Seymour Hersh, one of the best-known U.S. investigative journalists reports that U.S. military staff is acknowledging Russia’s military accomplishments in Syria. Russia’s military have proved to be professional and successful in stabilizing and strengthening Syria’s army. U.S. politics — contrary to Russian politics — lack consistency. The U.S. overthrew secular regimes and thus created a vacuum which was immediately filled with radical Islamic terrorists. Now the West is forced to fight against these terrorist groups.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: Did Assad ever attempt to build good relations with the U.S.?
Seymour Hersh: Yes, of course, undeniably he did. He provided us with all the secret service information he had on the Islamic terrorists. Syrian secret service is one of the best worldwide. They provided the U.S. with data on Mohammed Atta and the Hamburg terror cell (translators note: Mohammed Atta was member of the 9/11 terrorists group and piloted one of the jets which crashed into WTC towers.) But the biggest mistake of the U.S. was not to recognize that Syria and Iraq were secular regimes composed of moderate Sunni. And we overran these countries, overthrew their governments, and thus helped those who are now our most vicious enemies – ISIS (or Daesh) and all the other radical Sunni terrorist groups.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: Why did Obama fail to understand this situation?
Seymour Hersh: I have no clue. It is really strange – one has to admit that Obama is one of the smartest presidents this country has ever seen. Probably one could state that Obama is the best man we could have – especially when you consider his predecessors Bush and Cheney. But in terms of foreign policy Obama just continued Bush’s policy from day one. He continued the “war on terror,” even though, after 14 years, we can all see that this war has amounted to nothing. In fact, it has made everything worse. In the past the U.S. was one of the most respected countries of the world – and today?
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: What are the steps the U.S. should have taken after 9/11?
Seymour Hersh: They should have got in touch with Moscow immediately. The Russians have a clear view of the dimension of Islamist terror. They conducted a brutal war in Chechnya because they are pretty much aware how dangerous Islamism can be. And I am convinced this is exactly the reason why they decided to intervene in Syria.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: Only recently you wrote in a much-noticed Essay in London Review of Books that U.S. military officials opposed the planned destruction of Syria. But Obama ignored their advice. What was the reason for that?
Seymour Hersh: To be honest, I have no idea. Fact is that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) went to Obama and told him: if Assad is overthrown we will see chaos. General Dempsey argued that we have to take steps in order to stabilize and support Assad. The German Intelligence Service (BND – Bundesnachrichtendienst) provided us with data showing that Assad enjoys broad backing in Syria’s population. I can’t read Obama’s thoughts, but it was clear from the beginning that there wasn’t any so-called “moderate opposition”. We see the radical Islamists who are regarded as psychos by the native Syrian population. Masses of Syrians fled to Damascus in order to escape and seek shelter and protection from the Syrian army. When Homs was recaptured and thus freed from the grip of IS terrorists, young people told me “Thank heaven, the madmen have gone!”
When war began, fractions of the so-called „Free Syrian Army“ joined IS because they had the impression that IS would become the dominant force. But after a year or so they deserted again. At the same time, we were delivering weapons to the so-called “moderates,” and what did they do? They just left the equipment because they were no longer organized as a military unit – or they just sold the arms to IS. And that way our weapons reached the enemy. Our government was warned that overthrowing Assad would be totally crazy – the consequence would be a radical Islamist regime. The U.S. military also cautioned Obama against Turkish president Erdogan. I am really astonished and wonder how White House policy can show this degree of inconsistency.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: Would it be appropriate to state that Russia is conducting this war successfully?
Seymour Hersh: I was not present there as an eye-witness and so I cannot report first-hand. But of course I have a lot of contact with those within the U.S. military and the secret service. Every hint that I have received from the U.S. intelligence gives the impression that the Russians are doing their job very well. This is also recognized by U.S. military officials. Russian general Valery Gerassimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces ofRussia, is especially commended and U.S. military leaders have great respect for him. Putin’s approach was a clever one. First he re-trained the Syrian Army and whipped them into shape. He provided the necessary breathing space for them to become fit for action again.
Syria always possessed a good army and now they are powerful again. Then Russia convinced Hezbollah to join. I had the opportunity to talk to Hezbollah leader Nasrallah several times and he is a determined person. I asked him whether he is a revolutionist or a politician and he told me that he was a politician in Lebanon. According to Nasrallah, the Hezbollah is quite successful in Lebanon with various politicians because the Hezbollah is accepting pluralism and is prepared to hear and accept other party’s opinions. The role of the Hezbollah is extremely important in the fight on IS. They trained the Syrian Army and showed them how to conduct special operations. They told them that it’s not enough just to bomb a target; you have to go in with boots on the ground. They told them to make use of the bombings and attack on the ground.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: What do you think? Is there some sort of an agreement between the U.S. and Russia to the effect that the Russians will now get the job done in place of the U.S.?
Seymour Hersh: I do not have any evidence which would support this assumption. But what is certain is that there are intense and positive contacts between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian colleague, Sergej Lawrow. Lawrow is a straight-forward person and he has always made Russia’s position quite clear. Unfortunately, most of our mainstream media give the public the impression that any statement from a Russian politician is a lie. It is beyond all reason not to just listen what these guys are telling us. I cannot understand why Obama took up this strange anti-Russian stance. Russian intelligence services have the reputation of being among the best and they have so much more knowledge about this region than we do. They know more about ISIS, Daesh, and al-Baghdadi. And they have always indicated that they would be prepared – like the Syrian secret services – to improve relations with the U.S. But our president maintains his hardline stance towards Russia – and I have no idea why.
Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten: What‘s next in Syria?
Seymour Hersh: To be honest, I do not believe that the Geneva Peace Talks will have any positive effect. Bashar al-Assad hasn’t the slightest reason to rely on these types of negotiations. One has to bear in mind that Assad claims a very high degree of loyalty within the Syrian Army. He has continually built upon this loyalty which was garnered by his father since the 1990’s. What’s there to negotiate? And the Russians will enforce their objectives because they need stability around Latakia. They have fought this stability and they won’t give up this stronghold. Syria has suffered extremely high military losses during this war, as well as casualties among civilians. It will be Important for Syria and Russia to close down the corridor to Turkey. Turkey provided all the weapons and mercenaries which could flow unhindered across the border in both directions. In my opinion, Erdogan will be the big loser in this game.