CIA Director Brennan says in Aspen that Putin is part of problem in Syria
The brutal bloodbath in Syria likely won’t stop until Vladimir Putin ends Russia’s misguided policy of propping up Bashar al-Assad, CIA Director John Brennan said in a presentation Friday at the Aspen Security Forum.
Brennan, in his first appearance in Aspen, had harsh words for the Russian president and his country’s role in prolonging the fight in Syria and allowing people to continue dying.
“I believe there’s going to be no end game even in sight as long as Bashar al-Assad stays in Damascus because he is the reason why so many Syrians are fighting,” Brennan said.
“There needs to be some sense that Al-Assad is on his way out,” he later added. “It needs to be clear he’s not part of Syria’s future.”
He noted that Syria was a country where Muslims, Christians and Jews once lived side by side. Now there’s been “so much blood spilled” that it seems impossible the country will ever return to the past.
Putin was so determined to stabilize Syria and stop the spread of terrorism toward Russia that he moved in with brutal force and backed al-Assad when he was on his heels, Brennan said. But he criticized Putin for acting without a long-term strategy and hoping that all chips fall into place.
Syria’s problems aren’t going to be resolved on the battlefield. A political solution needs to be negotiated as well, he said, and he wishes Russia would follow the United States’ path.
“I think the Russians need to come to terms that Assad has to go. We don’t want him to go overnight,” Brennan said, saying that would create too great of a vacuum too soon.
Brennan, a career CIA man who was appointed director in March 2013, said Syria is the most complex issue he’s encountered.
“I see Putin playing checkers here when it’s really a five-dimensional chess game,” Brennan said.
A big part of that chess game is addressing the presence of ISIL, which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the name that Brennan regularly used rather than ISIS, referring to the Middle Eastern terrorist group.
Moderator Dina Temple-Raston, a correspondent for NPR, asked Brennan if he sees ISIL competing with the terrorist organization al-Qaida.
Brennan responded that ISIL is more of a “global menace” then al-Qaida has ever been. ISIL members grew up in the digital age and have created a social-media presence that is difficult to attack.
“The world can be their playground,” he said.
Al-Qaida requires prospective members to apply, then it vets them and, if they pass, they join a secret society, he said. Whereas al-Qaida tends to spend more time planning large attacks, ISIL compresses the time required to hatch an idea and get a person in position to act. They prefer an “operational cadence” of actions to strike fear into the world, he said.
Brennan contended that ISIL leadership itself doesn’t know for sure if attacks carried out in the U.S. and other countries are really members of the terrorist group.
“They will take credit for a lot of things. This is part of their brand,” he said.
He said the two terrorist groups might be shooting at a common enemy in Syria and they are cooperating in Yemen, but he doesn’t see the groups merging. That means prolonged action against twin threats. He said he doubts Syria can be stabilized, rebuilt and restored to peace during his lifetime.