Friday, August 12, 2016

Has Trump Lost His Mind Or Is He On Hillary’s Case

Has Trump Lost His Mind Or Is He On Hillary’s Case
                                                                      Saeed Naqvi

The 4 column headline in Times of India screams: “Trump fires fresh salvo, says Obama and Hillary founded ISIS.” Has Donald Trump, the Republican Presidential candidate, lost his mind as the entire US establishment would have us believe? Or are his fingers somewhere in the vicinity of Hillary Clinton’s jugular?

Since I have travelled to all the countries in the region affected by the ISIS, let me check out.

I find myself in the company of journalists and diplomats in the lobby of the Semiramis hotel, Damascus. In the group is a veteran US diplomat and Arabist, Edward Lionel Peck. Like several other Arab countries, he knows Syria like the back of his hand. One evening, the hotel bar is filled with journalists interspersed with silent intelligence agents who, in Arab countries, stand out: expressionless, mechanically counting worry beads. The conversation is about the visit to the disturbed city, Homs, by US ambassador, Robert Stephen Ford and his French counterpart.

When the country is in the grip of an insurgency, is it not intriguing that a US ambassador – a personal favourite of the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton – is travelling to all the trouble spot – Homs, Hama, D’era?

Among the strategic community who have cried “foul” at Trump’s candidature, remember the name of Ambassador John Negroponte, former Deputy Secretary of State. The Robert Stephen Ford variety of diplomacy, which touches the borders of Special Operations, had received high grades from Negroponte when they worked together in the Green Zone, Baghdad. Negroponte described Ford as “one of those very tireless people…..who didn’t mind putting on his flak jacket and helmet and going out of the Green Zone to meet contacts”.

This genius of Ford’s was now being put to use in Syria. This was precisely the time when Secretary of State, Clinton would appear on TV, exhorting President Assad with an imperious wave of the hand “get out of the way”, the Syrian people are coming.

When Ed Peck heard of Ambassador Ford’s activities, he wrote a letter which might echo the feelings of many senior American diplomats: He wrote, “I have been dismayed by the accolades and support given to Ambassador Ford, our man in – and now out of Syria, for stepping well out of the traditional and appropriate role of a diplomat and actively encouraging the revolt/insurrection/sectarian strife/outside meddling, call it what you will. It is easy to imagine the US reaction if an ambassador from anywhere were to engage in even distantly related activities here. I fear my country remains somewhat more than merely insensitive, and is sliding into plain rampant and offensive arrogance”.

Later that year, former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright spoke on US foreign policy at New Delhi’s India International Centre. During Q and A, I cited Peck as an outstanding example of the liberal American conscience. Albright was not impressed. She mounted an effective endorsement of Ford. Remember her endorsement of Hillary Clinton at Philadelphia? “We are both from Wellesley college.”

The ISIS threat has been around since 2014. Why was it not nipped in the bud? Obama’s response in the course of a conversation with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times is revealing. “We did not start airstrikes all across Iraq as soon as the ISIS came in because that would have taken the pressure off Nouri al-Maliki”, the then Shia Prime Minister in Baghdad.

In other words Obama’s immediate priority was to get rid of Nouri al-Maliki. According to this logic, a terrorist outfit like the ISIS can, on some occasions, play a useful role. That is why Obama allowed the ISIS to grow in size to frighten the obstinate Prime Minister in Baghdad. Here the President of the United States is giving an example of how terrorism can be placed at the disposal of diplomacy.

Some months later that year, when Saudi spy chief Bandar bin Sultan was leaving no stone unturned to affect regime change in Damascus, he turned up at the Kremlin for a hush-hush meeting with President Vladimir Putin. He promised Putin the moon if only Moscow would soft pedal its support for Bashar al Assad – money, gas pipelines, defence deals, the works. Bandar further sweetened the deal with a priceless offer.

Russians were planning the Winter Olympic Games at Sochi in February. Terrorism was a great threat. Bandar indicated by hint and gesture that since Saudis control major “terrorist” outfits in the Caucasus, they would as a favour to Russia, ensure a terror free Olympics at Sochi. Putin’s reply was memorable. Kremlin had been aware for a decade that the Saudis controlled the world’s centers of Islamic terrorism.

How does one know that this most unlikely exchange in the annals of diplomacy did actually take place? Kremlin, which knows how to keep secrets, first placed the record of the conversation under lock and key. But when Saudi excesses in Syria did not stop, the Kremlin leaked the Bandar-Putin exchange to some Lebanese newspapers. Later, Russian diplomats confirmed the story. Could there have been a more brazen demonstration of terrorism as a diplomatic asset?

Why was Nouri al Maliki such a hate object for the Obama administration? Because he refused to sign the Status of Forces agreement which would allow American troops, on their terms, in Iraq. Were Americans to return empty handed after having spent so much in blood and treasure on the Iraqi expedition? Ofcourse, not.

Paul Bremer, the first US representative in Iraq, had been persuaded to disband Saddam Hussain’s special forces, police, secret service and above all the entire B’ath Party. Several hundred thousand Iraqi Baathist had found refuge in Syria. Let’s not forget that Syria was still a Baathist regime. Over years, these Iraqi Baathist became the central column in the architecture of ISIS. The extremist elements from Saudi Arabia and Turkey providing Al Nusra type violent jihadists, the ones who furnished the suicide bomber part of the contingent. The force charged through Iraq, reaching almost the borders of Baghdad. Ask any Arab Ambassador other than the Saudis, Qataris and Jordanians and they will swear that this strike force was equipped with the latest American vehicles and equipments. This is the version from Najaf too. Has someone leaked this portfolio to Donald Trump? Because what he is saying compromises national security and the American establishment will not let him go scot-free on that one.

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