Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
December 21, 2016

How The Military Excluded The White House From International Syria Negotiations

The NYT laments today that international negotiations about the situation in Syria now continue without any U.S. participation: Russia, Iran and Turkey Meet for Syria Talks, Excluding U.S.

Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Moscow on Tuesday to work toward a political accord to end Syria’s nearly six-year war, leaving the United States on the sidelines as the countries sought to drive the conflict in ways that serve their interests.

Secretary of State John Kerry was not invited. Nor was the United Nations consulted.

With pro-government forces having made critical gains on the ground, ...

(Note: The last sentence originally and correctly said "pro-Syrian forces ...", not "pro-government forces ...". It was altered after I noted the "pro-Syrian" change of tone on Twitter.)

Russia kicked the U.S. out of any further talks about Syria after the U.S. blew a deal which, after long delaying negotiations, Kerry had made with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov.

In a recent interview Kerry admits that it was opposition from the Pentagon, not Moscow or Damascus, that had blown up his agreement with Russia over Syria:

More recently, he has clashed inside the administration with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. Kerry negotiated an agreement with Russia to share joint military operations, but it fell apart.

“Unfortunately we had divisions within our own ranks that made the implementation of that extremely hard to accomplish,” Kerry said. “But I believe in it, I think it can work, could have worked."

Kerry's agreement with Russia did not just "fell apart". The Pentagon actively sabotaged it by intentionally and perfidiously attacking the Syrian army.

The deal with Russia was made in June. It envisioned coordinated attacks on ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria, both designated as terrorist under two UN Security Council resolutions which call upon all countries to eradicate them. For months the U.S. failed to separate its CIA and Pentagon trained, supplied and paid "moderate rebel" from al-Qaeda, thereby blocking the deal. In September the deal was modified and finally ready to be implemented.

The Pentagon still did not like it but had been overruled by the White House:

The agreement that Secretary of State John Kerry announced with Russia to reduce the killing in Syria has widened an increasingly public divide between Mr. Kerry and Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, who has deep reservations about the plan for American and Russian forces to jointly target terrorist groups.
Mr. Carter was among the administration officials who pushed against the agreement on a conference call with the White House last week as Mr. Kerry, joining the argument from a secure facility in Geneva, grew increasingly frustrated. Although President Obama ultimately approved the effort after hours of debate, Pentagon officials remain unconvinced.
“I’m not saying yes or no,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, commander of the United States Air Forces Central Command, told reporters on a video conference call. “It would be premature to say that we’re going to jump right into it.”

The CentCom general threatened to not follow the decision his Commander of Chief had taken. He would not have done so without cover from Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Three days later U.S. CentCom Air Forces and allied Danish airplanes attack Syrian army positions near the ISIS besieged city of Deir Ezzor. During 37 air attacks within one hour between 62 and 100 Syrian Arab Army soldiers were killed and many more wounded. They had held a defensive positions on hills overlooking the Deir Ezzor airport. Shortly after the U.S. air attack ISIS forces stormed the hills and have held them since. Resupply for the 100,000+  civilians and soldiers in Deir Ezzor is now endangered if not impossible. The CentCom attack enabled ISIS to eventually conquer Deir Ezzor and to establish the envisioned "Salafist principality" in east Syria.

During the U.S. attack the Syrian-Russian operations center had immediately tried to contact the designated coordination officer at U.S. Central Command to stop the attack. But that officer could not be reached and those at CentCom taking the Russian calls just hanged up:

By time the Russian officer found his designated contact — who was away from his desk — and explained that the coalition was actually hitting a Syrian army unit, “a good amount of strikes” had already taken place, U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. John Thomas told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday.

Until the attack the Syrian and Russian side had, as agreed with Kerry, kept to a ceasefire to allow the separation of the "marbled" CIA and al-Qaeda forces. After the CentCom air attack the Kerry-Lavrov deal was off:

On the sidelines of an emergency UN Security Council meeting called on the matter, tempers were high. Russia's permanent UN representative, Vitaly Churkin, questioned the timing of the strikes, two days before Russian-American coordination in the fight against terror groups in Syria was to begin.
"I have never seen such an extraordinary display of American heavy-handedness," he said, after abruptly leaving the meeting.

The Pentagon launched one of its usual whitewash investigations and a heavily redacted summary report (pdf) was released in late November.

Gareth Porter still found some usable bits in it:

The report, released by US Central Command on 29 November, shows that senior US Air Force officers at the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at al-Udeid Airbase in Qatar, who were responsible for the decision to carry out the September airstrike at Deir Ezzor:
  • misled the Russians about where the US intended to strike so Russia could not warn that it was targeting Syrian troops
  • ignored information and intelligence analysis warning that the positions to be struck were Syrian government rather than Islamic State
  • shifted abruptly from a deliberate targeting process to an immediate strike in violation of normal Air Force procedures

The investigation was led by a Brigade General. He was too low in rank to investigate or challenge the responsible CentCom air-commander Lt. Gen. Harrington. The name of a co-investigator was redacted in the report and marked as "foreign government information". That officer was likely from Denmark.

Four days after the investigation report was officially released the Danish government, without giving any public reason, pulled back its air contingent from any further operations under U.S. command in Iraq and Syria.

With the attack on Deir Ezzor the Pentagon has:

  • enabled ISIS to win the siege in Deir Ezzor where 100,000+ civilians and soldiers are under threat of being brutally killed
  • cleared the grounds for the establishment of an ISIS ruled "Salafist principality" in east-Syria
  • deceived a European NATO ally and lost its active cooperation over Syria and Iraq
  • ruined Kerry's deal with Russia about a coordinated fight against UN designated terrorists in Syria
  • kicked the U.S. out of further international negotiations about Syria

It is clear that the responsible U.S. officer for the attack and its consequences is one Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian who had earlier publicly spoken out against a deal that his Commander in Chief had agreed to. He likely had cover from Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

The White House did not react to this public military insubordination and undermining of its diplomacy.

Emptywheel notes that, though on a different issue, the CIA is also in quite open insurrection against the President's decisions:

[I]t alarms me that someone decided it was a good idea to go leak criticisms of a [presidential] Red Phone exchange. It would seem that such an instrument depends on some foundation of trust that, no matter how bad things have gotten, two leaders of nuclear armed states can speak frankly and directly.

Posted by b on December 21, 2016 at 18:34 UTC | Permalink

« previous page

Putin's statement on Trumps win and on the Democrats demise.

Posted by: pubumwei | Dec 23 2016 15:42 utc | 101

Asad is waiting for Erdo to go and he recently described him as unstable in an interview. No one in Syria would accept a simple reconciliation after the complete destruction and looting of Aleppo's industrial zone.
Posted by: Mina | Dec 23, 2016 1:57:04 AM | 89

Which helps to explain Erdogan's schizophrenic attitude toward Syria/Russia.
If Syria/Russia wins, Turkey will most likely be lumbered with valid compensation claims for Erdo's looting and destruction in Aleppo and the Syrian oil which found its way into Turkey.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Dec 23 2016 15:58 utc | 102

Two men have been prosecuted in the UK for funding "Syrian extremists linked to Al Qaeda".

Jailed for performing actions that the prosecuting government committed themselves. It isn't clear who the group is except it probably isn't IS. So likely one of the supposed moderate groups.

More interesting is that they used Children in Need aid convoys to transport the cash. Suggestions of such activity would have been laughed at up until now, but now there is UK court backed evidence of it happening.

Posted by: Bob | Dec 23 2016 17:36 utc | 103

@103 paveway... erdogan is not a person who uses logic.. here is the latest from the turkish daily :
The capture of Syria’s al-Bab from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is almost complete, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Dec. 23.

Posted by: james | Dec 23 2016 17:40 utc | 104

this concept of '''a political solution''' is the only solution for syria is quite fascinating coming from the warmonger countries - uk and usa, who continue to send military arms to the '''moderates'''... they have a lot panache to think people remain ignorant of the double game they are playing in syria.. i see turkey is asking that iran withdraw their militants... of course iran doesn't tell turkey to do the same... turkey is the number one conduit for isis, next to iraq - that made in the usa experiment gone horribly wrong... but - they want a political solution! of course... so they can be at the table calling all the shots and looking after their moderate headchopping friends..

Posted by: james | Dec 23 2016 17:47 utc | 105

jfl @ 97 said:"'Brits and/or Muricans' are on a mission to rule the world - money and power are their nearly interchangeable means of doing so. the 'rightness' of the goal is so evident to themselves that the smile - embarrassed and grim - they give you is grim in their righteous determination and embarrassed on your behalf, in wonder at your 'innocence'."

Damn, wish I'd said that. How true. I can only hope the rest of the real world gets that, because it's not changing any day soon.

Posted by: ben | Dec 23 2016 17:48 utc | 106

@104 puw, the quote is not that long ...

Vladimir Putin: I have commented on this issue on a number of occasions. If you want to hear it one more time, I can say it again. The current US Administration and leaders of the Democratic Party are trying to blame all their failures on outside factors. I have questions and some thoughts in this regard.

We know that not only did the Democratic Party lose the presidential election, but also the Senate, where the Republicans have the majority, and Congress, where the Republicans are also in control. Did we, or I also do that? We may have celebrated this on the “vestiges of a 17th century chapel,” but were we the ones who destroyed the chapel, as the saying goes? This is not the way things really are. All this goes to show that the current administration faces system-wide issues, as I have said at a Valdai Club meeting.

It seems to me there is a gap between the elite’s vision of what is good and bad and that of what in earlier times we would have called the broad popular masses. I do not take support for the Russian President among a large part of Republican voters as support for me personally, but rather see it in this case as an indication that a substantial part of the American people share similar views with us on the world’s organisation, what we ought to be doing, and the common threats and challenges we are facing. It is good that there are people who sympathise with our views on traditional values because this forms a good foundation on which to build relations between two such powerful countries as Russia and the United States, build them on the basis of our peoples’ mutual sympathy.

They would be better off not taking the names of their earlier statesmen in vain, of course. I’m not so sure who might be turning in their grave right now. It seems to me that Reagan would be happy to see his party’s people winning everywhere, and would welcome the victory of the newly elected President so adept at catching the public mood, and who took precisely this direction and pressed onwards to the very end, even when no one except us believed he could win. (Applause).

The outstanding Democrats in American history would probably be turning in their graves though. Roosevelt certainly would be because he was an exceptional statesman in American and world history, who knew how to unite the nation even during the Great Depression’s bleakest years, in the late 1930s, and during World War II. Today’s administration, however, is very clearly dividing the nation. The call for the electors not to vote for either candidate, in this case, not to vote for the President-elect, was quite simply a step towards dividing the nation. Two electors did decide not to vote for Trump, and four for Clinton, and here too they lost. They are losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame. I think that this is an affront to their own dignity. It is important to know how to lose gracefully.

But my real hope is for us to build business-like and constructive relations with the new President and with the future Democratic Party leaders as well, because this is in the interests of both countries and peoples.

Putin references his questioner's assertions that Reagan was turning in his grave over the alleged detente between Russia and the USA and that 37% of Republicans in some way supported Putin.

I'm interested in the reference to “vestiges of a 17th century chapel”. I imagine it's a reference to classic Russian literature?

I think Putin's assessment of the situation in the US is right-on. As b says, the economic effects of tee-rump will be disastrous for Americans, but there may be left-handed relief geopolitically, at least with respect to US-Russian relations. 'No war with Russia' is definitely popular with ordinary Americans, as 'no war' period always is with ordinary people.

Posted by: jfl | Dec 23 2016 19:00 utc | 107

Yesterday was the long desiderated moment: the last Bus with Jihadis left for
Idlib. This is what a political astrologer parsed like.

Posted by: mundanomaniac | Dec 23 2016 19:01 utc | 108

|@ Noirette | Dec 22, 2016 4:07:34 PM | 71

Serendipity has brought to my attention something your comments at 71 may benefit from. The late Barbara W. Tuchman wrote:
The March of Folly, From Troy to Vietnam, ISBN978-0-349-10674-8
about three examples of human folly and their consequences. Troy from the mists of mythology and ending in the follies leading to and engaged in the US 'war' in Vietnam. Since Vietnam happened figuratively speaking on my watch, it was illuminating the narrative Barbara Tuchman recites in her retelling of the period. Although many of the facts she cites were reported as happening in the press of the day, none were stitched together as significant to an overarching narrative, merely reports of current affairs, only those paying attention or directly affected were aware of some significance. Only the distance of history has given Tuchman's faultless narrative. Another folly has the US firmly in its grip. It is probably too early yet to be applying a definitive narrative to this folly and may damage future reflections by overwhelming but contemporaneous error. Let history provide your narrative, just be the best witness you can be and resist false testimony as best you can; a tall order for anyone.

Posted by: Formerly T-Bear | Dec 23 2016 19:48 utc | 109

The Hill: UN passes resolution calling for end to Israeli settlements:

The U.N. Security Council on Friday passed a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement building in occupied territories.

The U.S. had the ability to veto the resolution but abstained from doing so, despite pressure from President-elect Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Posted by: lysias | Dec 23 2016 19:53 utc | 110

@ lysias | Dec 23, 2016 2:53:01 PM | 114 has the headline as well:

Sounds like it is giving some OTH Senators (McCain) apoplexy - which might be a plus. Interesting times these.

Posted by: Formerly T-Bear | Dec 23 2016 20:18 utc | 111

JHC. Finally Obama does something right on the way out the door. Samantha Power's rationale for abstaining was you can't have settlements AND two-state solution. It's one or the other. But ZOGs have been having BOTH. Up til now.

Watch and learn. The two-state solution is going, going, GONE under Trump. Israel is being maneuvered toward and ONE-STATE and accepting the Palestinians as citizens with FULL RIGHTS. If the jews wanna preserve Israel. That's SOPHIE's CHOICE. Otherwise, its glass-parking-lots for them.

Posted by: Take Me | Dec 23 2016 20:32 utc | 112

@ lysias who shared the flip/flop of UN resolution over Israel settlements.

Thanks for that....WOW, it is heartening to see such a geopolitical statement made and I hope it is "heard" by those it is directed at.

Posted by: psychohistorian | Dec 23 2016 20:35 utc | 113

Sad - it took a Trump presidency for Obama to get the guts to stand up and lead on a minefield issue. It might end up being a lame duck resolution that later gets repealed or ignored, but it was something that was sorely needed.

Posted by: aaaa | Dec 23 2016 21:04 utc | 114

Can someone explain why Syria was not invited to the talks in Moscow -- Having Russia, Iran and Turkey there without the US makes sense, but why not Syria. Toivos at 84.

I wondered about that as well. What has happened, imho, is that (some) Int’l meets have moved out, away, from the usual, traditional, UN venues, where, recall, all parties, re. Syria., incl. the US in the shape of Kerry, and the *moderate opposition* from Syria, are awarded respectable and high status, front stage, all orchestrated by di Mistura.

Nothing was accomplished. Here we have a meet of outside powers without any of those constraints. Presumably, keeping Assad in place and Syria ‘whole’ is the agenda of Iran and Russia, so they need to hammer Erdogan. Assad in any case would be apprised of the results of the ‘meet’…what the Syrian Gvmt (Assad, etc.) could contribute is known, understood, without their presence.


… see also susan sunflower’s reponse @ 86. (amnesty for rebels, since in fact 2011), and mina @ 88, others.

>> more moves ‘away from UN’ coming up for sure.

T-Bear, @ 112, yes, thx. food for thought.

Posted by: Noirette | Dec 23 2016 22:08 utc | 115

@118 noirette, 'keeping Assad in place and Syria ‘whole’ is the agenda of Iran and Russia, so they need to hammer Erdogan'

i hope that's just what is going on.

Posted by: jfl | Dec 24 2016 0:48 utc | 116

@Paveway 13

Thanks for reminding us of the 'target key leaders' theme, the cleanup of 'know too muchs' is clearly well under way in Syria now, after it started in Iraq in 2015 (if I remember correctly).
"We've always been at war with ISIS/al-Nusra..." will be the new mantra.

As for Trump's foreign team, new faces don't mean new policies. He may give up on Syria, but he'll still need the head choppers elsewhere imo. Yemen, Egypt, Algeria, Pakistan...?

Posted by: smuks | Dec 24 2016 17:31 utc | 118

It has now been revealed by WSJ that the dossier was prepared by Christopher Steele, a director of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence.

A possible source for much of the disinformation in the dossier is Eerik-Niiles Kross, the former chief of the Estonian intelligence service. Yet more disinformation from the same source was printed a href="">the disinformationby Newsweek

Estonian newspapers are reporting on the story:

Newsweek: Estonian foreign intelligence eavesdropped on Russian official meeting Trump associate

Estonia’s foreign intelligence service, the Information Board (EIB), last year listened in on a meeting in an unnamed eastern European country between an associate of Donald Trump and a pro-Putin member of the Russian State Duma, Newsweek reported on Wednesday.
While Newsweek was unable to say what the purpose of the meeting had been, a “Western intelligence official” was referred to as saying that the surveillance of the meeting was conducted “by or on behalf of” EIB.

Newsweek made the disclosure in an article about Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential campaign and its creating political division in the U.S. The article, which was first brought to the attention of the Estonian media by daily Postimees, said that at one point that Trump’s inexplicable behavior had led top Russian officials to believe he would be forced to withdraw from the race because of his mental state and apparent unsuitability to be president.

In particular, Kremlin officials had feared they could not predict what the impact on Russia would be should Trump step aside. As a result, Moscow decided to stop forwarding documents obtained by its hackers to Wikileaks, which had been disseminating them publicly.

The original story in Postimees quotes Eerik-Niiles Kross as an expert on the topic. I bet he is!

From Wikipedia:

In 2011, Russian authorities accused him of masterminding the 2009 hijacking of the MV Arctic Sea off the coast of Sweden. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Estonia, rejected this accusation as a fabrication by Russia's FSB; although Estonia's Government has conceded that Russia has many reasons for hating Kross.

Posted by: Petri Krohn | Jan 11 2017 21:58 utc | 119

« previous page

The comments to this entry are closed.