ranking foreign intelligence officials, arrived in Damascus where it was greeted by cheering crowds, aware that Russia’s return to the international scene marked the end of their nightmare. The capital, but also Aleppo, the second largest city, were decked out in white, blue, red, and people marched behind banners written in Cyrillic. At the presidential palace, the Russian delegation joined those of other states, including Turkey, Iran and Lebanon. A series of agreements were reached to re-establish peace. Syria has returned 49 military instructors captured by the Syrian army. Turkey intervened to obtain the release of the abducted Iranian engineers and pilgrims, including those held by the French (incidentally, Lieutenant Tlass who sequestered them on behalf of the DGSE was liquidated). Turkey has ceased all support for the "Free Syrian Army", closed down its facilities (except the one on the NATO base at Incirlik), and turned over its commander, Colonel Riad el-Assad. Russia, which is the guarantor of the agreements, has been allowed to reactivate the former Soviet listening base on Mount Qassioum.

The next day, the US State Department informed the Syrian opposition in exile that it could no longer count on its military aid. Realizing that they have betrayed their country to no avail, the Syrian National Council members went in search of new sponsors. One of them even went so far as to write to Benjamin Netanyahu asking him to invade Syria.
Armed foreign-supported opposition forces establishing "liberated territory" by which I mean territory outside of the control of the formal central government is a recipe for one thing: civil war that leads to at least an order of magnitude more death than would have happened otherwise. If Russia does enable Syria to avoid that fate, then Russia and China by their UNSC vetoes, are the heroes of 2012.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mohamed ElBaradei is hopeful about Egypt's political system

The key question in Egypt, and I think despite more coverage of both the Syrian conflict and Iran's nuclear issue, the key question right now in the Middle East is what will Egypt's new constitution look like. How much power will the Egyptian people have, what powers to set policy, if any, will the military retain to protect Israel from Egypt's voters?

We don't know how powerful Egypt's parliament will be after the transfer of power, but we know Egypt's voters have decided that Islamists will have a dominant voice in that body. Mohamed ElBaradei, much to his credit, has expressed absolutely no anxiety over this reality.
Some are skeptical about the influence of the Islamists. After decades of banishment from the political scene, they have no experience in governing. Before the revolution, we fought together; in the new Egypt, we have differing perspectives. On the eve of January 28 last year, two of their leaders were arrested leaving my home. One is now the speaker of the parliament. I called him to wish him success. I predict the Islamists will embrace other political factions, support free markets and be pragmatic.
I'm still optimistic that efforts to prevent the people of Egypt from controlling the policy set by their government will fail. It looks like in that I am in agreement with ElBaradei.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The four stage Russian proposal on Iran's nuclear program

We've heard rumors of this proposal, but never seen details. A former Iranian negotiator, S. Hossein Mousavian, has told a Japanese news publication the outline of the plan. This proposal is inconsistent with the US demand that Iran relinquish the right to enrich uranium. It does keep all of Iran's enriched uranium in the relatively easy to bomb location of Natanz. Indications from the beginning have been that the US rejected the proposal.
As ''Step 1,'' Iran should take action to limit its uranium enrichment program to just one existing site at Natanz and Iran is also prohibited from adding new centrifuges or producing new-generation centrifuges. In return for this, P5-plus-one would suspend part of the international sanctions stipulated in the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929.

In the next phase, Iran would allow the IAEA's surveillance of centrifuges and implement an additional arrangement with the IAEA for enhanced design inspection of nuclear-related facilities, while Iran's enriched uranium production rate would be limited to 5 percent or lower, far below the weapon-grade enrichment rate of 90 percent. The P5-plus-one side would begin gradually lifting the unilateral sanctions by the United States and key European nations.

During ''Step 3,'' Iran would implement an additional protocol with the IAEA -- an agreement between the nuclear watchdog and each nation that would allow broader and more intrusive IAEA inspections of atomic energy facilities. At the same time, P5-plus-one would suspend all U.N. Security Council sanctions.

In the next and last stage, Iran should suspend all uranium enrichment and related activities for three months, while P5-plus-one would begin final lifting of all sanctions and remove the Iranian nuclear dispute from the IAEA Board of Governors agenda. The P5-plus-one side would also start to implement ''incentives on cooperation in different fields.''
There clearly are still many missing details. There is no indication here of how much time and what would prompt the move from one stage to another. An important question for this, if it was the basis for negotiations, would be what happens after the 90 day suspension.

Sanctions are predictably not going to force Iran to suspend enrichment or to negotiate on the basis of relinquishing that right. In fact, during sanctions, Iran will put more facts on the ground that it will refuse to relinquish later. This plan, for example, was conceived before there was significant enrichment outside of Iran. Later plans may well require an acceptance of 20% enrichment in the reinforced underground facility at Fordow.

The pattern that has been established has been that delays in accepting Iranian enrichment lead to greater Iranian enrichment capabilities representing the floor for negotiations. Barack Obama's failure to accept Iranian enrichment so far has led to a significant increase in the amount and kinds of enrichment technology that Iran will have access to going forward.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Daniel Davies, D-Squared, explains that liars' claims cannot be salvaged

I was recently, in thinking about Syria, reminded of a classic blog post by Daniel Davies, that seems to have been first written in 2004. Maybe the single best blog post of its era and people who were reading English language blogs about the Middle East at the time likely will remember it.

Davies, unlike most Americans, did not expect that any weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq. None, not a small amount, not something that could be arguably mistaken for weapons of mass destruction. Just no weapons, the government of the US was lying to the people of the country. Afterwards he explained how he knew that.

This is a bigger segment that I'd usually copy, but it is from what seems to be an archival website with no advertising and one that I had trouble re-finding years later. Here is the heart of the post. I could not recommend more strongly reading it in full.
Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance. I was first made aware of this during an accounting class. We were discussing the subject of accounting for stock options at technology companies. There was a live debate on this subject at the time. One side (mainly technology companies and their lobbyists) held that stock option grants should not be treated as an expense on public policy grounds; treating them as an expense would discourage companies from granting them, and stock options were a vital compensation tool that incentivised performance, rewarded dynamism and innovation and created vast amounts of value for America and the world. The other side (mainly people like Warren Buffet) held that stock options looked awfully like a massive blag carried out my management at the expense of shareholders, and that the proper place to record such blags was the P&L account.

Our lecturer, in summing up the debate, made the not unreasonable point that if stock options really were a fantastic tool which unleashed the creative power in every employee, everyone would want to expense as many of them as possible, the better to boast about how innovative, empowered and fantastic they were. Since the tech companies’ point of view appeared to be that if they were ever forced to account honestly for their option grants, they would quickly stop making them, this offered decent prima facie evidence that they weren’t, really, all that fantastic.

Application to Iraq. The general principle that good ideas are not usually associated with lying like a rug* about their true nature seems to have been pretty well confirmed. In particular, however, this principle sheds light on the now quite popular claim that “WMDs were only part of the story; the real priority was to liberate the Iraqis, which is something that every decent person would support”.

Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless. Case after miserable case after bloody case we went through, I tell you, all of which had this moral. Not only that people who want a project will tend to make inaccurate projections about the possible outcomes of that project, but about the futility of attempts to “shade” downward a fundamentally dishonest set of predictions. If you have doubts about the integrity of a forecaster, you can’t use their forecasts at all. Not even as a “starting point”. By the way, I would just love to get hold of a few of the quantitative numbers from documents prepared to support the war and give them a quick run through Benford’s Law.

Application to Iraq This was how I decided that it was worth staking a bit of credibility on the strong claim that absolutely no material WMD capacity would be found, rather than “some” or “some but not enough to justify a war” or even “some derisory but not immaterial capacity, like a few mobile biological weapons labs”. My reasoning was that Powell, Bush, Straw, etc, were clearly making false claims and therefore ought to be discounted completely, and that there were actually very few people who knew a bit about Iraq but were not fatally compromised in this manner who were making the WMD claim. Meanwhile, there were people like Scott Ritter and Andrew Wilkie who, whatever other faults they might or might not have had, did not appear to have told any provable lies on this subject and were therefore not compromised.

* We also learned in accounting class that the difference between “making a definite single false claim with provable intent to deceive” and “creating a very false impression and allowing it to remain without correcting it” is not one that you should rely upon to keep you out of jail. Even if your motives are noble.
First I'd just like to repeat: "the futility of attempts to “shade” downward a fundamentally dishonest set of predictions. If you have doubts about the integrity of a forecaster, you can’t use their forecasts at all. Not even as a “starting point”." I really like that language.

How does this apply to Syria?

For most of the summer we would get casualty reports every single day of ten or twelve people being killed in peaceful protests by the Syrian government. That is a lie. A straight up lie, it did not happen. People may well have been dying, but not in peaceful demonstrations every day for weeks. Especially not in demonstrations that weren't even generating images.

I've seen images of people wounded. I've seen images of damage done to structures. But none of people gathering peacefully at a square and shots ringing out. That certainly was not happening every day, and we were being told it was happening every day. We were being lied to.

Also, all of a sudden there were cities in Syria with no security force loyal to the government present. Non-violent demonstrations can't do that. Other things may have been true, but while we wait for evidence, we can be confident that many of the statements we've heard from US and Arab government and media sources have been lies. Because of that, we are safe assuming that every statement that we're reading, that we do not already have proof of, is a lie.

There is an important difference between the lies told about Iraq and the lies told about Syria though. Americans resent the lies told about Iraq because they led, most importantly, to 5,000 dead US soldiers, and also much less importantly to wasted money spent by the US government.

The lies about Syria are only leading to dead Syrians, who, like the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, matter very close to not at all for most Americans. Americans are quite racist and bigoted over religion. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, even George W. Bush are more sophisticated and understand the importance of disguising their disdain for Arabs and Muslims better than some of the commenters who have posted on this blog in the past several months.

The US colonies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding the campaign in Syria, so the Americans are not even feeling the loss of government revenues.

So we don't have proof that some the of the statements that have been presented to us in this campaign against Syria are false, but as Davies would say, we are making an important, common but avoidable error if we commit the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

What colonial failure looks like: The US reducing its embassies in Iraq

The United States is, in Iraq, adjusting to the realization that its dreams of transforming Iraq into its most modern showcase colony have failed. That cannot be described as anything but a good thing for the people of Iraq and for the idea that they and not the US Ambassador and military officials should set the country's policies.

Of course in celebrating this moment, we must remember the huge amount of misery the US imposed on Iraq in the process of reaching this point.

The New York Times article reporting this reduction expresses a tone of near disbelief.
BAGHDAD — Less than two months after American troops left, the State Department is preparing to slash by as much as half the enormous diplomatic presence it had planned for Iraq, a sharp sign of declining American influence in the country.

Officials in Baghdad and Washington said that Ambassador James F. Jeffrey and other senior State Department officials were reconsidering the size and scope of the embassy, where the staff has swelled to nearly 16,000 people, mostly contractors.

The expansive diplomatic operation and the $750 million embassy building, the largest of its kind in the world, were billed as necessary to nurture a postwar Iraq on its shaky path to democracy and establish normal relations between two countries linked by blood and mutual suspicion. But the Americans have been frustrated by what they see as Iraqi obstructionism and are now largely confined to the embassy because of security concerns, unable to interact enough with ordinary Iraqis to justify the $6 billion annual price tag.
Now that the effort has failed, maybe Americans and Westerners can ask themselves what exactly the US thought it would do with an embassy with 16,000 people on staff. One thing to note is that US personnel in Iraq would be one of the targets of Iranian retaliation if the US was to get into a war with that country. I don't expect to see a war, but for that reason it may be good from the US' point of view for some of this staff to leave. It will have saved lives if a war was to break out.
At every turn, the Americans say, the Iraqi government has interfered with the activities of the diplomatic mission, one they grant that the Iraqis never asked for or agreed upon.
I think that speaks for itself.
Expressing a common sentiment among Iraqis, she added: “The U.S. had something on their mind when they made it so big. Perhaps they want to run the Middle East from Iraq, and their embassy will be a base for them here.”
I agree with this common sentiment, and while I never expect to learn the details of the US' plan was, I'm happy for the sake of the people of Iraq that the plan has not succeeded the way the Barack Obama administration hoped it would last year at this time.
The size of the embassy staff is even more remarkable when compared with those of other countries. Turkey, for instance, which is Iraq’s largest trading partner and wields more economic influence here than the United States, employs roughly 55 people at its embassy, and the number of actual diplomats is in the single digits.
I'll leave Moktada al-Sadr with the last word:
Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who has steadfastly railed against American influence here and whose militia fought the American military, has recently told his followers that the United States has failed to “disarm.”

Mr. Sadr recently posted a statement on his Web site that read, “I ask the competent authorities in Iraq to open an embassy in Washington, equivalent to the size of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, in order to maintain the prestige of Iraq.”

Comments - mostly about Syria - that Juan Cole would rather you not see

I often use this blog to publish comments that do not make it past Juan Cole's moderation filter. Because his most recent post on Syria has several, I've made them into a post instead of only putting them into my own comments section.

The first is one I did not expect, because it does not make an assertion, but asks for support for what has become the very conventional understanding of the situation in Syria.
The protesters who were attacked by the Syrian regime, and then took up arms in response, were not part of a secession movement.

That’s a commonly repeated narrative. But I have not seen compelling evidence that it is accurate.

What one link can you produce that best establishes that non-violent protests were attacked by the Syrian regime?
I'd make the same request of any reader here. I have not seen images or videos of large non-violent protests being dispersed by force, even such as I've seen from Bahrain. If anyone has a link, please present it.

The second comment regards a discussion that we've been having here ad nauseum. Dermot Maloney from our comments section is actually the second person I've ever come across who has actually tried to argue that Saudi Arabia is an independent country and not a US dependency. Recent comment sections will provide a reader with more than enough of this discussion to draw a conclusion on that point.
In another five years, this will be small potatoes.


I’m not too worried about your link that Saudi Arabia will get nuclear weapons in response to Iran's nuclear program.

The people of Saudi Arabia consider Israel more of an adversary, yet the government of Saudi Arabia has not responded for decades to Israel amassing hundreds of nuclear weapons.

The only possible explanation is that Saudi Arabia is not an independent state, but executes the foreign policy imposed on it by the United States, in which case the United States, regardless of Iran’s nuclear program, can and will exercise the option of not allowing Saudi Arabia to develop even legal nuclear weapons capabilities like those Brazil has.

While reporting the same claim, Reuter's sources agree that it is of no practical importance as long as Saudi Arabia remains under US control:

Few analysts believe Riyadh, the world's top oil exporter and a key ally for the United States, is likely to embark upon a weapons programme in defiance of U.S. calls for restraint.

In short, if Saudi Arabia is not independent enough to respond to Israel’s nuclear arsenal, it is not independent enough to respond to Iran achieving legal nuclear weapons capabilities like those Brazil has.
The next comment regards something I've seen in my own comments section as well. I've claimed that there is no non-violent way to establish "liberated territory". What I've meant by "liberated territory" is territory not under the control of the formal central government. For example, Castro and Guevara were able to establish liberated territory in regions of Cuba - by driving out the military presence loyal to Batista.

Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela represented movements that in some ways can claim to have liberated territory, but in each case with the cooperation of the central government. This is not the sense in which the term "liberated territory" is commonly used. But it seems that the meaning of liberated territory as territory taken from the control of a country's formal central government is not universally understood.

Anyway, my attempt to clarify that over at Juan Cole's website was not released from moderation.

By “liberated territory” I mean territory outside of the control of the central government.

At no point will Cairo be that. Homs was liberated territory, as defined here, in 2011, the Syrian security forces had been forced out and had to reenter the town to reassert central government control.

Did you seriously not know what “liberated territory” means in this context?
Lastly, the comment that likely convinced Cole to block all of my recent comments is one that shows that while it may be the case that there have been peaceful protests, the narrative that opposition violence is an effort to protect peaceful protests is just false and even laughable.
The first report of an ambush against Syrian troops that I can find was from around April 10, 2011. That attack was not related to any protests but was done against troops going from one city to another.


The number of Syrian servicemen killed in an ambush on an armed forces unit in the country’s northwest has risen to nine, the Syrian SANA news agency reported on Monday.

The armed forces unit came under attack at a highway between the port cities of Latakia and Tartus on Sunday afternoon. Seven soldiers and two officers are among those killed, Sana said, quoting an official source.

Previous reports said one serviceman had been killed and dozens injured.

Less than one month after the beginning of protests there were ambushes and kidnappings of Syrian troops completely independent of any peaceful protest movement. The Arab League observers' report confirms that these attacks on government forces unrelated to protecting protests continues.

Barack Obama would respond to an armed group launching attacks against US troops on US soil (with even a possibility of foreign support) just as ruthlessly as Assad.
The current status of these comments is that they are awaiting moderation, which means they have not been rejected yet. It is possible that they will be released. But comments with later timestamps have been published so I don't expect these to be.

Cole is sensitive about this narrative that peaceful protests in Syria were violently crushed by the government and that the armed opposition formed as an attempt to prevent the government from crushing protests. So sensitive that even asking for support for that narrative, much less demonstrating the falseness of part of that narrative cannot be tolerated on his blog.

Fortunately there are other places. I highly recommend Raceforiran.com which has an unmoderated comments section and Moonofalabama.org which also has an unmoderated if smaller comments section and publishes articles more often.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Egypt, Democracy and this NGO dispute

The most important question about Egypt is what will its constitution look like. Will there be full civilian control or will the pro-US military dictatorship carve out areas where policy is not subject to democratic accountability.

The New York Times has reported that the pro-US Egyptian military dictatorship has committed to deny Egyptian democratic accountability over foreign policy. According to the Times, that would make it less difficult to sustain the US' close partnership with Egypt.
The new majority is likely to increase the difficulty of sustaining the United States’ close military and political partnership with post-Mubarak Egypt, though the military has said it plans to maintain a monopoly over many aspects of foreign affairs.
Jimmy Carter, almost certainly in communication with the Obama administration, after later meeting in private with Egypt's dictator expressed his opinion to reporters that civilian control should be limited.
“ ‘Full civilian control’ is a little excessive, I think,” Mr. Carter said, after describing a meeting he had Tuesday with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, leader of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF.
A second question about Egypt is how long will the dictatorship be able to stall the process of transferring power to civilians. By stalling, the pro-US dictatorship is not only delaying the actual transfer, but it is also delaying the moment when it has to commit to any attempt to limit the power of the civilian government.

While the pro-US dictatorship did avoid transferring power by its original commitment of six months after Mubarak left power, the people of Egypt have scored a victory in moving the nomination for President up by a month from April and possibly moving the actual election and transfer of power up from June. It is clear that the people of Egypt are successfully applying enough pressure that the pro-US dictatorship will not be able to delay the transfer of power by a matter of years or indefinitely.
Egypt's military has bowed to growing pressure to speed up the transition to civilian rule.

The interim rulers have agreed that the process of nominating candidates to run in the presidential election can begin on 10 March. The move means that the vote could be held in April or May, earlier than originally planned.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has led the country since former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted a year ago, has been the target of mass protests calling for the generals to cede power.
With these two questions still not fully answered, will the pro-US military successfully deny control of foreign policy to the civilian government and how long will the pro-US military dictatorship successfully stall both an actual transfer of power and its formal attempt to deny civilian oversight in an Egyptian constitution, a mini-scandal has erupted in which the pro-US military dictatorship has publicly taken steps to prosecute US-based NGOs for breaking Egyptian laws related to foreign financed political groups.
Egypt is ensuring "a correction of the situation, protection of national security and assertion of sovereignty," said Fayza Aboulnaga, minister of planning and international cooperation, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency. Breaking past agreements, the U.S. financed unregistered organizations and didn't cap annual funding to registered groups at $20 million, Mena cited her as saying.

"We noticed that unregistered organizations and private companies were being funded," Aboulnaga was cited as saying. "The controls aren't an Egyptian invention, but are in all countries. As a matter of fact, we are more flexible than the States."
It takes effort to resist the temptation to write this entire episode off as staged political theater aimed at creating a false perception of distance between the US and the pro-US Egyptian military dictatorship. When the Sinai gas pipelines are ruptured, the dictatorship quietly but immediately repairs them and the dictatorship has not eased the siege on Gaza. These are not demands of the Egyptian people, but demands of the Americans on behalf of Israel that the pro-US military dictatorship is following without a hitch.

But I'm resisting that temptation and trying to take the NGO episode seriously.

It could be that what the pro-US military dictatorship is trying to protect is its monopoly on secret payments from the United States. That the US could use these NGO's to create an alternate well of corruption so that the US could reach a position where it does not need the military to ensure that Egypt's voters are unable to control foreign affairs to detriment of Israel.

This is a battle Egypt's military can win. If the United States wants to pay a group in Egypt to protect Israel from Egypt's voters, that group will have to be the military. While Egypt's protesters will take to the streets to protest delays or to protest the military dictatorship's proposal to keep the military budget secret, they will not take to the streets to protest limiting US NGOs to transparent $20 million annual budgets.

If Barack Obama could tolerate Egyptian democracy, he would not be having this problem. But the military can tell the Obama administration that it will have to choose between Egypt's voters and the pro-US military dictatorship controlling Egypt's foreign policy. It will allow no other alternative. If the dictatorship tells that to the US, it can be completely confident that ultimately the US will choose the dictatorship.

The people of Egypt, on the other hand, and contrary to the desires of Tantawi, Carter and Obama, have not accepted the partial democracy that imperial Great Britain offered 100 years ago and that the US offers today. I am still optimistic that they will not so that neither Egypt's pro-US military dictatorship nor its US sponsors will have their wish.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Barack Obama and the United States destroying Syria for Israel

A basic outline of what is happening in Syria:

Israel would like to see Syria dismantled about the way Iraq was after 2003, for about the same reasons. Barack Obama, probably the most spectacular Uncle Tom in world history, has put the United States firmly behind this objective. The US program to dismantle Syria is being managed by US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who reports to Hillary Clinton.

The United States has put its colonies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar behind Israel's objective for Syria. Those colonies are providing pro-opposition media and diplomatic coverage as well as funds and weapons for the opposition.

I don't have a good explanation for why Turkey is following Israel/the US/Saudi Arabia in trying to dismantle Syria. But it is. My best guess is that Erdogan expects his AKP political party to be rewarded with Saudi funds and that he hopes to ultimately see a pro-US partially democratic regime installed in Syria without too much destruction to his own country.

A partially democratic regime is essentially what Great Britain offered Egypt in 1922.
When at last the combined forces of the occupying army and the Interior Ministry were able to quell months of strikes and protests, the British were compelled to reconsider their position towards Egypt. The eventual outcome of that process was the unilateral decision in March 1922 to grant Egypt a qualified independence. Although the country would be governed thereafter as a constitutional monarchy, the British retained the right to intervene in any matters seen to affect the security of imperial communications, the interests and safety of foreigners on Egyptian soil, the threat of foreign invasion, or the status of Egypt's relationship with the Sudan.
A partially democratic regime is what the US is aiming for in Egypt today.
“ ‘Full civilian control’ is a little excessive, I think,” Mr. Carter said, after describing a meeting he had Tuesday with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, leader of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF.
A partially democratic regime is what Hillary Clinton is calling for when she calls for "reforms" in the other US colonies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others.

The basic US position, advanced by US officials such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and also more or less openly by Western commentators such as MJ Rosenberg and Juan Cole, is that the United States supports democracy in the Middle East if at all, then only if that "democracy" does not extend to popular control or accountability over issues the United States is most concerned with, particularly foreign policy related to Israel.

That's not really democracy, but it is good enough for Muslims or Arabs. This position is thoroughly and fundamentally racist (or bigoted against Muslim people, which is just as immoral) in the restrictions it would place over representation for hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims on behalf of fewer than six million Jewish people in Palestine. But that's the West for you. Even liberals in the West. That's Barack Obama for you.

As an aside, fortunately the people of Egypt at least have not committed the US' vision of partial democracy for their country and stand a good chance of ultimately thwarting US anti-democratic efforts.

Back to Syria: Russia would lose Tartus, a naval base that it has plans to expand, if the US successfully removes Assad in favor of a pro-US partially democratic regime. This would be a major strategic loss for Russia. Russia will resist this vigorously. It would be very hard for the Israel/US/Saudi alignment to make a credible commitment to Russia that it could retain Tartus in a post-Assad partially democratic Syria.

Iran did eventually benefit from the dismantling of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It would have benefited more if the transition had been graceful rather than chaotic and destructive. Iran has also put itself into good position to prevent the US from retaining permanent leverage over Iraqi foreign policy.

Iraq has been destroyed, and is not now able to execute any effective foreign policy in its region, but when it rebuilds it likely will by then be independent and outside of US control. Until Iraq has rebuilt, it poses as little threat to Israel as the governments under US control in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and others. This is all to say that while it has become conventional wisdom that Iran benefited from the US destruction of Iraq, in the short term, until Iraq has rebuilt, Israel has benefited as much or more. That is important to note because Israel can expect to benefit similarly if such an outcome results in Syria.

As in Iraq, Iran would prefer to see a graceful transition from an independent dictatorship to an independent democracy. Unlike Barack Obama and the people of the United States, the leaders and people of Iran do not disagree with most of the people of Syria about Israel, whether that country is legitimate or whether that country's security desires should take precedence over other regional issues. Unlike the US, Iran has no strategic or sentimental need that any democracy in Syria not represent the perceptions, sensibilities and values of the Syrian people.

If Syria is destroyed, it is likely that a government that would allow the US to control Syria's foreign policy can ultimately be prevented from holding power by Iran, Iraq and Russia. US hopes of the Syrian National Council's Burhan Ghalioun becoming Syria's Hosni Mubarak are likely to be as unsuccessful as the US' previous hopes that Chalabi or Allawi would be Iraq's Hosni Mubarak. But that does not mean that Israel would not expect to benefit from Syria's destruction in the process.

We have not reached the point regarding Syria that there is a question about a pro-US dictatorship or partially democratic regime taking hold. The pertinent question now is how much damage can Feltman's program do to Syria in the meantime. If a graceful transition to democracy can be accomplished, the damage will be minimal. But the United States opposes that as a democracy would disagree with Barack Obama on the issues the United States considers the most important in the region.

Instead Feltman's condition, reiterated by Obama, Clinton and the Saudis, that Assad relinquish power in favor of an armed insurrection before any election, is designed to be unreasonable to provide a pretext for the destruction of the country.

So here's what we know for the future: Ghalioun cannot win a civil war against Damascus with losses of life anywhere near as low as what we've seen so far in Syria putting down the opposition. For Ghalioun to take power would require losses far greater even than the tens of thousands who died in Libya's NATO-organized civil war.

It is unreasonable to expect, and we are not going to see, Assad cede power to a pro-US dictatorship claiming to hope at that point to start an 18 month transition period to partial democracy.

Instead, unfortunately, we are likely to see Feltman's program for the destruction of Syria proceed. Even worse than Iraq, where US troops bore at least a small part of the cost, in Syria, Israel, the US and the US' colonies are almost completely isolated from the destruction they are causing.


As further reading, I'd like to suggest two links that tell similar stories and include details I've left out:

UN shenanigans on Syria by Aisling Byrne

Exposed: The Arab Agenda in Syria by Pepe Escobar