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Hillary Clinton and the Syrian Bloodbath

By Jeffrey Sachs

February 16, 2016 "Information Clearing House" - "Huffington Post" - In the Milwaukee debate, Hillary Clinton took pride in her role in a recent UN Security Council resolution on a Syrian ceasefire:

But I would add this. You know, the Security Council finally got around to adopting a resolution. At the core of that resolution is an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva, which set forth a cease-fire and moving toward a political resolution, trying to bring the parties at stake in Syria together.

This is the kind of compulsive misrepresentation that makes Clinton unfit to be President. Clinton's role in Syria has been to help instigate and prolong the Syrian bloodbath, not to bring it to a close.

In 2012, Clinton was the obstacle, not the solution, to a ceasefire being negotiated by UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan. It was US intransigence - Clinton's intransigence - that led to the failure of Annan's peace efforts in the spring of 2012, a point well known among diplomats. Despite Clinton's insinuation in the Milwaukee debate, there was (of course) no 2012 ceasefire, only escalating carnage. Clinton bears heavy responsibility for that carnage, which has by now displaced more than 10 million Syrians and left more than 250,000 dead.

As every knowledgeable observer understands, the Syrian War is not mostly about Bashar al-Assad, or even about Syria itself. It is mostly a proxy war, about Iran. And the bloodbath is doubly tragic and misguided for that reason.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the leading Sunni powers in the Middle East, view Iran, the leading Shia power, as a regional rival for power and influence. Right-wing Israelis view Iran as an implacable foe that controls Hezbollah, a Shi'a militant group operating in Lebanon, a border state of Israel. Thus, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel have all clamored to remove Iran's influence in Syria.

This idea is incredibly na´ve. Iran has been around as a regional power for a long time--in fact, for about 2,700 years. And Shia Islam is not going away. There is no way, and no reason, to "defeat" Iran. The regional powers need to forge a geopolitical equilibrium that recognizes the mutual and balancing roles of the Gulf Arabs, Turkey, and Iran. And Israeli right-wingers are na´ve, and deeply ignorant of history, to regard Iran as their implacable foe, especially when that mistaken view pushes Israel to side with Sunni jihadists.

Yet Clinton did not pursue that route. Instead she joined Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and right-wing Israelis to try to isolate, even defeat, Iran. In 2010, she supported secret negotiations between Israel and Syria to attempt to wrest Syria from Iran's influence. Those talks failed. Then the CIA and Clinton pressed successfully for Plan B: to overthrow Assad.

When the unrest of the Arab Spring broke out in early 2011, the CIA and the anti-Iran front of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey saw an opportunity to topple Assad quickly and thereby to gain a geopolitical victory. Clinton became the leading proponent of the CIA-led effort at Syrian regime change.

In early 2011, Turkey and Saudi Arabia leveraged local protests against Assad to try to foment conditions for his ouster. By the spring of 2011, the CIA and the US allies were organizing an armed insurrection against the regime. On August 18, 2011, the US Government made public its position: "Assad must go."

Since then and until the recent fragile UN Security Council accord, the US has refused to agree to any ceasefire unless Assad is first deposed. The US policy--under Clinton and until recently--has been: regime change first, ceasefire after. After all, it's only Syrians who are dying. Annan's peace efforts were sunk by the United States' unbending insistence that U.S.-led regime change must precede or at least accompany a ceasefire. As the Nation editors put it in August 2012:

The US demand that Assad be removed and sanctions be imposed before negotiations could seriously begin, along with the refusal to include Iran in the process, doomed [Annan's] mission.

Clinton has been much more than a bit player in the Syrian crisis. Her diplomat Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi was killed as he was running a CIA operation to ship Libyan heavy weapons to Syria. Clinton herself took the lead role in organizing the so-called "Friends of Syria" to back the CIA-led insurgency.

The U.S. policy was a massive, horrific failure. Assad did not go, and was not defeated. Russia came to his support. Iran came to his support. The mercenaries sent in to overthrow him were themselves radical jihadists with their own agendas. The chaos opened the way for the Islamic State, building on disaffected Iraqi Army leaders (deposed by the US in 2003), on captured U.S. weaponry, and on the considerable backing by Saudi funds. If the truth were fully known, the multiple scandals involved would surely rival Watergate in shaking the foundations of the US establishment.

The hubris of the United States in this approach seems to know no bounds. The tactic of CIA-led regime change is so deeply enmeshed as a "normal" instrument of U.S. foreign policy that it is hardly noticed by the U.S. public or media. Overthrowing another government is against the U.N. charter and international law. But what are such niceties among friends?

This instrument of U.S. foreign policy has not only been in stark violation of international law but has also been a massive and repeated failure. Rather than a single, quick, and decisive coup d'Útat resolving a US foreign policy problem, each CIA-led regime change has been, almost inevitably, a prelude to a bloodbath. How could it be otherwise? Other societies don't like their countries to be manipulated by U.S. covert operations.

Removing a leader, even if done "successfully," doesn't solve any underlying geopolitical problems, much less ecological, social, or economic ones. A coup d'etat invites a civil war, the kind that now wracks Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. It invites a hostile international response, such as Russia's backing of its Syrian ally in the face of the CIA-led operations. The record of misery caused by covert CIA operations literally fills volumes at this point. What surprise, then, the Clinton acknowledges Henry Kissinger as a mentor and guide?

And where is the establishment media in this debacle? The New York Times finally covered a bit of this story last month in describing the CIA-Saudi connection, in which Saudi funds are used to pay for CIA operations in order to make an end-run around Congress and the American people. The story ran once and was dropped. Yet the Saudi funding of CIA operations is the same basic tactic used by Ronald Reagan and Oliver North in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s (with Iranian arms sales used to fund CIA-led covert operations in Central America without consent or oversight by the American people).

Clinton herself has never shown the least reservation or scruples in deploying this instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Her record of avid support for US-led regime change includes (but is not limited to) the US bombing of Belgrade in 1999, the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Iraq War in 2003, the Honduran coup in 2009, the killing of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, and the CIA-coordinated insurrection against Assad from 2011 until today.

It takes great presidential leadership to resist CIA misadventures. Presidents get along by going along with arms contractors, generals, and CIA operatives. They thereby also protect themselves from political attack by hardline right-wingers. They succeed by exulting in U.S. military might, not restraining it. Many historians believe that JFK was assassinated as a result of his peace overtures to the Soviet Union, overture he made against the objections of hardline rightwing opposition in the CIA and other parts of the U.S. government.

Hillary Clinton has never shown an iota of bravery, or even of comprehension, in facing down the CIA. She has been the CIA's relentless supporter, and has exulted in showing her toughness by supporting every one of its misguided operations. The failures, of course, are relentlessly hidden from view. Clinton is a danger to global peace. She has much to answer for regarding the disaster in Syria.

Jeffrey Sachs Director, Earth Institute at Columbia University

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