Pardon my naiveté, but I cannot comprehend why the entire US establishment, with the intelligence community in the vanguard, is in convulsions about the alleged Russian efforts to hack into the US elections which brought Donald Trump to power. The CIA must be lazy if it doesn’t hack into Moscow, Beijing, everywhere.
The Washington Post on December 23 published a story by Lindsey A. Rourke, under the headline: “The US tried to change other countries’ governments 72 times during the Cold War.”
As a journalist, I have been witness to efforts at regime change or attempted assassination of leaders. Ronald Reagan bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986, killing Qaddafi’s six-month-old daughter. Qaddafi barely escaped.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was so moved that he arranged for a delegation of non-aligned foreign ministers to Tripoli to commiserate with the Libyan leader.
The Reagan White House was not pleased. The power a particular Indian ambassador to Washington had acquired depended largely on extraordinary access to the main officials around the President. To preserve this valuable access, Rajiv Gandhi was persuaded to sack Foreign Minister Bali Ram Bhagat. His guilt? He led the “peace” delegation to Tripoli -- at Rajiv’s behest.
In 1987, in Managua, Nicaragua, Cardinal Ovando Bravo led me to Mother Mary’s statue in the centre of the town which had not stopped “shedding tears” ever since the Daniel Ortega-led Sandinistas came to power. Mary’s tears were not in vain. God was working through the US which was financing and arming the anti-Sandinista Contra rebels. Mysterious were God’s ways. The money for the Contras came from a secret fund in Iran (Devil incarnate for neocons) which was receiving arms from the US for this extraordinary munificence.
It might be argued that the examples listed above belong to the Cold War era. Well, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, all victims of US interventions, are clearly post-Cold War enterprises. Agreed, the creation of the Islamist Mujahideen did result in the Soviet Union vacating Afghanistan, but at the cost of the Afghan nation. Zbigniew Brzezinski placed the matter in a kind of perspective: “Our aim was to defeat the Soviet Union,” he said. “And not worry about stirred up Muslims.”
The tizzy in which the US intelligence community finds itself might be a good occasion to revisit the Syrian story of which I am a witness from the very beginning. I extricate myself from a group of Arab experts at the Semiramis hotel in Damascus, to keep an appointment with Bouthaina Shaaban, senior adviser to President Bashar al-Assad.
How do you explain US Ambassador Robert Stephen Ford and his French counterpart holding meetings in Hama, Homs and Darra with rebel groups, in full public gaze? I ask her. Shaaban, elegant and articulate, shrugs her shoulders. “Just shows how much we have been penetrated.” Ford, it is commonly known, was a great favourite of Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State. Among the senior Arabists in Damascus at that time is also Edward Lionel Peck, a former US Ambassador to Arab countries. His disgust with Ford’s behaviour is contained in a letter he wrote to members of the group who were in Damascus with him. There is such universal endorsement of the Ford school of diplomacy which borders on Secret Service type operations that I feel obliged to give Peck as much airing as I can.
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, that is still going on. 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 just plain rampant and offensive arrogance.”
Will Trump put an end to such shenanigans?
There is something strained and edgy in the way the neocons, the media, with the intelligence community in front, have mounted a virtual war on the incoming administration. It is actually a kind of blackmail. The message seems to be: you will get more of the same if you deviate from the ongoing policy which sees Vladimir Putin as the arch enemy.
Trump’s commitment to “bomb the shit” out of terrorists threatens to expose the doublespeak of established policy on Syria too. So far the US and its allies have pursued a policy riddled with ambiguity: fight IS and al Nusra but also oust or at least weaken the Assad regime, a paradox which, in the given circumstances, cannot be reconciled. The Russian policy is more straightforward: fight the IS and Nusra in which the regime troops can be decisive.
Trump is quite clear: seek Russian cooperation to defeat terrorism. Who can quarrel with this line? The moment of reckoning may also have arrived in Afghanistan, where the Taliban are to be mobilised by Russia and China to fight IS and Al Qaeda. Can Trump be far behind? That’s the tricky one.
In brief, with Trump’s arrival on the scene, the stranglehold of the intelligence community on foreign policy may well weaken. The world of Western Intelligence is, therefore, all upside down.
(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on diplomatic and political affairs. The views are strictly personal.)