A lire absolument, le dernier article de « Sy » Hersh dans la London Review of Books, « Military to military » :
Je tente un long résumé avec citations, mais ce serait plutôt à lire in extenso.
A partir de l’été 2013, des membres haut placés dans l’appareil militaire américain (notamment le chef de la DIA M. Flynn et le chef d’état-major M. Dempsey) commencent à s’alarmer des conséquences du programme de la CIA d’armement des « rebelles syriens » en collaboration avec les pétromonarchies et la Turquie. Selon leurs informations il renforcerait les groupes les plus radicaux (parmi lesquels al-Nusra et Da’ich) :
The military’s resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria’s takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya. A former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs told me that the document was an ‘all-source’ appraisal, drawing on information from signals, satellite and human intelligence, and took a dim view of the Obama administration’s insistence on continuing to finance and arm the so-called moderate rebel groups. By then, the CIA had been conspiring for more than a year with allies in the UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to ship guns and goods – to be used for the overthrow of Assad – from Libya, via Turkey, into Syria. The new intelligence estimate singled out Turkey as a major impediment to Obama’s Syria policy. The document showed, the adviser said, ‘that what was started as a covert US programme to arm and support the moderate rebels fighting Assad had been co-opted by Turkey, and had morphed into an across-the-board technical, arms and logistical programme for all of the opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State. The so-called moderates had evaporated and the Free Syrian Army was a rump group stationed at an airbase in Turkey.’ The assessment was bleak: there was no viable ‘moderate’ opposition to Assad, and the US was arming extremists.
Ces militaires américains, persuadés que dans ces conditions la chute d’Assad mènerait au chaos, vont tenter de convaincre l’administration Obama de changer de politique en Syrie ; mais en vain.
Flynn told me. ‘We understood Isis’s long-term strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria.’ The DIA’s reporting, he said, ‘got enormous pushback’ from the Obama administration. ‘I felt that they did not want to hear the truth.’
‘Our policy of arming the opposition to Assad was unsuccessful and actually having a negative impact,’ the former JCS adviser said. ‘The Joint Chiefs believed that Assad should not be replaced by fundamentalists. The administration’s policy was contradictory. They wanted Assad to go but the opposition was dominated by extremists. So who was going to replace him? To say Assad’s got to go is fine, but if you follow that through – therefore anyone is better. It’s the “anybody else is better” issue that the JCS had with Obama’s policy.’ The Joint Chiefs felt that a direct challenge to Obama’s policy would have ‘had a zero chance of success’.
Ils vont alors tenter de contre-balancer celle-ci, sans rentrer en franche dissidence vis à vis de Washington, en faisant parvenir du renseignement par des canaux indirects (des militaires allemands, israéliens et russes) à Damas :
So in the autumn of 2013 they decided to take steps against the extremists without going through political channels, by providing US intelligence to the militaries of other nations, on the understanding that it would be passed on to the Syrian army and used against the common enemy, Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State.
Germany, Israel and Russia were in contact with the Syrian army, and able to exercise some influence over Assad’s decisions – it was through them that US intelligence would be shared. Each had its reasons for co-operating with Assad: Germany feared what might happen among its own population of six million Muslims if Islamic State expanded; Israel was concerned with border security; Russia had an alliance of very long standing with Syria, and was worried by the threat to its only naval base on the Mediterranean, at Tartus. ‘We weren’t intent on deviating from Obama’s stated policies,’ the adviser said. ‘But sharing our assessments via the military-to-military relationships with other countries could prove productive.
L’article se poursuit avec un paragraphe rappelant l’ambition partagée par l’administration G.W. Bush et Obama de renverser Assad depuis au moins 2003, avec les différentes actions entreprises, malgré une coopération sécuritaire de Damas appréciée par les cercles militaires et de renseignement américains (choses assez bien connues).
Ensuite Hersh balance une sacrée révélation : à partir de l’automne 2013, dans un contexte où l’effort financier turco-qataro-saoudien augmente et où l’ensemble de l’opération de déstabilisation d’Assad semble échapper aux Américains, ces militaires « dissidents » vont jouer un coup : en remplaçant la ligne d’approvisionnement principale libyenne des rebelles et des jihadistes en Syrie, par une ligne venue de Turquie, ils vont réussir à abaisser la qualité de l’armement obtenu par ceux-ci :
The CIA was approached by a representative from the Joint Chiefs with a suggestion: there were far less costly weapons available in Turkish arsenals that could reach the Syrian rebels within days, and without a boat ride.’ But it wasn’t only the CIA that benefited. ‘We worked with Turks we trusted who were not loyal to Erdoğan,’ the adviser said, ‘and got them to ship the jihadists in Syria all the obsolete weapons in the arsenal, including M1 carbines that hadn’t been seen since the Korean War and lots of Soviet arms. It was a message Assad could understand: “We have the power to diminish a presidential policy in its tracks.”’
The flow of US intelligence to the Syrian army, and the downgrading of the quality of the arms being supplied to the rebels, came at a critical juncture.
Par la suite en 2014, Brennan (directeur de la CIA) tente de reprendre la main dans ce maelström. Il réunit les chefs du renseignement des Etats « arabes sunnites » et leur demande de ne soutenir que l’opposition modérée. Il obtient un oui poli mais non suivi d’effet, tandis que la ligne générale de l’administration Obama reste la même :
Brennan’s message was ignored by the Saudis, the adviser said, who ‘went back home and increased their efforts with the extremists and asked us for more technical support. And we say OK, and so it turns out that we end up reinforcing the extremists.’
Et reste le problème des Turcs, moins faciles à manipuler, qui soutiennent à la fois al-Nusra et Da’ich :
But the Saudis were far from the only problem: American intelligence had accumulated intercept and human intelligence demonstrating that the Erdoğan government had been supporting Jabhat al-Nusra for years, and was now doing the same for Islamic State. ‘We can handle the Saudis,’ the adviser said. ‘We can handle the Muslim Brotherhood. You can argue that the whole balance in the Middle East is based on a form of mutually assured destruction between Israel and the rest of the Middle East, and Turkey can disrupt the balance – which is Erdoğan’s dream. We told him we wanted him to shut down the pipeline of foreign jihadists flowing into Turkey. But he is dreaming big – of restoring the Ottoman Empire – and he did not realise the extent to which he could be successful in this.’
Suit un long exposé, d’une part sur les relations américano-russes, que certains du côté de ces « dissidents » perçoivent comme trop marquées du côté de Washington par une mentalité anti-russe anachronique venue de la guerre froide, et sur les raisons de la peur de la Russie du phénomène jihadiste, amplifiée depuis la mort de Kadhafi, d’autre part. Evoqué aussi le traitement médiatique hostile aux USA à l’intervention russe en Syrie.
Reprise du récit. Après l’attentat de novembre dernier en France et le bombardier russe abattu par la chasse turque, Hollande tente d’amener Obama à un rapprochement avec la Russie mais sans succès, la ligne d’Obama restant départ d’Assad, opposition à l’intervention russe en Syrie, soutien à la Turquie, et maintien de l’idée d’une réelle opposiotn modérée :
The Paris attacks on 13 November that killed 130 people did not change the White House’s public stance, although many European leaders, including François Hollande, advocated greater co-operation with Russia and agreed to co-ordinate more closely with its air force; there was also talk of the need to be more flexible about the timing of Assad’s exit from power. On 24 November, Hollande flew to Washington to discuss how France and the US could collaborate more closely in the fight against Islamic State. At a joint press conference at the White House, Obama said he and Hollande had agreed that ‘Russia’s strikes against the moderate opposition only bolster the Assad regime, whose brutality has helped to fuel the rise’ of IS. Hollande didn’t go that far but he said that the diplomatic process in Vienna would ‘lead to Bashar al-Assad’s departure … a government of unity is required.’ The press conference failed to deal with the far more urgent impasse between the two men on the matter of Erdoğan. Obama defended Turkey’s right to defend its borders; Hollande said it was ‘a matter of urgency’ for Turkey to take action against terrorists. The JCS adviser told me that one of Hollande’s main goals in flying to Washington had been to try to persuade Obama to join the EU in a mutual declaration of war against Islamic State. Obama said no. The Europeans had pointedly not gone to Nato, to which Turkey belongs, for such a declaration. ‘Turkey is the problem,’ the JCS adviser said.
Hersh s’appuie ensuite sur l’ambassadeur syrien en Chine pour évoquer la cas de la Chine qui soutient aussi Assad. L’occasion de mentionner le Parti islamique du Turkestan Oriental, allié d’al-Qaïda et soutenu par les services turcs, et qui offre à des combattants notamment Ouïghours l’occasion de mener le jihad en Syrie avant peut-être de retourner le pratiquer dans le Xinjiang ce qui inquiète Pékin :
Moustapha also brought up China, an ally of Assad that has allegedly committed more than $30 billion to postwar reconstruction in Syria. China, too, is worried about Islamic State. ‘China regards the Syrian crisis from three perspectives,’ he said: international law and legitimacy; global strategic positioning; and the activities of jihadist Uighurs, from Xinjiang province in China’s far west. Xinjiang borders eight nations – Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – and, in China’s view, serves as a funnel for terrorism around the world and within China. Many Uighur fighters now in Syria are known to be members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement – an often violent separatist organisation that seeks to establish an Islamist Uighur state in Xinjiang. ‘The fact that they have been aided by Turkish intelligence to move from China into Syria through Turkey has caused a tremendous amount of tension between the Chinese and Turkish intelligence,’ Moustapha said. ‘China is concerned that the Turkish role of supporting the Uighur fighters in Syria may be extended in the future to support Turkey’s agenda in Xinjiang.
L’article se finit sur le sort de ces « dissidents ». Flynn se fera virer en 2014, tandis que Dempsey et les autres au sein de l’état-major, qui ont été moins insistants, resteront en poste.
General Dempsey and his colleagues on the Joint Chiefs of Staff kept their dissent out of bureaucratic channels, and survived in office. General Michael Flynn did not. ‘Flynn incurred the wrath of the White House by insisting on telling the truth about Syria,’ said Patrick Lang, a retired army colonel who served for nearly a decade as the chief Middle East civilian intelligence officer for the DIA.
Dempsey finira par partir en retraite en 2015, mettant fin à cette « dissidence douce » au sein du Pentagone :
The military’s indirect pathway to Assad disappeared with Dempsey’s retirement in September. His replacement as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in July, two months before assuming office. ‘If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia,’ Dunford said.
Obama now has a more compliant Pentagon. There will be no more indirect challenges from the military leadership to his policy of disdain for Assad and support for Erdoğan. Dempsey and his associates remain mystified by Obama’s continued public defence of Erdoğan, given the American intelligence community’s strong case against him – and the evidence that Obama, in private, accepts that case. ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria,’ the president told Erdoğan’s intelligence chief at a tense meeting at the White House (as I reported in the LRB of 17 April 2014). The Joint Chiefs and the DIA were constantly telling Washington’s leadership of the jihadist threat in Syria, and of Turkey’s support for it. The message was never listened to. Why not?