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Investigative journalist Gareth Porter and TRNN’s Paul Jay discuss U.S. policy in Syria and Iraq as its allies in the region push for the overthrow of the Assad regime

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. The Saudi-Turkish alliance that was announced early in the spring and has developed where they have overcome their differences of who and how to promote the overthrow of Assad in Syria. Is that alliance now pushing towards the actual endgame, the real dissolution of the Assad regime? And if that’s the case, is that at odds with American counter-terrorism policy? And is the United States going along with this because of their strategic need for this alliance with these Sunni-led countries? Now joining us to talk about all this is Gareth Porter. Gareth is an investigative journalist, a regular contributor to The Real News Network. His recent book is Manufacturing Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. Thanks for joining us, Gareth. GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Thanks very much, Paul. Good to be back. JAY: So we’ve been talking, you and I have said this before. We’ve been saying this on The Real News, that the fundamental U.S. strategy, and I think the same goes for Israel’s strategy, was let them kill each other in Syria. Whichever side is losing, give that side a little beefing up. Which kind of explains why one week Assad is doing well and he’s making a comeback, and the next week the opposition forces are about to overthrow Assad. And the news cycle and the reporting keeps going back and forth that way. And it seems to me it’s because they’re deliberately creating this endless war. But are they now kind of losing control of that policy? And with the Saudis and Turks now seem very intent on the, really bringing down the Assad regime, is this now kind of messing with the American objective here? Because I don’t think the Americans really want that kind of takeover of Syria, do they? PORTER: Well, they don’t. You’re right, Paul. I mean, this is where you get a very fundamental contradiction between some, the supposed interests of the United States in the Middle East in general and in Syria in particular, and the actual interests that appear to be at work with regard to this specific situation that we’re seeing emerge in Syria, which is the power of, over the last several months, of a new command. A new military command that is dominated by the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. And the United States government is at this point at least still acquiescing, I guess is the best word to use, in this strategy by the Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi group of states who have gotten together and have provided assistance to and encouragement to this new command to gain major territory at the expense of the Assad regime. And really, posing the most serious threat thus far of completely shifting the momentum in the war so that the real possibility of the overthrow of the regime, the defeat of the Syrian army, becomes quite, quite realistic. JAY: Now, I suppose the Saudis and Turks are saying to the Americans and the Qataris, don’t worry. We can manage this. Maybe the extremists are helping in all this, but they’re fodder, and [at will] control the outcome of this. I can’t see–go ahead. PORTER: I don’t think they are trying to assure the United States that they can handle this in the sense of saying, oh, we won’t let al-Nusra Front get powerful enough to overthrow the Assad regime. Because they have publicly committed themselves to the idea, certainly the Saudis and the Qatari government have committed themselves publicly to the idea, that they are interested in having the overthrow of the Assad regime. That’s the whole point of their policy in Syria. They do not agree with the policy that the Obama administration has publicly embraced in the past, that they want a peaceful transition, a political transition, that avoids the collapse of the Syrian army and administrative structure. They’re saying no, we just want to defeat the Assad regime, that’s the objective. So that’s really, does not appear to be the basis for an understanding between the United States and these countries at this point. JAY: No, what I was suggesting is that they’re saying, al-Nusra Front, we will use them to overthrow Assad, but we’ll manage the outcome. We won’t let the extremists actually take power in Syria. Otherwise I don’t see how the U.S. could even, even in small ways go along with this. PORTER: Well, that is, that’s really the mystery at this moment. How they can go along with a policy that really offers no, obviously no guarantee that al-Nusra front, that is, al-Qaeda in Syria, and in a battle with the only other major force that is fighting on the battlefield in Syria at this point, which is the Islamic State, will be battling it out for gaining control of Damascus. I mean, that’s, that is the most realistic view of the future of this war. And how the Obama administration really justifies this policy is unclear. Because of course in the past they have carried out air strikes. The U.S. Air Force has been carrying out air strikes against the al-Nusra Front, and saying that this was necessary because they were carrying out terrorist-related activities in Syria, and we needed to target them. So we haven’t heard anything about that since March, interestingly. And the question now is whether they’ve given up that anti-terrorist interest in Syria with regard to al-Nusra Front, with regard to al-Qaeda. JAY: Well, there’s one part of this which I haven’t seen discussed too much. It seems to me from Israel’s point of view what’s happening actually ain’t so bad. Because it’s drawing Hezbollah further and further into the conflict. Their casualty rate is going up. If they can perhaps weaken Hezbollah, the more it gets drawn into a fight with al-Nusra front and tries to defend the Assad regime, that seems to be a good strategic outcome for the Israelis. And maybe this is influencing U.S. opinion, too. U.S. policy. PORTER: Well, certainly you’re right that that is the strategic view of the Israeli government, has been for some time now. They are, quite explicitly I would say, are aligning themselves with the Sunni trio of states in saying yes, our interest is to overthrow the Assad regime. We don’t really care that much about who inherits power there. So I think that is the Israeli interest. Whether the United States is actually adopting that same viewpoint at this stage is less clear, but certainly one has to wonder whether Obama is being drawn into this strategic viewpoint. He simply, at this point the Obama administration has been mum about what its position really is, about this development. JAY: I mean, the underlying issue here is U.S. policy is so entwined with allying with the most reactionary, fascistic forces imaginable, from Saudi Arabia to the Israelis, and so on, that the underpinnings of the policy almost dictate that they’re going to get themselves into this kind of situation. But of course it’s not the U.S. that’s going to really pay the price. It’s going to be the Syrian people. PORTER: Absolutely. And I would say that there are really two major kinds of forces that are sort of sucking the Obama administration into precisely this situation. And one of them is what you have alluded to already, which is that the Israelis and the other, the Sunni allies of the United States in the Middle East on whom we rely for military bases, the access to military bases in that region, as well as in the case of the Saudis for a huge bonanza of arms trade, arms sales, which add up to hundreds of million–excuse me, hundreds of billions of dollars over the next couple of decades. This is a very powerful set of interests that incline the U.S. national security state to go along with this. But on the second interest, I think, the second situation that does impel the Obama administration that direction, is that Obama definitely does not want the United States military to go to war in, against Isis or al-Nusra on the ground. And he’s inclined to say to the Sunni states, well, if you want to fight it out with these people in Syria then go ahead. So he’s kind of washing his hands of the outcome in Syria in that regard, it appears to me. JAY: Okay. We’re going to continue this discussion in a more extended interview, which you’re going to be able to find right next to, or just following up after this. So please join us for the continuation of this discussion with Gareth Porter on The Real News Network.


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Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.