Sunday, July 20, 2003

How Bushco is blowing a big chance with Syria in the war on terror. A must read:
In Washington, there was anger about what many officials saw as the decision of the Bush Administration to choose confrontation with Syria over day-to-day help against Al Qaeda. In a sense, the issue was not so much Syria itself as a competition between ideology and practicality—and between the drive to go to war in Iraq and the need to fight terrorism—which has created a deep rift in the Bush Administration. The collapse of the liaison relationship has left many C.I.A. operatives especially frustrated. “The guys are unbelievably pissed that we’re blowing this away,” a former high-level intelligence official told me. “There was a great channel at Aleppo. The Syrians were a lot more willing to help us, but they”—Rumsfeld and his colleagues—“want to go in there next.”

“There is no security relationship now,” a Syrian foreign-ministry official told me. “It saddens us as much as it saddens you. We could give you information on organizations that we don’t think should exist. If we help you on Al Qaeda, we are helping ourselves.” He added, almost plaintively, that if Washington had agreed to discuss certain key issues in a back channel, “we’d have given you more. But when you publicly try to humiliate a country it’ll become stubborn.”

Robert Baer, a retired C.I.A. officer who served in Syria and is the author of a new book, “Sleeping with the Devil,” on Washington’s relationship with the Saudis, agreed that the Syrians had more to offer. “The Syrians know that the Saudis were involved in the financing of the Muslim Brotherhood, and they for sure know the names,” Baer told me.

“Up through January of 2003, the coöperation was topnotch,” a former State Department official said. “Then we were going to do Iraq, and some people in the Administration got heavy- handed. They wanted Syria to get involved in operational stuff having nothing to do with Al Qaeda and everything to do with Iraq. It was something Washington wanted from the Syrians, and they didn’t want to do it.”