US officials ‘intrigued’ but thrilled by Badar’s appointment & what it means for a more intense Saudi covert operation against Syria
August 4th, 2012
Foreign policy is having a hard time competing with the presidential campaigns around the country, conflicting news on the economy and the Olympic Games. Nonetheless, the resignation of Kofi Annan as UN mediator for Syria has re-opened the intervention question for the Administration. US officials draw attention to what they see as an intriguing new ingredient, namely the appointment of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi Ambassador in Washington, as intelligence chief. With his known hawkish views and his experience of the Mujahidin insurgency against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, they believe Bandar’s appointment presages a significant covert action campaign by the Saudis in Syria. This will allow the US to play a supportive role in the background rather than having to adopt a more visible presence. Voices who favor a more activist role for US forces are gaining traction at a senior level in the Administration, but doubts about the cohesiveness of the Syrian National Council persist. President Obama himself remains cautious. Despite his relatively strong approval ratings on foreign policy, he does not want a risky US engagement in Syria to take place at this stage. Despite the much heralded “rebalancing” of US strategy toward the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East continues to attract top attention. The problems of Egypt and Iran provided the background to Secretary of Defense Panetta’s visit to Israel – the third by a top national security official is as many weeks. Our contacts tell us that Panetta is satisfied that, despite deepening Israeli unease about the ineffectiveness of sanctions and diplomacy to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, military action is not imminent. Away from the Middle East, there is growing concern that upheaval in Mali may provide a base for Al Qaeda to establish itself there. The US Africa Command is conducting urgent talks with its West African counterparts to assemble a stabilization force. We expect to see a substantially increased US activity tempo, focused on Special Forces, in the Sahel. Finally, the US continues to keep up the pressure on China over the South China Sea. This is far from being an international “hot spot” but it is part of long-range US strategy to remain the dominant power in that region.
Categories: Arab Blogs