News / Middle East

US Reported to Have Funded Syrian Exile Opposition

Gary Thomas

Published reports of newly leaked U.S. diplomatic cables say Washington has financed Syrian exile opposition groups and their satellite TV station.  Analysts say the effort, which appears to have started during the Bush administration, was designed to warn Syria against helping jihadist insurgents in Iraq.  But, the effort may give the Syrian government ammunition to try to discredit the domestic democratic opposition.

Citing leaked cables released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, The Washington Post newspaper reported Monday that the United States funneled at least $6 million to the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based umbrella group of Syrian exiles.  The report quotes diplomatic cables as saying some of the funds went to TV Barada, a satellite TV channel also based in London that began beaming anti-government programming to Syria in 2009.

From what is publicly known, none of the money actually went to the political opposition groups inside Syria.  Groups appear to have shied away from such financing for fear of being linked to the United States.  A 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Damascus said that "no bona fide opposition member will be courageous enough to accept funding."

Murhaf Jouejati, a Syrian-born analyst at the Middle East Institute, says just the news of the funding will give Syrian President Bashar Assad ammunition to try to discredit the growing anti-government movement and stem the protests gripping the country.

"I think that it is significant in as far as the Syrian government is probably going to use this in order to show its people that, yes, not only is this unrest foreign-backed, but foreign-sponsored," said Jouejati. "And so the unrest that is taking place in Syria, which is obviously a home-grown affair, may or may not lose steam as a result."

Analysts say the financing of opposition groups began during the Bush administration.   The U.S. accused Syria of shepherding jihadist insurgents, along with arms, into Iraq to fight U.S. forces.  Jouejati, who is also a professor at the National Defense University, says the U.S. was at first trying to warn Syria not to meddle in Iraq and U.S. efforts there.

"So it is in response [to Syria in Iraq] that the Bush administration set out, I think, to first scare Syria and threaten the leadership, but then, I think, to go on to want regime change in Syria," he said. "But by then, of course, the Bush administration was over. So, again, this is a byproduct of the bad blood between the Bush administration and Syria with regard to especially Iraq."

Analysts point out that the Syrian exile opposition movement is loosely organized and not strong.  But they add that such groups can be both a nuisance to Syria and a bargaining chip for the U.S.

Reva Bhalla, Middle East analyst for the private intelligence firm Stratfor, says the U.S. has had a long history of helping exile groups in various countries over the years.  

"Really it’s not all that out of the ordinary," said Bhalla. "There are a lot of different organizations within Washington that support these pro-democracy groups. It may not be very significant support. But it’s something to just show that the U.S. has that option, that it’s promoting these different values and that if push came to shove and it felt the need to, it could theoretically push for regime change.  It’s sort of a pressure lever.  We see that in a lot of different countries that the United States is involved with."

A U.S. spokesman denied Monday that Washington is trying to undermine the Syrian government.   

Analyst Reva Bhalla says that, even with the wave of change sweeping across the Middle East, the U.S. may not want regime change in Syria.

"The Syrian case is very complicated, especially given how fractured the country is between various sectarian groups; the United States trying to close up its war in Iraq right now; dealing with a huge situation right now that is left unresolved with Iran; and this ongoing rivalry playing out between the Saudi-led GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] states and Iran," she said. "I just don’t see the U.S. imperative here to force regime change in Syria."

Reva Bhalla believes that even Israel does not want to see regime change in Syria.  She says Israel prefers the predictability of the Assad government over the unknown of what might take over in Damascus afterward.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid