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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wanted the recent Geneva II peace conference to focus on terrorism. He says terrorism is the main problem a...

Friday, December 21, 2012

SecState[?] John Kerry and his "dear friend" Bashar al-Assad

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President Barack Obama has just nominated Senator John Kerry for the position of Secretary of State.

I believe John Kerry first came to public notice as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War in the early 1970's. Probably his introduction to the Senate came in April 1971 when he became the first Vietnam veteran to testify before congress.

More recently he has been a senator himself and chairman of the very same Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he first testified before more that forty years ago.

More recently, he has been President Barrack Obama's point man on US relations with Syria and it's dictator President Bashar al-Assad.

Senator John Kerry with "dear friend" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad



John Kerry visited Damascus as part of the Cardin Congressional delegation in February 2009. While there, Mr. and Mrs. Kerry had dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Assad. He also had private meetings with Assad. He returned from this visit, full of hope for building good relationships between the Assad regime and the White House:
"I believe very deeply that this is an important moment of change, a moment of potential transformation, not just in the relationship between the United States and Syria but in the relationship of the region,"
...
"My hope [is that] in the next days things will begin to emerge that can begin to signal that kind of different possibility."
Seymour Hersh interviewed Kerry about this trip and wrote about it in the New Yorker, 6 April 2009, and he reported on Kerry's hopes:
These diplomatic possibilities were suggested by Senator John Kerry, of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who met with Assad in Damascus in February-his third visit since Assad took office, in 2000. "He wants to engage with the West," Kerry said in an interview in his Senate office. "Our latest conversation gave me a much greater sense that Assad is willing to do the things that he needs to do in order to change his relationship with the United States. He told me he's willing to engage positively with Iraq, and have direct discussions with Israel over the Golan Heights-with Americans at the table. I will encourage the Administration to take him up on it.

"Of course, Syria will not suddenly move against Iran," Kerry said. "But the Syrians will act in their best interest, as they did in their indirect negotiations with Israel with Turkey's assistance-and over the objections of Iran."
As President Obama's conduit to Assad, as he developed his new policy of engagement with Syria, John Kerry made numerous trips Damascus during this period. It must have been after one of these trips that the incident reported in Commentary Magazine took place:
Staffers describe their collective cringe when, after a motorcycle ride with Bashar al-Assad, he returned to Washington referring to Bashar as “my dear friend.” Bashar may be a lot of things, but “my dear friend”—an address Kerry used only with a select few, such as the late Ted Kennedy—should not have been one.

And indeed, with Kerry's guidance, relations with the Assad regime were steadily developed. By August 2009, a US military team was in Damascus for talks. A Stratfor analyst summarized the developments to that point:
Syria offering intel cooperation on AQ, Iran, HZ
Syria facilitating March 14 win in Lebanon
Saudi pouring money into Syrian coffers
US and Saudi rewarding Syria with diplomatic recognition (notice how quiet everyone is about Lebanon)
Signs that Syria is moving forward -- big Syrian military/intel reshuffles; Iran threatening to destabilize the Syrian regime; HZ anxiety
this is all covered in our analysis
Less than a year later, in March 2010, an internal Syrian email [soon to be released by Wikileaks] catalogs the developments in the past year from the Syrian pov:
1? Since January 2009, there have been multiple visits to Syria by US officials, including:
? Administration officials, namely Under Secretary of State William Burns, Special Envoy Senator George Mitchell, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, White House?NSC Senior Director Dan Shapiro, and Counterterrorism Coordinator Daniel Benjamin, among others.

? Members of Congress, such as Senators Judd Gregg, John Kerry, Ted Kaufman and Benjamin Cardin; and Representatives Adam Smith, Tim Walz , Alcee Hastings, Stephen Lynch, Howard Berman, at the head of several congressional delegations.

? High?Ranking military officers from US Central Command.
2? US Officials have repeatedly emphasized the importance of improved US relations with Syria, the positive role Syria can play in the region, and the need for Syria to join peace efforts.

3? On July 28, 2009, the US administration initiated steps to ease American sanctions against Syria, starting with allowing the export of material related to information technology, telecommunication equipment and civil aviation.

4? The US lifted an advisory that warned American travelers about security concerns in Syria.

5? The US is getting ready to send back its ambassador to Damascus.

6? Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Al?Miqdad was invited to Washington in October 2009 for high?level talks with US officials.

7? Syrian Ambassador to Washington Imad Mustafa has been having regular meetings at the White House, the State Department and Congress with various US officials, after 5 years of boycott.
The next month, April 2010, Kerry was back in Damascus again, according to State Department cables released by Wikileaks.

Maybe Kerry was taken in by the urban upper-class manors of Bashar al-Assad; maybe there was something that reminded him of his Yale Skull & Crossbones days, or maybe it was just the shared class-consciousness of people in power, but whatever caused John Kerry to connect with the dictator, other things were happening in Syria that ultimately should lead to the overthrow of his "dear friend" Bashar al-Assad. The status quo of the entire region was about to be overthrown from below, by the very forces that were never consulted in Kerry's negotiations with Assad.

Already two dictators had been overthrown, in Tunisia and Egypt, Qaddafi was shooting at protesters in Libya and demonstrations were starting to breakout in Syria when Haaretz reported, 24 February 2011:
U.S. Senator John Kerry and Syrian President Bashar Assad reportedly began drafting an unofficial position paper that would define the principles of negotiations with Israel.

U.S. Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee and a close associate of U.S. President Barack Obama, has been working together with Syrian President Bashar Assad over the last few months on a plan to restart negotiations between Syria and Israel.
...
Kerry has met with Assad in Damascus five times over the last two years. The issue of restarting Israeli-Syrian talks was raised at all of these meetings, and a few months ago, the two began exploring practical ideas for doing so.

In his public report back, 16 March 2011, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, he said:
"President Assad has been very generous with me in terms of the discussions we have had," Mr. Kerry said. "I think it's incumbent on us to try to move that relationship forward in the same way.
...
"So my judgment is that Syria will move; Syria will change, as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States and the West and economic opportunity that comes with it and the participation that comes with it."

As compared with his view on future relations with Syria under Assad, the views he expressed at that Carnegie talk about Libya under Qaddafi were quite hawkish, and sound ironic today, given his non-interventionist stand on Syria:
With Libya on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, Kerry stressed that “the international community cannot watch from the sidelines as a quest for democracy is met with raw violence.” Kerry endorsed recommendations by the Arab League and the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace and said that U.S. and international leaders should consider “whatever is necessary” to prevent further escalation of violence.

Whether Kerry knew it of not, the day before his Carnegie talk, 15 March was the "Day of Rage," the official start of the Syrian Revolution. Wikipedia describes the day this way:
Simultaneous demonstrations took place in major cities across Syria. Thousands of protesters gathered in al-Hasakah, Daraa, Deir ez-Zor, and Hama. There were some clashes with security, according to reports from dissident groups. In Damascus, a smaller group of 200 men grew spontaneously to about 1,500 men. Damascus has not seen such uprising since the 1980s. The official Facebook page called "Syrian Revolution 2011" showed pictures of supportive demonstrations in Cairo, Nicosia, Helsinki, Istanbul and Berlin. There were also unconfirmed news that Syrian revolution supporters of Libyan descent, stormed into the Syrian Embassy in Paris
...
After the first day of the uprising there were reports about approximately 3000 arrests and a few "martyrs", but there are no official figures on the number of deaths
Since that first day, the death toll has climbed towards 50,000, with hundreds of thousands arrested or disappeared and half a million seeking refuge outside of Syria.

New Syria policy needed

John Kerry has come a long ways since his first days as an anti-war activist, as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Obama's man in Damascus, he put a lot of time and energy into a plan that depended on the continued success of one man, or at a minimum, the regime that he represents.

John Kerry had no illusion about what kind of government Assad ran; when he co-sponsored the Syria Accountability Act in 2003 he said,:
The Syrian government has historically ruled by methods such as torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, prolonged detention without trial, and limits on freedom of speech and the press.

Yet he bet on that government and he clung to the hope that Assad would survive, and with him, all those plans the two of them had made together, long after the revolution against his rule had begun. In June 2012, Klein Halevy, a Jerusalem-based contributor to the New Republic, recounted a meeting she had with Kerry in 2011:
Last year, I was part of a group of Israelis who met in Jerusalem with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Mr. Kerry had just come from Damascus with excellent news: Bashar al-Assad was ready for peace with Israel. When one of the participants mentioned that demonstrations had begun to challenge Mr. Assad’s legitimacy, Mr. Kerry’s response was: All the more reason to negotiate while he’s still in power.

That was then and this is now. Clearly Assad's "still in power" days are numbered. I'm sure John Kerry and everyone else in the Obama administration realize that now. They refused any military aid to Assad's opposition and even did their best to deny them heavy weapons, but that has only delayed, at great human costs, the inevitable defeat of the Assad regime.

If and when John Kerry takes on the tasks of Secretary of State, I hope he can grab something of the past from his own history as a protester and as a soldier in a rebel army [VVAW] that can help him relate to those who will most hopefully will be running Syria in the near future.

It looks very likely that Syria will be his first big foreign policy challenge. He must realize that all the fancy plans he made over the years with Assad and now as dead as Qaddafi.

He will now have to lead the United States in building a new relationship to Syria with the knowledge that our recent actions and lack of humanitarian concern, has done almost nothing to endear us to the Syrian people, and he will rightfully be seen as one of the chief engineers of that policy.

John Kerry as he appears in my film Vietnam: American Holocaust
What a long strange trip its been!





Here are my related diaries on Syria:
A Libyan rebel speaks out on Jihadists in Syria
Does what Obama said at Newtown apply to Syria?
BREAKING: Heavy fighting in Damascus as coup attempt reported in progress
Assad's jets bomb Palestinian refugee camp
Jabhat al-Nusra is a Threat to the Syrian Revolution
AP weighs in on Obama's Green Light for Assad's slaughter in Syria
Syrian opposition says "Thanks but No Thanks!" to foreign intervention
BREAKING: Assad firing Scud missiles at Syria
Is Assad using white phosphorus in Syria?
BREAKING: Obama recognizes opposition in Syria
Speaking for the murderous regime in Syria
State of the war in Syria: Most of Damascus now in FSA hands!
Syria: Obama's moves Assad's "red line" back as SOHR reports 42,000 dead!
UPDATED: Syria goes dark as "cleansing" begins in Damascus
BREAKING: Assad's Troops Wipe Out a Playground Full of Children in #Syria
BREAKING: Russia denies Syrian army on brink of collapse
BREAKING in Syria: Explosion rocks Damascus as people use "Truce Day" to protest regime
We condemn Israel. So why the silence on Syria?
Norodom Sihanouk at his finest & more on Syria
Meet a Syrian who doesn't think both sides are equally bad and is betting her life on it!
Two statements about Syria
Syria Today: New videos from the revolutionary war
Syrian Defector: Assad behind "terrorist" bombs
How Assad fights "terrorism" in Syria
REVISITED: FSA says it killed Russian General in Syria
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Truth Out: How Assad helped France kill Qaddafi
Panetta: Unilateral U.S. Military Intervention in Syria Would Be a Serious Mistake
BREAKING: 305 Syrians slaughtered in bloodiest day yet
Syria: Secret source of rebel arms revealed
BREAKING: Amnesty on Syria - Assad Regime guilty on indiscriminate slaughter
Syrian Revolution Digest shows "disgusting" photos!
Syria: The Killing Field the World is Learning to Live With
Barack Obama's Courtship of Bashar al-Assad
LIVE VIDEO: “World Silence is Killing Syria” Rally in #DC
Free #Syria responds to Robert Fisk
UPDATED: #Assad: "#Syria doesn't need a green light!"
Obama opposes French support for #Assad's opposition in #Syria
BREAKING: Amnesty site hacked, Assad propaganda posted
BREAKING: 630 Slaughtered in new massacre in Syria
Special message from Syrian children to Obama
Assad's Redline and Obama's Greenlight!
General Meade at Gettysburg
Tell US gov't to stop endangering Syrian activists
UPDATED: Obama "green lights" #Assad's slaughter in Syria
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BREAKING: Bashar al-Assad is alive as deaths in Syria reach 25,000
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UPDATED: FSA says it killed Russian General in Syria
BREAKING: Syria releases new images of Bashar al- Assad | Are they fakes?
NOT BREAKING NEWS: Just another massacre in Syria
UPDATED: Syrian prime minister defects
Syria: FSA says Iranian pilgrims really Republican Guard
Syria: Aleppo under Siege!
BREAKING: UN votes to condemn Assad Regime as Reuters posts false story on Syria
BREAKING: Kofi Annan resigns as envoy to Syria
Syria: Bashar al-Assad not heard from on Armed Forces Day!
BREAKING: Senior Syrian diplomat to Armenia defects
BREAKING: Big Explosion hits #Damascus #Syria
UPDATED: Syria's Charge D'Affaires Quits London Post
BREAKING: Ground assault on Aleppo begins!
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ALEPPO: Step outside the Matrix and witness the Horror
UPDATED: US fears massacre in #Aleppo, #Syria
BREAKING: Reports of clashes between Jordan Army & Assad's Syrian army
BRAKING: Obama stops Putin from re-arming Assad in Syria
Syria: Foreign meddling increases as crisis builds
BREAKING: Aleppo, Syria bombed with fighter jets
BREAKING: Syria issues a correction, it has no WMD to use
BREAKING: Arab League asks Assad to step down!
Bashar al-Assad: New images released as slaughter continues in Syria
no blood for oil
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Will Syria's Assad make a chemical attack in Damascus on Saturday?
BREAKING: I know where Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is!
BREAKING: Massive Fire near #Assad's Presidential Palace in #Damascus, #Syria
BREAKING: Is Syria's Bashar al-Assad dead or dying?
BREAKING: Damascus explosion kills Defense Minister, other key figures
The battle for Damascus is coming
BREAKING: General Strike in Damascus
BREAKING: Intense fighting reported in Damascus now!
BREAKING: Syrian defector spills beans as important new defection reported.
Does Syria's Assad have something on Kofi Annan?
Tremseh Massacre in Syria: What we know
BREAKING: ~227 reported massacred by Assad's forces in Tremseh, Syria today!
Syria: Is Assad regime on the verge of collapse?
BREAKING: Russian Warships reported in Syria
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UN Observers say violence in Syria is ‘Unprecedented’
BREAKING: Defection of major Assad insider reported in Syria
BREAKING: WikiLeaks releases 2.4 million #Syria emails
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BREAKING: Syrian General defects with 293 to Turkey
BREAKING: Items not in the MSM on Syria
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BREAKING: Syrian Air Force attacks Douma, 10m from Damascus, thousands flee
BREAKING: As Syria Burns, UN Blows More Smoke
BREAKING: Kofi Annan to propose Syrian unity gov't sans Assad!
BREAKING: Douma, Syria under massive attack, another massacre feared
BREAKING: Another mass defection from Syrian army
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NATO meetup tomorrow as more defect from Syria
BREAKING: Turkey calls for NATO consult on downing of jet by Syria
BREAKING: Senior Syrian Officers Defect
UPDATED: Russia reported to be preparing to evacuate from Syria
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BREAKING: Russian troops headed to Syria
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