The worsening news about the Sunni-Shia tensions in the Middle East brought to mind an e-mail that a reader of this blog, Mohammad, who writes from Iran, sent to me before Christmas. I had forgotten to post it, but as I sit here worrying about a wider Mideast war breaking out, and the US being dragged in to fight for Our Friends The Saudis™, it’s worth posting Mohammad’s e-mail:

I am writing to you  to bring your attention to the following. If some of your readers have any shred of doubt about the undeniable responsibility of the USA with regard to the Syrian refugees and her role in promoting evil and havoc on this part of the world, the following might help them change their mind (if such a thing is possible for some people).

By the way, I am no fan of Ayatollahs ruling Iran, and I have been personally harmed by their actions and agenda. But no, TODAY they are not worse than the American hawks. The American hawks have replaced the worst revolutionary forces of the communism in spreading evil in the world, haven’t they?

The piece Mohammad refers to is Seymour Hersh’s latest in the London Review of Books, talking about the twisty, turny relationship between the US and Syria. Mohammad highlights these bits:

The public history of relations between the US and Syria over the past few decades has been one of enmity. Assad condemned the 9/11 attacks, but opposed the Iraq War. George W. Bush repeatedly linked Syria to the three members of his ‘axis of evil’ – Iraq, Iran and North Korea – throughout his presidency. State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks show that the Bush administration tried to destabilise Syria and that these efforts continued into the Obama years.

In December 2006, William Roebuck, then in charge of the US embassy in Damascus, filed an analysis of the ‘vulnerabilities’ of the Assad government and listed methods ‘that will improve the likelihood’ of opportunities for destabilisation. He recommended that Washington work with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to increase sectarian tension and focus on publicising ‘Syrian efforts against extremist groups’ – dissident Kurds and radical Sunni factions – ‘in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback’; and that the ‘isolation of Syria’ should be encouraged through US support of the National Salvation Front, led by Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president whose government-in-exile in Riyadh was sponsored by the Saudis and the Muslim Brotherhood. Another 2006 cable showed that the embassy had spent $5 million financing dissidents who ran as independent candidates for the People’s Assembly; the payments were kept up even after it became clear that Syrian intelligence knew what was going on. A 2010 cable warned that funding for a London-based television network run by a Syrian opposition group would be viewed by the Syrian government ‘as a covert and hostile gesture toward the regime’. In December 2006, William Roebuck, then in charge of the US embassy in Damascus, filed an analysis of the ‘vulnerabilities’ of the Assad government and listed methods ‘that will improve the likelihood’ of opportunities for destabilisation.
[Emphasis Mohammad’s — RD]

He recommended that Washington work with Saudi Arabia and Egypt and focus on publicising ‘Syrian efforts against extremist groups’ – dissident Kurds and radical Sunni factions – ‘in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback’; and that the ‘isolation of Syria’ should be encouraged through US support of the National Salvation Front, led by Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president whose government-in-exile in Riyadh was sponsored by the Saudis and the Muslim Brotherhood. Another 2006 cable showed that the embassy had spent $5 million financing dissidents who ran as independent candidates for the People’s Assembly; the payments were kept up even after it became clear that Syrian intelligence knew what was going on. A 2010 cable warned that funding for a London-based television network run by a Syrian opposition group would be viewed by the Syrian government ‘as a covert and hostile gesture toward the regime’.

But there is also a parallel history of shadowy co-operation between Syria and the US during the same period. The two countries collaborated against al-Qaida, their common enemy. A longtime consultant to the Joint Special Operations Command said that, after 9/11, ‘Bashar was, for years, extremely helpful to us while, in my view, we were churlish in return, and clumsy in our use of the gold he gave us. That quiet co-operation continued among some elements, even after the [Bush administration’s] decision to vilify him.’ In 2002 Assad authorised Syrian intelligence to turn over hundreds of internal files on the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Germany. Later that year, Syrian intelligence foiled an attack by al-Qaida on the headquarters of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, and Assad agreed to provide the CIA with the name of a vital al-Qaida informant. In violation of this agreement, the CIA contacted the informant directly; he rejected the approach, and broke off relations with his Syrian handlers. Assad also secretly turned over to the US relatives of Saddam Hussein who had sought refuge in Syria, and – like America’s allies in Jordan, Egypt, Thailand and elsewhere – tortured suspected terrorists for the CIA in a Damascus prison.

You should read the entire piece. In it, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014 confirms that his agency tried to tell the Obama administration that there are no Syrian moderates, and that if Bashar Assad’s government falls, there will be hell to pay. They refused to listen. They still do. The piece also talks about the double game that Turkey has been playing.

It is chilling to think about Mohammad sitting at home in Iran right now, watching his nation and others in the region march quite possibly towards war, and to consider the role our country’s foolish invasion of Iraq and intentional destabilization of Syria plays in the looming catastrophe.

Of the leading Republican presidential candidates, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are against toppling Assad, but GOP Establishment standard-bearer Marco Rubio is all for it (see here for more). And so is Hillary Clinton, who, unlike Sanders and O’Malley, still insists that we must fight both Assad and ISIS. About this, Sy Hersh told Democracy Now!:

Look, clearly what Mr. O’Malley and Bernie Sanders said would be—would ring very solidly with the Joint Chiefs. They would be in great distress about what Hillary Clinton said, because I think—you know, the fact is that if you really want to look at it, Bashar is still the president of Syria. The Russians are bombing in Syria at his invitation. We are bombing in Syria without his invitation. And so it’s hard sometimes for Americans to think that we’re not always on the side of the angels on legal issues, but we’re certainly, by any normal standard of—you know, if there was a normal standard of international conduct, we would be the bad guys in that, just in terms of legalities. We’re not invited in. We’re doing it.

More Hersh:

Well, I think—my only thing is I think there should be learning curves for people with that kind of power. And I think what happened in Libya should have instructed anybody in the government, including the president, that when you depose a dictator, you have to be aware of what’s going to come next, and you have to think long and hard about what you’re doing. And I think, by any standard, the getting rid of Gaddafi has proven to be a horrible event. It’s increased the spread of the Islamic State in Africa, North Africa, increased their access to weapons and to money, etc. And it’s been a terrible—it was a terrible decision.

And we don’t—we seem not to have learned enough from it, because—you know, if I’m Putin, and I’m worried sick about—and forget about what happened in Ukraine. It’s terrible. I’m not defending Putin. I’m just saying, from his point of view about international terrorism, he’s seen the United States attack one secular leader, Gaddafi, destroy another secular leader, Saddam Hussein—no question that he was—he was not interested in the spread of international terrorism. Bashar, the same way, was always a secular state. There was a tremendous amount of freedom for all sorts of minorities and sects, and people don’t appreciate—all the minorities can only look to him for safety. They certainly can’t look to the international Islamic State for any sort of solace, in case they win out and take over the country. And so, if I’m Russia, I’m watching the destruction of three Syrian—or attempted destruction in Syria of three secular states and wondering what the hell is America up to.

They join with us in the worry about international terrorism. And I can’t tell you how many people I know inside the military and the intelligence community, as loyal to America as you want to be, think our first move after 9/11 probably should have been to Moscow and to say, “What can you tell us about terrorism? We’ve got it right here, and you’ve had it for a long time. Let’s talk about it.” You have to separate some issues. But we don’t seem to be very good. We seem to live in a world of propaganda and likes and dislikes above our own national interests.

It would appear that a Clinton or Rubio presidency would mean continued war in the Middle East and hostility with Russia, even at the expense of US national security interests.

I know where the reader Mohammad lives, and if there is war with Saudi Arabia and its allies, he and his family have a major target on their backs. Keep them in your prayers. This gets real personal.