WikiLeaks: The two faces of Hillary Clinton on Syria

Sharmine Narwani
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She is a former senior associate at St. Antony's College, Oxford University and has a master’s degree in International Relations from Columbia University. Sharmine has written commentary for a wide array of publications, including Al Akhbar English, the New York Times, the Guardian, Asia Times Online, Salon.com, USA Today, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, BRICS Post and others. You can follow her on Twitter at @snarwani
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton © Lucy Nicholson
“People don’t trust Hillary Clinton, and no one can agree on why,” begins a sympathetic piece on the Democratic Party presidential candidate in Fast Company last July.

In a CNN poll that same month, only 30 percent of Americans believed Clinton to be “honest and trustworthy.” 

If voters don’t know what to make of Clinton or how to read her, the blame may lie directly with the candidate herself. In an April 2013 speech made public by WikiLeaks last week, Clinton confided: 

Politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody's watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.

That last ‘public vs. private’ comment quickly made the media rounds, and confirmed – for her critics - Clinton’s deliberate duplicity on a number of policy positions.

WikiLeaks has provided an opportunity to delve into some of these, so let’s take a look at one very prominent feature of Clinton’s foreign policy agenda: Syria, a country that stands at the center of a potential global confrontation today.

Not a Syrian uprising; a regime change plan

A 2012 email released by WikiLeaks last year shows that, behind the scenes, Clinton’s State Department was calculating its Syria policy using entirely different metrics than its publicly-stated narrative of supporting reforms and rejecting violence: 

It is the strategic relationship between Iran and the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria that makes it possible for Iran to undermine Israel's security — not through a direct attack, which in the thirty years of hostility between Iran and Israel has never occurred, but through its proxies in Lebanon, like Hezbollah, that are sustained, armed and trained by Iran via Syria. The end of the Assad regime would end this dangerous alliance. Israel's leadership understands well why defeating Assad is now in its interests.”

The email, written by an unidentified person and included within the WikiLeaks ‘Clinton archive,’ lays out a plan: 

Washington should start by expressing its willingness to work with regional allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to organize, train and arm Syrian rebel forces. The announcement of such a decision would, by itself, likely cause substantial defections from the Syrian military. Then, using territory in Turkey and possibly Jordan, US diplomats and Pentagon officials can start strengthening the opposition… Arming the Syrian rebels and using Western air power to ground Syrian helicopters and airplanes is a low-cost high payoff approach.”

Arming a Syrian rebellion from outside the country was already a consideration “from the very beginning,” according to a recent WikiLeaks release of a June 2013 speech by Clinton: 

So, the problem for the US and the Europeans has been from the very beginning: What is it you – who is it you are going to try to arm. And you probably read in the papers my view was we should try to find some of the groups that were there that we thought we could build relationships with and develop some covert connections that might then at least give us some insight into what is going on inside Syria.”

Certainly, we know that by early 2012, the Obama and Erdogan administrations had struck a deal to establish a rat-line transporting weapons and ammunition from Libya to Syria – via the CIA and MI6, and funded by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. 

READ MORE: Podesta files: Top 10 revelations from leaked Clinton campaign emails

The attack on the US consulate in Benghazi which killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens was only a temporary setback. Weapons and financial assistance to militants in Syria, however, continued to flow from America’s regional allies without any US pushback, even though Washington clearly knew arms were being siphoned to extremists.

A declassified DIA document from August 2012 circulated to Clinton’s State Department states plainly that “the Salafist, Muslim Brotherhood and AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” and that “the West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition.” 

But if US Special Forces were involved in driving arms and fighters into Syria in early 2012, the groundwork would have had to have begun many, many months before. The US military’s unconventional warfare (UW) strategy requires that target-state population perceptions are first ‘groomed’ into accepting an armed insurrection, using “propaganda and political and psychological efforts to discredit the government”…creating “local and national ‘agitation’”…helping organize “boycotts, strikes and other efforts to suggest public discontent”…before beginning the “infiltration of foreign organizers and advisors and foreign propaganda, material, money, weapons and equipment.

You get an idea of how this ‘propaganda’ and ‘grooming’ works in a June 2011 email from Clinton’s recently-departed Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter, who openly calls for fabricating sectarian narratives to incite Syrian protestors: 

This suggests US should be making much more of the ways in which Syrian regime is simulating violence. Can’t we call for a meeting of the UNSC where we do not call for action but simply present information along the lines of what is recounted below so as to ‘bring it to the attention of the Council’ in a way that then has greater credibility globally? Making the point repeatedly that the regime wants this to look like/turn into sectarian violence? At the very least that can be broadcast back into Syria in various ways that will encourage protestors. There is an information war going on; we can do much more to elevate and legitimate the truth.”

This is business as usual for a US State Department well-versed in sowing sectarian discord in the Middle East – all while publicly denouncing sectarian strife. A WikiLeaks email from 2006 shows that this thinking was already well-entrenched in Foggy Bottom, with a focus on “exploiting vulnerabilities” – particularly “sectarian” ones - inside Syria. 

Fueling the sectarian Jihad

By late 2011, US intelligence had assessed that Al-Qaeda was operating inside Syria. This information was public, but not widely disseminated. Instead, Clinton’s team focused heavily on flogging the narrative that “Assad must go” because of his government’s widespread human rights violations.

Clinton liberally used the “humanitarian” pretext to advance a regime change agenda – pushing, behind the scenes, for increased assistance to militants and direct US military intervention, while publicly decrying the escalating violence inside Syria.

But did she give a toss about keeping Syrians safe? The evidence suggests otherwise. In this new WikiLeaks release of a speech to the Jewish United Fund in August 2013 – “flagged,” incidentally, by her staffers who worried about its content – Clinton outlines one possible Syria policy option: 

One way is a very hands off, step back, we don’t have a dog in this hunt, let them kill themselves until they get exhausted, and then we’ll figure out how to deal with what the remnants are. That’s a position held by people who believe there is no way, not just for the United States but others, to stop the killing before the people doing the killing and the return killing are tired of killing each other. So it’s a very hands off approach.”

To any observer of the foreign-fueled Syrian war of attrition, it looks very much like Clinton opted for this course of action.

And given that Washington’s allies in the Syrian fight consisted mainly of head-chopping, jihadist foot soldiers, Clinton’s scenario of a killing field to keep all sides “exhausted” may have even been the starting plan.

These fighters came equipped with a militant, sectarian mindset courtesy of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar – under the supervision, of course, of a CIA that cut its teeth doing the exact same thing with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan.

A WikiLeaks email sent from Hillary Clinton to her now-campaign chief John Podesta in August 2014 shows that the former Secretary of State is fully aware that her allies were partial to supporting terrorists: 

While this military/paramilitary operation is moving forward, we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are, of course, two staunch US allies in the region that host American military bases and, apparently, also support ISIL.

Another October 2013 Clinton speech ‘flagged’ by her campaign staff, and released by WikiLeaks this week, has her saying: 

The Saudis and others are shipping large amounts of weapons – and pretty indiscriminately – not at all targeted toward the people that we think would be the more moderate, least likely, to cause problems in the future.”

The State Department knows all too well that both fighters and weapons are fungible in the Syrian militant marketplace. It is a key reason the US has always resisted naming those groups it considers “moderate” rebels. Arms and supplies to US-backed groups have often found their way to ISIL and Al-Qaeda, with photo evidence aplenty making the social media rounds. 

Despite these loaded disclosures, Clinton and other US policymakers still flog outdated narratives about an ‘evil Syrian regime killing innocent civilians’ while ignoring the narrative they know to be true: bloodthirsty jihadists armed to the teeth by ideologically-aligned US allies.

© Abdalrhman Ismail

This Syrian conflict – privately, at least – is about regime change at all costs for the hawkish side of the policy establishment which includes the CIA, Pentagon brass and Clinton. Publicly, however, it’s still about “crimes against humanity” – whatever that means today.

Earlier this month, Clinton began to publicly reveal that truth in advance of the November presidential election. Reuters reports Clinton as saying “removing President Bashar al-Assad is the top priority in Syria.” 

She is also once again touting a “no-fly zone” over Syria – much as she did with Libya. In yet another speech ‘flagged’ by her campaign and released by WikiLeaks – this one delivered to Goldman Sachs at their CEO conference in June 2013 - Clinton explains: 

To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk – you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians. So all of a sudden this intervention that people talk about so glibly becomes an American and NATO involvement where you take a lot of civilians.”

So Clinton is advocating for a no-fly zone despite the fact that she recognizes she’s “going to kill a lot of Syrians.” Which then puts that other speech of hers about letting Syrians “kill themselves until they get exhausted” into context.

Her only regional allies in this endeavor will be the Saudis and Qataris, who we now know support ISIL and other terrorists inside Syria. We also know that Clinton will continue to ignore this indiscretion – not because of what she says, but because of what she does:

Her public-versus-private position on the Saudis, after all, has been bandied about since the 2010 WikiLeaks State Department cables were released.

In 2009, a secret WikiLeaks cable signed off by then- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reads, in part: "Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide…Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT (Laskhar-e Taiba), and other terrorist groups…It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.” 

Yet by 2011, Clinton was ushering through the biggest weapons sale to Saudi Arabia in US history – a massive $67 Billion arms dump into the epicenter of global terror.

Clinton is not averse to cashing in on Saudi riches for her and her family’s foundation either. The Clinton Foundation has received millions of dollars from Saudi, Qatari and other Gulf sources, despite the role their governments have played in funding global Jihad. And her campaign manager’s brother, Tony Podesta, just signed on to furnish the Saudi government with very expensive public relations services earlier this year. 

There is something schizophrenic about Hillary Clinton’s compartmentalization of issues that speaks to the very competence of her judgment. Her whole private-versus-public-positions shtick is antithetical to the transparency, process and accountability demanded by democracy.

She speaks of her Iraq “mistake,” yet we have still not heard what lessons she has learned. And it grates, because we can see she has repeated them again and again, in Libya and in Syria. 

The ‘public’ Hillary Clinton supports self-determination, freedom and human rights for Syrians. The ‘private’ Hillary Clinton supports the wholesale massacre of Syrians by a closely allied network of depraved sectarian terrorists – in order to weaken Iran and strengthen Israel.

If you’re one of those Americans who don’t trust her, you have good reason. At this point it is hard to ascertain if Clinton herself knows what her truth is anymore.

WATCH MORE:

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.