The Wikileaks Syrian Files
Washington & The Plan To Destablise Syria
"The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to U.S. Empire (Verso,
2015) begins to address the need for scholarly analysis of what the millions of documents
published by WikiLeaks say about international geopolitics. The chapters use a
constellation approach to these documents to reveal how the United States deals with
various regional and international power dynamics.....US
government designs on Syrian regime change, and its devotion to regional instability, long
pre-date the Syrian civil war, as is demonstrated in the cables. Chapter 10, by Robert
Naiman, offers a careful reading of the Damascus cables, pointing out important historical
presentiments of the current situation in Syria, and unpicking the benign-sounding human
rights constructions of US diplomats to bring into focus the imperialist inflection of US
foreign policy and rhetoric toward Syriaincluding concrete efforts within the
country to undermine the government and bring about the chaos of recent months during the
entire decade preceding 2011."
Julian Assange - What Wikileaks Teaches Us About How the U.S. Operates
Newsweek, 28 August 2015
|In 2015 Verson published a book with an introduction by
Julian Assange called 'The Wikileaks Files'. Chapter 10 is provides details of leaked US
State Department files concerning Syria and Washington's associated policy of 'regime
change' leading up to the civil war which began in 2011.
Below are extracts from that Chapter. The text of the entire Chapter is available online on the Truthout web site.
The extracts below are broken down into two sections:
Bush And The Destabisation Of Syria
Department has secretly
financed Syrian political opposition groups and
related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming
into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables. The London-based
satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up
operations to cover the mass
protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the countrys
autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad. Human rights groups say scores
of people have been killed by Assads security forces since the demonstrations
began March 18; Syria has blamed the violence on 'armed gangs.' Barada TV is closely
affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian
exiles. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that
the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel
and finance other activities inside Syria. The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the
heart of Damascus, the Syrian capital. The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began
flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with
Damascus in 2005."
U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show
Washington Post, 18 April 2011
The Wikileaks Files - Published by Verso, 2015 - ISBN-13: 978-1-78168-874-8 (HB)
Chapter 10, Syria - Robert Naiman
|"...The [US diplomatic] cables [published by Wikileaks] gave the public a
recent window into the strategies and motivations of US officials as they expressed them
to each other, not as they expressed them to the public. In the case of Syria, the cables
show that regime change had been a long-standing goal of US policy; that the US promoted
sectarianism in support of its regime-change policy, thus helping lay the foundations for
the sectarian civil war and massive bloodshed that we see in Syria today; that key
components of the Bush administration's regime-change policy remained in place even as the
Obama administration move publicly toward a policy of engagement; and that the US
government was much more interested in the Syrian government's foreign policy,
particularly its relationship with Iran, than in human rights inside Syria.
A December 13,2006 cable, 'Influencing the SARG [Syrian government] in the End of 2006,' indicates that, as far back as 2006 - five years before 'Arab Spring' protests in Syria - destablizing the Syrian government was a central motivation of US policy. The author of the cable was William Roebuck, at the time charge d'affaires at the US embassy in Damascus. The cable outlines strategies for destablising the Syrian government...
This cable suggests that the US goal in December 2006 was to undermine the Syrian government by any available means, and that what mattered was whether the US action would help destablize the government, not what other impacts the action might have. In public the US was in favour of economic reform, but in private the US saw conflict between economic reform and 'entrenched corrupt forces' as an 'opportunity'. In public, the US was opposed to 'Islamist extremists' everywhere; but in private it saw the 'potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists' as an 'opportunity' that the US should take action to try and increase....
Roebuck thus argued that the US should try to destablize the Syrian government by coordinating more closely with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to fan sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia, including the promotion of 'exaggerated' fears of Shia proselytizing of Sunnis, and of concern about 'the spread of Iranian influence' in Syria in the form of mosque construction and business activity.
By 2014, the sectarian Sunni-Shia character of the civil war in Syria was bemoaned in the United States as an unfortunate development. But in December 2006, the man heading the US embassy in Syria advocated in a cable to the secretary of state and the White House that the US government collaborate with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to promote sectarian conflict in Syria between Sunni and Shia as a means of destabilizing the Syrian government. At that time, no one in the US government could credibly have claimed innocence of the possible implications of such a policy. This cable was written at the height of the Sunni-Shia civil war in Iraq, which the US military was unsuccessfully trying to contain. US public disgust with the sectarian civil war in Iraq unleashed by the US invasion had just cost Republicans control of Congress in the November 2006 election. The election result immediately precipitated the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense. No one working for the US government on foreign policy at the time could have been unaware of the implications of promoting Sunni-Shia sectarianism.
It was easy to predict then that, while a strategy of promoting sectarian conflict in Syria might indeed help undermine the Syrian government, it could also help destroy Syrian society....
Note that, while Roebuck was serving in the George W. Bush administration, he was a career Foreign Service officer, a permanent senior member in good standing of the US government's foreign policy apparatus. He went on to serve in the US embassies in Iraq and Libya - in the latter as charge d'affaires - in the Obama administration. There is no evidence that anyone in the US foreign policy apparatus found the views expressed by Roebuck in this cable particularly controversial; its publication [by Wikileaks] did not cause scandal in US foreign policy circles....
Another theme that recurred in the 2006 cable focusing on Syria's 'vulnerabilities' and how the US should try to exploit them was that the US should take actions to try to destablize the Syrian government by provoking it to 'overreact,' both internally and externally. One of the 'vulnerabilities' of the Syrian government listed by Roebuck that the US should try to exploit was its 'enormous irritation' with former Syrian vice president Adbul Halim Khaddam, leader of the opposition-in-exile National Salvation Front....
Roebuck proposed a means of exploiting this vulnerability [by encouraging the Saudis and others to allow Khaddam access to their media outlets].... the goal of encouraging the Saudis and others to 'allow Khaddam access to their media outlets' was not to promote democracy and human rights in Syria, but to provoke the Syrian government to do things that would 'add to its isolation' from its Arab neighbors. Of course, if the Syrian government acted in ways that would 'add to its isolation', then the US could cite such actions as evidence that the Syrian government was a rogue government, unable or unwilling to conform to international norms, threatening to US allies in the region, and therefore that the US government had to take some action in response. But now we know that such actions by the Syrian government would not have been unfortunate developments to which the US would be reluctantly forced to respond, but the explicit goal of US policy....
.... We are told in the West that the current efforts to topple the Syrian government by force were a reaction to the Syrian government's repression of dissent in 2011, but now we know that 'regime change' was the policy of the US and its allies five years earlier...
According to Roebuck, if Egypt and Saudi Arabia met with Kaddam and news of the meetings were 'appropriately leaked,' that would send a signal to the Syrian government that these countries were plotting against Syria, perhaps trying to organise a coup....
.... The US has a long track record of trying to overthrow governments around the world, including in the region - and, as Roebuck's cable makes clear, far from trying to allay such fears, the US wanted to exacerbate them. In 2014, the US was arming insurgents who were trying to kill Syrian government officials....
Listing resistance to economic reforms as a 'vulnerability'... makes clear what Roebuck was and was not interested in. He was not interested in Syrian economic reforms succeeding in facilitating private investment, but in their failure. Even if they had some success, he wanted to present them as a failure and 'undercut these efforts to shore up his [Bashar Assad's] legitimacy.'
The notion of 'legitimacy' is a key one in US foreign policy toward adversary governments in countries that the US does not fear militarily (for example, because they have nuclear weapons)...
..... Hardly anyone in Washington would suggest that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan or Israel are not 'legitimate' because they were not elected by all of their subjects or because they engage in gross violations of human rights.... The US may complain about their policies, but there is no chance that it will challenge their 'legitimacy'.
Countries like Syria, Iraq before the 2003 invasion, and Libya before the 2011 US-NATO military campaign to over-throw Qaddafi, on the other hand, belong to a different category. If the US government thinks that their governments can be overthrown, then it may declare them to be 'illegitimate.' A US declaration that a government is 'illegitimate' means that the United States is likely to try and overthrow it.....
Roebuck spoke glowingly [in his cable] of violent protests against the Syrian government [by ethnic minority Kurdish groups which he described as 'daring']...
The word 'daring' in English usually connotes exemplary courage. US newspapers, for example, do not generally describe the Palestinian use of violence against the Israeli occupation as 'daring', because, while using violence in this instance obviously requires courage, it is not seen in the US as exemplary. This shows how US diplomats like Roebuck see the world: if you are protesting governments that are US allies, like Bahrain, Egypt, or Israel, then your protests should be nonviolent. But if you are protesting a government that the US would like to overthrow, then the use of violence demonstrates 'daring.' Roebuck suggested a means of taking advantage of this 'vulnerability' [by highlighting Kurdish complaints in public statements]...
There is no pretense here that the goal of this action would be to encourage greater respect by the Syrian government for the human rights of Kurds - the goal would be to destablize the Syrian government. Roebuck also made clear his attitude toward terrorism in Syria [by seeking to publicize Syrian efforts against extremists groups in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability and uncontrolled blowback]...
Note that, in private correspondence, Roebuck has no problem acknowledging that Syria is a victim of terrorism and the Syrian government is trying to take action against terrorists...
This cable shows that, in December 2006, the top US diplomat in Syria believed the goal of US policy in Syria should be to destablize the Syrian government by any means available; that the US should work to increase Sunni-Shia sectarianism in Syria, including by aiding the dissemination of false fears about Shia proselytizing and stoking resentment about Iranian business activity and mosque construction; that the US should press Arab allies to give access in the media they control to a former Syrian official calling for the ouster of the Syrian government; that the US should try to strain relations between the Syrian government and other Arab governments, and then blame Syria for the strain; that the US should seek to stoke Syrian government fears of coup plots in order to provoke the Syrian government to overreact; that if the Syrian government reacted to external provocations, it proved the regime was paranoid; that the US should work to undermine Syrian economic reforms and discourage foreign investments; that the US should seek to foster the belief that the Syrian government was not legitimate; that violent protests in Syria were praiseworthy and exemplary; that if Syria is the victim of terrorism and tries to do something about it, the US should exploit that to say that the Syrian government is weak and unstable, and is experiencing blowback for its foreign policy....
From other cables, we know that the US was funding Syrian opposition groups. The US government acknowledged this funding after the cables were published by Wikileaks. The US had previously announced funding to 'promote democracy' in Syria, but what was not previously publicly known was the extent to which the US government was engaged in funding opposition groups and activities which it had internally conceded would be seen by the Syrian government as proof that the US was seeking to overthrow it [as shown in a February 21, 2006 cable].... The cable... noted: 'Several [US embassy] contacts [in Syria] insisted that the initiative indicated the US did not really care about the opposition, but merely wanted to use it as 'a chip in the game.'...
.... the view that there would be severe negative consequences from US funding of opposition groups, including helping the government delegitimize opposition groups and individuals as agents of foreign powers, was shared by many of the embassy's own contacts in the Syrian opposition. Some of the people who were delegitimized in this way might otherwise have been credible interlocutors in negotiations towards more inclusive governance; thus, the strategy of funding opposition groups could have the effect of foreclosing diplomatic and political options. Some of the criticism expressed of the US announcement was that it was made publicly; but, as the cables demonstrate, it was likely that the Syrian government would find out what the US was doing in the long run, and therefore the distinction between secret and public was not meaningful.
Another critic [MP Nouemir al-Ghanem, a nominal independent and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Syrian Parliament] noted [as referred to in the February 21, 2006 cable] that the US was already secretly funding the Syrian opposition...."
Obama And The Destabisation Of Syria
"The financial backing [for Syrian opposition goups] has
continued under President Obama, even as his
administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad. In January, the White House posted
an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in six years. The cables, provided by the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks, show that U.S.
Embassy officials in Damascus became worried in 2009 when they learned that Syrian
intelligence agents were raising questions about U.S. programs. Some embassy officials
suggested that the State Department reconsider its involvement, arguing that it could put
the Obama administrations rapprochement with Damascus at risk. Syrian authorities 'would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to
illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,' read an
April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time. 'A
reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government]
factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive,' the cable said. It is
unclear whether the State Department is still funding Syrian opposition groups, but the
cables indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010. While some of that
money has also supported programs and dissidents inside Syria, The Washington Post is
withholding certain names and program details at the request of the State Department,
which said disclosure could endanger the recipients personal safety."
U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show
Washington Post, 18 April 2011
The Wikileaks Files - Published by Verso, 2015 - ISBN-13:978-1-78168-874-8 (HB)
Chapter 10, Syria - Robert Naiman
|"An April 28, 2009 cable, 'Behaviour Reform: Next Steps for a Human Rights
Strategy' - from a period of 'policy review' in which the new Obama administration was
exploring a less confrontational policy towards Syria - outlining US government-funded
'ongoing civil society programming' in Syria, acknowledged that '[s]ome programs may be
perceived, were they made public, as an attempt to undermine the Assad regime, as opposed
to encouraging behaviour reform.' It also stated: 'The SARG' [Syrian government] would
undoubtedly view any US funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to
supporting regime change. This would inevitably include the various expatriate reform
organisation operating in Europe and the US, most of which have little to no effect on
civil society or human rights in Syria.' It noted that the State Department's US-Middle
East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) had sponsored eight major Syria-specific initiatives,
some dating back to 2005, that will have received approximately $12 million by September
A February 7, 2010 cable, 'Human Rights Updates - SARG Budges on TIP, But Little Else,' indicates that 'various broadcast concepts' referred to Barada TV, a London-based Syrian opposition satellite television network. The February 2010 cable referred to Barada TV as 'MEP-supported' and said: 'If the SARG establishes firmly that the US was continuing to fund Barada TV, however, it would view USG [United States Government] involvement as a covert and hostile gesture towards the regime.'
But while the April 2009 cable had noted that the Syrian government 'would undoubtedly view any US funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change,' the February 2010 cable shows that such funding continued...
A July 8, 2009 cable on the rifts in the Syrian opposition, 'Murky Alliances: Muslim Brotherhood, the Movement for Justice and Democracy, and the Damascus Declaration,' noted the 'worrisome' fact of 'recent information suggesting that SARG may already have penetrated the MJD [Movement for Justice and Development] and learned of sensitive USG programs in Syria.'...
A September 23, 2009 cable, 'Show Us the Money! SARG Suspects 'Illegal' USG Funding,' gave further evidence that the Syrian authorities were increasingly aware of what the US was funding....
The February 7, 2010 cable cited earlier, 'Human Rights Updates - SARG Budges on TIP, But Little Else,' gave further evidence that the Syrian government was pursuing the funding of Barada TV...
What emerges from these cables is that, while there was undoubtedly a shift between the policy of the Bush administration after 2005 and the policy of the Obama administration in 2009-2010 with respect to the question of regime change versus engagement [with the Syrian government], the shift was substantially less than publicly advertised. The US continued to fund opposition activities that it believed would, if known to the Syrian government, cause it to believe that the US was not serious about shifting to an engagement policy; the US continued to fund these activities as it came increasingly to believe that the Syrian government was becoming more aware of them. When they became public, the US denied that they amounted to a regime-change policy, but we now know from the US government's internal communication that the US did not think the Syrian government would give credence to such a denial.
This leads us to question the extent to which the Obama administration really shifted to a policy of engagement, or how much, when Saudi Arabia and others pushed it to adopt explicit regime-change policy in 2011 - a shift the administration eventually did make - these countries were pushing on an open door. The story that was presented to the US public was that its government had tried to engage Syria and failed, and that after the Syrian government cracked down on protests in 2011, the US had no choice but to abandon its efforts at engagement.
But reading the cables, it appears that the US was never really committed to a policy of engagement: it had one hand in the engagement policy, while keeping another hand in the engagement policy, while keeping another hand in the regime-change policy...
Knowing that the US never really abandoned a regime-change policy in Syria informs our understanding of the question of US military intervention in Syria today. It shows us that the US is not an innocent victim of circumstance, having to consider the use of force because diplomacy has been exhausted; rather the US faces a situation it helped create, by pursuing regime change for years and never fully switching to diplomacy."
"Policy director at Just Foreign Policy, Naiman wrote a chapter
in the new book The
WikiLeaks Files: The World According to U.S. Empire. He wrote: 'By 2014, the sectarian
Sunni-Shia character of the civil war in Syria was bemoaned in the United States as an
unfortunate development. But in December 2006, the
man heading the U.S. embassy in Syria advocated in a cable to the
Secretary of State and the White House that the U.S. government collaborate with Saudi
Arabia and Egypt to promote sectarian conflict in Syria between Sunni and Shia as a means
of destabilizing the Syrian government.
one working for the U.S. government on foreign policy at the time could have been unaware
of the implications of promoting Sunni-Shia sectarianism.'"
Institute For Public Accuracy, 2 September 2015
founder Julian Assange has opened up about his new book, 'The WikiLeaks Files', saying
that Washington had plans to overthrow Syria's government long before the 2011 uprising
began, the Russia Today channel reported on
Thursday. Assange referred to the chapter on Syria, which goes back to 2006. In that
chapter is a cable from US Ambassador William Roebuck - who was stationed in Damascus -
which apparently discusses a plan for the overthrow of the Assad government in Syria.
That plan was to use a number of different factors to create paranoia within the
Syrian government; to push it to overreact, to make it fear there's a coup...so in theory
it says 'We have a problem with extremists crossing over the border with Iraq, and we're
taking actions against them to take this information and make the Syrian government look
weak, the fact that it is dealing with extremists at all,' he said. He added that
the most serious part of the plan was to 'foster tensions between Shiites and Sunnis. In
particular, to take rumors that are known to be false...or exaggerations and promote them
that Iran is trying to convert poor Sunnis, and to work with Saudi and Egypt to
foster that perception in order to make it harder for Iran to have influence, and also
harder for the government to have influence in the population'. Assange stressed that this
particular cable was 'quite concerning', adding that while you often have to read between
the lines in cables, 'its all hanging out' in that one. 'To understand what is
happening in and around Syria, one must look at regional alliances,' he said."
'US planned to oust Assad long before 2011 uprising'
Dawn (Pakistan), 10 September 2015
U.S. State Department acknowledged Monday it has been funding opponents of Syrian
President Bashar Assad, following the release
of secret diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks that document the funding. The
files show that up to $6.3 million US was funnelled to the Movement
for Justice and Development, a London-based dissident organization that operates the
Barada TV satellite channel, which broadcasts anti-government
news into Syria. Another $6 million went to support a variety
of initiatives, including training for journalists and activists, between 2006 and 2010.
Asked point-blank by reporters whether the United States is funding Syrian opposition
groups, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a news conference Monday, 'We are
we're working with a variety of civil society actors in Syria with the goal here of
strengthening freedom of expression.' Then pressed to specify whether the U.S. provides
satellite bandwidth for Barada TV's broadcasts, Toner said: 'I'd have to get details of
what exactly technical assistance we're providing them.' Toner insisted the financing is not aimed at overthrowing Assad's rule.
'We are not working to undermine that government.' However,
an April 2009 diplomatic cable from the U.S. mission in Damascus recognizes the risky
optics of the funding. 'Some programs may be perceived, were they made public, as an
attempt to undermine the Assad regime.
The Syrian Arab Republic government would
undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to
supporting regime change.' Whistleblower website WikiLeaks provided the cables to the
Washington Post newspaper, which first reported on them. The files are part of a haul of 251,000 secret U.S. diplomatic documents
the website says it has obtained. It began disclosing them in November through partner
media outlets and so far has released nearly 7,000."
U.S. admits funding Syrian opposition
CBC News (Canada), 18 April 2011
"The Bush Administration has been quietly nurturing individuals and parties
opposed to the Syrian government in an effort to undermine the regime of President Bashar
Assad. Parts of the scheme are outlined in a classified,
two-page document that says that the U.S. already is 'supporting regular meetings of
internal and diaspora Syrian activists' in Europe. The
document bluntly expresses the hope that 'these meetings will facilitate a more coherent
strategy and plan of actions for all anti-Assad activists.' The document says that Syria's
legislative elections, scheduled for March 2007, 'provide a potentially galvanizing issue
for... critics of the Assad regime.' To capitalize on that opportunity, the document
proposes a secret 'election monitoring' scheme, in which 'internet accessible materials
will be available for printing and dissemination by activists inside the country [Syria]
and neighboring countries.' The proposal also calls for surreptitiously
giving money to at least one Syrian politician who,
according to the document, intends to run in the election. The effort would also include
'voter education campaigns' and public opinion polling, with the first poll 'tentatively
scheduled in early 2007.' American officials say the
U.S. government has had extensive contacts with a range of anti-Assad
groups in Washington, Europe and inside Syria. To give momemtum to that opposition, the U.S.
is giving serious consideration to the election-monitoring scheme proposed in the
document, according to several officials. The proposal has not yet been approved, in part
because of questions over whether the Syrian elections will be delayed or even cancelled.
But one U.S. official familiar
with the proposal said: 'You are forced to wonder whether we
are now trying to destabilize the Syrian government.' Some
critics in Congress and the Administration say that such a plan, meant to secretly
influence a foreign government, should be legally deemed a 'covert
action,' which by law would then require that the White House
inform the intelligence committees on Capitol Hill. Some in Congress would undoubtedly
raise objections to this secret use of publicly appropriated funds to promote democracy.
The proposal says part of the effort would be run through a
foundation operated by Amar Abdulhamid, a Washington-based
member of a Syrian umbrella opposition group known as the National Salvation Front (NSF). The Front includes the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that
for decades supported the violent overthrow of the Syrian government, but now says it seeks peaceful, democratic reform....'Democracy promotion' has been a focus of both Democratic and
Republican administrations, but the Bush White House has been a particular booster since
9/11. Iran contra figure Elliott Abrams was put in
charge of the effort at the National Security Council. Until recently, Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of the Vice President, oversaw
such work at the State Department. In the past, the
U.S. has used support for 'democracy building' to topple unfriendly dictators, including
Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and Ukraine's Vladimir Kuchma. However, in order to make the
'election monitoring' plan for Syria effective, the proposal makes clear that the U.S.
effort will have to be concealed: 'Any information regarding funding for domestic [Syrian] politicians for
elections monitoring would have to be protected from public dissemination,' the document
says. But American experts on 'democracy promotion' consulted by TIME say it would be
unwise to give financial support to a specific candidate in the election, because of the
perceived conflict of interest. ...Others detect
another goal for the proposed policy. 'Ever since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which Syria
opposed, the Bush Administration has been looking for ways to squeeze the government in
Damascus,' notes Joshua Landis, a Syria expert who is co-director of the Center for Peace
Studies at the University of Oklahoma. 'Syria has appeared to be next on the
Administration's agenda to reform the greater Middle East.' Landis adds: 'This is
apparently an effort to gin up the Syrian opposition under the rubric of 'democracy
promotion' and 'election monitoring,' but it's really just an attempt to pressure the
Syrian government' into doing what the U.S. wants."
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