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Why Assad’s Press Officer is Speaking at an Anti-ISIS Meeting in Washington, DC

June 2, 2016

By Jett Goldsmith


“For me, I love the picture of Roosevelt and Stalin. You know the picture? It represents the reality of the world, of what must be done to stop a global threat of death and destruction.”

In 1943 in Tehran, Iran, the heads of state of the three Allied powers — Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill — met to discuss military strategy in how to end the encroaching threat of Hitler and Nazism.

Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill all had different reasonings for their war against the Nazis.

Stalin had a vested interest in securing Soviet territory against aggression and establishing a unitary Communist state, which is why he pursued an alliance with Britain and France against the Nazis, then a non-aggression pact with the Nazis themselves after he was rebuffed.

Churchill had an interest in stopping the encroachment of the Nazis, and protecting Europe against a looming wall of fascism which threatened to expand and consume everything — Poland, France, Britain, and the world.

Roosevelt had an interest in maintaining the global order, and stopping Europe from slipping into economic and social despair at the hands of fascist ideology.

But all agreed, at the least, that Hitler had to be ended. And all met to coordinate the effort.

Ahmad Maki Kubba, the founder and president of the Global Alliance for Terminating Al-Qaeda and ISIS (GAFTA), believes this image is the answer.

“There are no bridges with Al-Qaeda and ISIS. We can not communicate with them. We can not work with them. So we have to work with each other.”

I spoke with Maki to ask why the GAFTA was hosting Bouthaina Shaaban, the political and media advisor to Bashar al-Assad, as a guest speaker for the upcoming United We Stand to Terminate ISIS meeting on June 2 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Shaaban is one of three guest speakers, though she must teleconference in via Skype to avoid US sanctions levied on her in 2011 for her role in the Assad regime’s atrocities. The others include Bassam Al Hussaini, the Iraqi government liaison for the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces, and Imam Hesham al-Hussaini, of the Shia Karbalaa Islamic Education Center in Dearborn, Michigan.

The role of the latter two individuals in opposing ISIS can not be disputed. The PMF has been instrumental in combating ISIS militarily in Iraq. And as ISIS is a group which does not represent any practical definition or interpretation of Islam, the American Muslim perspective on ISIS is, as Maki told me, “key to challenging ISIS and Al-Qaeda on all fronts.”

“This war is not just a military war. It is a media war, and a propaganda war. ISIS fights truth with dishonesty, and it does that not only through fighting, but through distortion of reality.”

The participation of Shaaban, on the other hand, is perhaps more dubious.

The exact extent by which the Assad regime has been culpable in the rise of ISIS is unclear, muddied by the fog of war. Certainly, like many parties, the regime has exploited ISIS for its own gains. Maki noted this. He also noted ISIS had been exploited for economic and political gain by Turkey, by Russia, by the United States, and by the opposition. And this, in general, is true.

As Carnegie associate Aron Lund aptly put it, whichever group you dislike most — whether the Assad regime, the FSA, the YPG, or Turkey — they all trade with ISIS.

“Syria is not the scene of some sophisticated plot. It’s the invisible hand of the free market wearing brass knuckles,” said Lund.

But why Shaaban? The Assad regime has, on countless occasions, embraced media and propaganda to achieve its political ends in Syria. They have, on just as many occasions, exploited the presence of ISIS in their end game against the rebel opposition — an opposition which emerged in direct response to widespread human rights abuses by the regime’s mukhabarat.

In 2012, Shaaban was captured on tape discussing the explosives she could provide to Michel Samaha, former Lebanese tourism minister and convicted terrorist, in order to kill leading Lebanese Christian officials and spark a sectarian conflict. Shaaban even suggested potential targets where Samaha could carry out his terror attacks.

Inviting the propaganda officer of the Assad regime can only entail a recipe for disaster, or perhaps a further addition of propaganda to Syria’s already muddied propaganda war.

Maki was confused at this question. Offended, in fact. He raised his voice, and spoke rapidly. But he explained.

“Listen, we [the GAFTA] do not support any group. I do sympathize with the Syrian people, for what they have been through. But we must understand all of the elements of the conflict, and we are bringing in this dialogue from all parties because that is what is necessary. That is what must be done to combat a greater threat.”

Maki was a dissident under the Baathist Saddam regime, who was persecuted and fled in 1979 after facing imprisonment, torture, and an impending death sentence. He was one of the early ones, who felt the brutality of the autocratic Baathist state as Saddam twirled his cigar and pulled “enemies of the state” out of the room, one by one, to be executed for their unspoken crimes.

Perhaps that is why he became so upset when questioned on the participation of Assad’s propaganda officer in the anti-ISIS meeting he organized. He knows, perhaps better than anyone, the truth of the Assad regime and other regimes like it. He has felt its pain and its humiliation.

Or perhaps not. In GAFTA’s “Golden Vision” statement, Maki alleges that ISIS was created and supported by “Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and Israel.” He says these groups used ISIS to carry out the “removal of President Bashar al-Assad for their own interests,” and they should be “held accountable for their involvement in state-sponsored terrorism, and crimes against humanity.”

None of the statements included in GAFTA’s Golden Vision have any substantial basis in reality, and as it stands, are unsubstantiated by all available information and analysis of the Syrian conflict. They reveal a portrait of the Syrian conflict from the perspective of a man who may have forgotten that the Baathist dictatorship of Syria differs from the former Baathist dictatorship of Iraq in name and religious affiliation alone.

Either way, the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power is not Maki’s ideological end-goal.

It is clear that Maki believes ISIS to be the terminus of Syria. He described them not as Muslims, but as Wahhabis. From his perspective, and from the perspective of the GAFTA, the conflict is bloody. It is brutal. It is complex, with various actors pursuing various objectives through various means.

But despite all this, ISIS exists. It is a death cult, it corrupts Islam, and it is a far greater threat than any temporal conflict. Not only is ISIS a threat to Syria and Syrians, Iraq and Iraqis, it is a threat to Islam and to the lives of the 1.6 billion people across the world who practice it.

“So why do you ask me ‘why Shaaban’? I do not understand. She is a critical element in destroying ISIS. And we are not affiliated with any group or government. But Syria is a proxy war, and this proxy war means everyone must be involved to take down the greatest enemy. And for me… For me, I love the picture of Roosevelt and Stalin. You know the picture?”

Like Assad, Stalin was a brutal dictator, responsible for countless deaths and the systematic persecution of his countrymen. Just as Assad, Stalin embraced brutal tactics of war. Forced conscriptions, mass arrests and executions, tortures, scorched earth… These weren’t simply a reality of life under the Soviet state throughout Stalin’s reign. They were critical aspects of Red Army tactics in World War II, the same war which ended Hitler and liberated the concentration camps.

And like the government-fueled press rooms of Pravda and TASS in Stalin’s USSR, Shaaban represents the media wing of a brutal dictator, responsible for advising his propaganda and directing it internally and externally. But does this reality mean we should not embrace her role to fight a greater enemy?

Perhaps not. Reality is more complex. It can not be said thusly that ISIS is a greater enemy than the Assad regime, especially considering the reality of Syria — who is responsible for greater death and destruction? Who has killed more Syrians, caused more chaos, and created the vacuum for the emergence and spread of ISIS throughout the world?

But that does not mean ISIS isn’t a threat. And the Global Alliance for Terminating Al-Qaeda and ISIS was created to address that threat — not by shutting down dialogue, but, at least according to its founder, by creating more of it. Time will tell whether GAFTA will serve as an important forum to defeating ISIS, or a platform for the Assad regime to continue its campaign of total war and crimes against humanity under the auspices of “defeating terrorists.”

“This is just the first of many meetings. We want to reach out to everyone. We will invite Turkey, and Iran, and the opposition. But above all it is important to create dialogue. The Obama administration has shown what can happen when there is no dialogue, when you have no clear goal to combat ISIS. We need to fight with our friends and our enemies, but we need to fight.”

The GAFTA is hosting its “United We Stand to Terminate ISIS” meeting on June 2 at 8:30 AM (EDT) in the Murrow Room of the Press Club, 529 14th St. NW, Washington DC. The meeting is open to the public, and Maki says he hopes many will attend and join in the fight to end ISIS.

Jett Goldsmith

Jett Goldsmith is a writer and analyst from Denver, Colorado. He formerly co-founded the investigative reporting and geopolitical analysis outlet Conflict News, and writes at length on Ba'athist state structures and various actors within the Syrian conflict. He has bylines in various publications, including Middle East Eye. You can follow him on Twitter: @JettGoldsmith.

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  1. Barry

    Well, the US dropped atomic weapons killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and interned Japanese Americans in labour camps during WW2. Churchill was party to the carpet bombing of Dresden and was a sadistic brute in the way he treated the citizens of the colonies if the British Empire during that same period.
    There were no saints, all sides were evil sadistic bastards, it just depended on which side you supported.

    The author conveniently forget the policy of appeasement the Western Europeans pursued with Hitler, and the admiration of the West European elite of his policies until he encroached on their turf.

    There is not a single moral actor operating in Syria, apart from maybe the UN aid workers and non political NGOs. Not the Americans, not the Russians,not the EU etc.

    To accuse Assad of creating ISIS is complete rubbish. ISIS is a reincarnation of Alqaida in Iraq, the Americans are solely responsible for that. Baghdadi and his lieutenants bonded over the invasion of Iraq, and Abu Garib and other wonderful displays of democracy by the US led to ISIS. The author is either a blind patriot unwilling to see the complicy of his beloved US in creating ISIS or he is quite ignorant of the facts

    • Nick

      Assad is well known to have provided safe havens and support for al-Qaeda in Iraq during the US occupation. Assad also released senior Jihadi prisoners in 2011 some of whom later took up major roles in ISIS.

      As for appeasement, the current Western stance towards Putin has disturbing parallels with the Western appeasement of Hitler. Assad is, of course, one major beneficiary of that stance.

      • Barry

        The US is known for supporting so called moderate rebel groups that are allied to Al Nusra in this conflict, what is your point?

        All sides in this conflict are as evil as each other

        • Sammy

          Says the guy who forgets to mention Stalin, the new hero of Russia.

          What about Stalin’s war crimes against his own people?

    • boggled

      R U Happy to get your rant that yes Stalin was bad and killed off 10’s of millions of his own ‘sphere of influence’ while condemning the ‘West” for bombing runs that killed 100x less that helped end a war of Stalin and Hitler’s and the Japanese Emperor’s creation ?

      No one was happy with Hitler’s appeasement, but that is how diplomacy works in order to prevent a bigger bloodbath.
      Hitler took that as a go ahead to be even more evil.
      Can’t fault the ‘West’ for that.

      As far as Syria, you are alone in your facts.
      But your welcome to your proASSad opinion.

      Nice article Jeff and thanks for writing.
      I had not heard about the conference until I read about it here.
      Ending Da’esh ISIS ISIL and any of its other brandings is a noble goal that does need dialogue to achieve.
      Sorry I missed it but I will look for the transcripts and articles to read up more.

      Fare thee well

      • Mad Dog

        Right on Boggled. Barry has a hair up his ar$e and that makes him a bit blind to the reality of the situation. Really love the one about Nisei being interned in “labor camps”. Riiiigghhtt….

        • Barry

          My bad, Pearl Harbour Japanese Americans were rounded up and housed in exclusive luxury spas in Miami.

          Does that make you feel better?

      • Barry

        I dare you to intelligently point out a single pro Assad statement I made….. Don’t worry, I won’t waste my…….

        If you interpreted my statement that there is no one acting virtuously in Syria to be pro Assad, well…. Yikes

      • Barry

        I dare you to intelligently point out a single pro Assad statement I made….. Don’t worry, I won’t waste my…….

        If you interpreted my statement that there is no one acting virtuously in Syria to be pro Assad, well…. Yikes

      • Barry

        Feel free to read up on the millions of lives lost around the British Empire during that period as Churchill struggled to maintain the glorious empire in the face of the war with Hitler. Read up especially on the diversion of food back to the UK and brutal repression of insurgencies. I repeat, Stalin, Churchill….. All Bastards, equally

    • John Zenwirt

      If your name’s “Barry,” my name is Dimitry/How’s the weather in St. Petersburg, Russian Troll…?

      • Barry

        Is that the best you can do?

        That is such a tired and cliched meme on the Internet, engage you brain for a few seconds and I’m confident you might come up with something somewhat original. Go on…… I’m rooting for you

  2. jack

    He is a shia. The vast majority of Saddam’s opponents who are merely considered dissidents by the West are actually sectarian opponents who are shia’s opposing the supposedly sunni Sadam. Though secular and nationalist saddam favored the minority sunni’s over the majority shia’s in Iraq as does the Assad clan in Syria. (sorry the horrible spelling errors). So we should take the assertions and agenda of people like him with a grain of skepticism.

    • Mad Dog

      Well Jack, yes and no. Saddam actively persecuted many Shiites and made sure they were the object of a variety of acts of prejudice. For instance, he made sure the Shiite areas such as in Basra were deprived of power for large parts of the day, that the children in the area were deprived of the medicines let in during the restrictions put on the country after Kuwait, etc. He was an evil dude.
      His buddies in crime just want their perqs back and in pursuit of that they want to make sure the Shiites suffer again.

      • Barry

        And the US supported him(Sadam) even after Halajba because he was crazy enough to fight their proxy war against Iran. Just as the US is supporting the lovely regime in Ryadh.

        News flash, the US and the rest of the free world’s shit stinks link the rest of the so called evil nations.

        Your delusions that the west has come up with stink free shit, is quite miserable

  3. denis cashcov

    Jett asks who has killed more Syrians?
    America is responsible for the deaths of more Syrians than anyone, by recklessly providing weapons to radical islamists in Syria

    • Mad Dog

      hahahahahahahahahahahahha! Give us a rundown of all those ‘weapons’ ostensibly provided and then compare them with the weapons provided by Russia and Iran…..more hahahaha hahs!

      • Herman Melville

        Why are you so amused?..The Russians and Iranians haven’t supplied any weapons to the radical Islamists in Syria.

        • Andrea

          Iranians: they simply sent troops (many coming back in coffins), vehicles and for sure ammo and weapons for their troops…and why not bringing some more for their friends…

          Russia: they sent dozens fighters (probably conducting more strikes that the international coalition made in years…surprisingly claiming not a single civilian was hurt), T90s, MRLS (very accurate weapons to be fired in urban areas;) ), artillery support, and there’s that annoying point about cluster munitions… don’t forget that many russian soldiers are also taking direct part to hostilities…

          Then, since some hospitals in “rebel” areas were hit we can assume you can pick one between Russia and Syria and for sure you have the responsible…

          US: ATGMs (anti tank GUIDED missile), a precise weapon equipped with a shape charge (a very small explosion, but high penetration)…and…we can guess some light weapons for sure (that you can buy everywhere)…

          • Herman Melville

            So which weapons that you listed were being supplied to radical islamists?

  4. John Zenwirt

    Stalin was already planning his take-over of many nations w/Red Army. He conned Roosevelt into taking positions against Churchill, and @ Potsdam…Only Stalin understood well the planning to end the war, with a Stalin triumph…Eisenhower was a strategic fool.

    • Barry

      You mean Stalin managed to sneak his evil plan past Churchill, a Prime Minister of an Empire versed in conquering and subjugating Nations. LOL

        • Barry

          You are trying to make Stalin out to be worse than Churchill whose minister for war resigned as a matter of conscience because Churchill went on record to defend his proposal to gas uncivilised women and children? Seriously?


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