BEIRUT, Lebanon – Retired U.S. Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely – an outspoken critic of the Obama administration over several issues, especially what he calls “purges” of high-ranking U.S. military officers – says that when it comes to foreign policy, Russian President Vladimir Putin is the professional and Barack Obama is the amateur.
It’s “no contest,” he said.
The focal point of Vallely’s criticism is the U.S. administration’s failure to aid the Egyptian military during a time of turmoil. The omission led Moscow to fill the void to secure some $2 billion in military business and rejuvenate its influence in the Middle East.
In an exclusive interview with WND, Vallely, who heads the group Stand Up America, said that Egyptian Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces who heads the interim Egyptian government, got upset with the State Department and, particularly, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Jane Patterson.
He said that el-Sisi, who removed from office the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi earlier this year, was unhappy that Obama and Patterson backed Morsi even though some 33 million Egyptians demonstrated against him.
As a consequence, Vallely said, the Russians decided to reengage in the Middle East, using Egypt as a basis.
“Russia and Egypt will work quickly to fully enact the military pact,” Vallely said. “Russian decision-makers admit that they are making a conscious choice to reengage in the Middle East following years of a more passive policy.
“Even before the ‘Arab Spring,’” he said, “Russia did not hide its interests in these regions and began strengthening with these countries military-technical, economic, and trade cooperation.”
He cited Russia’s work with Syria, Egypt, Libya and Jordan.
Vallely, who has close personal ties with el-Sisi, said “confidential sources” had told him that Morsi also had put a “hit” on el-Sisi and “that was motivation enough to arrest Morsi and dispose of the MB (Muslim Brotherhood) as a ruling party.”
Morsi remains under arrest by Egyptian military authorities, awaiting trial. His forced removal also has recast the Brotherhood as an outlawed party within Egypt despite years of effort to establish legitimacy, culminating in Morsi’s election.
It was after he took office that Morsi began to further consolidate power under the Brotherhood and sought to bring the country under a stricter form of Islamic law, or Shariah.
Morsi also was faced with daunting economic problems, attempting to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund and the United States. The U.S. had agreed to send – but then suspended – some $1.6 billion in assistance to Egypt, of which $1.3 billion was to go to the military.
The money became the prime means by which the U.S. sought to influence Egyptian behavior.
But when the money didn’t come and Morsi was overthrown, the Saudis and other Gulf Arab countries immediately offered some $12 billion in loans to the Egyptian military. The Gulf Arab countries oppose the Brotherhood because it wants caliphates in place of the monarchies now in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
At the same time, the Russians saw a major opportunity to make their play in Egypt, with considerable support from el-Sisi.
“Russia’s pivot to Egypt was expected by several experts, especially (me), some of whom said that America’s withdrawal from the region has created a power vacuum,” Vallely said.
“Russia has been waiting for the right time to reassert itself in the Middle East using many different options,” Vallely said. “Putin wants to position Russia as a counterweight to the West and the U.S. in the region. This is a perfect opportunity (and) it fits with this plan.”
While the retired U.S. general sees any substantive dialogue between the Egyptian military leadership and the U.S. Embassy cut off for now, he said el-Sisi sees him as a potential conduit to the U.S. government.
“Yes, I have credibility with him and his ministry staff,” Vallely said.
‘True’ Syrian army
Vallely told WND the lack of Obama administration backing for the “true Syrian Army hijacked to some degree the revolution” against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
For almost three years, Syria has been embroiled in a civil war, initially against Syrian opposition forces. But over time the military campaign has been taken over by foreign Islamic militant fighters financed and armed mainly by Sunni Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
Asked if the Russians, who back Syria and Iran, would try to mediate conflicting interests in the Middle East between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Vallely said he thought Putin would try. He conceded, however, that Putin and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud, the prime financial and logistical backer of the Islamic militant foreign fighters in Syria, have major differences on Syria.
He said, however, that Putin was “smart enough” not to play any role in upsetting the Saudis “because of the Egyptian card.”
Vallely, who backs Col. Riad al-Asaad of the “true” Free Syrian Army, was told by “confidential sources” that Obama and the White House had directed the CIA to “stand down” on any involvement in the Syrian conflict “in particular, to support Col. Riad and the true Syrian Army.”
“My team, the Syrian Opposition Liaison Group under Col. (Nagi N.) Najjar met with the CIA in Istanbul several months ago and were briefed on what the FSA needed,” Vallely said.
“CIA promised to get back to us but never did because of the direction of the White House,” he said. “I could have turned the Syrian situation 18 months ago with $10 million in support for the FSA, but the U.S. would not help after we had vetted the good guys in Syria. My trip into Aleppo with my team three months ago further validated this.”
Najjar serves as the liaison officer for the U.S. and the United Kingdom for Riad al-Asaad. He also is the senior adviser on the Middle East to Vallely’s Stand Up America.
In a recent interview with the Clarion Project, Najjar said that the FSA was a unified coalition of many groups in the first year of the Syrian civil war.
“Many victories were achieved on the ground by various rebel formations until some regional powers, in cooperation with Washington started to control the spheres of influence,” said Najjar, a Lebanese-Christian. “This process showed down the rebellion from progressing militarily against [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad].
“The U.S., tired from the war in Iraq, gave the responsibility of managing the conflict to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which in turn advanced their Islamist designs,” Najjar said. “Qatar, the sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood, marginalized the FSA, creating its own religious proxies. Even worse, Qatar established what the FSA called a ‘coup’ in Antalya, Turkey, on December 15, 2012, declaring the Supreme Military Command and electing Gen. Selim Idriss as Chief of Staff.”
Vallely pointed out that Riad al-Asaad was the original founder of the FSA along with a kitchen cabinet of eight generals who defected.
“Riad still commands the largest rebel forces (of) some 70,000,” Vallely said. “Riad facilitated and supported my team into Syria and Aleppo. Idriis is the one who commanded nothing other than funneling money from Qatar. Riad and his command never accepted the command of Idriss and the Syrian National Council that was formed way after Riad organized the true FSA.”
As WND reported, Idriss was driven from his Syrian compound last week after elements of the newly formed, Saudi-backed Islamic Front, forcibly took it over. The Islamic Front now has weapons that were stored at the compound, prompting the State Department to suspend further assistance to the opposition.
Vallely said the answer in Syria now is to “revive support for the true Syrian Army, with direct contact with Col. Riad by providing humanitarian aid and shutting down the Syrian Air Force,” which continues to bomb opposition strongholds.
“My group can liaison and make this happen if the USG (United States Government) would use us,” Vallely asserted.
However, the retired general doesn’t see much hope in the Obama administration’s strategy toward Syria or the Middle East.
“The U.S. has no credibility or respect in the [Middle East] from any country,” Vallely said. “Under Obama, the U.S. will continue to be a non-player. Putin is a professional versus the amateur Obama. No contest.”
WND has reported in recent weeks on the removal of hundreds of top-tier military officers by the Obama administration, a toll estimated at one officer per week.
In what Vallely calls a “purge,” a stunning nine generals and flag officers have been removed this year alone.
Vallely has assigned a good portion of the blame to Obama’s close adviser, Valerie Jarrett. Rampant “political correctness” due to her influence, Vallely tells WND, is now permeating the military and negatively affecting everyone from top generals to the enlisted.
According to Vallely, Obama is “intentionally weakening and gutting our military, Pentagon and reducing the U.S. as a superpower, and anyone in the ranks who disagrees or speaks out is being purged.”
He’s far from alone in his concerns about the dismissals. J.D. Gordon, a retired Navy commander and a former Pentagon spokesman in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, says the Obama administration is rushing to unload senior officers whom he believes have become “political pawns,” dismissed for questionable reasons.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady, a recipient of the U.S. military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, similarly has told WND that Obama needs to apply the same standards to his political appointees as he does to the military.
“Just when you thought the leadership of this government could not get any worse, it does,” Brady said. “Never in history has an administration spawned another scandal to cover the current one.”
He was referring to the recent firing of a number of generals to mask “Obama’s serial scandals, all prefaced by lies – Fast and Furious, Benghazi, NSA, IRS,” among others, said Brady, former president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a founding member of Delta Force and later deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence under President George W. Bush, told WND it is worrying that four-star generals are being retired at the rate that has occurred under Obama.
“Over the past three years, it is unprecedented for the number of four-star generals to be relieved of duty, and not necessarily relieved for cause,” Boykin said. “I believe there is a purging of the military. The problem is worse than we have ever seen.”