The London Review of Books has published another piece by Seymour Hersh that is controversial (though not nearly as much so as his Abbottabad article in May). In this one, he maintains that the Pentagon is providing intelligence — via Germany, Israel, and Russia — to the Assad regime in Syria to aid it in fending off the Islamic State. (Though the extent to which Syria is in direct conflict with the Islamic State is debatable.) The Pentagon seems to believe that deposing Assad would result in one U.S.-fueled Middle-East implosion too many, after Iraq and Libya.
Dealing with them sequentially rather than contemporaneously does make sense. If Assad is like cancer to Syria, the Islamic State is like a cardiac arrest. It needs to be addressed before returning to saving the patient from cancer. As always, the main theme of Hersh’s piece is drawing plenty of response. Thus, I thought I’d address a minor point instead. To wit, “A retired senior diplomat who served at the US embassy in Moscow…”
… echoed a view held by some in the Pentagon when he alluded to a collateral factor behind Russia’s decision to launch airstrikes in support of the Syrian army on 30 September: Putin’s desire to prevent Assad from suffering the same fate as Gaddafi. He had been told that Putin had watched a video of Gaddafi’s savage death three times, a video that shows him being sodomised with a bayonet. The JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] adviser also told me of a US intelligence assessment which concluded that Putin had been appalled by Gaddafi’s fate: ‘Putin blamed himself for letting Gaddafi go, for not playing a strong role behind the scenes’ at the UN when the Western coalition was lobbying to be allowed to undertake the airstrikes that destroyed the regime. ‘Putin believed that unless he got engaged Bashar would suffer the same fate – mutilated – and he’d see the destruction of his allies in Syria.’
See, Putin really is a sensitive guy. Sure, if you overlook the way he handles his opposition and oversaw the second war against Chechnya, and how he was the beneficiary of the Russian apartment building bombings of 1999 that killed over 300 people and which originally ushered him into power.
More likely, Putin sees himself in Gaddafi and Assad and fears the same fate as many authoritarian leaders down through history. That fate is the hole in the side of one-man rule that you can drive a truck through.