Excessive Aversion To Russia: Western Intelligence May Be Exposed

Why Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn had to leave within 23 days of being appointed to the post will remain something of a whodunit.

Equally puzzling is the extraordinary lengths to which the Washington Establishment particularly the Intelligence community, with the media in tow, are going to muddy the waters for any possible rapprochement with Moscow.

It is elementary that Washington, Moscow and Beijing, the three points on the global strategic triangle would, over the coming years, exert themselves to keep the other two points as far away from each other as possible.

In this regard the advantage at present is clearly not with Washington. The level of cooperation between Moscow and Beijing increased substantially this week: a six nation summit on Afghanistan was hosted in Moscow on Wednesday. Tehran, New Delhi and Kabul also participated. This was an advance on an earlier meeting last month when on Moscow, Beijing, Pakistan floated the idea, much to Kabul’s chagrin, that Taleban should be enlisted to fight the Islamic state which threatened all of central Asia, the Russian Caucasus and Xinjiang.

At his press conference, Trump described the Islamic State as “a cancer” which is spreading far and wide. Surely there is a case for a Washington-Moscow dialogue?

Even otherwise, for Washington to stabilize the strategic triangle to its advantage, some goodwill with Moscow would be required. Why, then, this frenetic group action to block moves with Moscow?

The problem may well be in Syria where Russia is heavily involved. Also, Iraq, Libya, Yemen are all theatres where Western (and not just American) Intelligence agencies have been playing dubious roles. I have repeatedly written about former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, being chastised in the British Parliament for unauthorized action in Libya. His running spat on that score with his army Chief, Gen. David Richards has been chronicled in detail.

British Intelligence is therefore quite as nervous as its American counterpart on what Trump, unbriefed on all their hokey-pokey, might end up unearthing. Marine General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US Military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned a Congressional hearing that “sharing intelligence with Syria would be unwise”.

Can the US and Russia cooperate in Syria to combat jihadists without sharing intelligence? There’s the rub. Russians muscled their way into Syria on the ostensible understanding that they would jointly fight terrorist groups like Jabhat al Nusra and Islamic State.

This was easier said than done. The Syrian cauldron was bubbling over with militants of all shapes and sizes. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s Special Representative in Damascus during the earlier phase of the conflict, listed “64 different groups” fighting the Syrian government.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, UK, France and the US poured in men, money and arms for rebels, both mercenary as well as Syrians. In Afghanistan the manufacture of Jihadist Islam was more orderly; in Syria it was a potpourri of every conceivable variety of jihadists, trained and guided by western intelligence.

Since the agencies and the media had more or less lined up behind Hillary Clinton during the campaign, no credence was given to Trump’s allegation that “Obama and Clinton helped create the ISIS”. It may be easy to dismiss Trump considering the non figure he has been reduced to now. But what does one make of President Barack Obama’s interview to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times in August 2015? Asked why he did not nip ISIS in the bud when it first reared its head, Obama replied “that would have taken the pressure off (Iraqi Premier) Nouri al Maliki”. So, at one stage, IS was an asset.

Nouri al Maliki was in bad odour with the Americans because he had refused to sign the Status of Forces Agreement with the US. This would have left the considerable US presence in Iraq exposed. Moreover, Maliki’s overtly pro Shia policies angered the otherwise secular former Baathists to reinvent themselves as militant Sunnis. Their militancy was sharpened by “elements” from Saudi Arabia and Turkey. These were off shoots of Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The admission by Obama was not very different from the offer made in July 2013 by Prince Bandar bin Sultan to Putin in the Kremlin: have a terror free Winter Olympics at Sochi, but help us replace Bashar al Assad.

So, when Trump thumps the table, “I shall bomb the shit out of the terrorists”, the statement sends shivers down many spines in Riyadh, Doha, Ankara, Washington, London and Paris: each one of these capitals have either “assets” or finger prints all over Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen. No real coordination with Moscow is possible on key West Asian theatres without exposing a great deal.

To bring the wheel full circle, US ambassador to Damascus (2011 to 2014) Robert Stephen Ford is slowly brought into focus on CNN’s Christiane Amanpur show. It is about him that a former US diplomat to the Arab World, Lionel Edward Peck wrote: “I have been dismayed by the accolades and support given to Ambassador Ford, our man in – and now out of Syria, for stepping well out of the traditional and appropriate role of a diplomat and actively encouraging the revolt/insurrection/sectarian strife/outside meddling, call it what you will. It is easy to imagine the US reaction if an ambassador from anywhere were to engage in even distantly related activities here. I fear my country remains somewhat more than merely insensitive, and is sliding into plain rampant and offensive arrogance”.

On the CNN show Ford was predictable. “There is no quick fix to the Syrian tragedy”, he said. Too many details have to be sorted out.

The only tangible foreign affairs story from the White House emerged during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s joint press conference with Trump. “We are very old friends” declared Netanyahu and warmly greeted Jared Kushner, son in law and adviser to the President. Kushner is Jewish. This personal detail does put a certain spin on the Syrian story.

Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer. He has interviewed world leaders and personalities in India and abroad, which appear in newspapers, magazines and on national television, remained editor of the World Report, a syndication service on foreign affairs, and has written for several publications, both global and Indian, including the BBC News, The Sunday Observer, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Indian Express, The Citizen and Outlook magazine. At the Indian Express, he started in 1977 as a Special Correspondent and eventually becoming, editor, Indian Express, Madras, (1979–1984), and Foreign Editor, The Indian Express, Delhi in 1984, and continues to writes columns and features for the paper.

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