Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Obama Administration Reveals Deep Divisions on Syria Policy

Despite the Obama administration’s apparent skepticism about the wisdom of providing U.S. arms to Syrian rebels, recent reports have indicated support for a more militarized U.S. role among key administration advisers.

Inter Press Service

Though President Barack Obama has been reticent to involve his administration too deeply in the Syrian uprising, recent revelations have shown near-unanimous agreement among the president’s top national security advisors for greater military intervention.

A February New York Times story uncovered a strategy by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus to directly involve the U.S. in arming and supporting the Syrian rebels, in order to have a more direct influence on the course of events in the war-torn country.

The following week, during congressional testimony on the Benghazi embassy attacks, former Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey both professed similar support for the idea of arming Syrian rebels. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is also said to have backed the plan.

The revelations paint a very different picture from the official narrative of the Obama administration, which has remained publicly sceptical of the idea of providing weapons to unknown militant groups operating in Syria.

“The U.S. long ago accepted the strategy of supporting insurgents as a way to counter the Assad regime or at least to appear to be doing something about Syria,” Leila Hilal, director of the Middle East Task Force for the New America Foundation, told IPS.

“Even if full-scale military support was not mobilised earlier, steps were taken to allow others to arm rebels. The indirect approach failed to turn the conflict and undermined the revolution.”

Foreign policy analysts have jumped to widely different conclusions about the disparate opinions of the president on one hand, his senior national security staff – the secretary of state, the secretary of defence, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and director of the CIA – on the other.

Writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, Elliott Abrams refers to the president’s decision as “tragically wrong”, and states that “one cannot escape the conclusion that electoral politics played a role” in ignoring the advice of his national security team.

Joshua Landis, associate professor at the University of Oklahoma and proprietor of the widely-read blog Syria Comment, disagrees.

“Obama doesn’t seem to agree with the prevailing interests in Washington, and the way they want to formulate our Middle East policy,” he told IPS.

Landis claims that instead of being influenced by the cabinet’s push for more involvement, “that’s a driver for him for staying out of Syria, because he knows powerful interests will quickly weigh in if we get involved there. He doesn’t seem to trust our Middle East policy-making apparatus.”

Pressed further on the question, General Dempsey clarified later in the week that he supported arming the Syrian opposition “conceptually”, noting that “there were enormous complexities involved that we still haven’t resolved.”

The interventionists’ plan was further undermined by a study within the CIA itself, where a team of intelligence analysts concluded that the influx of U.S. arms would not “materially” affect the situation on the ground.

Landis also cautioned that “the proposals put in front of (Obama) don’t have a plan about how to get out, or if things don’t go according to plan. They don’t outline in any way how America is going to win, or achieve its goals.”

Little is known about the current state of U.S. involvement in the two-year Syrian uprising, which may have claimed the lives of over 60,000 Syrians. Senior White House officials have repeatedly expressed concern that increasing the arms supply to the Syrian rebels may result in weapons falling into the “wrong hands”, a concern exacerbated by the influx of foreign fighters in Syria.

As Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants have risen in the ranks of the armed Syrian opposition – partially due to better financial backing, equipment, training, and experience in Iraq/Afghanistan – it has become increasingly difficult to disentangle such groups from other opposition elements.

Even the very same cabinet members who have vocally supported arming the Syrian opposition have expressed grave reservations about the increasingly extremist inclinations of the rebels. Hillary Clinton herself has warned that “the opposition is increasingly being represented by Al-Qaeda extremist elements,” a development she considers “deeply distressing”.

“You can always vet, but can you make the people you like win?” asked Landis. “I’m sure we know people we like, but the problem is, can you make them winners?”

Thus far, Washington’s efforts to marginalise militant Al-Qaeda groups have largely backfired. After the U.S. designation of Jubhat Al-Nusra, the largest Al-Qaeda-linked fighting group in Syria, as a foreign terrorist organisation, most of the Syrian opposition leadership jumped to their defence.

Moaz Al-Khatib, the titular head of the Syrian opposition’s main coalition, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, immediately defended Jabhat Al-Nusra’s role in the uprising as “essential for victory”.

Nevertheless, Washington has been covertly supporting rebel groups for well over a year, with “non-lethal aid”, intelligence, and other unknown means.

The recent statements by Clinton and Panetta, therefore, still reveal little about the actual relationship between the White House and the Syrian rebels.

President Obama openly criticises the idea of armed assistance but has been silently supporting the rebels, while his administration’s liberal interventionists who have openly called for a more militant role have also expressed grave reservations about the ideology and direction of the very people they hope to arm.

These varied opinions and perspectives leave the door open for any number of policies toward Syria. “No one has taken any option off the table in any conversation in which I’ve been involved,” said Dempsey.

Nevertheless, Landis thinks a more militaristic approach in Syria is unlikely.

“Clearly…the people Obama has tried to put forward, all of his appointees, are not in favour of a muscle-bound Middle East policy and are not in favour of more military involvement,” he said. “They’re consistent with his overall plan, which is not to get involved with Syria, not to start a war with Iran.”

Samer Araabi is a contributor to Right Web and Inter Press Service.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Bernard Lewis was a renowned historian of Islam and the Middle East who stirred controversy with his often chauvinistic attitude towards the Muslim world and his associations with high-profile neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks.


John Bolton, the controversial former U.S. ambassador to the UN and dyed-in the-wool foreign policy hawk, is President Trump’s National Security Adviser McMaster, reflecting a sharp move to the hawkish extreme by the administration.


Michael Joyce, who passed away in 2006, was once described by neoconservative guru Irving Kristol as the “godfather of modern philanthropy.”


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Michael Flynn is a former Trump administration National Security Advisor who was forced to step down only weeks on the job because of his controversial contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.


Since taking office Donald Trump has revealed an erratic and extremely hawkish approach to U.S. foreign affairs, which has been marked by controversial actions like dropping out of the Iran nuclear agreement that have raised tensions across much of the world and threatened relations with key allies.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Soon after a Saudi-led coalition strike on a bus killed 40 children on August 9, a CENTCOM spokesperson stated to Vox, “We may never know if the munition [used] was one that the U.S. sold to them.”


The West has dominated the post-war narrative with its doctrine of liberal values, arguing that not only were they right in themselves but that economic success itself depended on their application. Two developments have challenged those claims. The first was the West’s own betrayal of its principles: on too many occasions the self interest of the powerful, and disdain for the victims of collateral damage, has showed through. The second dates from more recently: the growth of Chinese capitalism owes nothing to a democratic system of government, let alone liberal values.


Falsely demonizing all Muslims, their beliefs, and their institutions is exactly the wrong way to make Americans safer, because the more we scare ourselves with imaginary enemies, the harder it will be to find and protect ourselves from real ones.


Division in the ranks of the conservative movement is a critical sign that a war with Iran isn’t inevitable.


Donald Trump stole the headlines, but the declaration from the recent NATO summit suggests the odds of an unnecessary conflict are rising. Instead of inviting a dialogue, the document boasts that the Alliance has “suspended all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia.” The fact is, NATO was a child of the Cold War, when the West believed that the Soviets were a threat. But Russia today is not the Soviet Union, and there’s no way Moscow would be stupid enough to attack a superior military force.


War with Iran may not be imminent, but neither was war with Iraq in late 2001.


Donald Trump was one of the many bets the Russians routinely place, recognizing that while most such bets will never pay off a few will, often in unpredictable ways. Trump’s actions since taking office provide the strongest evidence that this one bet is paying off handsomely for the Russians. Putin could hardly have made the script for Trump’s conduct at the recent NATO meeting any more to his liking—and any better designed to foment division and distrust within the Western alliance—than the way Trump actually behaved.


RightWeb
share