Thursday, December 13, 2012

On that 'recognition': STATE Official: “It’s unwieldy name [[National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces] exemplifies how ad hoc this arrangement is,”

MEPGS; Excerpts; 
"... As the Administration tries to play “catch-up” to fast moving events in the Middle East, veteran US officials are expressing displeasure at the lack of overall strategy for the region.  Syria is the most obvious example as the US scrambled to recognize a disparate group of Assad regime opponents as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people.  “It’s unwieldy name [[National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces] exemplifies how ad hoc this arrangement is,” says one veteran State Department official.  This official and others have, for a while, been critical of the Administration’s unwillingness to get more proactive on Syria.  “Okay, we understand `no boots on the ground’,” said one State Department insider.  “How about some sneakers” – a reference to covert activities, which so far have been quite modest.
           Meanwhile ...  one well-placed US official with recent experience in the region put it, “The Jihadists go back and forth across the border from Iraq to Syria, depending upon the opportunities on offer.  Yesterday “AQI” (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) went after the Shias in Baghdad, today they aim their fire at Assad’s people in Damascus.”            While Syria is the big prize, Sunnis throughout the region have begun to envision a larger rolling back of what King Abdallah of Jordan once called the “Shia Arc” that stretched from Iran through Iraq, Syria and into Lebanon (via Hezbollah).  Led by pint-sized Qatar and backed by wealthy Saudi and other Islamists, they have moved not only against Shias but secularists and moderates as well. In Egypt, President Morsi, has, so far, vastly expanded the power of his Moslem Brotherhood led regime.  One high point was his brokering of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.  While US officials claim that the Administration, including President Obama, was instrumental in prodding Morsi into action, it was the October visit of the Emir of Qatar to Gaza that set in motion events leading to last month’s fighting.  Explains one veteran analyst, “Knowing that [Palestinian Authority head] Abu Mazen was going to the UN [to gain official observer status], Hamas saw the opportunity to show who can really affect the Israelis.”  But clearly Hamas was surprised by the ferocity of the Israeli reaction.  “ Jabari [Hamas military chief] would not have been seen driving around Gaza if he thought the Israelis were going to up the ante so dramatically, said one veteran analyst.  By the same token, Israelis were shocked to discover that Hamas was willing to aim missiles at Jerusalem.  Overall, however, the Israelis find themselves on the defensive diplomatically. While the brokered cease-fire forestalled an outright invasion of Gaza, Hamas is steadily gaining political strength as the Turks and Egyptians increase their support.  As for their finances, unlike Abu Mazen’s Palestinian Authority, which is responsible for West Bank finances and is facing a political squeeze from Israel in retaliation for his UN move, Hamas, in the words of one well-placed official, “…isn’t hurting for money.
            Another actor willing to work with the US and Israel, Jordan’s King Abdullah is again cash strapped.  According to reliable sources, long pledged Gulf assistance has yet to materialize and when it does, predicts one US official, it will not be in cash but in project development funding.  This kind of aid will do little to calm the political scene as riots have broken out due, to what many observers consider an unwise move by Abdullah, to reduce subsidies.  This comes at a time when a weak Jordanian economy is sagging under the weight of a growing number of refugees from Syria. And despite Amman’s willingness to return its Ambassador to Israel, the last thing the Jordanian regime wants is to be seen to be dependent upon Israel for support.            The Administration’s position on Egypt, too, has come in for criticism as Morsi’s standing at home dropped dramatically when just after helping to broker the Israel-Hamas cease-fire, he made another power grab.  This has led the Administration to find itself complimenting him one day and criticizing him the next.  But, basically, in the view of many observers, merely showing it has little or no influence in either case.  A majority of US experts have spent their time pouring over the new Egyptian constitution while some dissenters within the State Department have argued that it is all a waste of time.  “Morsi is intent on creating a new Caliphate,” says one veteran State Department official. “From his very first speech, he has made that abundantly clear.  Anything less is wishful thinking.” Still, most observers believe the military will ultimately rein in Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood.  Already, he has been forced to call upon them for protection against angry opponents who have taken to the streets.  “The military will eventually demand payback,” predicts one State Department official.            Nowhere has muddled Administration policy been as obvious as in Bahrain.  There the contradictions of US goals – anchoring the Fifth fleet vs. encouraging a more free and open society—have been shown in stark relief.  Despite some widely advertised attempts by Bahrain’s Sunni leadership to show a willingness to be more sensitive to the abuses against its Shia majority, violence in that island kingdom is on the increase.  And Bahrain’s Crown Prince, once the darling “liberal”of Administration officials has turned on the US with a vengeance.  Most recently, in a speech last week, he pointed excluded any mention of the US in his call for dialogue with Shia dissidents.  “It’s all because the Navy tells him one thing and the State Department and the White House say something else,” says one Administration insider....              Lost for the moment in the focus on Egypt, Gaza and Syria is the looming problem of Iran.  Congress has finished up a new sanctions bill which will make it more difficult for Iran’s oil tankers to operate as insurance providers are forced to choose between doing business with the US or Iran.  But the question remains whether the Supreme Leader is willing to, at least, slow down their march towards nuclear weaponry.  US officials say that the economic leadership is feeling the pain but it is questionable whether they have any influence with the key decision makers.            Last week in Berlin, technical teams from the US, Russia, France, Great Britain, China and Germany met to strategize on a joint approach to Iran in a formal negotiating session now expected in January.  Oddly, according to informed sources, the US sided with Russia and China in offering a pared down proposal, while Germany and Great Britain were more interested in a grand bargain.  “Our sense was to keep it simple and see if we can `jump start’ the talks,” said one well informed US official. 


Colm O' Toole said...

I've always been curious as to where these MEPGS articles come from? They offer great analysis. Are they from some private newsletter?

G, M, Z, or B said...