Meeting with Sen. Angus King on US Syria Policy
A group of Maine peace activists met with Sen. Angus King (I-ME) on March 11 at the public library in Brunswick. The 45 minute meeting to discuss Syria was attended by Rosalie Tyler Paul (Brunswick), Mary Donnelly (Brunswick), Joanne Hardy (Brunswick), Dud Hendrick (Deer Island) and Bruce Gagnon (Bath).
Sen. King sits on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees in Washington and was a former governor in Maine. King told us that he spends 60% of his time on these issues. He is an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate.
Rosalie began the meeting saying, "I want to speak to the opportunity that awaits our country to move beyond this very adolescent period. We have all the power to lead, we have the money and the muscle but not yet the moral leadership. If there is ever to be a coming of age for our species, we must stop killing each other and begin to cooperate."
We handed Sen. King two recent important articles on Syria and urged him to take the time to read them. The first one is written by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. called Why the Arabs don’t want us in Syria: They don’t hate ‘our freedoms.’ They hate that we’ve betrayed our ideals in their own countries — for oil. We briefly shared the findings from this excellent piece that ran in Politico with Sen. King - particularly this bit:
Our war against Bashar Assad did not begin with the peaceful civil protests of the Arab Spring in 2011. Instead it began in 2000, when Qatar proposed to construct a $10 billion, 1,500 kilometer pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. Qatar shares with Iran the South Pars/North Dome gas field, the world’s richest natural gas repository. The international trade embargo until recently prohibited Iran from selling gas abroad. Meanwhile, Qatar’s gas can reach European markets only if it is liquefied and shipped by sea, a route that restricts volume and dramatically raises costs. The proposed pipeline would have linked Qatar directly to European energy markets via distribution terminals in Turkey, which would pocket rich transit fees. The Qatar/Turkey pipeline would give the Sunni kingdoms of the Persian Gulf decisive domination of world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America’s closest ally in the Arab world. Qatar hosts two massive American military bases and the U.S. Central Command’s Mideast headquarters.
Of course, the Russians, who sell 70 percent of their gas exports to Europe, viewed the Qatar/Turkey pipeline as an existential threat. In Putin’s view, the Qatar pipeline is a NATO plot to change the status quo, deprive Russia of its only foothold in the Middle East, strangle the Russian economy and end Russian leverage in the European energy market. In 2009, Assad announced that he would refuse to sign the agreement to allow the pipeline to run through Syria “to protect the interests of our Russian ally.”
Secret cables and reports by the U.S., Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies indicate that the moment Assad rejected the Qatari pipeline, military and intelligence planners quickly arrived at the consensus that fomenting a Sunni uprising in Syria to overthrow the uncooperative Bashar Assad was a feasible path to achieving the shared objective of completing the Qatar/Turkey gas link. In 2009, according to WikiLeaks, soon after Bashar Assad rejected the Qatar pipeline, the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria. It is important to note that this was well before the Arab Spring-engendered uprising against Assad.
The second article we handed Sen. King recently ran in the Boston Globe and was penned by Brown University senior fellow Stephan Kinzer entitled The media are misleading the public on Syria.
Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra, is made up of “rebels” or “moderates,” not that it is the local al-Qaeda franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS. Turkey has for years been running a “rat line” for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria, but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey’s good side, we hear little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing, simply because it is they who are doing it — and because that is the official line in Washington.
I had the occasion about 18 months ago to have a brief word with Sen. King about Syria and at that time he was holding fast to the line that the US was supporting 'moderate' Syrians in their efforts to overthrow Assad. This time he never brought up the word - by now alternative media in the US has largely dispelled that notion. In this meeting I focused in on how ISIS is funded which includes generous contributions of money and weapons from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Israel and the US. I mentioned that when Russia first entered Syria to help defend that legitimate government they began bombing ISIS oil truck convoys that were carrying stolen Syrian oil and moving it into Turkey. Once there President Erdogan's son, who runs an oil distribution company, sold the oil to Japan and Israel and then shared the profits with ISIS.
Sen. King did not dispute any of these points we made about who was funding and arming Syria although he did say that the US too had bombed ISIS oil convoys heading into Turkey with the stolen oil. "I am not going to defend Turkey but they are a strategic ally," he said.
Mary Donnelly spoke passionately about the refugees in Syria and that greater effort must be made to ensure that supplies of humanitarian aid get through to them. Due to the recent ceasefire (largely organized by Moscow) some of that aid was now reaching the most hard pressed people inside Syria.
Dud Hendrick shared bits from a letter he handed to Sen. King that called on the US to end its massive and aggressive military empire of more than 900 bases. Dud graduated from the US Naval Academy and served a tour of duty in Vietnam during that ill-fated war.
Sen. King did acknowledge that Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu does not appear willing to seriously negotiate a real peace agreement. King was reluctant to acknowledge that the US has tremendous leverage over Israel when one considers the huge amount of aid given to it every year.
(The main expression of Congressional support for Israel has been foreign aid. Since 1985, it has provided nearly $3 billion in grants annually to Israel, with Israel being the largest annual recipient of American aid from 1976 to 2004 and the largest cumulative recipient of aid ($121 billion, not inflation-adjusted) since World War II. Seventy-four percent of these funds must be spent purchasing US goods and services. More recently, in fiscal year 2014, the US provided $3.9 billion in foreign military aid to Israel. Israel also benefits from about $8 billion of loan guarantees.)
Sen. King praised the Israeli 'missile defense' program called Iron Dome as something "that likely saved my son's life" when he was in Israel during the most recent exchange of Palestinian rockets and IDF counter-attack on Gaza. While we didn't have time to discuss the merits of Iron Dome an analysis of the system's failures has been written by Subrata Ghoshroy who is a research affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Program in Science, Technology, and Society. His article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is called Iron Dome: Behind the hoopla, a familiar story of missile-defense hype.
After Sen. King left the Brunswick library meeting room our delegation remained to evaluate the meeting. We agreed that unless fellow concerned citizens help by following up on these issues with Sen. King then we will not be able to move things forward. One in our group remarked that, "Sen. King is still not willing to admit Israel's criminal behavior. I was put off by his suggestion that the complicated history of the Middle East excuses US behavior in the region."
So we urge those Mainers who care about these complex but important issues in the Middle East to contact Sen. King and share with him your concerns. You can send him a message at his web site here
Just yesterday Russian President Putin announced a pullout from Syria: "I consider the objectives that have been set for the Defense Ministry to be generally accomplished. That is why I order to start withdrawal of the main part of our military group from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic starting from tomorrow,” he said.
It will be more than interesting to see what the US and their partners (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Israel) will do next in their effort to topple Assad. In an article today Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy, writes:
Jeffrey Goldberg’s newly published book-length article on Barack Obama and the Middle East includes a major revelation that brings US Secretary of State John Kerry’s Syrian diplomacy into sharper focus: it reports that Kerry has sought on several occasions without success over the past several months to get Obama’s approval for cruise missile strikes against the Syrian government.Now is indeed the right time for the peace movement around the world to call on the US to match the move by Russia to lower the military footprint on Syria. If the world wants to bring peace to the region, and reduce the refugee crisis, then we must speak out now loudly and clearly demanding that the attempts to topple the elected Assad government must end.
Goldberg reports that “on several occasions” Kerry requested that Obama approve missile strikes at “specific regime targets”, in order to “send a message” to Assad – and his international allies – to “negotiate peace”. Kerry suggested to Obama that the US wouldn’t have to acknowledge the attacks publicly, according to Goldberg, because Assad “would surely know the missiles’ return address”.