Right Web

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

Obama Pressed on Syrian End-Game

With the Assad regime showing new vulnerability, neoconservatives and other hawks are pressuring the Obama administration to ramp up U.S. involvement in Syria.

Inter Press Service

With the Bashar Al-Assad regime badly bloodied by the recent assassination of its top security officials and fierce fighting over the weekend in both Damascus and Aleppo, the administration of President Barack Obama is being pressed on the U.S. role in the presumed end-game.

On one side, neo-conservatives and other hawks have been urging varying forms of military intervention since the uprising began some 16 months ago. They insist that Washington should at least help establish air-patrolled safe zones in border regions to protect fleeing civilians, if not begin providing weapons directly to the armed opposition in order to better “shape the outcome,” as the Wall Street Journal editorial writers put it Monday.

“It’s not a question of sending Nato (sic) troops to fight in Syria – Syrians have shown they don’t need foreign troops to die for them,” wrote former Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, now with the American Enterprise Institute, and Freedom House board member Mark Palmer in the London Sunday Times. “(B)ut they do need better weapons and material.”

On the other side, regional experts are urging Obama to continue resisting any military intervention, including supplying arms to what all agree is a highly fragmented opposition whose sole point of unity is hatred for the regime.

“At this oint, the flow of weapons may be as unstoppable as the descent into protracted insurgency and civil war, but that doesn’t mean that the U.S. should heedlessly throw more gasoline on the fire,” according to Marc Lynch, who heads the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University.

“At the most, it should continue its efforts to help shape some form of coherent political and strategic control over these newly armed groups,” he wrote on his foreignpolicy.com blog.

“(T)he U.S. should be focusing on supporting the Syrian opposition politically, mitigating the worst effects of the civil war and insurgency, pushing to bring Syrian war criminals to justice, and maintaining its pressure on Assad through sanctions and diplomatic isolation.”

The latest round of advice comes in the wake of last week’s third veto in a row by Russia and China of a U.N. Security Council resolution threatening Syrian authorities with additional sanctions and stunning rebel military advances that have persuaded many observers here that Assad’s downfall is no longer a matter of if, but rather of when.

Those advances included the bombing of a meeting of the regime’s “crisis-management group”, in which at least four top security officials, including the ministers of defence and interior, were killed; the assertion of Free Syrian Army (FSA) control over checkpoints along the Syria’s borders with Turkey and Iraq; and the outbreak of bitter fighting for the first time in both Damascus and Aleppo, long considered regime strongholds.

In addition, the reported redeployment of Syrian troops from the Golan Heights region to the capital has been seen as a new indication that the regime is feeling increasingly vulnerable.

“The government doesn’t have enough troops to control the countryside,” Jeffrey White, a former senior Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) Middle East analyst, told a briefing at the Center for the National Interest late last week just before the bombing.

He said clashes between the armed opposition and the army hit a record high of 256 in June and could reach 400 this month. If that rate of operational intensity continues or gets worse, he said, the army’s collapse will become more likely.

“It is very, very hard to avoid the conclusion that the stalemate of the past 15, 16 months has now been decisively broken,” Stephen Heydemann, a Middle East expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), told a meeting of the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) Monday. “We have arrived at a critical tipping point.”

At the same time, Heydemann, echoing other regional specialists, stressed that “it would be a severe mistake to think that the end of the regime is close at hand,” given its superior weaponry, as well as its persistent support among key minority communities.

Until now, Washington’s strategy has favoured a combination of economic sanctions and diplomacy – directed, in particular, at persuading Russia to halt its backing for Assad, and at mobilising international support for the opposition, notably in the form of a “Friends of the Syrian People” forum that includes, among others NATO and Arab League members, outside the U.N. Security Council – to hasten Assad’s departure.

In addition, it has winked at the supply by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey of arms to the rebels, which, according to White, intensified in April and May.

It also deployed CIA operatives to border areas in Turkey and Jordan to both assess the various opposition factions that are receiving arms and, according to some accounts, influence the direction of that supply to groups considered more compatible with Western interests.

The CIA has also provided communications equipment and training to various armed factions in order to improve their command-and-control capabilities.

At the same time, Washington has exerted considerable pressure on Iraq, Egypt, and other countries close to Syria to prevent their air space or territory from being used to re-supply the regime with weapons from Iran, according to a Journal account.

In recent weeks, Washington has become especially concerned about Syria’s large chemical weapons stockpile and the possibility that some of it could fall — or be delivered — into the hands of extremist Islamist rebel groups or Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is aligned with the regime. Pentagon officials have reportedly been consulting with Israeli counterparts about contingency plans for seizing or destroying the weapons under certain circumstances.

In the wake of the most recent events, the New York Times reported that the administration has abandoned efforts at the U.N. to gain Russia’s support for Assad’s departure, and now intends to intensify its support for the rebels short of supplying them with weapons or other forms of lethal assistance and step up ongoing planning with the political opposition — as divided as it is — and the Friends group for a stable post-Assad transition.

According to Heydemann, who has quietly led a six-month-old government-funded USIP project called “The Day After” involving 40 representatives of various Syrian opposition factions, the prospects for such a transition will be significantly improved by engaging more with the armed opposition, especially in building stronger command-and-control mechanisms that can not only improve its performance but also reduce the chances that it would commit the kinds of violence that would deepen sectarian divides.

But Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst now at Georgetown University, warned against U.S. efforts to try to “stage-manage the emergence of a new political order and picking winners and losers in it,” noting that Washington’s last effort to do so – in Iraq — “should have taught us how dim would be the prospects for success.”

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to Right Web. He blogs at http://www.lobelog.com/.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Haim Saban is a media mogul and major donor to the Democratic Party known for his hardline stance on Israel and opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.


Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is known for her lock-step support for Israel and is widely considered to be a future presidential candidate.


Brian Hook is the director of policy planning and senior policy advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and is the head of the Iran Action Group.


Josh Rogin is a journalist known for his support for neoconservative policies and views.


Laurence Silberman, a senior justice on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was a mentor to controversial Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and has been a vocal supporter of right-wing foreign and domestic agendas, including the campaign to support the invasion of Iraq.


The People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, advocates regime change in Iran and has strong connections with a wide range of top political figures in the U.S.


Eli Lake is a columnist for Bloomberg View who has a lengthy record of advocating for aggressive U.S. foreign policies towards the Middle East.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

The tragic end of Jamal Khashoggi should serve as a reminder that it’s time for the United States to move on and leave the motley crew of undesirable Middle Eastern partners, from Israel to Saudi Arabia, to their collective fate. They deserve each other.


Jobs should not be an excuse to arm a murderous regime that not only appears to be behind the assassination of a U.S. resident and respected commentator but is also responsible for thousands of civilian casualties in Yemen—the majority killed with U.S-supplied bombs, combat aircraft, and tactical assistance.


The contradictions in Donald Trump’s foreign policy create opportunities for both rivals and long-standing (if irritated) US allies to challenge American influence. But Trump’s immediate priority is political survival, and his actions in the international arena are of little concern to his domestic supporters.


While the notion that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic is decades old, it has been bolstered in recent years, by the campaign to add to the definition of anti-Semitism any criticism that singles Israel out and doesn’t apply the same standard to other countries. The bottom line is that this entire effort is designed not to combat anti-Semitism but to silence criticism. 


Short-term thinking, expedience, and a lack of strategic caution has led Washington to train, fund, and support group after group that have turned their guns on American soldiers and civilians.


Trump is not the problem. Think of him instead as a summons to address the real problem, which in a nation ostensibly of, by, and for the people is the collective responsibility of the people themselves. For Americans to shirk that responsibility further will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps — or someone worse — to come.


The United Nations has once again turn into a battleground between the United States and Iran, which are experiencing one of the darkest moments in their bilateral relations.


RightWeb
share