The destruction of Syria is now in full flow. What began as a popular uprising 17 months ago is now an all-out civil war fuelled by regional and global powers that threatens to engulf the entire Middle East. As the battle for the ancient city of Aleppo grinds on and atrocities on both sides multiply, the danger of the conflict spilling over Syria’s borders is growing.
The defection by Syria’s prime minister is the most high-profile coup yet in a well-funded programme, though unlikely to signal any imminent regime collapse. But the capture of 48 Iranian pilgrims – or undercover Revolutionary Guards, depending who you believe – along with the increasing risk of a Turkish attack on Kurdish areas in Syria and an influx of jihadist fighters gives a taste of what is now at stake.
Driving the escalation of the conflict has been western and regional intervention. This isn’t Iraq, of course, with hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground, or Libya, with a devastating bombardment from the air. But the sharp increase in arms supplies, funding and technical support from the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others in recent months has dramatically boosted the rebels’ fortunes, as well as the death toll.
Barack Obama has so far resisted the demands of liberal hawks and neoconservatives for a direct military assault. Instead he’s authorised more traditional forms of CIA covert military backing, Nicaragua-style, for the Syrian rebels.
The US, which backed its first Syrian coup in 1949, has long funded opposition groups. But earlier this year Obama gave a secret order authorising covert (as well as overt financial and diplomatic) support to the armed opposition. That includes CIA paramilitaries on the ground, “command and control” and communications assistance, and the funnelling of Gulf arms supplies to favoured Syrian groups across the Turkish border. After Russia and China blocked its last attempt to win UN backing for forced regime change last month, the US administration let it be known it would now step up support for the rebels and co-ordinate “transition” plans for Syria with Israel and Turkey.
“You’ll notice in the last couple of months, the opposition has been strengthened,” a senior US official told the New York Times last Friday. “Now we’re ready to accelerate that.” Not to be outdone, William Hague boasted that Britain was also increasing “non-lethal” support for the rebels. Autocratic Saudi Arabia and Qatar are providing the cash and weapons, as the western-backed Syrian National Council acknowledged this week, while Nato member Turkey has set up a logistics and training base for the Free Syrian Army in or near the Incirlik US air base.
For Syrians who want dignity and democracy in a free country, the rapidly mushrooming dependence of their uprising on foreign support is a disaster – even more than was the case in Libya. After all, it is now officials of the dictatorial and sectarian Saudi regime who choose which armed groups get funding, not Syrians. And it is intelligence officials from the US, which sponsors the Israeli occupation of Syrian territory and dictatorships across the region, who decide which rebel units get weapons.
Opposition activists insist they will maintain their autonomy, based on deep-rooted popular support. But the dynamic of external backing clearly risks turning groups dependent on it into instruments of their sponsors, rather than the people they seek to represent. Gulf funding has already sharpened religious sectarianism in the rebel camp, while reports of public alienation from rebel fighters in Aleppo this week testifies to the dangers of armed groups relying on outsiders instead of their own communities.
The Syrian regime is of course backed by Iran and Russia, as it has been for decades. But a better analogy for western and Gulf involvement in the Syrian insurrection would be Iranian and Russian sponsorship of an armed revolt in, say, Saudi Arabia. For the western media, which has largely reported the Syrian uprising as a one-dimensional fight for freedom, the now unavoidable evidence of rebel torture and prisoner executions – along with kidnappings by al-Qaida-style groups, who once again find themselves in alliance with the US – seems to have come as a bit of a shock.
In reality, the Syrian crisis always had multiple dimensions that crossed the region’s most sensitive fault lines. It was from the start a genuine uprising against an authoritarian regime. But it has also increasingly morphed into a sectarian conflict, in which the Alawite-dominated Assad government has been able to portray itself as the protector of minorities – Alawite, Christian and Kurdish – against a Sunni-dominated opposition tide.
The intervention of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf autocracies, which have tried to protect themselves from the wider Arab upheaval by playing the anti-Shia card, is transparently aimed at a sectarian, not a democratic, outcome. But it is the third dimension – Syria’s alliance with Tehran and Lebanon’s Shia resistance movement, Hezbollah – that has turned the Syrian struggle into a proxy war against Iran and a global conflict.
Many in the Syrian opposition would counter that they had no choice but to accept foreign support if they were to defend themselves against the regime’s brutality. But as the independent opposition leader Haytham Manna argues, the militarisation of the uprising weakened its popular and democratic base – while also dramatically increasing the death toll.
There is every chance the war could now spread outside Syria. Turkey, with a large Alawite population of its own as well as a long repressed Kurdish minority, claimed the right to intervene against Kurdish rebels in Syria after Damascus pulled its troops out of Kurdish towns. Clashes triggered by the Syrian war have intensified in Lebanon. If Syria were to fragment, the entire system of post-Ottoman Middle East states and borders could be thrown into question with it.
That could now happen regardless of how long Assad and his regime survive. But intervention in Syria is prolonging the conflict, rather than delivering a knockout blow. Only pressure for a negotiated settlement, which the west and its friends have so strenuously blocked, can now give Syrians the chance to determine their own future – and halt the country’s descent into darkness.
By Abdel-Halim Qandil
Calling for a foreign intervention serves the Assad regime, betrays the revolutionary cause, and threatens Syria with disintegration. What is required is not to destroy Syria, but to destroy the regime and let Syria rise from the ashes, according to the wish of her people, who long for a democratic Arabic homeland.
Is the crisis in Syria heading down the path of the Libyan scenario? And to what extent are the regime’s stubbornness and bloodiness preparing to open the door to a foreign armed intervention, which would transform the Syrian revolution into a tragedy that would threaten the very survival of the Syrian state?
The danger is present, though not very likely, as Syria lacks petrol – the booty that attracted Western greed as in the case of Libya, and Iraq before.
America and its satellites act in a very pragmatic way. They are not concerned about tens of thousands of people injured or martyred. They may even prefer the situation as it is: the Arab Syrian army worn out in a bloody war against the people. And the Syrian regime challenged and undermined, but not overthrown, because the West does not know exactly where Syria would be going after Bashar. They don’t trust Burhan Ghalioun’s pledges of peace with Israel, which explains why Washington and other Western regimes hesitate to officially recognise Ghalioun’s opposition Syrian National Council.
That Council on one hand includes the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the main sectors of the opposition, but on the other hand most of its other members have dubious identities and backgrounds, are close to intelligence circles – including the Syrian secret services – or simply opportunists, seekers of illegitimate fortunes as money is flowing in from the Gulf states. There are a few others who stand for the Damascus Declaration and are not tempted to collaborate with Washington. And then there is a constant appearance and disappearance of Syrian groups who claim to represent the revolution and sell Syrian blood like a merchant who sells wares who are not his own, but eagerly accepts cash advances.
These are the people who keep begging for a foreign military intervention, for establishing and securing no-fly zones, pretending to protect civilians and to stop the bloodshed, though in fact any foreign military intervention means more bloodshed and the destruction of Syria, of the land and the people, and a transformation of the revolution into an open civil war. Syria might – God forbid – disintegrate. A foreign intervention is not a remedy to a disease, but jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
Attaining national sovereignty and liberation from personality cults are essential goals of any great national revolution, including the Syrian revolution which is still on-going and seems trapped in marginal regions without access to the heart of Syria – Damascus and Aleppo – where half of the population lives and where the regime has barricaded itself with its savage apparatus.
Just a few weeks ago, the Coordination Committee and Ghalioun’s National Council issued a joint statement. The Coordination Committee includes the basic opposition groups active within Syria, and almost every influential group is a member, except the Muslim Brotherhood. The Coordination Committee and the National Council agreed to reject a foreign intervention in any form or disguise. They agreed not to consider an intervention of other Arab forces a foreign intervention, but an Arab intervention does not seem feasible. The Arab observers’ mission is stumbling and the bloodshed in Syria continues. The ruling family, the clan of the dictator does not seem ready for any compromise, which has created the psychological atmosphere for demands for a foreign intervention, and has prepared the ground for the ultimate sin, not just to destroy Bashar’s regime but to destroy Syria herself.
The first to benefit from the demand for a foreign intervention is Bashar’s regime itself. An intervention harms the cause of the revolution and stains the reputation of its supporters.
* Demanding an intervention facilitates the regime’s agenda of accusing them of treason and being agents of foreign powers.
* Demanding an intervention helps the regime to paint a fraudulent image of the events in Syria, and casts dark shadows on the overwhelming popular desire to end an oppressive regime that has been robbing its own people.
* Demanding an intervention helps the regime to portray the revolution as if it were a colonial conspiracy against the very patriotic regime.
* Demanding an intervention pleases the regime and helps it to rally supporters who originally hesitated to join the revolutionary marsh.
The regime is also aware how difficult it is for the Americans to decide on military intervention. At the same time the US have maintained communication links with the regime, and remain content with fiery statements against Bashar in public, without the will to cross another Middle Eastern mine field teeming with hatred against the Americans, the guardians of Israel.
The United States hesitate to completely antagonise Russia, who considers Syria her most reliable ally in the region, for whom she used the veto in the Security Council. Russia is trying to stop Syria’s deterioration, and offers her efforts to build bridges between the regime and the opposition inside and outside Syria.
All in all so far, the crisis is escalating in Syria, and the bloodshed doesn’t cease one single day. The cause of the revolution is in dilemma, and it is not going to progress one single step by calling for a foreign intervention; on the contrary, exactly the opposite may take place. Demanding a foreign intervention is a sure path to disorientation and total betrayal to the revolutionary cause. The solution is in Syria herself. The solution is in true loyalty to the blood of the scores of thousands of the revolution’s martyrs and injured. The solution is in carrying the spark of the revolution from the uprising at the margins into the heart of Syria. With persistence and heroism of Dar‛a, Idlib, Homs, Hama and Abu-Kamal, where the revolutionary unrest began, to spread it to the suburbs of Aleppo and to the countryside around Damascus. The conscience among the troops is increasingly splitting the army, and is playing a role that is more influential than we might think. The apparent coherence of the regime and the apparent absence of major splits in its closed structure are not going to last much longer. The oppressive security apparatus of the regime is continually exhausted in the fields of blood. Each massacre the regime commits adds to the hostility it faces, to further cracks in the walls of fear and to a stronger inclination towards internal splits – provided the confusion by calls for foreign intervention can be avoided. Such calls help the regime to mobilize its military and security apparatus, suggest to its agents that they are waging a patriotic battle, and cover up the truth of the oppressive war.
In short: calling for a foreign intervention serves the regime, betrays the revolutionary cause, and threatens Syria with disintegration. What is required is not – God forbid – to destroy Syria, but to destroy the regime and let Syria rise from the ashes, according to the wish of her people, who long for a democratic Arabic homeland.
Translation: Qais Abdalla, Vienna, Austria
* Abdel-Halim Kandil (Abdulhaleem Qandil) is a senior Egyptian journalist and political leader of the opposition. As editor in chief of the Nasserist newspaper Al Arabi he was one of the most prominent critics of Mubarak’s regime. In 2004 he was kidnapped by goons, beaten up and left naked in the desert outskirts of Cairo. His brave reaction sparked of the Kifaya (“Enough”) opposition movement from 2005 onwards of which he was a leading figure. After the fall of Mubarak he is again editor of a leftist nationalist news outlet and target of the SCAF’s censorship.
Continuing bloodshed in Syria, violent protests in Egypt, and a ramping up of tensions between Israel and Iran.
It would be hard to think of a more dangerous period in this the most contentious region on the planet, which given its location at the epicentre of the ongoing struggle over control of the planet’s natural resources reveals the extent to which the so-called Arab Spring has laid bare the region’s deep and many contradictions.
The failure of the military hierarchy in Egypt to palliate the country’s desire for qualitative reform, by cobbling together a democratic process that leaves the military in place as the power of last resort, is expressed in the backlash that has met the deaths of 74 people at a football match in Port Said, when visiting fans of Cairo side al-Ahly were attacked by supporters of the home team al-Masry during a pitch invasion.
A welter of reports have emerged in the aftermath that the violence in Port Said was premeditated and orchestrated by the military itself, revenge for the role the ultras of al-Ahly played in the street battles in Cairo that helped topple the western-backed and pro-Israel Mubarak dictatorship in 2011. Even if these reports are exaggerated, the current backlash is evidence that the military leadership’s continued control over Egypt’s political and economic trajectory will not go unchallenged even after the country’s recent elections. Here the West’s commitment to democracy in the region is caught between its fear of the Muslim Brotherhood, who won a significant majority at the polls, and the very real possibility of the military governing council being swept aside in a renewed revolutionary upsurge that would end decades of subservience to western interests.
Meanwhile in Syria events appear to have reached the point of no return with the Syrian military’s shelling of the city of Homs in the west of the country, whose population currently finds itself on the receiving end of the regime’s inability to quell a growing and armed insurrection. However, the weasel words of concern in the West over the violence should cut no ice with those interested in ending the crisis and arriving at a peaceful resolution.
NATO’s military intervention in Libya, which has left the country destabilised and mired in chaos, would undoubtedly be Syria’s fate if not for the undoubted support that the Assad regime still retains in the country, along with the relative strength and cohesion of the Syrian military compared to its Libyan counterpart under Gaddafi. Regardless, the fact remains that the Syrian government is struggling to regain control of the situation on the ground. The fate of Libya and Iraq as recent examples of western-backed or imposed regime change has had the unintended consequence of ensuring that the current struggle taking place in Syria has been a zero-sum game from the very beginning, not only for the continued survival of the regime but for the likely explosion of sectarian violence that will explode across the country in the event that it falls.
With the Arab League enjoying little credibility in the eyes of those who understand it as a collection of puppet dictatorships with an agenda that accords to one drawn up in Washington, Tel Aviv and European capitals, this leaves Russia, China and the other members of the BRIC bloc of states as the only forces capable of effecting meaningful intervention at this stage.
Opponents of the Syrian regime must understand that stopping the bloodshed and regime change constitute different objectives. Indeed, the latter will only ensure more of the former in Syria. Assad’s ability to remain in power may now be growing more unlikely with each passing day, but whether any transition that takes place ends in a peaceful outcome or one that fractures the country along sectarian and confessional lines will depend on the manner of the resolution to the crisis, and the nature of any outside intervention. Assad retains significant support within Syria and both pro-regime and anti-regime forces are involved in the violence currently taking place.
When it comes to Iran the determination on the part of Israeli hawks, led by defence minister Ehud Barak, to mount a military strike on the country’s nuclear facilities has revealed the political weakness of the Obama administration when it comes to reining in its ally and most important strategic asset. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s recent statement to the effect that he believes Israel will attack Iran within the next few months was instructive.
There is of course the possibility that it was intended to exert more pressure on the Islamic Republic, but if so it underestimates the determination of Iran to exercise its sovereignty and resist the axis of domination in the region, made up of the US, Israel, and their European allies. The continued distortion by Israel and its supporters of the Iranian leadership’s statements calling for the destruction not of Israel but of Israel as as an apartheid and racist state have succeeded in the objective of painting Tehran as the major threat to security and stability in the region, and increasingly the world.
The opposite is the case.
Israel’s objective of maintaining the imbalance of military power it currently enjoys, and its ability to continue with the colonisation and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, lies behind its desire to remove the resistance to this process on the part of Iran, expressed in the material support it provides to Hezbollah and Hamas.
The fact is that war with Iran is already underway, with the new round of sanctions levelled against its economy by the West constituting the latest stage. The series of assassinations of Iranian scientists engaged in the country’s nuclear programme has only increased the Islamic Republic’s resolve rather than weaken it, with the danger of a major conflagration closer now than it’s ever been. The inability of hawks in Israel and its allies to learn the lessons of history, or their repeated pattern of learning the wrong lessons, is clear. The barbarity and racism implicit in Israel’s iron heel policy towards the Palestinians is the major cause of instability and insecurity in the region.
This is a truth that western policymakers know but refuse to admit.
By Tariq Ali from the Guardian
The patchwork political landscape of the Arab world – the client monarchies, degenerated nationalist dictatorships and the imperial petrol stations known as the Gulf states – was the outcome of an intensive experience of Anglo-French colonialism. This was followed after the second world war by a complex process of imperial transition to the United States. The result was a radical anticolonial Arab nationalism and Zionist expansionism within the wider framework of the cold war.
When the cold war ended Washington took charge of the region, initially through local potentates then through military bases and direct occupation. Democracy never entered the frame, enabling the Israelis to boast that they alone were an oasis of light in the heart of Arab darkness. How has all this been affected by the Arab intifada that began four months ago?
In January, Arab streets resounded to the slogan that united the masses regardless of class or creed: “Al-Sha’b yurid isquat al-nizam!” – “The people want the downfall of the regime!” The images streaming out from Tunis to Cairo, Saana to Bahrain, are of Arab peoples on their feet once again. On 14 January, as chanting crowds converged on the ministry of interior, Tunisia’s President Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia. On 11 February the national uprising in Egypt toppled the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak as mass rebellion erupted in Libya and the Yemen.
In occupied Iraq, demonstrators protested against the corruption of the Maliki regime and, more recently, against the presence of US troops and bases. Jordan was shaken by nationwide strikes and tribal rebellion. Protests in Bahrain spiralled into calls for the overthrow of the monarchy, an event that scared the neighbouring Saudi kleptocrats and their western patrons, who can’t conceive of an Arabia without sultans. Even as I write, the corrupt and brutal Ba’athist outfit in Syria, under siege by its own people, is struggling for its life.
The dual determinants of the uprisings were both economic – with mass unemployment, rising prices, scarcity of essential commodities – and political: cronyism, corruption, repression, torture. Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the crucial pillars of US strategy in the region, as confirmed recently by US vice-president Jo Biden, who stated that he was more concerned about Egypt than Libya. The worry here is Israel; the fear that an out-of-control democratic government might renege on the peace treaty. And Washington has, for the time being, succeeded in rerouting the political process into a carefully orchestrated change, led by Mubarak’s defence minister and chief of staff, the latter being particularly close to the Americans.
Most of the regime is still in place. Its key messages are the need for stability and a return to work, putting a stop to the strike wave. Fevered behind-the scenes negotiations between Washington and the Muslim Brotherhood are continuing. A slightly amended old constitution remains in force and the South American model of huge social movements producing new political organisations that triumph at the polls and institute social reforms is far from being replicated in the Arab world, thus not posing any serious challenge, until now, to the economic status quo.
The mass movement remains alert in both Tunisia and Egypt but is short of political instruments that reflect the general will. The first phase is over. The second, that of rolling back the movements, has begun.
The Nato bombing of Libya was an attempt by the west to regain the “democratic” initiative after its dictators were toppled elsewhere. It has made the situation worse. The so-called pre-empting of a massacre has led to the killing of hundreds of soldiers, many of whom were fighting under duress, and permitted the ghastly Muammar Gaddafi to masquerade as an anti-imperialist.
Here one has to say that whatever the final outcome, the Libyan people have lost. The country will either be partitioned into a Gaddafi state and a squalid pro-west protectorate led by selected businessmen, or the west will take out Gaddafi and control the whole of Libya and its huge oil reserves. This display of affection for “democracy” does not extend elsewhere in the region.
In Bahrain, the US green-lighted a Saudi intervention to crush local democrats, enhance religious sectarianism, organise secret trials and sentence protesters to death. Bahrain today is a prison camp, a poisonous mixture of Guantánamo and Saudi Arabia.
In Syria the security apparatus led by the Assad family is killing at will, but without being able to crush the democratic movement. The opposition is not under the control of Islamists: it is a broad coalition that includes every social layer apart from the capitalist class that remains loyal to the regime.
Unlike in other Arab countries, many Syrian intellectuals stayed at home, suffering prison and torture, and secular socialists like Riad Turk and many others are part of the underground leadership in Damascus and Aleppo. Nobody wants western military intervention. They don’t want a repeat of Iraq or Libya. The Israelis and the US would prefer Assad to stay as they once did Mubarak, but the dice are still in the air.
In Yemen, the despot has killed hundreds of citizens but the army has split, and Americans and Saudis are trying desperately to stitch together a new coalition (as in Egypt) – but the mass movement is resisting any deals with the incumbent.
The US has to contend with an altered political environment in the Arab world. It is too soon to predict the final outcome, except to say it is not over yet.
Source: Al Jazeera
Several top Yemeni army commanders have declared their support for anti-government protesters seeking the resignation of the country’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Major General Ali Mohsen Saleh, the head of the north western military zone and the head of the first armoured division, said on Monday that he had deployed army units to protect the protesters.
Several other commanders, Brigadier Hameed Al Koshebi, head of brigade 310 in Omran area, Brigadier Mohammed Ali Mohsen, head of the eastern division, Brigadier Nasser Eljahori, head of brigade 121, and General Ali Abdullaha Aliewa, adviser of the Yemeni supreme leader of the army, rallied behind Major General Saleh and defected.
Addressing a news conference, Major General Saleh said: “Yemen today, is suffering from a comprehensive and dangerous crisis and it is widespread. Click to continue reading
by Craig Murray
A senior diplomat in a western mission to the UN in New York, who I have known over ten years and trust, has told me for sure that Hillary Clinton agreed to the cross-border use of troops to crush democracy in the Gulf, as a quid pro quo for the Arab League calling for Western intervention in Libya.
The hideous King of Bahrain has called in troops from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait to attack pro-democracy protestors in Bahrain.
Can you imagine the outrage if Gadaffi now called in the armies of Chad. Mali and Burkina Faso to attack the rebels in Ben Ghazi?
But do you think that those in power, who rightly condemn Gadaffi’s apparent use of foreign mercenaries, will condemn this use of foreign military power by oil sheiks to crush majority protestors in Bahrain? Of course they won’t. We just had Sky News rationalising it by telling us that the Gulf Cooperation Council have a military alliance that a state can call in help if attacked. But that does not mean attacked by its own, incidentally unarmed, people. NATO is a military alliance. It does not mean Cameron could call in US troops to gun down tuition fees protestors in Parliament Square.
This dreadful outrage by the Arab sheikhs will be swallowed silently by the West because they are “our” bastards, they host our troops and they buy our weapons.
I do hope this latest development will open the eyes of those duped into supporting western intervention in Libya, who believe those who control the western armies are motivated by humanitarian concern. Bahrain already had foreign forces in it – notably the US fifth fleet. Do you think that Clinton and Obama will threaten that they will intervene if foreign armies are let loose on pro-democracy demonstrators? No they won’t.
Whether this will have any effect on the railroading of public opinion behind military intervention in Libya remains to be seen. I am fascinated to hear, for example, whether Ming Campbell and Phillippe Sands, who wrote of Our Duty To Protect The Libyan People , also believe we have a duty to pro-democracy demonstrators in Bahrain to protect them from attack by foreign forces.
We know from Iraq and Afghanistan, Serbia, Lebanon and Gaza that the “collateral damage” from the initial bombing of Libyan air defences will kill more people than are dying already in the terrible situation in Libya. While a no-fly zone would help rebel morale, most of the actual damage rebels are sustaining is from heavy artillery; without a no tank, no artillery and no gunboat zone, a no-fly zone will not in itself tip the military balance.
It appears that getting rid of Gadaffi may be a longer slog than we would like, but an attempt at a quick fix will lead to another Iraq, and give him an undeserved patriotic mantle. It was former UK Ambassador to Libya, Oliver Miles who said western military intervention in Libya should be avoided above all because of the law of unintended consequences. One consequence has happened already, unintended by the liberals who fell in behind the calls for military attacks on Gadaffi. They helped cause the foreign military suppression of democracy in Bahrain. For Clinton and Obama, it is a win-win forwarding US foreign policy on both Libya and the Gulf, where they don’t want democracy.
People of good heart should weep.
from Al Jazeera
Hundreds of Saudi troops have entered Bahrain to help protect government facilities there amid escalating protests against the government.
Bahrain television on Monday broadcast images of troops in armoured cars entering the Gulf state via the 26km causeway that connects the kingdom to Saudi Arabia.
The arrival of the troops follows a request to members of the Gulf Co-Operation Council (GCC) from Bahrain, whose Sunni rulers have faced weeks of protests and growing pressure from a majority Shia population to institute political reforms.
The United Arab Emirates has also sent about 500 police to Bahrain, according to Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Emirati foreign minister.
The United States, which counts both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia among its allies, has called for restraint, but has refrained from saying whether it supports the move to deploy troops.
“We urge our GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) partners to show restraint and respect the rights of the people of Bahrain, and to act in a way that supports dialogue instead of undermining it,” Tommy Vietor, the White House spokesman, said.