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Kerry's cosy dinner with Syria's 'Hitler'

Posted by on Sep. 3, 2013 at 5:32 AM
  • 15 Replies

Kerry's cosy dinner with Syria's 'Hitler': Secretary of State and the man he likened to German dictator are pictured dining with their wives at Damascus restaurant before civil war broke out

  • Kerry pictured around a small table with his wife and the Assads in 2009
  • Assad and Kerry lean in towards each other, deep in conversation 
  • Picture taken in February 2009 when Kerry led a delegation to Syria
  • Kerry yesterday compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein

By Anthony Bond and David Martosko

An astonishing photograph of John Kerry having a cozy and intimate dinner with Bashar al-Assad has emerged at the moment the U.S Secretary of State is making the case to bomb the Syrian dictator's country and remove him from power.

Kerry, who compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein yesterday, is pictured around a small table with his wife Teresa Heinz and the Assads in 2009.

Assad and Kerry, then a Massachusetts senator, lean in towards each other and appear deep in conversation as their spouses look on.

A waiter is pictured at their side with a tray of green drinks, believed to be lemon and crushed mint.

Scroll down for video

Cosy: This astonishing photograph shows the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife having an intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife in 2009

Cosy: This astonishing photograph shows the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife having an intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife in 2009

Cosy: This astonishing photograph shows the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife having an intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife in 2009

Cosy: This astonishing photograph shows the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife having an intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife in 2009

The picture was likely taken in February 2009 in the Naranj restaurant in Damascus, when Kerry led a delegation to Syria to discuss finding a way forward for peace in the region.

While President Barack Obama has softened his military threat against Syria by putting the question to Congress and guaranteeing at least a week's delay, Kerry remains outspoken about the dangers posed by the Syrian regime.


He said that Assad 'has now joined the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein' in deploying chemical weapons against his own people.

Kerry said Sunday that the U.S. now has evidence that sarin nerve gas was used in Syria and that 'the case gets stronger by the day' for a military attack.

Speaking out: US Secretary of State John Kerry last week said the U.S. knows 'with high confidence' the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in an attack last week

Speaking out: US Secretary of State John Kerry last week said the U.S. knows 'with high confidence' the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in an attack

Couple: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is pictured with his British-born wife Asma Assad

Couple: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is pictured with his British-born wife Asma Assad

Under pressure: Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, is pictured in a meeting yesterday. Kerry has described him as a ¿thug and murderer¿

Under pressure: Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, is pictured in a meeting yesterday. Kerry has described him as a 'thug and murderer'

During a passionate speech in Washington last Friday, he called Assad a 'thug and murderer,' and urged the world to act. 'History would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator,' Kerry insisted.

And today in a call to 120 Democratic congressmen Kerry called Assad a 'two-bit dictator'.

The Obama administration has placed the Syrian chemical weapons death toll on the outskirts of Damascus at 1,429 people - far more than previous estimates - including more than 400 children.


The head of the U.N. refugee agency in Syria says seven  million Syrians, or almost one-third of the population, have been displaced by the country's civil war.

Tarik Kurdi said that five million of the displaced are still in Syria while about 2 million have fled to neighboring countries.

He says two million children are among those directly affected by the war.

Kurdi says U.N. assistance has been a 'drop in the sea of humanitarian need' and that the funding gap is 'very, very wide.' He says international donors have sent less than one-third of the money needed to help those displaced by the war.

More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad erupted in 2011.

Kerry has said he is confident that Congress will give Obama its backing for an attack against Syria, but the former Massachusetts senator also said the president has authority to act on his own if Congress doesn't give its approval.

While Kerry stopped short of saying Obama was committed to such a course even if lawmakers refuse to authorize force, he did say that 'we are not going to lose this vote.'

Congress is scheduled to return from a summer break on September 9.  House Speaker John Boehner has said a vote will likely take place that week.

Senator John McCain said on Sunday that Assad will be 'euphoric' about Obama's decision to wait for Congress before scrambling his bombers.

And after a meeting with Obama at the White House today the senator said it would be 'catastrophic' if the vote was lost on the House of Representatives floor.

The French parliament could act sooner. A debate is scheduled Wednesday on taking action on Syria, as President François Hollande has come under increasing pressure to seek legislative approval for joining the U.S. in any attack.

On Saturday evening, centrist UDI party leader Jean-Louis Borloo insisted that 'like the U.S. president, who decided to consult the U.S. Congress in the name of democratic principles, the French president must organize, after the debate, a formal vote in parliament.'

What was once considered a certain three-pronged attack on Syria from the U.S., France and the UK was reduced to a bilateral affair on Thursday, as Britain's parliament shot down Prime Minister David Cameron’s request for involvement in a strike against Assad.

A day later, Kerry began flattering France as America's 'oldest ally,' in hopes of ensuring that Paris didn’t follow London’s lead.
Hundreds died in the alleged chemical attacks on Wednesday, including many women and children Horrific: Hundreds died in the alleged chemical attacks, including many women and children

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault now says he will share top-secret intelligence with his nation’s parliament on Wednesday.

'We are going to give the MPs everything we have – classified until now – to enable every one of them to take on board the reality of this unacceptable attack,' he said Monday.

Elisabeth Guigou, president of the foreign affairs committee in France's National Assembly, said Monday that  – told France info: Ayrault planned to show MPs 'evidence the attack took place and that it could only have been the regime who were behind it.'

On Sunday a government source told the French news agency Agence France-Presse that the French will soon make public a trove of documents over the years, showing Syria stockpiling chemical weapons.

One of the loudest critics of the administration's handling of Syria, McCain criticised Obama in an interview on CBS's Face the Nation.

Referring to Obama's famous statement that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line, McCain said: 'He didn't say, "It's a red line - and by the way I'm going to have to seek the approval of Congress." He said it was a red line, and that the United States of America would act.'

'That's a big difference,' McCain insisted. 'And that's one of the reasons why this is so problematic.'

The Arizona Republican, whom Obama defeated for the presidency in 2008, said the president asked him to come to the White House on Monday, specifically to discuss Syria.The Prime Minister said the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons on 10 other occasions before the attack that killed up to 1,200 in Damascus last week and warned the world 'should not stand idly by'

Awful: Secretary of State John Kerry said images like these contributed to the U.S. assessment that chemical weapons were used in Syria

Democrats, too, are expressing frustration at Obama's failure to act decisively after his 'red line' speech.

Charles Rangel, who represents the Harlem section of New York City, said Monday said 'of course it's embarrassing' that the president didn’t act immediately after chemical weapons use was discovered.

Rangel opposes a Syrian military strike but said Obama's delay on Saturday was also a major embarrassment to Kerry – who had demanded strong action a day earlier.

It’s 'unheard of,' Rangel said on MSNBC, that a president would allow the world to see him issuing an empty threat.

'So of course it's embarrassing, I wish it didn't happen, ' he said. '

'I guess Secretary Kerry is even more embarrassed than me after making his emotional speech that this was urgent.'


Tension: President Bashar Assad will be 'euphoric' about Obama's decision to wait for Congress over Syria, according to Sen. John McCain


Firm: Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said evidence of alleged chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime presented to Moscow by the U.S. and its allies is 'absolutely unconvincing'

Obama is hoping Congress's most intractable foreign policy hawks will help sell the idea of U.S. military intervention in Syria to a nation already deeply scarred by more than a decade of war in the Middle East.

Having announced over the weekend that he will seek congressional approval for military strikes against the Assad regime, the Obama administration is now trying to rally support among Americans and their elected representatives.

Obama's meeting with McCain is meant to quell fears that Obama isn't doing enough to punish Assad's government for the presumed sarin gas attack in the Damascus suburbs last month.

But some Republican and Democratic lawmakers don't want to see military action at all.

Obama's turnabout on Syria sets the stage for the biggest foreign policy vote in Congress since the Iraq war.

On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. received new physical evidence in the form of blood and hair samples that shows sarin gas was used in the August 21 attack.

'We know that the regime ordered this attack,' he said. 'We know they prepared for it. We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards.'

Crisis talks: President Obama and Vice-President Biden meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice to discuss Syria on Sunday

Crisis talks: President Obama and Vice-President Biden meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice to discuss Syria on Sunday

Debate: The President meets national security advisers to discuss possible military action

Debate: The President meets national security advisers to discuss possible military action

Kerry's assertion coincided with the beginning of a forceful administration appeal for congressional support.

On Capitol Hill, senior administration officials briefed lawmakers in private to explain why the U.S. must act.

Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough also made calls to individual lawmakers.

Classified meetings have been planned for this week. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans a to hear from Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday.


by on Sep. 3, 2013 at 5:32 AM
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by on Sep. 3, 2013 at 8:59 AM
4 moms liked this

 Well, is Kerry what can I say.  He has always been a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic.

Pelosi and Obama were buddies with Assad too.


by Platinum Member on Sep. 3, 2013 at 9:12 AM
It's his job to meet with foreign leaders...
by Lois Lane on Sep. 3, 2013 at 9:16 AM
2 moms liked this

This very story says that the photo likely occurred when he led a delegation to Syria to hold peace talks. So why is it so scandalous that he's meeting with one of the key players in Syria? Seems pretty logical to me. 

And the dinner hardly looks intimate. They are in a restaurant full of other people. 

by on Sep. 3, 2013 at 9:18 AM
1 mom liked this

And....? He's Secretary of State, that's kind of his job. I have no love lost for...well, any high ranking politician honestly, but I don't understand the point of this article. 

by Ruby Member on Sep. 3, 2013 at 9:46 AM

Remember this one?

by Silver Member on Sep. 3, 2013 at 9:51 AM

Now if they were making out or something, it might be a story. Otherwise it just seems to be politicians eating at a restaurant.

by on Sep. 3, 2013 at 9:53 AM

I agree but I undertand why the OP posted it.

Quoting krysstizzle:

And....? He's Secretary of State, that's kind of his job. I have no love lost for...well, any high ranking politician honestly, but I don't understand the point of this article. 

“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them” 
― Elie Wiesel

by Lina on Sep. 3, 2013 at 9:59 AM
2 moms liked this

Problem is they think that reasoning will work with these assholes.

by Ruby Member on Sep. 3, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Your Labor Day Syria Reader, Part 2: William Polk


Many times I've mentioned the foreign-policy assessments of William R. Polk, at right, who first wrote for the Atlantic (about Iraq) during Dwight Eisenhower's administration, back in 1958, and served on the State Department's Policy Planning staff during the Kennedy years. He now has sent in a detailed analysis about Syria.

Polk wrote this just before President Obama switched from his go-it-alone policy and decided to seek Congressional approval for a Syrian strike. It remains relevant for the choices Congress, the public, and the president have to make. It is very long, but it is systematically laid out as a series of 13 questions, with answers. If you're in a rush, you could skip ahead to question #7, on the history and use of chemical weapons. But please consider the whole thing when you have the time to sit down for a real immersion in Congress's upcoming decision. It wouldn't hurt if Senators and Representatives read it too.

By William Polk

            Probably like you, I have spent many hours this last week trying to put together the scraps of information reported in the media on the horrible attack with chemical weapons on a suburb of Damascus on Wednesday, August 21.  Despite the jump to conclusions by reporters, commentators and government officials, I find as of this writing that  the events are still unclear. Worse, the bits and pieces we have been told are often out of context and usually have not been subjected either to verification or logical analysis.  So I ask you to join me in thinking them through to try to get a complete picture on what has happened, is now happening and about to happen.  I apologize for both the length of this analysis and its detail, but the issue is so important to all of us that it must be approached with care.

            Because, as you will see, this is germane in examining the evidence, I should tell you that during my years as a member of the Policy Planning Council, I was “cleared” for all the information the US Government had on weapons of mass destruction, including poison gas, and for what was then called “Special Intelligence,”  that is, telecommunications interception and code breaking.

            [JF note: This is the list of questions around which the rest of the essay is structured.] I will try to put in context 1) what actually happened;  2) what has been reported; 3) who has told us what we think we know; 4) who are the possible culprits and what would be their motivations; 5)  who are the insurgents?  6)  what is the context in which the attack took place;  7) what are chemical weapons and who has used them; 8)  what the law on the use of chemical weapons holds; 9) pro and con on attack;  10)  the role of the UN; 11) what is likely to happen now;  12) what would be the probable consequences of an attack and (13) what could we possibly gain from an attack.

1:         What Actually Happened

            On Wednesday, August 21 canisters of gas opened in several suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus and within a short time approximately a thousand people were dead.  That is the only indisputable fact we know.


2:         What Has Been Reported

            Drawing primarily on Western government and Israeli sources, the media has reported that canisters of what is believed to be the lethal nerve gas Sarin were delivered by surface-to-surface rockets to a number of locations in territory disputed by the Syrian government and insurgents.  The locations were first reported to be to the southwest, about 10 miles from the center of Damascus,   and later reported also to be to the east of the city in other suburbs.  The following Voice of America map shows the sites  where bodies were found.

3:         Who Told Us What We Think We Know

A UN inspection team that visited the site of the massacre on Monday, August 26, almost 5 days after the event.

            Why was the inspection so late? As a spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointed out (Gareth Porter in IPS, August 27), the request to the Syrian government to authorize an inspection was not made until August 24 and was granted the next day. In any event, according to the spokesman, the delay was not of fundamental importance because “Sarin can be detected for up to months after its use.”

            What was the American government position on inspection? Secretary of State John Kerry initially demanded that the Syrian government make access to the suspected site or sites possible.  Then it charged that the Syrian government purposefully delayed permission so that such evidence as existed might be “corrupted”  or destroyed.   On the basis of this charge, he reversed his position and urged UN Secretary General Ban to stop the inquiry.  According to The Wall Street Journal of August 26, Secretary Kerry told Mr. Ban that  “the inspection mission was pointless and no longer safe…”  To emphasize the American position, according to the same Wall Street Journal report,“Administration officials made clear Mr. Obama would make his decision based on the U.S. assessment and not the findings brought back by the U.N. inspectors.”

     IPS’s Gareth Porter concluded after talks with chemical weapons experts and government officials that “The administration’s effort to discredit the investigation recalls the George W. Bush administration’s rejection of the position of U.N. inspectors in 2002 after they found no evidence of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the administration’s refusal to give inspectors more time to fully rule out the existence of an active Iraqi WMD programme.  In both cases, the administration had made up its mind to go to war and wanted no information that could contradict that policy to arise.”  Is this a fair assessment?

            Why was the first UN inspection so limited?   The only publicly known reason is that it came under sniper fire while on the way to the first identified site.  Who fired on it or for what reason are, as of this writing, unknown.  The area was contested by one or more rebel groups and under only limited or sporadic control by the Syrian government. Indeed, as photographs published by The New York Times on August 29, show the UN inspectors in one area (Zamaka) guarded by armed men identified as “rebel fighters.”  So the sniper could have been almost anyone.

            How limited was the first phase of inspection? According to a report in The Guardian (Monday, August 26, 2013), the small team of UN Inspectors investigating the poison gas attack in Syria spent only an hour and a half at the site.  So far, we have not been given any report by the UN team, but the doctor in charge of the local hospital was apparently surprised by how brief and limited was their investigation.  According toThe Guardian reporter, he said,

"The committee did not visit any house in the district. We asked the committee to exhume the bodies for checking them. But they refused. They say that there was no need to do that.

    'We had prepared samples for the committee from some bodies and video documentation. There were urine and blood samples as well as clothes. But they refused to take them.

    'After an hour and a half, they got an order from the regime to leave ASAP. The security force told the committee if they did not leave now, they could not guarantee their security. They could not visit the main six sites where the chemical rockets had fallen and lots of people were killed.' "

Why did the investigators not do a more thorough job?  The doctor at the site told the Guardian reporter that the Assad regime warned the investigators that they should leave because it could not guarantee their safety   but the newspaper’s headline says that the Syrian government authorities  ordered them out.  Which is true? Is there another explanation?   And why did the inspection team not have the means to retrieve parts of the delivery equipment, presumably rockets?   Were they told by the UN or other authorities not to retrieve them or were they refused permission by the Syrian government?  We simply do not know.

To say the least, the inspection was incomplete. The best that the State Department spokesman could say about such evidence as was gathered is that there is “’little doubt’ [Vice President Biden later raised the certainty from the same limited evidence to “no doubt”] that forces loyal to Mr. Assad were responsible for using the chemical weapons.” (“’Little Doubt’ Syria Gassed Opposition,” The Wall Street Journal,August 26, 2013). 

Much was made of the belief that the gas had been delivered by rocket.  However, as The New York Times correspondent Ben Hubbard reported (April 27, 2013) “”Near the attack sites, activists found spent rockets that appeared to have been homemade and suspected that they delivered the gas.”    Would the regular army’s chemical warfare command have used “homemade” rockets?  That report seemed to point to some faction within the opposition rather than to the government.

Several days into the crisis, we have been given a different source of information.  This is from Israel.  For many years, Israel is known to have directed a major communications effort against Syria.  Its program, known as Unit 8200 is Mossad’s equivalent of NSA. It chose to share what it claimed was a key intercept with outsiders.   First, a former officer told the German news magazine Focus (according to The Guardian,August 28, 2013) that Israel had intercepted a conversation between Syrian officers discussing the attack.  The same Information was given to Israeli press (see “American Operation, Israeli Intelligence” in the August 27 Yediot Ahronoth,)   It also shared this information with the American government. Three Israeli senior officers were reported to have been sent to Washington to brief NSC Director Susan Rice.  What was said was picked up by some observers.  Foreign Policy magazine reported (August 28, “Intercepted Calls Prove Syrian Army Used Nerve Gas, U.S. Spies Say”) that “in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Minister of Defense exchanged what Israeli intelligence described as “panicked phone calls” with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answer for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people.” 

But, as more information emerged, doubts began to be expressed. As Matt Apuzzo reported (AP, August 29, “AP sources: Intelligence on weapons no ‘slam dunk.’”), according to a senior US intelligence official, the intercept “discussing the strike was among low level staff, with no direct evidence tying the attack to an Assad insider or even a senior commander.” Reminding his readers of the famous saying by the then head of the CIA, George Tenet, in 2002 that the intelligence against Saddam Husain was “slam dunk,” when in fact it was completely erroneous, the AP correspondent  warned that the Syrian attack of last week “could be tied to al-Qaida-backed rebels later.”

Two things should be borne in mind on these reports: the first is that Israel has had a long-standing goal of the break-up or weakening of Syria which is the last remaining firmly anti-Israeli Arab state. (the rationale behind this policy was laid out by Edward Luttwak in the OpEd section of the August 24, 2013 New York Times).  It also explains why Israel  actively had sought “regime change” in Iraq.  The second consideration is that Israeli intelligence has also been known to fabricate intercepts as, for example, it did during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

So, unless or until more conclusive evidence is available, the request by Mr. Ban (“U.N. seeks more time for its inspectors,”International Herald Tribune, August 29, 2013) for more time appears to be prudent.   Despite what Messrs Biden and Kerry have said, I believe a court would conclude that the case  against the Syrian government was “not proven.”


by Ruby Member on Sep. 3, 2013 at 10:16 AM

4:         Who Are the Possible Culprits and What Would be Their Motivations?

            Since such information as we have is sketchy and questionable, we should seek to understand motives.  As a historian, dealing as one always does, with incomplete information, I have made it a rule when trying to get at the “truth” in any contentious issue to ask a series of questions among which are who benefits from a given action and what would I have done in a given situation?   Look briefly at what we think we now know in light of these questions:

           First, who gains by the action.  I do not see what Assad could have gained from this gas attack.  It is evident that while the area in which it took place is generally held to be "disputed" territory, the government was able to arrange for the UN inspection team to visit it but not, apparently, to guarantee their safety there. If Assad were to initiate an attack, it would be more logical for him to pick a target under the control of the rebels. 

Second, to have taken the enormous risk of retaliation or at least loss of support by some of his allies (notably the Russians) by using this horrible weapon, he must have thought of it either as a last ditch stand or as a knockout blow to the insurgents.  Neither appears to have been the case.  Reports in recent weeks suggest that the Syrian government was making significant gains against the rebels.  No observer has suggested that its forces were losing.   All indications are that the government’s command and control system not only remains intact but that it still includes among its senior commanders and private soldiers a high proportion of Sunni Muslims. Were the regime in decline, it would presumably have purged those whose loyalties were becoming suspect (i.e. the Sunni Muslims) or they would have bolted for cover.  Neither happened.

Moreover, if it decided to make such an attack, I should have thought that it would have aimed at storage facilities, communications links, arms depots or places where commanders congregated.  The suburbs of Damascus offered none of these opportunities for a significant, much less a knockout, blow.

Third, as students of guerrilla warfare have learned guerrillas are dispersed but civilians are concentrated.  So weapons of mass destruction are more likely to create hostility to the user than harm to the opponent. The chronology of the Syrian civil war shows that the government must be aware of this lesson as it has generally held back its regular troops (which were trained and armed to fight foreign invasion) and fought its opponents with relatively small paramilitary groups backed up by air bombardment. Thus, a review of the fighting over the last two years suggests that its military commanders would not have seen a massive gas attack either as a “game changer” or an option valuable enough to outweigh the likely costs.

So, what about the enemies of the Assad regime?   How might such an attack have been to their advantage?

First, a terrorizing attack might have been thought advantageous because of the effect on people who are either supporting the regime or are passive.  There are indications, for example, that large numbers of the pathetic Palestinian refugees are pouring out their camps in yet another "displacement."  The number of Syrian refugees is also increasing.  Terror is a powerful weapon and historically and everywhere was often used. Whoever initiated the attack might have thought, like those who initiated the attack on Guernica, the bombing of Rotterdam and the Blitz of London, that the population would be so terrorized that they might give up or at least cower.  Then as food shortages and disease spread, the economy would falter.  Thus the regime might collapse.

That is speculative, but the second benefit to the rebels of an attack is precisely what has happened: given the propensity to believe everything evil about the Assad regime,  daily emphasized by the foreign media, a consensus, at least in America, has been achieved  is that it must have been complicit.  This consensus should make it possible for outside powers to  take action against the regime and join in giving the insurgents the money, arms and training.

We know that the conservative Arab states, the United States, other Western powers and perhaps Israel have given assistance to the rebels for the last two years, but the outside aid has not been on a scale sufficient to enable them to defeat the government. They would need much more and probably would also need foreign military intervention as happened in Libya in April 2011 to overthrow Muamar Qaddafi.  The rebels must have pondered that situation.  We know that foreign military planners have. (See “Military Intervention in Syria” Wikileaks reprinted on August 25, 2013, memorandum of a meeting in the Pentagon in 2011.) Chillingly, the just cited Wikileaks memorandum notes that the assembled military and intelligence officers “don’t believe air intervention would happen unless there was enough media attention on a massacre, like the Ghadafi [sic] move against Benghazi.” (See Time, March 17, 2011.)  As in Libya,  evidence of an ugly suppression of inhabitants might justify and lead to foreign military intervention.

Clearly, Assad had much to lose and his enemies had much to gain.  That conclusion does not prove who did it, but it should give us pause to find conclusive evidence which we do not now have.


5:         Who are the insurgents?

        We know little about them, but what we do know is that they are divided into hundreds – some say as many as 1,200 -- of small, largely independent,  groups.  And we know that the groups range across the spectrum from those who think of themselves as members of the dispersed, not-centrally-governed but ideologically-driven association we call al-Qaida, through a variety of more conservative Muslims, to gatherings of angry, frightened or dissatisfied young men who are out of work and hungry,  to blackmarketeers who are trading in the tools of war, to what we have learned to call in Afghanistan and elsewhere "warlords."

Each group marches to its own drumbeat and many are as much opposed to other insurgents as to the government; some are secular while others are jihadists; some are devout while others are opportunists; many are Syrians but several thousand are foreigners from all over the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia.   Recognition of the range of motivations, loyalties and aims is what, allegedly, has caused President Obama to hold back overt lethal-weapons assistance although it did not stop him from having the CIA and contractors covertly arm and train insurgents in Jordan and other places.  

The main rebel armed force is known as the Free Syrian Army.  It was formed in the summer of 2011 by deserters from the regular army. Similar to other rebel armies (for example the “external” army of the Provisional Algerian Government in its campaign against the French and various “armies” that fought the Russians in Afghanistan) its commanders and logistical cadres are outside of Syria.  Its influence over the actual combatants inside of Syria derives from its ability to allocate money and arms and shared objectives; it does not command them.  So far as is known, the combatants are autonomous.  Some of these groups have become successful guerrillas and have not only killed several thousand government soldiers and paramilitaries but have seized large parts of the country and disrupted activities or destroyed property in others.

In competition with the Free Syrian Army is an Islamicist group known as Jabhat an-Nusra (roughly “sources of aid”) which is considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States.  It is much more active and violent than groups associated with the Free Syrian Army.  It is determined to convert Syria totally into an Islamic state under Sharia law. Public statements attributed to some of its leaders threaten a blood bath of Alawis and Christians after it achieves the fall of the Assad regime.   Unlike the Free Syrian Army it is a highly centralized force and its 5-10 thousand guerrillas have been able to  engage in large-scale and coordinated operations.

Of uncertain and apparently shifting relations with Jabhat an-Nusra, are groups that seem to be increasing in size who think of themselves as members of al-Qaida.  They seem to be playing an increasing role in the underground and vie for influence and power with the Muslim Brotherhood and the dozens of other opposition groups.

Illustrating the complexity of the line-up of rebel forces, Kurdish separatists are seeking to use the war to promote their desire either to unite with other Kurdish groups in Turkey and/or Iraq or to achieve a larger degree of autonomy.  (See Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa, “The Civil War Within Syria’s Civil War,” Foreign Policy, August 28, 2013).  They are struggling against both the other opposition groups and against the government, and they too would presumably welcome a collapse of the government that would lead to the division of the country into ethnic-religious mini-states.

It seems reasonable to imagine that at least some and perhaps all of these diverse groups must be looking for action (such as a dramatic strike against the regime) that would tip the scale of military capacity. Listening to the world media and to the intelligence agents who circulate among them, they must hope that an ugly and large-scale event caused by or identified with the government might accomplish what they have so far been unable to do.


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