Two lingering headaches in America's foreign policy took on new dimensions this week as North Korea fired a missile over Japan and launched a satellite and the U.S. formally recognized the Syrian opposition in its battle against President Bashar al-Assad.
Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely was deputy commanding general for the Pacific and also returned from consultations with military officials from the Syrian opposition. He told WND Assad's days are numbered.
"Assad will fall. The information I got from the Syrian generals is that he'll either be evacuated with his family to Russia or probably most likely to Iran," said Vallely, who estimates Assad will be gone within 30-60 days.
He said the rebels are successfully attacking airfields and have essentially shut down the main airport in Damascus, although Iranian planes are still getting in to provide much needed supplies to the beleaguered regime.
One of the complicated aspects for the U.S. in this war is the odd combination of partners in the Syrian opposition, which ranges from those truly seeking a freer, more stable society to verified elements of al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical groups. Vallely confirmed those Islamist elements are part of the mix, but he's confident the good parts of the coalition are in position to assume control when Assad falls. In his meetings with some 75 opposition leaders, Vallely said he came away feeling good about what will replace Assad.
"Nine of those were Syrian generals, high-level generals that worked for Assad who defected and now control the Free Syrian Army, which controls about 65 percent of the opposition forces," Vallely said. "So you've got a number of groups over there – Islamists, radicals – but you also have members of the Free Syrian Army who are looking for freedom and looking for a future Syria."
Vallely said he was very impressed with the people he met, and those people are representative of the vast majority of of the Syrian opposition.
"I felt very comfortable with the commanders that I met with," he said. "They're not Islamist or radicals. They detest Hezbollah. They detest al-Qaida."
Nonetheless, Gen. Vallely said the radical minority elements of the opposition will try to assert themselves when Assad falls, and it is imperative that they fail. He said this has gotten more complicated in just the past few days as money is now pouring in to support an effort by radicals to take control.
"I got word yesterday that one of the reasons Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood is because if they can take over like they've tyaken over in Egypt, they can control a whole new pipeline across Syria into the Mediterranean near the port of Tartus and Latakia," he said. "That has not been exposed yet. The first time I've exposed that is on your show today, so that's new information."
Vallely said the opposition is worried that Assad may deploy chemical and biological weapons as his grip on power continues to slip. He said Assad is already bombing hospitals and other population centers. Approximately 40,000 people have died, and another 200,000 have fled the country.
On North Korea, Vallely said we're seeing the same story play out that we saw in the Clinton and Bush administrations. He said while the Western nations try to negotiate with a communist regime willing to starve its own people, the North Koreans are establishing themselves as more serious players on the international stage – all with the full blessing of China.
"They're a proxy of China. Everything that they do China knows about and basically supports them in what they're doing," Vallely explained. "So they like to sound the bugles and beat the drums every once in awhile so everyone in the world knows they're alive over there."
Vallely said the successful launch will also tighten the North Korean relationships with Russia, Iran and the current Syrian government. He said what's also clear is that U.S. is not willing to do much of anything about an increasingly dangerous and competent regime.
"We're pretty much a paper tiger when it comes to threats like North Korea," he said. "So it's trying to influence the international community, that they can stand up and be a missile power and develop nuclear weapons. At the same time, the West is very weak when it comes to standing up to a lot of threats today, including our government. Just coming back from over in the Middle East, you know we just have no credibility anymore."