The memo shows the advice Hillary Clinton was getting to plunge the U.S. deeper into the Syrian war. As Trump seeks to extricate the U.S. the memo has again become relevant, writes Daniel Lazare.
by Daniel Lazare
Part 2 - Central to the Great Debate
Consequently, anyone stumbling across the memo in the Wikileaks archives might be confused about how it figures in the great debate about whether to use force to bring down Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. But textual clues provide an answer. The second paragraph refers to nuclear talks with Iran “that began in Istanbul this April and will continue in Baghdad in May,” events that took place in 2012. The sixth invokes an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Rubin’s wife, conducted with then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak “last week.” Since the interview took place on April 19, 2012, the memo can therefore be dated to the fourth week in April.
The memo syncs with Clinton’s thinking on Syria, such as calling for Assad’s overthrow and continuing to push for a no-fly zone in her last debate with Donald Trump even after Gen. Joseph Dunford had testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that it could mean war with Russia.
The memo was sent to her shortly before Clinton joined forces with then-CIA Director David Petraeus to push for an aggressive program of rebel military aid.
Needless to say, the memo’s skepticism about negotiating with Iran proved to be unwarranted since Iran eventually agreed to shut down its nuclear program. The memo, which Clinton twice asked to be printed out for her, underscores the conviction that Israeli security trumps all other considerations even if it means setting fire to a region that’s been burned over more than once.
But the memo illustrates much else besides: a recklessness, lack of realism and an almost mystical belief that everything will fall neatly into place once the United States flexes its muscle. Overthrowing Assad would be nothing less than “transformative,” the memo says.
“…Iran would be strategically isolated, unable to exert its influence in the Middle East. The resulting regime in Syria will see the United States as a friend, not an enemy. Washington would gain substantial recognition as fighting for the people in the Arab world, not the corrupt regimes. For Israel, the rationale for a bolt from the blue attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be eased. And a new Syrian regime might well be open to early action on the frozen peace talks with Israel. Hezbollah in Lebanon would be cut off from its Iranian sponsor since Syria would no longer be a transit point for Iranian training, assistance and missiles.”
It was “a low-cost high-payoff approach,” the memo says, that would eliminate one enemy, weaken two more, and generate such joy among ordinary Syrians that peace talks between Damascus and Tel Aviv will spring back to life. The risks appeared to be nil. Since “the Libyan operation had no long-lasting consequences for the region,” the memo supposes, referring to the overthrow of strongman Muammer Gaddafi six months earlier, the Syrian operation wouldn’t either. In a passage that may have influenced Clinton’s policy of a no-fly zone, despite Dunford’s warning, the memo says: “Some argue that U.S. involvement risks a wider war with Russia. But the Kosovo example [in which NATO bombed Russian-ally Serbia] shows otherwise. In that case, Russia had genuine ethnic and political ties to the Serbs, which don’t exist between Russia and Syria, and even then Russia did little more than complain. Russian officials have already acknowledged they won’t stand in the way if intervention comes.”
So, there was nothing to worry about. Sixty-five years of Arab-Israeli conflict would fall by the wayside while Russia remains safely marginalized.