A recently declassified CIA memo written in 1986 discusses “purposefully provocative” scenarios that the U.S. could pursue to force political change in Syria in the coming years.
The 24-page CIA document, titled Syria: Scenarios of Dramatic Political Change, was distributed within former President Ronald Reagan’s administration, including to agency directors, presidential advisers, the National Security Council, and the U.S. ambassador to Syria. However, the memo advises that internal distribution was to be limited, and external distribution was ordered to be “severely restricted,” because analyzing the memo “out of context is susceptible to misunderstanding.”
Per the memo’s cover letter, the overall purpose of the write-up was to present “a number of possible scenarios that could lead to the ouster of President Assad or other dramatic change in Syria,” and described how the ideal outcome was a Sunni regime “controlled by business-oriented moderates. Business moderates would see a strong need for Western aid and investment to build Syria’s private economy, thus opening the way for stronger ties to Western governments.”
On page two of the memo, the CIA highlights how widespread violence among the populace could convince a large number of Sunni officers within the Syrian military to desert their positions and take up arms against the Assad regime, in turn, starting a Syrian civil war, a prediction that played out in a very similar manner in 2011, when the country finally erupted into civil war.
“Although we judge that fear of reprisals and organizational problems make a second Sunni challenge unlikely, an excessive government reaction to minor outbreaks of Sunni dissidence might trigger large-scale unrest. In most instances the regime would have the resources to crush a Sunni opposition movement, but we believe widespread violence among the populace could stimulate large numbers of Sunni officers and conscripts to desert or munity, setting the stage for civil war,” the report said.
That civil war finally came in 2011, as armed gangs took to the streets to protest the Assad regime, five years after the U.S. State Department began funneling $6 million to two Syrian opposition organizations, Barada TV and the Movement for Justice and Development, who were to use the money to operate an anti-Assad satellite TV station in Damascus and fund other operations intended to stir unrest inside of Syria, reported the Washington Post.
The 1986 CIA memo predicted how the Assad regime might react to such protests:
“Sunni dissidence has been minimal since Assad crushed the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, but deep-seated tensions remain–keeping alive the potential for minor incidents to grow into major flareups of communal violence… Excessive government force in quelling such disturbances might be seen by Sunnis as evidence of a government vendetta against all Sunnis, precipitating even larger protests by other Sunni groups…
“Mistaking the new protests as a resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the government would step up its use of force and launch violent attacks on a broad spectrum of Sunni community leaders as well as on those engaged in protests. Regime efforts to restore order would founder if government violence against protestors inspired broad-based communal violence between Alawis and Sunnis.”
The report the describes how once a significant number of officers turn on the Assad regime, Iraq “might supply them with sufficient weapons to launch a civil war,” which is exactly what happened after the Syrian civil war began in 2011.
“A general campaign of Alawi violence against Sunnis might push even moderate Sunnis to join the opposition. Remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood–some returning from exile in Iraq–could provide a core of leadership for the movement. Although the regime has the resources to crush such a venture, we believe brutal attacks on Sunni civilians might prompt large numbers of Sunni officers and conscripts to desert or stage mutinies in support of dissidents, and Iraq might supply them with sufficient weapons to launch a civil war.”
In 2011, a Defense Intelligence Agency report acknowledged that Al Qaeda in Iraq, which eventually became the Islamic State group, along with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafist factions, were the leading opposition groups fighting in Syria, and stated that the groups may eventually establish a Salafist principality. The report goes on to state that the U.S. government supports the extremist groups in their efforts to overthrow Assad, and also emphasizes that the U.S. government not only supports the establishment of an Islamic State, but wants this to occur, as such a state would further weaken Assad.
And in August 2011, President Obama authorized sanctions against the Assad regime, and via Iraq and Turkey, the CIA began covertly arming, funding and training certain rebel factions working to overthrow Assad.
The CIA has been attempting to overthrow the Assad regime since at least 1983, when it released a secret memo that stated, “The US should consider sharply escalating the pressures against Assad through covertly orchestrating simultaneous military threats against Syria from three border states hostile to Syria: Iraq, Israel and Turkey.”