Obama reportedly rejected CIA plans to oust Assad
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Obama reportedly rejected CIA plans to oust Assad

New memoir by intelligence operative says US president went against advice of top administration officals; agency rejects claims as unfounded musings of a failed agent

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

US President Barack Obama meets with senior advisers in the Oval Office to discuss a new plan for the situation in Syria, August 30, 2013. (Pete Souza/Official White House Photo)
US President Barack Obama meets with senior advisers in the Oval Office to discuss a new plan for the situation in Syria, August 30, 2013. (Pete Souza/Official White House Photo)

US President Barack Obama has reportedly rejected dozens of CIA plans to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad since 2011, despite backing by top officials in his administration.

The intelligence agency proposed up to 50 different operative scenarios for taking out the Syrian dictator but as commander in chief, Obama turned down each one, according to a new memoir by a CIA operative, as reported by the UK daily The Telegraph.

Douglous Laux’s “Left of Boom: How a young CIA case officer penetrated the Taliban and Al Qaeda,” published Tuesday, details his experience as an operative for the agency in Syria and Iraq and the extensive groundwork he did to prepare for the CIA plans for Assad’s ouster.

Laux says he was involved in preparing for a coup aimed at removing Assad from power. According to the book, the plans were backed by then-CIA director David Petraeus, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton and then-defense secretary Leon Panetta.

Former CIA operative Douglas Luux during an interview with NBC news, 4 April, 2016. (Screenshot)
Former CIA operative Douglas Laux during an interview with NBC news, 4 April, 2016. (Screenshot)

The White House “had made it clear from the beginning that the goal of our task force was to find ways to remove President Assad from office,” he said in an interview with NBC.

“We had come up with 50 good options,” Luxor said. “My ops plan laid them out in black and white. But political leadership… hadn’t given us the go-ahead to implement a single one.”

There have been previous reports of Obama putting the kibosh on US efforts to engineer regime change after war broke out in Syria.

According to a December 2014 report in the Wall Street Journal, as the Assad regime began a violent crackdown on protests in the county in 2011, US intelligence officials attempted to identify Syrian officers who would potentially lead regime change from within, on orders from above.

File: Syrian President Bashar Assad listening to a question during an interview with AFP in the capital Damascus, February 11, 2016. (AFP/JOSEPH EID)
File: Syrian President Bashar Assad listening to a question during an interview with AFP in the capital Damascus, February 11, 2016. (AFP/JOSEPH EID)

“The White House’s policy in 2011 was to get to the point of a transition in Syria by finding cracks in the regime and offering incentives for people to abandon Assad,” a former senior administration official told the Wall Street Journal.

Since August that year, when Obama first publicly called for Assad to step down, the administration has continued to seek regime change, though statements on Assad’s immediate ouster have seemingly faded.

After efforts to foment a coup failed, the administration is said to have changed its strategy, focusing efforts on supporting rebel forces as well as encouraging international pressure on Assad.

Left of Boom (Courtesy)
Left of Boom (Courtesy)

The CIA dismissed Laux’s revelations as the unfounded musings of a failed operative seeking fame and book sales.

“Sadly, Mr. Laux’s career at the CIA did not work out,” it said in a statement. “We hope that someday, maybe with age and greater maturity, he will have better perspective on his time here.”

Last week the Obama administration maintained that President Bashar Assad shouldn’t lead Syria any longer, rejecting a Russian claim that the US has changed its position.

Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov saying Washington now accepts Moscow’s argument that Assad’s future shouldn’t be open for negotiation right now.

In this Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015 photo, plane directors, wearing yellow jerseys, oversee the takeoff of a US Marine fighter jet aircraft aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, which currently serves as a base for air strikes against Islamic State in Syria. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)
In this Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015 photo, plane directors, wearing yellow jerseys, oversee the takeoff of a US Marine fighter jet aircraft aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, which currently serves as a base for air strikes against Islamic State in Syria. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)

State Department spokesman John Kirby responded that “any suggestion that we have changed in any way our view of Assad’s future is false. Assad has lost his legitimacy to govern. We haven’t changed our view on that.”

The US softened demands last year for Assad’s immediate departure, but still insists he should resign at some point in a political transition process.

At least 250,000 people — and perhaps as many as a half million — have been killed in the five-year civil war. The fighting also has spawned Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and has led to the emergence of the Islamic State group.

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