The Khaddam Factor: How the US used Saudi influence to derail Syria

Foreign Minister Abdul Halim Khaddam with Lebanese Prime Minister Takiddine al-Sulh in 1975(2).png

In a diplomatic cable sent in December 2006, US diplomat William V. Roebuck identified the exiled former Syrian vice-president Abdul Halim Khaddam as a potential ‘vulnerability’ for the Assad government and recommended using their influence in Saudi Arabia to feature him in Saudi state television.

Roebuck outlined how Khaddam was somewhat an achilles’ heel for Assad:

— Vulnerability: —


Khaddam knows where the regime skeletons are hidden, which provokes enormous irritation from Bashar, vastly disproportionate to any support Khaddam has within Syria. Bashar Asad personally, and his regime in general, follow every news item involving Khaddam with tremendous emotional interest. The regime reacts with self-defeating anger whenever another Arab country hosts Khaddam or allows him to make a public statement through any of its media outlets.

Roebuck subsequently summarized that he believed giving Khaddam airtime on Saudi state television would result in destabilizing the Syrian government:

— Possible Action:

DAMASCUS 00005399 003 OF 004

— We should continue to encourage the Saudis and others to allow Khaddam access to their media outlets, providing him with venues for airing the SARG’s dirty laundry. We should anticipate an overreaction by the regime that will add to its isolation and alienation from its Arab neighbors.

Eight months after this cable was sent the US achieved their aim of driving a wedge between Syria and Saudi Arabia and effectively ‘isolated’ Syria. Khaddam appeared on Saudi state television yet again, having previously claimed that the Syrian government ‘cannot be reformed so there is nothing left but to oust it’.

The Syrian government took the bait and acted in a way that would ‘add to its isolation’, and indeed this action was cited as evidence that the Syrian administration was a rogue government, unable or unwilling to conform to international norms and was therefore a threat to US allies in the region. However, we know from this cable that this was not an unfortunate development that required action, but instead an explicit goal of US policy.

The cable does not make any reference to humanitarian concerns nor even moots the possible consequences of ousting Assad from power. As of December 2016 the Syrian Civil War has claimed up to 470,000 lives and displaced close to 8 million people, perpetrated by rebels funded by the West and an opposing Assad/Putin coalition.

This email brings to light US attempts to exploit petty personal squabbles in order to achieve political and economic goals in the region. The US has a long history of provoking sectarian conflicts within enemy lines, but it is rare to see interpersonal conspiracies between ruling elites so brazenly exhibited in a diplomatic cable.

Wikileaks Decrypted | Syrian Diplomatic Cables