Right Web

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

Obama Administration Reveals Deep Divisions on Syria Policy

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

Bret Stephens is a columnist for the New York Times who previously worked at the Wall Street Journal and the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary.


Donald Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr is the focus of a growing controversy over the Robert Mueller report because his decision to unilaterally declare that the the president had not obstructed justice during the Mueller investigation.


The Republican Jewish Coalition is a right wing Jewish advocacy groups that promotes an aggressive pro-Israel and anti-Iran policy.


Erik Prince, former CEO of the mercenary group Blackwater, continues to sell security services around the world as controversies over his work—including in China and the Middle East, and his alleged involvement in collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia—grow.


The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the more effective U.S. lobbying outfits, aims to ensure that the United States backs Israel regardless of the policies Israel pursues.


Gina Haspel is the first woman to hold the position of director of the CIA, winning her confirmation despite her history of involvement in torture during the Iraq War.


United against Nuclear Iran is a pressure group that attacks companies doing business in Iran and disseminates alarmist reports about the country’s nuclear program.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

The new government will, once again, be the most right wing in Israel’s history. But this time, the length of the new government’s tenure will depend more on Netanyahu’s legal troubles than on the political dynamics of the coalition.


Given such a dismal U.S. record on non-proliferation, why should North Korea trust U.S. promises of future sanctions relief and security guarantees in exchange for denuclearization? If anything, the case of the JCPOA has demonstrated that regardless of its pledges the United States can reinstate sanctions and even bully private multinational companies to divest from Iran.


As Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman clamor for a war against Iran, they seem to have conveniently forgotten the destruction and mayhem wrought by the American invasion of Iraq 16 years ago.


President Trump’s announcement that he would recognise Israeli sovereignty over the western part of the Golan Heights destroys the negotiating basis for any future peace between Israel and Syria. It also lays the groundwork for a return to a world without territorial integrity for smaller, weaker countries.


The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure mandating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Saudi/UAE-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The vote marks the first time since the War Powers Act of 1973 became law that both chambers of Congress have directed the president to withdraw American forces from a conflict.


The Trump administration’s failed “maximum pressure” approach to Iran and North Korea begs the question what the US president’s true objectives are and what options he is left with should the policy ultimately fail.


In the United States, it’s possible to debate any and every policy, domestic and foreign, except for unquestioning support for Israel. That, apparently, is Ilhan Omar’s chief sin.


RightWeb
share