American PR Firm Hired to Clean up Assad’s Image

Syria has hired a US consulting firm to mend its poor relations with the United States, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources have learned.

Syrian president Bashar Assad clearly sees no conflict between sprucing up his image in Washington the American way and opening his border wide for terrorists and foreign fighters to enter Iraq and fight US troops. Stemming this traffic is the main objective of the large-scale air and ground offensive American ground and air forces have been waging in northwest Anbar province on the Syrian border during this week.

Jamal Daniel, an American of Syrian extraction, proposed New Bridge Strategies LLC, which describes itself as a “unique company that was created with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the US-led war in Iraq.”

This week, Syria’s ambassador to Washington Imad Mustafa hired the company on the orders of Assad and the newly-appointed Syrian foreign minister Walid Mualam, former ambassador to US.

They were persuaded by Daniel’s argument that Syria’s standing in Washington had been severely battered by the conflict over its troop presence in Lebanon. But the way the crisis was managed by Damascus showed that Syrian rulers had no understanding at all of how the Bush administration functioned or of the critical importance of American public opinion and media. They therefore kept on making blunder after blunder, getting Syria progressively demonized in the United States, instead of getting their case across effectively and where it counts most.


A topnotch firm


New Bridge Strategies’ performance record is impressive.

It is headed by Joe M. Allbaugh, who is also CEO of Allbaugh Company LLC, a Washington-based corporate strategy and counseling firm. A native of Oklahoma, Allbaugh served as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under President George W. Bush until March 2003. Prior to moving to Washington, D.C., he was Chief of Staff to then-Governor Bush of Texas and National Campaign Manager for the Bush-Cheney 2000 presidential campaign.

Daniel, a member of New Bridge Strategies advisory board, is described on the company’s Web site as Principal with Crest Investment Company, which invests in a wide range of business ventures from its base in Houston. Prior to his work with Crest Investment, Daniel was a Director of the Uniteg Investment Company, Inc., which provides U.S. and international investors with comprehensive real estate services ranging from acquisition and construction to financing and sales. Additionally, Jamal has extensive experience in structuring investments in energy and oil and gas projects throughout the U.S., Europe and the Middle East.

Although the US and the French eventually succeeded in maneuvering Assad into pulling Syrian forces out of Lebanon, neither threats nor persuasion in two years have convinced him to stem the continuous flood of Baathist guerrillas and al Qaeda terrorists into Iraq.


The flip side


The spate became so strong that US military commanders in Iraq had no choice but to launch their first major offensive since last year’s battle of Fallujah to clear out the chain of sanctuaries and launching pads the insurgents had set down across a large area on the Iraqi side of the Syrian border. The concentrations are small, between 50 and 70 fighters each, and scattered mainly in the desert north of Qaim, a key base for fighters coming in from Syria and staging area for attacks on Baghdad, Maradi, Fallujah and Mosul.

Four days into the operation, the US military reported more than 100 rebels dead and at least 14 US troops killed. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources confirm that a large number of dead insurgents were followers of al Qaeda’s Iraq commander, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.

Acting on intelligence sightings of enemy’s positions, soldiers from the US Army’s 814th Multi-Role Bridge Company constructed a pontoon bridge across the Euphrates River. Marines crossed over from the southern banks to the north and pursued insurgents in the northern Jazirah desert.

Two days after the operation began Syria’s interior minister came out with the announcement that his country was now cleaned out of al Qaeda adherents. Might he have been acting on the first piece of advice from his government’s new American public relations consultant?

Given Syria’s involvement in the war against the US military presence in Iraq, it will be interesting to see how New Bridge Strategies – which says it hopes to “expedite the creation of free and fair markets and new economic growth in Iraq, consistent with the policies of United States Government” – juggles its aims with the interests of its new client.

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