Schumer’s Troubling Mideast Record

Exclusive: In trying to torpedo the Iran nuclear deal, Sen. Charles Schumer is continuing his longstanding role as a front man for U.S. neocons and Israeli hardliners who favor a Mideast strategy of violent “regime change” over negotiated solutions, as Jonathan Marshall describes.

By Jonathan Marshall

If Congress derails the hard-won “P+5” nuclear deal with Iran, much blame will fall to powerful New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the first Senate Democrat to join the partisan Republican congressional majority in opposing President Obama’s landmark foreign policy achievement.

Schumer’s insistence on maintaining economic sanctions against Iran supports the undisguised neoconservative agenda of regime change in Iran. Critics of Schumer’s position have demonstrated that his arguments against the deal are disingenuous and misleading. So were his arguments for regime change in Iraq, starting with his bogus claim that Saddam Hussein’s “vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons” made him a “terrible danger to the people to the United States.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York.

Less well known is the fact that Schumer began almost a quarter century ago to push dubious arguments for aggressive regime change in the Middle East to serve the interests of Israeli hard-liners. His focus then was on Syria, led by Hafez Assad, the father of today’s president. And the issue, then as now, was framed around economic sanctions.

In 1990, Israeli officials and their American allies confronted a potential crisis: a thaw was developing in U.S.-Syrian relations under President George H. W. Bush. That spring, Damascus won Washington’s gratitude by obtaining the release of two American hostages held in Lebanon. Later, Syria earned major credit as one of three Arab nations to commit troops to the multinational coalition in the first Gulf War. In November 1991, following the coalition victory, Syria attended a U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace forum in Madrid and announced its willingness to negotiate a settlement with Israel.

Washington rewarded Assad by granting him a meeting with President Bush, the first between the two countries’ heads of state in 13 years. Syria continued its diplomatic offensive by releasing thousands of political prisoners and providing exit permits to Syrian Jews wishing to emigrate to Israel.

Israel and its close allies, including Schumer, fought back by trying to implicate Syria in one of the most emotionally loaded issues of the day: drug trafficking. As one American official observed at the time, “It is in the Israelis’ interest to spin the drugs claim in order to keep Syria on the U.S. State Department list of countries involved in drug trafficking.”

As I describe in my book The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic, no one questioned the fact that large amounts of drugs were cultivated in and shipped out of Syrian-occupied lands in Lebanon in the 1980s. At the time, during the height of the Lebanese civil war, Syrian troops occupied a section of Lebanon that included the fertile Beka’a Valley, a region long notorious for growing cannabis and opium poppies. Syria had been invited into Lebanon in 1976 by a Christian-led government to help maintain peace on terms favorable to the country’s Christian population.

The Reagan administration invoked a section of the Foreign Assistance Act to bar aid to Syria on grounds that it failed to cooperate fully with the United States in the war on drugs. But after President George H. W. Bush took office, State Department and Drug Enforcement Administration officials stated that they had no evidence that Syrian forces were running drugs as a matter of state policy, although some individual commanders were corrupt.

Their agnosticism riled Israeli officials and their U.S. allies. In 1990, the American adviser to the Israeli mission at the United Nations, writing in The Washington Post, lamented that “Washington ignores Syrian complicity in the drug trade,” which he claimed was being directed by “the inner circle of Syria’s government.” Later, pro-Israeli sources such as the controversial “terrorism expertSteven Emerson and Michael Widlanski, who would become a “strategic affairs adviser” to the Israeli Ministry of Public Security, launched a major publicity campaign to implicate Syria’s regime in drug trafficking.

The same campaign included an undocumented but searing public indictment of Syria issued in December 1992 at the request of Rep. Charles Schumer by the Democratic staff of the House Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice, which he chaired. The report, which was not endorsed by the full committee, had a partisan as well as an anti-Syria slant, as suggested by its title: “Syria, President Bush, and Drugs: The Administration’s Next Iraqgate.”

Schumer’s political indictment declared that the Bush administration “simply refuses to admit the extent to which drug corruption has been institutionalized in the Syrian military forces now occupying Lebanon.” Without specific evidence, it claimed that the Syrian government and military were collecting upward of a billion dollars a year “from those who seek to peddle their poison in the United States.”

Based on Syria’s “continued support of terrorist groups based in Lebanon,” its “repeated attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction” and “its persistent involvement with known drug traffickers,” the report insisted that “Syria has the capacity to become as great a threat to American interests in the Middle East as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq ever was.”

It added, with a nod to the Bush administration’s invasion of Panama to oust the Noriega regime in late 1989, “The Justice Department must prosecute not only ‘corrupt, crooked and rotten cops’ from Panama, but also the unscrupulous Syrian generals who conspire to put dope on American streets.”

Such inflammatory language foreshadowed Schumer’s rhetoric about Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction” to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The charge of Syrian military complicity had at least some substance, in that some commanders undoubtedly had unclean hands. But more credible authorities than Schumer pointed out that Syria actually had limited control over the portions of Lebanon that it occupied and thus had chosen not to provoke further armed conflict by cracking down on heavily armed drug clans. In much the same way, NATO forces in Afghanistan consciously decided not to eradicate opium fields for fear of driving peasants into the arms of the Taliban.

As President Assad himself told an interviewer in 1993, “our real fear was for our soldiers, who live among the people in Lebanon where drugs have for a very long time been a source of income.” In the Beka’a Valley, he said, Syria had intervened “to solve a political problem and end the civil war,” not to “chase smugglers.” Nonetheless, he maintained, Syria was helping Lebanon to eradicate drugs, though “of course smuggling is something which continues.”

Assad’s efforts bore fruit. The State Department reported in 1996, six years after the end of the civil war, that Lebanon had worked a near miracle against drug production with Syria’s help:

“Lebanon appears to have won the fight against illicit crop cultivation to the joint Lebanese-Syrian eradication efforts since 1992. There appears to be no cultivation of opium poppy and cannabis (for hashish production) has all but disappeared. . . The joint Syrian-Lebanese effort since 1992 to eradicate the cultivation of cannabis and opium in the Beka’a Valley is a significant accomplishment which has been confirmed by a variety of sources.”

Despite tough lobbying by Israel, the Clinton administration removed Syria from the State Department’s list of major drug producers in late 1997. Chuck Schumer’s attempt to destroy bilateral relations with Syria using the drug issue had failed.

However, efforts by Israeli hardliners and U.S. neoconservatives to derail warming relations with Syria succeeded once again after George W. Bush took office. [See’s “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess.”] We are today living with the ghastly human and economic costs of their violent efforts to “remake the map of the Middle East.”

The Iran nuclear deal offers the first clear opportunity in years to shift U.S. policy toward a more constructive and peaceful role in the region. To make that possible, the American people must repudiate the latest round of fear-mongering by Schumer and fellow hawks.

Jonathan Marshall is an independent researcher living in San Anselmo, California. Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran”; “Saudi Cash Wins France’s Favor”; “The Saudis’ Hurt Feelings”; “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Bluster”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.” ]

24 comments for “Schumer’s Troubling Mideast Record

  1. hammersmith
    September 9, 2015 at 13:32

    His shenanigans do help us appreciate the extent to which Congress itself is an occupying power.

  2. BobS
    August 31, 2015 at 23:24

    This story (if true) seems huge:Russian Jets in Syrian Skies. Can anyone comment on the veracity of the article?

    • Zachary Smith
      September 1, 2015 at 01:27

      I can’t say the story is true, but I’ll venture a guess it’s pretty darned likely. I hope the Russians and others can help wipe out ISIS. That group’s destruction of old temples leaves me in a cold rage.

      Other dubious sites like Debka say the Russians are going to provide the Syrians satellite imagery too. Hopefully the Iranians will arrange for more manpower to go to Syria. Live-action training for Shia enlistees from Iraq?

      ISIS needs to be eliminated from the face of the Earth, and their enablers like Turkey shamed and bruised.

  3. Mortimer
    August 31, 2015 at 17:36

    These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America

    Ashley Lutz
    Jun. 14, 2012, 9:49 AM 1,320,094 82
    This infographic created by Jason at Frugal Dad shows that almost all media comes from the same six sources.

    That’s consolidated from 50 companies back in 1983.

    NOTE: This infographic is from last year and is missing some key transactions. GE does not own NBC (or Comcast or any media) anymore. So that 6th company is now Comcast. And Time Warner doesn’t own AOL, so Huffington Post isn’t affiliated with them.

    But the fact that a few companies own everything demonstrates “the illusion of choice,” Frugal Dad says. While some big sites, like Digg and Reddit aren’t owned by any of the corporations, Time Warner owns news sites read by millions of Americans every year.

    Here’s the graphic:

    Read more:

  4. david t. krall
    August 31, 2015 at 17:29

    It seems fairly obvious that, in spite of his being direct public servant of the American People thru his position as an elected United States Senator, his loyalties are really with the policies and agenda of another nation and the criminal neo-con network that is behind the true role of ISIS, wants regime change, not just in Syria but also in Iran and seems to desire a full blown war in the Middle East…just like their pol/eco, “forefathers” and predecessors who stopped at nothing (LITERALLY) to have their war, with the blood of US young man in FULL BLOWN WAR in SE Asia…Men such as this and Dick Cheaney, and others must be taking serious medications in order to both sleep at night and having the capacity of looking in the mirror….

  5. Bob Smith
    August 31, 2015 at 14:45

    Senator Schumer represents Israel first, not America, and certainly not New York, He has dual citizenship with Israel. Why New Yorkers vote for a man who allegiance is to Likud and Bibi Netanyahu is bizarre.

    Senator Schumer supported the war in Iraq, when requested by Bibi and AIPAC to do so.

    • Jeff
      September 1, 2015 at 02:24

      Yes it could be seen as bizarre… As bizarre as Americans who vote for Reagan, the Bush’s, Nixon, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump….

  6. Deschutes
    August 31, 2015 at 13:45

    If you want to take your good mood down a few notches–you’ve come to the right place! Just 10 minutes of reading Consortium News we guarantee will have you feeling anger, cynicism, despair and put you in that foul embittered mood you crave!

    • Zachary Smith
      August 31, 2015 at 13:52

      I’m not sure I understand your point. Ought people go instead to their favorite sports site and cultivate an “ignorance is bliss” attitude?

      • PastorAgnostic
        August 31, 2015 at 19:28

        That suggests that today’s TeaBuggerers should be among the most elated and gleeful people in the whirled. Instead, they are insular, unread, functionally illiterate, willfully ignorant, racist, sexist, and basically unhappy “morans” who complain about their property tax just as their nearby bridge collapses for lack of maintenance funding,

      • Deschutes
        September 1, 2015 at 06:49

        My point is this: news is depressing. This is a fact, regardless of whether you read Consortium News or NY Times. Why? You may thumb your nose at those who cultivate the ‘ignorance is bliss’ attitude. But they’re much happier than the news junkies will ever be. You may know more about world affairs and Mr. Schumer’s travails, but face it: you are nothing but an armchair politico, nothing more. You can read every alternative news website–Intercept, CounterPunch, Consortium,, Alternet and all the rest–but you will only be a passive consumer and never an actor on said issues of the day. That’s why the news is depressing: find out about horrible things which you can only know about but never actually change.

        • JWalters
          September 1, 2015 at 19:43

          Try looking at the longer picture, don’t expect too much too soon. Enjoy progress when it happens. Retreat, but don’t get discouraged.

    • Lowell Googins
      August 31, 2015 at 22:10

      Another possibility is some folks really want truth. Not the bias found in MSM. I am ever thankful for

      • Deschutes
        September 1, 2015 at 06:58

        Oh, god put a sock in it already. I’ve ‘really wanted the truth’ also and have read alternative journalists, books, papers, websites since the 1980s. OK: I now know ‘the truth’. OK: I know the MSM is biased. Regardless of these facts, ALL news is depressing shit to read and will put you in a negative mood. Doesn’t matter if its USA Today or Consortium News, you’re reading about terrorism, war, refugees, Palestine, Guantanamo, Chelsea Manning in jail, Assange rotting in jail…’s all really depressing and its a good idea to not immerse yourself in horrible things which you can’t do anything about. That’s my point which you missed.

        • KHawk
          September 1, 2015 at 14:57

          And yet, here you are.

          You’re welcomed to your alleged avoidance of the depressing news and your “can’t do anything about it attitude,” but you can say nothing about the ability of others to use sites such as this to become informed, see the propaganda of the MSM and our political system for what it is, and be propelled to strive for a better condition. Sometimes all it takes is to be able to form a cogent counter argument to the pervasive talking points and group-think that surrounds us everyday by insouciant people who don’t take the time to look behind the curtain of the easy news. Influence is the key to success. The enormous information machine and the few elite powers that control it already know this. Spreading information, such as can be gathered from independent media sources such as this, can also be influential and can lead to change. It doesn’t require that each of us be the leader of a movement.

          But change can never be successful if people don’t understand what needs to be changed in the first place.

  7. BobS
    August 31, 2015 at 13:07

    Schumer is pretty candid about whose interests he primarily serves:scroll to the 49 minute mark in the video

  8. Christopher C. Currie
    August 31, 2015 at 13:04

    By doing this, Chuck Schumer has seriously damaged his chances for ever getting re-elected to Congress. He cannot hide from this screw-up.

    • Zachary Smith
      August 31, 2015 at 13:49

      After looking at his victory margins in the previous two elections, I suspect Schumer has nothing to worry about.

      About the only thing the rest of us can do is hope he’s not rewarded with leadership roles in the next Senate session.

      • Peter Loeb
        September 1, 2015 at 06:50


        Take a look at the video of the small Palestinian boy being attacked by
        our good “ally” (Israel) and say with a straight face who is in need
        of our us- supported”security” .

        Gee but it’s fun for occupying forces to chase young boys and
        fully armed get them in holds! Shame not only on Israel but on
        Zionism and the support we continue to give them thanks to the leadership (???)
        of people like Senator Schumer of New York.

        As always, thanking Robert Parry for his analysis and Zachary Smith for
        his cogent and succinct replies.

        Take a look at the Leahy Law (available at Wikepedia).

        —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

        —–Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  9. patrick
    August 31, 2015 at 12:53

    I believe the Iran “nuclear” deal is really about an agreement by Iran subscribe to the “petro dollar system” …

  10. Clark
    August 31, 2015 at 12:30

    This man was at the head of the line defending FEMA, when they murdered the Branch Davidians. He took exclusive joy in the lies promulgated by FBI plants in using and killing these innocent people in Waco, Texas.
    The man owes. Maybe his payday will arrive, because he’s received a lot from the Neocons and intelligence agencies in pay for his acquiescence in defaming and murder of the innocent no matter where in the world.

    • dahoit
      August 31, 2015 at 12:41

      Yes,this schmuck is the poster boy for the banality of evil.Re BD,a cultist(Zion) calling others cultists.
      And Bernie says he’ll keep droning.Another cultist.
      God,help US from the evil cult of Zion.
      Their ultranationalism has destroyed American nationalism,and every one of these cultists hate any revelations of the truth.

    • Mortimer
      August 31, 2015 at 19:07

      Schumer’s Troubling Mideast Record
      August 31, 2015


      He’s the now *glistening democrat* version of John McCain, right..? Am i wrong, but, did he not vote Against destroying Iraq? (-I’m speaking off the top of my head-)

      To keep the Senatorial seat for Dems, he MUST KEEP THE JEWISH VOTE!
      Right now, that’s all that matters.

      The pharisees (ultra-right) are gobbling up political (Money) power.
      ‘that;s what happening’

      will the man of peace

      be sabotaged (thwarted) again
      through political subterfuge
      and backroom compromise
      agreeing to take from the poor
      in order to solidify repression
      in facilities where co-ordination
      of Authorities
      always favor Controllers
      of sovereignty
      and jurisdiction (Courts).

      Right Court Authority
      the kangaroo ascot
      rigged jury bias
      constantly the
      presiding factor
      (and most likely)
      Verdict for the
      Vendor against
      the Buyer of
      defective goods
      how to get away with
      under cloak of UCC
      under cloak of CIA
      under cloak of NSA
      under cloak of
      “liberty and justice
      for all.”

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