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Monday, August 3, 2015

Hillary Clinton's early role in facilitating Bashar al-Assad's crackdown in Syria

Given that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee for the next president of the United States, and that what began as a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by the Syrian government four years ago has grown into a conflagration that has consumed close to 300,000 lives and made another nine million homeless, this would seem to be a good time to remember how she gave Bashar al-Assad, the "green-light" to begin that crackdown in earnest when the 15 March Uprising was less than a month old and the number of dead was still in the dozens.

This is a short excerpt from my 17,000 word Barack Obama's Courtship of Bashar al-Assad, written almost three years ago. We pick up the story on 27 March 2011, the democracy protests are in their second week, and Secretary of State Clinton is on Face the Nation and is asked about the US attitude towards Assad's crackdown:

QUESTION: Tens of thousands of people have turned out protesting in Syria, which has been under the iron grip of the Asad for so many years now, one of the most repressive regimes in the world, I suppose. And when the demonstrators turned out, the regime opened fire and killed a number of civilians. Can we expect the United States to enter the conflict in the way we have entered the conflict in Libya?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No. Each of these situations is unique, Bob. Certainly, we deplore the violence in Syria. We call, as we have on all of these governments during this period of the Arab Awakening, as some have called it, to be responding to their people's needs, not to engage in violence, permit peaceful protests, and begin a process of economic and political reform.

The situation in Libya, which engendered so much concern from around the international community, had a leader who used military force against the protestors from one end of his country to the other....
QUESTION: But, I mean, how can that be worse than what has happened in Syria over the years, where Bashar Asad's father killed 25,000 people at a lick? I mean, they open fire with live ammunition on these civilians. Why is that different from Libya?
There's a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer. What's been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning, but there's a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities [how ironic these words sound today!!] and then police actions, which, frankly, have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.
The headline that went around the world the next day was that unlike Libya, there would be no military intervention in Syria. This piece in The Peninsula was typical:
No attack on Syria: Clinton

28 March 2011
Washington: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday said that the United States currently has no intention of launching a military intervention in Syria, despite its brutal crackdown that has left dozens of protesters dead.

Asked on CBS television's "Face the Nation" programme if Washington is planning military action similar to that launched in Libya, Clinton answered that it is not. "No, each of these situations is unique," she said and added that the "elements" that led to international intervention in Libya were absent in the case of Syria.
Just hours before Clinton went on "Face the Nation," Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Assad, announced that one of the key demands of the protesters, the lifting of the emergency law, would be met. Three days after he had been assured that no military intervention was planned, on 30 March 2011, Assad made a speech blaming foreign conspirators for causing the uprising and reversing the promise to lift the emergency law. When people took to the streets to protest the speech in Latakia and Daraa, the police used live ammunition and killed five. Syrians had expected him to announce an end to the emergency law. The next day 25 people were killed by security forces in Latakia. The term "bloodbath" was starting to be used. After Clinton's statement, Assad started to use his army to attack the protesters and the death toll started rising dramatically.

The mask of "the reformer" was dropping fast as the bodies piled up now that Assad knew he was not going to get the "Qaddafi treatment."

The private spooks at Stratfor thought they had a pretty good idea of what was going on. In a 31 March 2011 Stratfor [1154727] memo obtained by Wikileaks:
Since Mubarak has gone and Gaddhafi is under fire, Assad has more than enough reasons to be concerned about Syrian regime's survival. Regardless of what our Syrian contacts tell us about Assad's confidence, we know and Assad knows that he is on the thin ice and needs US/Saudi support for survival. US/Saudi (and by proxy, Qatar) back Assad not because they fear things may get worse in Lebanon. Indeed, they think this is the best time to put pressure on Assad to give concessions in Lebanon due to his current weakness. Don't you really find it a bit unusual that Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United States did not even hesitate throwing their support behind Assad at the very beginning? Washington could have easily sent a warning to Damascus by saying that "Libya-like treatment for Syria is one of the options". France was already willing to get engaged in Syria. But US did the contrary.

The Stratfor people had it right. Hillary Clinton was signalling a US policy of acceptance of Assad's crackdown.

How many time have we heard it from our diplomats and generals "You never take the military option off the table"? Its like a mantra with those guys: "You never take the military option off the table." Ask why they are even threatening war over this or that minor dispute and they are quick to tell you, well "You never take the military option off the table." Its like a dogma to them, you never leave the big stick at home and "You never take the military option off the table."

Except, its not true, is it? There are rare occasions when they do explicitly "take the military option off the table." Those are times when they want to signal that certain behaviour won't evoke a military response from the imperialist "big dog". It's their way of granting something like a Superpower "License of Kill."

I call them "green lights." On the day Obama made his now infamous statement that Assad's use of chemical weapons was a "red-line" that might cause him to take military action, I published Obama "green lights" Assad's slaughter in Syria saying that the real import of that statement was to take the military option off the table in response to the carnage Assad was already causing through the widespread use of long range artillery, tanks, cluster bombs, helicopter gunships and warplanes dropping bombs on civilian houses and apartment buildings. At the time, roughly 25,000 was the frightful death toll. Now we can say only 25,000, ["only 25,000"] had been slaughtered when Obama "took the military option off the table" with regards to Assad's continued carnage by conventional means. Now we can say the even Obama's threat to take military action if Assad used "a whole bunch of chemical weapons" was 100% bluff.

Here we have Hillary Clinton, speaking as the voice of United States foreign policy, and "taking the military option off the table" in the opening act of this tragedy. She is telling the Assad regime, after it has fired only the first shots of a carnage that was to reach 25,000 deaths before Obama "green-lighted" more of the same, that he don't have to worry about a no-fly zone or a NATO action in response to his crackdown.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria


  1. May I have permission to run this excellent piece at my blog, C21st Left? With due acknolwedgements, of course. Barry

  2. Hillary Clinton, along with Leon Panetta, David Petraeus and others in Obama's first administration, tried to persuade the President to actively support the Syrian revolutionaries. It is misleading to quote her statements early in the revolution, especially since she was reflecting the Presidents stance at that point. Her understanding of our role in the Syrian Revolution is not among the things to question about Mrs.Clinton.