Thursday, October 25, 2012

STATE Department Official: "You Do the Math!"

One guets the feeling that events in the Middle East are really over the heads of State & other officials!
[MEPGS] 'Despite being the subject that dominated the final Presidential debate, the Middle East offers few prospects for activist US policy whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney wins the election.  In fact, both candidates implied as much, with their wariness about issues as diverse as the civil war in Syria, the coming showdown with Iran over its nuclear program or the vulnerability of US diplomats in places like Libya.  While it is a truism in American politics that few if any votes are decided on foreign policy, as one veteran State Department official said this week, “The candidates were also reflecting the reality of the limitations of US power.”
            Nowhere is this more evident than in Syria.  The vast array of competing and sometimes coordinating political and military groups fighting the Assad regime has left US policymakers unable to discern whom to back.  “There are at least 350 different rebel fighting units,” says one State Department expert.  “And on any given day secular and Islamist  groups will link up and then detach themselves.”  He cited the repeated change in leadership of the groups fighting in Homs as an example of the unwillingness of any of the groups to coalesce.....  the regime has lost control of the border posts with Turkey and retains control of only two crossings into Iraq, leaving only the border with Jordan under control [The Lebanese border has always been a “sieve” to use the word of one US analyst].
            Of even greater concern to the Assad regime, say US officials, is the rebels’ continued efforts to cut the main highway between Aleppo and the capital of Damascus.  The rebels’ seizure of the key crossroads town of Maarat an Numan [which echoed a famous engagement during the Crusades] caused the regime to level the town by air attacks.  But even here, Assad & Company may be seeing the degrading of its once uncontested airpower.  Thanks to Qatari provision of shoulder held anti-aircraft weapons (“Manpads”), Syrian jets and especially helicopters have become vulnerable.
            As the Syrian regime thrashes about in what some analysts see as its death throes [“There are 3 million Alawites and 15 million angry Sunnis at war,” says one veteran State Department official.  “You do the math.”], it appears to have struck out, not only at refugees fleeing to Turkey -- increasing the odds of a very strong response by the vastly more powerful Turkish military – but also Lebanon.  This week’s assassination of Lebanese Security chief Wissam al-Hassan, a Sunni, is thought by US experts to be the work of Syrian operatives allied with Hezbollah [which has thrown in its lot with the Assad regime].  US officials believe this will not be the last of the killings in Lebanon ordered by the Syrians and fear that one too many may prove to be, in the words of a well-placed official, ‘a tipping point” for Lebanon, leading to civil conflict there. [However, a Wall St. Journal story that the Administration is actively seeking the replacement of the current Lebanese Cabinet is dismissed by US officials.  Just because we can’t stand two-thirds of them doesn’t mean we are going to try and reshuffle the deck,” said one State Department official disdainfully].
            Another controversial published report, this one in the New York Times, that the Administration and Iran have agreed “in principle” to meet one-on-one after the US election, was also vehemently denied by Administration insiders.  “Just a case of bad journalism,” scoffed one State Department insider.  But it is clear that the Iranians are awaiting the outcome of the US elections before even beginning to decide their future course of action.  However, US officials believe that despite the increasing hardship being caused by the economic sanctions, the top leadership, notably Ayotollah Khameini, has not budged from its refusal to seriously negotiate an acceptable agreement regarding their nuclear program.  “There are pragmatists who would like to see a deal,” notes one veteran diplomat.  “Unfortunately, they do not hold the reins of power.”  And long time Iran watchers see no sign that the tight group around Khameini changing its collective mind anytime soon.....
            This leaves US officials looking towards next year as a time of decision.  By mid-year, if sanctions have not caused a major reversal in Iran’s stance on nuclear development, the odds of a military confrontation will greatly increase, say most observers. (Yawwwn)  Whether it is Israel acting with US connivance or the US taking the lead.... "

No comments: