Monday, June 20, 2016

Over 50 US State Dept. diplomats want US to strike Assad forces in Syria

More than 50 U.S. State Department diplomats signed an internal memo that is critical of the Obama administration policy in Syria.

In the memo, the diplomats urge Obama to carry out military strikes against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad to stop what the diplomats claim are persistent violations of the cease-fire in the civil war that has lasted five years already.

A draft of the memo was obtained by the New York Times from a State Department official.

The draft claims that U.S. policy has been "overwhelmed" by unrelenting violence in Syria and calls for "a more judicious use of stand-off and air weapons which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process."

Such a move would no doubt result in an increased confrontation with Russia and would represent a radical shift in U.S. policy which is at present emphasizing the battle against the Islamic State rather than the overthrow of the Assad regime. However, diplomatic attempts to end the conflict led by Secretary of State, John Kerry are on the verge of collapse.

The dissent was filed  in the State Department "dissent channel". The channel was set up during the Vietnam War so that employees could register disagreements with policies without any fear of reprisal. Filings are relatively common but this dissent has an unusually high number of signatures. The signatures on the filing are almost all of mid-level working officials. There are no well-known higher officials on the list but it is known that many share the concerns expressed in the dissent.

Kerry himself has suggested there be a stronger U.S. response in Syria to force Assad into a diplomatic solution. Obama has resisted such pressure and been backed up by military commanders who fear the result should Assad lose power. John Kirby, the State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the memo, but said Kerry respected the process.

Robert Ford former US ambassador to Syria said: “Many people working on Syria for the State Department have long urged a tougher policy with the Assad government as a means of facilitating arrival at a negotiated political deal to set up a new Syrian government.” Ford resigned from the Foreign Service over the administration's policy on the conflict. The officials who signed the memo denied that they  were advocating a "slippery slope that would end in a military confrontation with Russia". They insist there must be credible threat of military action to keep Assad in line. The threat should be followed by negotiation.

Obama's policy in Syria has been designed to avoid further military entanglement in the civil war. It has been described as risk-averse.

However, the U.S. is aiding Kurdish-led forces against the Islamic State. Attempts to aid moderate rebels previously have not been successful.

The U.S. administration  shows no sign it was willing to consider military strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces as the memo suggests.
Syrian Army Forces

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