On Friday the 13th of April, President Trump bombed the government of Syria? Again. In this episode, learn some of the little-discussed history of and reasons for the on-going attempts to overthrow the government of Syria.
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- Article: ‘Obscene masquerade’: Russia criticised over Douma chemical attack denial by Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, April 26, 2018.
- Article: Why does Syria still have chemical weapons? by Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, April 18, 2018.
- Report: Russia rejects UN resolution for independent Douma investigation, Aljazeera, April 18, 2018.
- Report: Pentagon warns of IS resurgence in regime areas of Syria, France24, April 17, 2018.
- Interview: Legal questions loom over Syria strikes, Interview by Jonathan Masters of John B. Bellinger III, Council on Foreign Relations, April 15, 2018.
- Letter: Text of a letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, April 15, 2018.
- Report: Trump bombs Syria hours after 88 lawmakers urged him to first consult Congress by Jennifer Bendery, Huffpost, April 13, 2018.
- Interview: What are U.S. Military options in Syria? Interview by Zachary Laub of Mona Yacoubian, Council on Foreign Relations, April 13, 2018.
- Report: Thousands of US troops and Marines arrive in Jordan by Shawn Snow, Marine Times, April 13, 2018.
- Report: Global chemical weapons watchdog ‘on its way to Syria’, Aljazeera News, April 12, 2018.
- Report: Pentagon strips Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria troop numbers from web by Tara Copp, Military Times, April 9, 2018.
- Press Release: Press release on Israeli air strikes in Syria, MFA Russia, February 20, 2018.
- Article: Kurds pull back from ISIS fight in Syria, saying U.S. ‘let us down’ by Liz Sly, The Washington Post, March 6, 2018.
- Report: US has no evidence of Syrian use of sarin gas, Mattis says by Robert Burns, AP News, February 2, 2018.
- Article: The pundits were wrong about Assad and the Islamic State. As usual, they’re not willing to admit it by Max Abrahms and John Glaser, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2017.
- Report: Syria investigator del Ponte signs off with a sting by Reuters Staff, Reuters, September 18, 2017.
- Article: Trump’s red line by Seymour M. Hersh, Welt, June 25, 2017.
- Article: The ‘Pipelineistan’ conspiracy: The war in Syria has never been about gas by Paul Cochrane, Middle East Eye, May 10, 2017.
- Article: MIT expert claims latest chemical weapons attack in Syria was staged by Tareq Haddad, Yahoo, April 17, 2017.
- Report: MIT expert claims latest chemical weapons attack in Syria was staged by Tareq Haddad, International Business Times, Yahoo, April 17, 2017.
- Report: Dozens of U.S. missiles hit air base in Syria by Michael R. Gordon, Helene Cooper, and Michael D. Shear, The New York Times, April 6, 2017.
- Report: ISIS used chemical arms at least 52 times in Syria and Iraq, report says by Eric Schmitt, The New York Times, November 21, 2016.
- Article: How the White Helmets became international heroes while pushing U.S. Military intervention and regime change in Syria by Max Blumenthal, Alternet, October 2, 2016.
- Meetings Coverage: Security council unanimously adopts resolution 2254 (2015), endorsing road map for peace process in Syria, setting timetable for talks by UN Security Council, December 18, 2015.
- Article: How Syria’s ‘geeky’ President Assad went from doctor to dictator by Sarah Burke, NBC News, October 30, 2015.
- Report: Declared Syrian chemical weapon stockpile now completely destroyed by Thomas Gibbons-Neff, The Washington Post, August 18, 2014.
- Article: Analysts question US intel on Syria chem attack, DW, January 18, 2014.
- Book Review: Whose Sarin? by Seymour M. Hersh, London Review of Books, December 19, 2013.
- Article: UN report says sarin likely used in five locations in Syria, DW, December 13, 2013.
- Article: Assad did not order Syria chemical weapons attack, says German press by Simon Tisdall and Josie Le Blond, The Guardian, September 9, 2013.
- Article: Cameron forced rule out British attack on Syria after MPs reject motion by Nicholas Watt and Nick Hopkins, The Guardian, August 29, 2013.
- Article: Spooks’ view on Syria: what wikileaks revealed by Alex Thomson, Channel 4, August 28, 2013.
- Article: Obama weighs ‘limited’ strikes against Syrian forces by Thom Shanker, C.J. Chivers, and Michael R. Gordon, The New York Times, August 27, 2013.
- Report: Moscow rejects Saudi offer to drop Assad for arms deal by Agence France-Presse, Hurriyet Daily News, August 8, 2013.
- Analysis: UN’s Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels ‘used sarin’ by Bridget Kendall, BBC News, May 6, 2013.
- Report: Syrian rebels used nerve gas, UN investigator says by TOI Staff, Times of Israel, May 6, 2013.
- Report: UN sources say Syrian rebels – not Assad – used sarin gas by Adam Clark Estes, The Atlantic, May 5, 2013.
- Report: U.N. has testimony that Syrian rebels used sarin gas: investigator by Reuters Staff, Reuters, May 5, 2013.
- Letter: Text of White House letter on Syria to senators by The Associated Press, The Seattle Times, April 25, 2013.
- Article: How economic reforms are contributing to the conflict in Syria by Rodrigo Abd, NPR, May 29, 2012.
- Article: The only remaining online copy of Vogue’s Asma al-Assad profile by Max Fisher, The Atlantic, January 3, 2012.
- Report: IMF gives Syria high grade for economic reform by Stephen Glain, The National, January 6, 2009.
- Report: REFILE-LIberalised Syria banks “on sound track” by Reuters Staff, Reuters, May 26, 2008.
- Article: The redirection: Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism? by Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, March 5, 2007.
- Article: Syrian Arab Republic — IMF article IV consultation, mission’s concluding statement, International Monetary Fund, May 14, 2006.
- Report: Investigator says Syria was behind Lebanon assassination by Warren Hoge, The New York Times, December 12, 2005.
- Article: Reform hinges on Syria’s leader by Evan Osnos, Chicago Tribune, April 22, 2005.
- Congressional Research Service: Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response
- Council on Foreign Relations: Syria’s War: The Descent into Horror by Zachary Laub
- Country Reports on Terrorism: Chapter 6 — State Sponsors of Terror Overview
- Gov. Publishing Office: Counter-ISIS Training and Equipment Fund
- IMF Working Paper: Syria’s Conflict Economy by Jeanne Gobat and Kristina Kostial
- Pipeline Report: Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP), Jordan, Syria, Lebanon
- Public Law: 9/11 AUMF
- Public Law: Iraq War AUMF
- Scientific Advisory Board: OPCW 27th Session March 23, 2018
- UN News: Action Group for Syria Final Communique June 30, 2012
- UN Security Council Report: Goal in Syria
Sound Clip Sources
Hearing: US Policy Toward Middle East; House Foreign Affairs Committee; April 18, 2018.
-David Satterfield – Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State – Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
-Wes Mitchell – Assistant Secretary of State of European and Eurasian Affairs
- 15:25 David Satterfield: While preventing the use of chemical weapons in Syria is our immediate concern, the administration’s priority remains the defeat of ISIS. ISIS has lost nearly all of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, but the fight in Syria still has to be pursued to its conclusion. More broadly, the United States supports a unified and territorially whole Syria. This objective is served by U.S. support for the UN-led Geneva political process, established by UN Security Council Resolution 2254, in which process the U.S. believes strongly that representatives of all Syrians, including all its Kurdish components, should fully participate.
- 16:30 David Satterfield: The Iraqi government is stabilizing communities, including minority communities that suffered greatly from ISIS, and now we’re beginning private-sector-led, investment-driven reconstruction.
- 34:15 Representative Eliot Engel (NY): To me, ISIS is one prong of something, an important prong, but one prong of what we should be doing. I really think to rid Syria of the butcher Assad ought to be as important as our ISIS concerns. David Satterfield: I strongly agree with you that a Syria in which Assad remains as leader of this regime is not a Syria which we would predict to be meaningfully secure or stable, or not a source of generation of threat and violent extremism under whatever name in the future, and it’s why we have strongly supported a political process led by the UN. Unfortunately, that political process has been blocked, and the parties responsible for blocking it are quite clear: it’s the Syrian regime itself and the Russians, who through their absence of pressure on the regime in Damascus contributes to, enables this freezing of a Geneva process which, virtually, the entire international community supports. Engel: And through the veto in the United Nations. Satterfield: Exactly, sir.
- 1:02:20 Representative Dana Rohrabacher: What is our purpose in Syria? Will we accept anything less than?would we accept a compromise that would keep Assad in power, at least in part of Syria, or is our goal and our purpose only to totally eliminate the Assad government? David Satterfield: Mr. Rohrabacher, our purpose of our forces in Syria, as Secretary Mattis, Chairman Dunford have stated repeatedly, is to defeat ISIS. The purpose of our diplomacy, of our international engagement, with respect to Syria, is to support a political process, which at its end has a revised constitution, elections conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. And our belief is that those elections, if freely and fairly conducted amongst all Syrians, including the émigré Syrian communities, would not produce the survival of the Assad regime. Rohrabacher: Okay, let me just note, what you described wasn’t just Syria, but probably three-quarters of the countries of the Middle East. And if we made those demands of?why is it that Syria, we have to make those demands against Syria and not against all these other countries in the Middle East? Satterfield: Because, sir, of the extraordinary depredations of this regime in this country against its citizens, because of the extraordinary and historically unprecedented, in modern times, outflow of? Rohrabacher: You don’t think the rest of the countries in the Middle East have similar track records? You’re trying to tell me that?well, we heard the same thing, of course, about Saddam Hussein, we heard the same thing about Gaddafi, and we ended up creating total chaos?total chaos?in that part of the world. Satterfield: No regime in modern history in the Middle East, including Saddam Hussein’s? Rohrabacher: Yes. Satterfield: ?has killed as many of its own citizens, has produced external and internal displacement of its own citizens on the scale of the Assad regime. No. It’s unique, sadly. Rohrabacher: Well, let me just say, Mr. Ambassador, you read history differently than I do. That is an area that is filled with dictators, it’s filled with authoritarian regimes, filled with our allies, that if people rose up against them as they’re rising up against Assad?he’s a bad guy, he’s a dictator, he’s everything you said, but he’s not that different from these other regimes once they are challenged. Once they were challenged, don’t tell me the Qatar government wouldn’t mow down all of their guest workers if there was an uprising in Qatar, and vice versa with these other regimes. I’m very disturbed by the fact that we’re sliding into a war and not having an out that will not lead us to major military commitments to that region. That would be a disaster, and I think it’s based on the analysis that you just said: that Assad is somewhat different than everybody else. I don’t think so.
News: Rand Paul Says Syrian Gas Attack was False Flag, or Assad is Dumbest Dictator on the Planet; CNN News; April 17, 2018.
Meeting: U.N. Security Council on Airstrikes in Syria; U.N. Security Council; April 14, 2018.
Testimony: Secretary Mattis and General Dunford on 2019 Budget Request; House Armed Services Committee; April 12, 2018.
– James Mattis – Secretary of Defense
– General Joseph F. Dunford Jr. – Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
- 41:42 Secretary of Defense James Mattis: On Syria, sir, both the last administration and this one made very clear that our role in Syria is the defeat of ISIS. We are not going to engage in the civil war itself. Now, you can look back to a year ago when we did fire missiles into Syria, unrelated to ISIS, and that was, of course, the use of chemical weapons. And some things are simply inexcusable, beyond the pale, and in the worst interest of not just the Chemical Weapons Convention but of civilization itself.
- 42:48 Secretary of Defense James Mattis: And the only reason Assad is still in power is because of the Russians’ regrettable vetoes in the UN, and the Russian and Iranian military. So, how do we deal with this very complex situation? First of all, we are committed to ending that war though the Geneva process, the UN orchestrated effort. It has been unfulfilled because, again, Russia has continually blocked the efforts.
- 50:10 Representative Niki Tsongas (MA): So as you’re considering possible steps forward?military actions you might take? what do you hope to achieve by any military action that the administration might eventually decide to take? Secretary of Defense James Mattis: Congresswoman, I don’t want to get, as you’ll understand, into the details of a potential decision by the commander in chief, due to this latest attack, which is absolutely inexcusable. There have been a number of these attacks. In many cases, you know we don’t have troops. We’re not engaged on the ground there, so I cannot tell you that we had evidence, even though we certainly had a lot of media and social-media indicators that either chlorine or sarin were used. As far as our current situation, if, like last time, we decide we have to take military action in regard to this chemical weapons attack, then, like last time, we will be reporting to Congress just as we did when we fired a little over a year ago, slightly over a year ago. As far as the counter violent extremists, counter ISIS? Tsongas: So, let me go back to this. So, before taking any action, you would report to Congress as to the nature of what that action might be. Mattis: I will speak only to the fact that we will report to Congress. We’ll keep open lines of communication. There will be notification to the leadership, of course, prior to the attack. But we’ll give a full report to the Congress itself, probably as rapidly as possible.
- 54:05 Secretary of Defense James Mattis: I believe there was a chemical attack, and we’re looking for the actual evidence. The OPCW?this is the organization for the Chemical Weapons Convention?we’re trying to get those inspectors in, probably within the week.
- 1:00:42 Representative Jackie Speier (CA): Mr. Secretary, a Military Times article this week revealed that the Defense Manpower Data Center failed to report the number of combat troops deployed in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan last quarter. That website was also stripped of deployment data from previous quarters. I’m very concerned about that. I think that there’s no combat advantage to obfuscating the number of U.S. service members that were in these countries three months ago, and, furthermore, the American public has a right to know. Do you intend to restore that information to the website? Secretary of Defense James Mattis: I’ll look at it, Congresswoman. As you know, we keep the Congress fully informed, right down to every week. We can update you on exactly the numbers in each case, and we do maintain some degree of confidentiality over the number of troops engaged against enemies in the field. So, I’ll have to look at it. But we will not, of course, ever keep those numbers away from members of Congress, for your oversight. Speier: Well, I know, but this has been an ongoing website that’s provided this information to the public, and all of a sudden, the last quarter, it’s not posted, and they’ve sweeped away all the data for previous quarters. So, it would suggest to, I think, the public and to members of this Congress that you are no longer going to make that information available, and I think the public has a right to know. Mattis: I see. When I come in, ma’am, I don’t come in intending to hide things, but I would just ask, what would you do if you thought the enemy could take advantage of that kind of data, seeing trends at certain times of the year and what they can expect in the future? But I’ll certainly look at it. I share your conviction that the American people should know everything that doesn’t give the enemy an advantage. Speier: Thank you. I yield back.
- 1:18:09 Representative John Garamendi (CA): What is the legal authority?the precise legal authority?of the United States government to engage in military action in response to the chemical weapons use by the Assad regime? Secretary of Defense James Mattis: Right. I believe that authority’s under Article II. We have forces in the field, as you know, in Syria, and the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not something that we should assume that, well, because you didn’t use them on us this time, you wouldn’t use them on us next time.
- 1:28:35 Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI): You know, the president has indicated recently his intention to launch U.S. military attacks against Syria. Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war. Congress has not done so against the Syrian government. Section 3 of the War Powers Resolution requires the president to consult with Congress before introducing U.S. armed forces into situations of hostilities. Section 2 of the War Powers Resolution clarifies the constitutional powers of the president as commander in chief. In Article II, which you referenced, Secretary Mattis, to introduce forces into hostilities only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by an attack upon the U.S., its territories, possessions, or armed forces. Syria’s not declared war against the U.S. or threatened the U.S. The launch of 59 missiles against Syria by Trump last year was illegal and did not meet any of those criteria in the War Powers Resolution. The consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which was signed into law by President Trump, states that none of the funds made available by this Act may be used with respect to Syria in contravention of the War Powers Resolution, including for the introduction of U.S. armed military forces into hostilities in Syria. My question is, will the president uphold the Constitution, the War Powers Resolution, and comply with the law that he signed by obtaining authorization from Congress before launching U.S. military attacks against Syria? Secretary of Defense James Mattis: Congresswoman, we have not yet made any decision to launch military attacks into Syria. I think that when you look back at President Obama sending the U.S. troops into Syria at the time he did, he also had to deal with this type of situation, because we were going after a named terrorist group that was not actually named in the AUMF that put them in. This is a complex area, I’ll be the first to admit. Gabbard: It is simple, however, what the Constitution requires. So while you’re correct in saying the president has not yet made a decision, my question is, will he abide by the Constitution and comply with the law? Mattis: Yeah. I believe that the president will carry out his duties under the Constitution to protect the country.
Interview: John Kerry – We Got All of the Chemical Weapons Out of Syria; CNN; Posted April 9, 2018.
Interview: John Kerry on Getting Chemical Weapons out of Syria, 2014; Meet the Press; Posted April 9, 2018.
Testimony: US Policy in Syria After ISIS; Senate Foreign Relations Committee; January 11, 2018.
– David Satterfield – Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
- 13:45 David Satterfield: A stable Syria absolutely requires the departure of President Assad and his regime. They’ve inflicted suffering and countless deaths on the Syrian people, including use of chemical weapons. This regime is a magnet for terror. It is incapable of democratically leading the whole of Syria. We, our allies, have come to Russia with a path towards the Syrian political transition, towards a political solution, on many occasions, and we call on Russia again today to pressure the regime to work seriously towards a political resolution to this conflict.
- 14:37 Sen. Bob Corker (TN): We are now not demanding that Assad leave. Instead, as I understand it, we’re embracing the UN resolution as Putin has recently done. Is that correct? David Satterfield: That’s correct, Mr. Chairman. Corker: And that would mean that there would then be an election that would take place. Satterfield: There would be a constitutional reform and revision process, and then there would be an electoral process. That electoral process would be fully under UN monitoring and supervision. Corker: And is it true that?it’s my sense that people like you and others believe that if that process occurs as has been laid out and as supported right now by Russia, do you believe that the way Assad would go through a democratic election where he would lose? Satterfield: Mr. Chairman, we cannot conceive of a circumstance which a genuinely fair electoral process overseen by the UN, with participation of a Syrian displaced community, could lead to a result in which Assad remained at the helm.
- 21:20 David Satterfield: First step was the defeat of ISIS. As long as ISIS remained a potent fighting force in Syria, the bandwidth, the space to deal with these broader strategic challenges, including Iran and, of course, Assad and the regime, simply wasn’t there. But that bandwidth is being freed up now. With the UN process, with international support for a credible electoral and constitutional reform process, we see political transition in Syria as a potentially achievable goal. We don’t underestimate the challenges ahead. It’s going to be hard?very hard?to do. Assad will cling to power at almost every cost possible. But with respect to Iran, we will treat Iran in Syria and Iran’s enablement of Hezbollah as a separate strategic issue. How do you deal with it? You deal with it in all places that it manifests itself, which is not just Syria, but Iraq, Yemen, the Gulf, other areas where Iran’s maligned behaviors affect our and our allies’ national interests. Difficult challenge, but not impossible challenge, and it is one we are seized with right now, but having a politically transformed Syria will, in and of itself, be a mitigating and minimizing factor on Iran’s influence, and the opposite is also true.
- Satterfield: We are working on stabilization in the north and the northeast right now very successfully and with a minimum of U.S. physical presence. About 2,000 U.S. military and seven, soon to be 10, foreign service colleagues. This is a highly efficient operation, and it’s working on the ground. But those are only the first steps. The 2254 political process, the process that the entire international community of like-minded states has signed on to, is the key. It’s the key to addressing Assad and his departure; it is the key to resolving the question of foreign forces and Iranian influence. And what are our levers, what are our tools to move that forward? They are denial of legitimacy and authenticity to any claim of victory by the regime or its supporters in Moscow or Tehran, and the withholding of reconstruction funds, which are vital to the regime and we think Moscow’s interests over the long term. Those are potent levers.
- 48:58 Sen. Bob Corker: As I understand, the troops that are there, they’re not involved in combat. Is that correct? David Satterfield: Senator, there are still combat activities going on in the middle Euphrates valley. The campaign against the so-called Caliphate, that is, the territorially structured presence of ISIS, is not over yet. That campaign continues. The level of fighting has significantly diminished since the days of urban conflict in Mayadeen, Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor. But the fight goes on, and there is combat activity. Corker: But, most of their efforts are in support of those that are actually on the front lines. Satterfield: They are in facilitation of the SDF efforts, who have consistently carried this fight since the beginning.
- 49:47 Sen. Ron Johnson (OH): Reconstructing Syria’s going to cost somewhere in the order of 200 to 300 billion dollars. Is that?? David Satterfield: That’s a general international estimate, sir. Johnson: So, who has that kind of money? Satterfield: I can tell you who doesn’t: the Syrian regime, Moscow, and Tehran. Who does? The international community companies, international financial institutions. They’ve got the money collectively, but that money is not going to flow into a Syria which has not gone through a political transformation and transition.
Hearing: Authorization for Use of Military Force; Senate Foreign Relations Committee; October 30, 2017.
- 2:55:15 Sen. Rob Portman (OH): Do you think there can be a lasting peace there as long as Assad is in power, and does the current AUMF give you the ability, General Mattis, to be able to deal with that issue if you think that has to be resolved? That might be one example. Rex Tillerson: Well, the current AUMF only authorizes our fight against ISIS in Syria, as I indicated in my remarks. We’re not there to fight the regime. There is no authority beyond the fight against ISIS. Therefore, we have to pursue a future Syria that’s kept whole and intact, and a process, which the UN Security Council process does provide a process by which, in our view, the Assad regime will step down from power.
Breaking News: Brian Williams is Guided by the Beauty of Our Weapons in Syria Strikes; MSNBC; April 13, 2017.
Breaking News: Zakaria: Trump Just Became President; CNN; April 7, 2017.
Report: Hillary Clinton Discussed Rigging the Election in Leaked Audio; The Young Turks; November 1, 2016.
Interview: Gen. Wesley Clark – 7 Countries in 5 Years; Democracy Now!; August 6, 2016.
Hearing: U.S. Policy and Russian Involvement in Syria; House Foreign Affairs Committee; November 4, 2015.
– Anne Patterson – Assistant Secretary of State
– Victoria Nuland – Assistant Secretary of State
Statement: Situation in Syria; Secretary of State Clinton calls on Assad to resign
Interview: 100% Syria Have No Chemical Weapon, John Kerry; Charlie Rose; March 10, 2014.
Debate: British House of Commons Debate on Syria; House of Commons; August 29, 2013.
Press Briefing: US President Barack Obama in ‘red line’ warning to Syria over Chemical Weapons; Telegraph; August 21, 2012.
Testimony: US Policy Toward Syria; House International Relations Committee; September 16, 2003.
Speech: Democracy in Iraq; George Bush; February 26, 2003.
– John Bolton – then Undersecretary at the Department of State for Arms Control, current National Security Advisor
- 53:12 Former Representative Gary Ackerman (NY): Are we talking about regime change in Syria if they do not voluntarily rid themselves of whatever it is we’re saying they have or do that threatens our national security? John Bolton: Mr. Ackerman, as the president has made clear and as we are directed, our preference is to solve these problems by peaceful and diplomatic means. But the president has also been very clear that we’re not taking any options off the table.
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