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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Quick Note on Syrian WMDs and Iraq

On the overall Syria situation, I have made clear my strong view that the Obama misadministration is leading us into a disaster--almost regardless of the end result of the intervention, our national interests lose. In addition, we are apparently going to intervene in a half-baked manner that would not have been necessary had we maintained a base in Iraq. That base would have given us an ability to come at the Syrians from two sides. A robust US military presence in Iraq also would have helped curb what is growing Iranian influence in Iraq, and hampered Iran's ability to intervene in Syria and Lebanon. Such, however, is the quality of our "leadership" that we are operating with self-imposed and severe handicaps, at the same time that we adopt grandiloquent objectives.

I notice some renewed speculation about the origin of Syria's stockpile of chemical WMDs. That reminds me of a little event in which I participated. The day, April 9, 2003, the day Saddam's statue was pulled down in Firdos Square in Baghdad. I was sitting in my office at a US Embassy in Asia. As were millions of others people around the world, I watched the destruction of Saddam's monument on TV. My phone rang; my office manager said that the Ambassador wanted me to take a call from Iraq's Embassy. I first thought it a joke, but, no, Iraqi Charge Abbas was indeed calling. I picked up the phone, and, in very good English, he immediately said, "I am calling from the Embassy of Liberated Iraq. I have told your Ambassador, you have done a good thing. You have given us freedom!" I was a bit surprised. This man had a reputation as one of the most loyal Saddamers around; just a few days prior he had been agitating for protests at the US Embassy. I had gone into the host nation Foreign Ministry to lodge my own protest over his activities. He previously had been, apparently, a senior official in the Iraqi Finance Ministry, and was very close to Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. He now wanted to talk, and was willing to come to our Embassy, but I was curious about the Iraqi Embassy and wanted to go there. We agreed to meet there in a couple of days if State approved.

On appointment day, I took along an Arabic-speaking officer from the political section, just in case our friend's English failed him. We arrived at a rather run down small facility. The Iraqi employees were friendly towards us, well, they did a lot of bowing and smiling, gave us tea, cookies, dates, and other sweets, and didn't shoot us. I felt a bit like Major Heinrik Strasser walking into Rick's Cafe in "Casablanca," not knowing quite what was going on, but, at least, nobody burst into La Marseillaise. The Iraqi Charge was a small, good-looking man, impeccably dressed and groomed. Abbas spoke very good English and French and, I believe, Turkish, along with his native Arabic, of course. We did a lot of chit chat, in which I asked about his family in Iraq. He hadn't heard from them, but had learned that his family home had been damaged, and sheepishly asked whether the USG would pay to repair it. I asked if Iraq had paid to repair damage it caused in Kuwait. He smiled. We talked about many things, most having no bearing on this story. I did, however, ask about Iraqi WMD. He denied vehemently that Iraq had nuclear weapons, although he acknowledged that Saddam had long wanted them and an Iraqi nuclear weapons program, in disrepair in recent years, did exist or had. He was uncomfortable, vague, and I think not too knowledgable on the topic. I asked about chemical weapons. He perked up. Abbas laughed. He claimed that Iraq managed to slip those into Syria, "Right under your noses!" He roared this line, letting his nationalist sentiment overwhelm his new putative role of American vassal. Abbas insisted that the weapons had gone by plane, and, mostly, by truck. We agreed that he would come to our Embassy for further conversations.

I dutifully reported back to State my conversation with the Iraqi. Never heard anything back.

He showed up a few days later at our Embassy; I turned him over to people better than I at interrogation. He spent several hours with them and then left. He, apparently, told them, again, that Iraq had smuggled chemical weapons into Syria. The interrogators, however, discounted this, telling me afterwards that it seemed unlikely that the Iraqis could have carried out this operation without our knowing.

Folks, it ain't much, I know, but that is all I know . . .well, about that, that is.

WLA

34 comments:

  1. Seems about right.

    Insofar as you could know. Most of those "poor" bastards ... I think ... were in the darkierest of most dark places.

    Arkie

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  2. Just an afterthought - nevermind the 2008 SOFA - That base would have given us an ability to come at the Syrians from two sides.

    Had we the base in Iraq (yes yes I know ... hindsight) we'd not needed to "come at the Syrians" from two sides - likely ... well "pretty likely" we'd never had to enjoy the fruits of the Arab Spring in the first place.

    Iranian transshipments would've been "blocked" - al-Sadr neutered and McCain and Graham and "Whats're Name" (the US female singer who entertained Said Gaddafi's birthday) could still've been playing nice.

    None of us would've ever heard of the nut Morsi. (But if we had, it'd been MSNBC yelling about 'why was that guy targeted in that Reaper shoot'?)

    Po po tweet.

    Arkie

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  3. I wasn't sure how that was really supposed to work, but I guess it must've been a Ba'athist thing?
    Iraq was controlled by Sunnis, who largely seem to hate/fight/terrorize/kill Shias (and vice versa).
    Syria is controlled by Shias (as is Iran and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Lebanon, in the form of Hizb'allah).
    It seems weird that Saddam would be shipping chemical weapons to the Assad regime.
    But on the other hand, they were both theoretically Ba'athists, so maybe there was some sort of broader agreement than the sectarian divide?
    I'm still a little perplexed that Assad would whip out chemical weapons now, when the tide seems to be going against the rebels already.

    - reader #1482

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    1. Saddam had odd relations with his neighbors, to say the least. Syria and Iraq were both Ba'athist, but that did not keep Assad (father) from joining the Bush (father) coalition against Iraq. Later the regimes kissed and made up. Don't forget that even in GW1, Saddam tried to send his aircraft to Iran to hide from the US. This despite the obvious hatred between Iran and Iraq's leadership.

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  4. I keep thinking of 3 words, or 4 words as Joe Biden would say, Gulf of Tonkin.

    Congress basically gave authorization for the Vietnam War with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, a resolution based on ‘events’, part of which were highly exaggerated and part of which never happened. 50,000 more Americans then went on to die for nothing.

    "There is nothing new under the sun”.

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  5. From everything I can see in my little kingdom and homestead located in Flyover Country, it seems that this chemical attack against non-combatants is just a little to fortuitous for the AQ factions. They're stretched really thin with their western partners (Obama & the EU) sitting on the fence.

    Small arms are nice and so is the ammunition, but something more lethal is needed to break the impasse. What should they do? Gratuitous killing of fellow Muslims never seems to bother the Islamic warriors - what's the difference between 50 or 500, 100 or 1,000?

    Assad cares (at least a little) what the world thinks. Al Queda could care less what the world thinks - except if they're going to be in a position to grab power for themselves & the new Caliphate. Assad & AQ, both sides are evil and cut throat. All that's happened is that AQ has given the West a plausible excuse to attack Assad.

    There is still a few billion cubic feet of natural gas under the western Mediterranean that needs extracted. Those pesky Joooo's are in the way though....

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    1. Furthermore... I would like to add, there is a little thing called 'Bible Prophecy' that might be worth considering. Damascus, that old whore, vanishes sometime in the future. Why? I don't know, other than the fact that God says "Enough!"

      Now when I speak of vanishing, I speak of total destruction so that it is never rebuilt - wiped clean like a dinner plate after the evening meal. Totally removed from the equation of man's affairs...a heap of rubble. Those old Jewish amanuensis really had a way with words, eh?

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  6. I have zero 'inside' information and wouldn't type it here if I did. That disclaimer being said, I recall at the time that most of us were fairly convinced that the Russian diplomatic convey with dozens of cargo trucks that went from Baghdad to Syria were obviously carrying something larger and more important that leftover Soviet crypto machines. We assumed that just about had to be some combination of cash, gold, exceptionally scary weapons (including chem/bio, precursors, etc), and possibly drugs. Yet no one seems to mention that convoy anymore. Did I miss something?

    ACCO

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  7. The Syrians are quite capable of producing their own CW without having to rely on Iraqi hand-me-downs.

    I'm of the opinion (and there's not enough solid evidence for anything more than that, one way or another), that Iraq's CW program was really little more than a shell of a program (i.e. expertise, some equipment, maybe some precursors and samples, etc.) accompanied by an excellent deception campaign designed to convince everyone that Saddam was dangerous and still had some teeth. It was probably aimed primarily at the Iranians. I think a lot of Iraqis believed it existed, which was intentional to make the bluff even stronger. The deception was so good, however, that it convinced the West that it was a real program, with the results we know.

    None of this changes anything. I still blame France and Russia for the Iraq War. They'd so undermined the sanctions regime that we had to go with the worst case possibility that a program did exist. Further, I'm quite sure that if sanctions ended, the program would've been brought back online and been producing materials very quickly. So, in that sense, having actual CW materials or not was irrelevant -- they would've produced them quick enough once the UN finally gave up and the French and Chicoms got their desired oil contracts, while Russia worked on developing one other Middle Eastern friend (and U.S. enemy).

    And, to come full circle, materials smuggled out in 2003 were irrelevant, as Syria can produce as much as they could ever want of the good stuff (VX, GB, mustard, etc.)

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    1. I agree with much of what you write here. I think that Saddam thought he had a nuclear weapon and other WMDs. A lot of Iraqi generals, for example, were convinced that the "next unit" over had the WMDs and were genuinely surprised when they weren't used. That said, the Saddam regime had used chemical weapons in 1988 against the Kurds killing tens-of-thousands of people. BY the time of GW2, his capabilities were probably pretty degraded.

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    2. Exactly. He certainly did have a CW capability up until 1991, but we did a fairly good job of taking that out both during and after the war. The israelis, of course, took care of the nuclear program for us, and that never really got going again. The sanctions and inspection regime were pretty effective for several years, until our "friends" started to get antsy and began to undermine them.

      All this is not to say they might not have had some stuff squirreled away, but it would've been of limited value.

      Delete
  8. Well it looks like the bluff is called and the narrative has failed. There seems to be no lie now to be told that anyone will listen to. Do we fight for no good reason or run in humiliation? It may not matter for events seem to have over taken and passed well laid plans. This has a feel similar to August 1914 and all we see happening a prelude to a harsh reckoning.

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    1. Syria says "Kerry is a liar"-oh my, thats rare diplomatic language, why don't the say what they really mean?

      USA versus China AND Russia, would Obumbler and Dim-moron be that stupid?

      Today is the day that the seas start rising, the muslim world laughs openly at the USA weak horse, Guantanamo is STILL in existence and respect for the USA is non-existent. Obumblers Cairo speech may need some tweaking.

      This is the "smartest man in the room"? not likely, the African king is turning gold into shit, just like all African socialist kings do.

      The African king and his court of jokers must be impeached.

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    2. re: "The African king and his court of jokers must be impeached."

      Let's do it like the African's do... Forget 'impeach', embrace 'impale'! Impale the African king! See it on the news at 5.

      Delete
  9. This is something I've just considered that maybe what O and his crowd might think is their get out of jail card for Syria. The Media is starting to tout the mid October Treasury money shortfall. Well make a lot of pronouncements on Syria shoot a few missiles then suspend the whole thing and blame it on the lack of money (congressional Republicans). If Congress votes the funds in light of operations, steal the money from the military and use it for political purposes. If congress votes no, then THEY (Republicans) don't support the military. Would these people be this cynical and short sighted, DUH!

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  10. To paraphrase Nancy Pelosi, "We must bomb Syria to find out what's in Syria."

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    1. Thanks, DiploMad, for the best joke of the week, perhaps even year. After the Apology Tour, Arab Spring, the "reset button", Egypt, Fast and Furious, Benghazi, IRS, NAS, Justice Department, Obamacare, I laughed my head off at the absurdity of it all.

      (Perhaps a little too hysterically.)

      mlondeaux

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  11. Yeah... what's even worse is our Sec Def is telling everybody "We're ready to go."
    How is that?
    It's been like "a couple days"... exactly what is "ready to go"?
    I think I know, it's "half the Sec Def's ass", because that's the only way we're "ready to go" unless what we're going to go do is exactly that, half-ass an intervention.
    Getting sufficient forces in theater to pacify all of Syria isn't something that happens overnight. Yeah, I know we can do amazing things with our logistics, but a force of that size still isn't an overnight thing.

    If Assad indeed used chemical weapons, and that is a dire threat to US interests (both of these can probably be concluded to be true by a reasonable person, even if that person isn't me), then why aren't we mobilizing everything we can to go win this new war?

    Let me guess, the next press release will be: "All you citizens of the US, your responsibility is to keep shopping."

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    Replies
    1. - reader #1482 (aka, one of the many who've never seen the inside of the state dept!)

      Delete
  12. "Abbas insisted that the weapons had gone by plane, and, mostly, by truck."

    I wonder if this explains reports I saw at the time of convoys moving toward Syria, just before the invasion/liberation. I'd also heard Russian Special Forces were involved involved in the transfers, but saw nothing solid about that. (Well, DEBKA, but I take them with two large grains of salt.)

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    1. Yes, there were lots of reports, never fully confirmed to my understanding, of Russian involvement in helping the Iraqis move their chemical weapons and factories to Syria. I just can't remember whether Abbas mentioned Russians in my conversation with him.

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  13. One comment mysteriously disappeared twice before posting.

    I think the NSA are on to me.

    Apparently Obama and impeach are key words.

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    1. Lawdy Dip, I'm gonna have to put a Post-It on my monitor.

      This time it was Scotch Spew. Worse - Glenfiddich. I hate wastin' that stuff.

      Ark

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    2. Oh no! not Nancy Pelosi, anything but Nancy Pelosi droning on-and-on, nuke me fer chrissake but not Nancy Pelosi.

      Weird thing though, went to post, screen disappeared and scrolled to the top of the page, I figured -huh, must've done something wrong! tried again- same thing, posted the comment above and before I got to the security page the post disappeared and I got a security message from Mozilla, so I never authenticated that one as me. Oh well, its nearly always good to meet new people.

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  14. The thing that bothers me the most is that we're going in on the side of rebels led by Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida people. Don't these jackasses know that they're the same folks who brought us 9/11?

    I agree that the Assad regime is odious. It put a period to a millennia-old Jewish presence in Syria, was cozy with the Communist bloc, and the Ba'ath party was modeled on interwar European fascism. Yet the Islamicist rebels in Syria are also destroying the ancient Christian communities of Syria, as well as being people who cheered when we were attacked, then ran to their caves sobbing that it was the JOOOOOOOOZ who took down the Twin Towers as soon as the daisy cutters started falling on OBL's hideouts.

    I am in agony. Where is the GOP? Where are our watchdogs in our supposedly free press and broadcast media? The latter, such as Pravda on the Potomac and Renmin Ribao on the Hudson are probably waiting for a GOP President in 2017 to beat up on over the Syrian fiasco.

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    1. Don't these jackasses know that they're the same folks who brought us 9/11?

      Well Kepha, since we don't have Forward Air Controllers on the ground, we just has to takes what's to take.

      Ark

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    2. If we're not going to intervene, I think choosing the lesser of evils is worthwhile, even if it's a very difficult task.
      If we're going to intervene, no 'side' should benefit when both are this odious. Both should be sent home and their country should be built completely from scratch. But instead, we go with some doctrine of minimal intervention, which leaves us with the same problems that we intervened to stop in the first place.
      If we committed all the forces that we *eventually* end up deploying to these places, but up front instead, we'd probably have significantly better results.

      Nothing emboldens an enemy like showing a lack of commitment to winning.

      I guess there's a nasty little piece of logic there, where our leaders are tempted with the siren's call of an 'easy' political victory by a 'contained conflict' which doesn't necessitate any inconvenience to a politician's electorate. Wish they'd stop that. I'm all on board supporting action if our elected leaders agree it's the thing that must be done, I'm just not on board with half-measures that get our loved ones killed and likely achieve nothing. The bigger the request for forces, the more likely I'm willing to support it (not that my opinion matters).

      - reader #1482

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    3. Kepha - The GOP is silent because they're starting to believe the leftwing media's rhetoric that EVERYTHING they do is going to turn voters against them.

      Perhaps they remember what happened to Romney, who started out strong during the election debates and then let one little putdown by Obama (insisting he DID call Benghazi a "terrorist attack") derail him and he came off sounding weak during the third debate. Prior to that, even Jon Stewart was making jokes about Obama. Romney HAD IT, but then he blew it, thanks to moderator Candy Crowley, who never should have injected herself into the conversation. That ONE incident intimidated Romney so much that it changed the entire course of the election. (He also needed to address the countless lies being told about him like outsourcing jobs and tax havens.)

      THE GOP NEEDS TO TAKE THEIR GLOVES OFF AND COME OUT FIGHTING against Obama's dictatorial rule of the White House, and his incompetence that is destroying our nation. They should present themselves as a UNITED FRONT, strong in their convictions and supportive of the SAME policies. They have no idea how their "disjointedness" affects the general public, and that's one thing Democrats have going for them, their almost cult-like support of the president. Not one liberal has dared to criticize him.

      If the GOP don't start DEFENDING themselves, and (I hate to say this) perhaps go on talk shows to explain to the low-information public what their policies are and why it's good for our country, then the only information the public gets is the same old rhetoric spewing regularly from Obama and the highly partisan mainstream media. THEY ARE BEING BRAINWASHED AND THEY DON'T EVEN REALIZE IT.

      "If you remember one thing from the last four years of blogging about election debate rhetoric and what it takes to win, remember this: WHAT WE REPEAT IS WHAT THE PUBLIC REMEMBERS."

      Jeffrey Feldman - blogger for leftwing website, The Daily Koz, during the 2012 election.


      mlondeaux

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  15. To those who say the Shiit (I usually leave off the e - looks better and fits better) vs. Sunni divide means that Iraq would never give goodies to Syria, please remember where all of Saddam's Air Force went on Day 1 and 2 of Gulf War #1. IRAN.

    Syria got the chem stuff before Gulf War 2. Given. I don't think anyone can argue it; it is damn near open source now.

    Ya think Saddam didn't give Iran a goodie too? Ever wonder why Iran's nuke program got a BIG shot in the rear right after Gulf War 2? This two is beginning to pop up in all sorts of inconvenient sources, but the MSM does not want to admit Bush might have been right. Kind of like when they stutter 'bout Reaganomics.......

    Every day Bush looks better, Obama/Clinton/Kerry/Biden look worse...

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  16. Syria has the Chinese made C802 missile in the coastal defense module (the same missile that hit the Isreali Corvette). If we toss some T-Hawks his way i would not be surprised to see him dump everyone of them into the Med on the off chance it will pick up and hit a US Destroyer (and then what will you do Mr Obama?).
    Better to shoot them than have an F18 bomb them on the ground.

    Thank god Syria's 2 submarines (granted, old Romeos from the Soviet Union) are not sea worthy.

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  17. Dip mentioned something not that many days ago. Something 'bout Iran and Venezuela.

    And we've to our immediate South, what appears to this observer ... a kinda/sorta low-grade Civil War.

    Wonder if we might ask our Congress Critters if now might be a pretty good time to build that wall they've been talking about now for ... well ... I don't know how long. I think it's been awhile though.

    Arkie

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  18. I have always thought the WMD from Iraq went to Syria and were buried in the desert or stored somewhere.

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