Obama’s Confused Syria Policy: Pro/Anti-Assad & Pro/Anti-Rebel

John Glaser, August 13, 2013

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Obama’s Syria policy is fundamentally one of contradictions. Back in 2011, the president called for Bashar al-Assad to step down and proceeded to gradually support the armed rebellion. As Joshua Landis, professor at the University of Oklahoma and an expert on Syria, wrote back at the time, “Let’s be clear: Washington is pursuing regime change by civil war in Syria.”

At the same time, the Obama administration did not welcome the fall of the regime in Damascus. As the State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said back in January, even as the U.S. supports the Syrian opposition on the margins, it is of utmost importance to “maintain the functions of the state,” so as to avoid a power vacuum that the al-Qaeda-linked jihadists that make up the majority of the rebels could take advantage of. As Phil Giraldi, former CIA intelligence officer and Antiwar.com columnist, told me back in March, “Obama has come around to the view that regime change is more fraught with dangers than letting Assad remain.”

Instead of moving initially to directly arm the rebels, the Obama administration stalled for two years and made policy moves like designating the al-Qaeda in Iraq offshoot in Syria a terrorist organization and pressuring Saudi Arabia not to send heavier arms like anti-aircraft weapons. Back in March, the White House directed the CIA to increase its cooperation and backing of Iraqi state militias to fight al-Qaeda affiliates there and cut off the flow of fighters pouring into Syria. As The Nation‘s Robert Dreyfuss put it, “We’re backing the same guys in Syria that we’re fighting in Iraq.” Then in May it was revealed that U.S. operatives in Jordan advised small groups of moderate rebels with the explicit requirement that their trainees fight the al-Qaeda-linked rebels.

So while Obama’s policy, at least as stated, was the fall of the Assad regime, he also tried to prevent its collapse. And even as U.S. policy was to support – and, indeed, now to arm – the rebels, it was also to divide and conquer the opposition and fight al-Qaeda’s rise in Syria.

The Wall Street Journal reported this month that the CIA’s second-in-command, Michael Morrell, said in an interview that the top threat to U.S. security is “the risk is that the Syrian government, which possesses chemical and other advanced weapons, collapses and the country becomes al Qaeda’s new haven.” Former CIA analyst Paul Pillar echoed the sentiment: “In the short term probably the best outcome in that respect would be prompt re-establishment of control by the Assad regime.”

Mind you, that doesn’t mean Washington should start directly supporting Assad. I don’t think that, and neither, presumably, do these CIA guys. The Obama administration has shown, in its words and its reluctance to fully commit to a proxy war against Assad, that it understands the concern associated with Assad’s fall. But the president has still bowed to pressure from the most superficially informed that we “do something” to stop the caricatured formulation of this civil war that it is a ruthless dictator slaughtering his own people and nothing more.

But he hasn’t bowed too much. Obama has repeatedly sent out his officials, most notably Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to outline the dangers of direct military action. “We have learned from the past 10 years,” Dempsey said last month, “that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state. We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action. Should the regime’s institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.”

It seems a confused, panicky approach. The administration is terrified of appearing to not interfere, but it knows too strong a policy for or against either side would make things immeasurably worse.




15 Responses to “Obama’s Confused Syria Policy: Pro/Anti-Assad & Pro/Anti-Rebel”

  1. And the American political experts said, Let there be Light, and there was chaos.

  2. The apparent confusion is a simple one.

    Obama and his advisors thought they could put the fundamentalist Jihadists back in the box when they had got what they wanted. Also not too many people would be killed by them before that happened.

    As said 9quoted on here) "you have to understand how policy gets made. They still think of them as "our Jihadists", those that went off reservation as the followers on Mr. OBL had to be dealt with, but now the Jihadists are back. They think the seculars will be in the majority and win the election. TheJihadists are happy to cooperate with the Infidel and the seculars as they will be in power.

    But then the Jihadists killed lots of people, did nasty things, were discovered to be the same as the people we were fighting in Afghanistan and the public objected.

    In Britain the reaction of public opinion was somewhat violent, key cabinet members objected and the government had to announce they weren't going to arm the paramilitaries.

  3. It was also discovered there weren't any secular fighters.

    So the search is on to find "moderate Islamists" who will fight to overthrow the Syrian government as good Assets, but fight the Islamists.

    But the objective of installing a pro-American government in Syria has not been abandoned, also not by Britain and France.

    But the object of a Covert Operation using paramilitaries is not to overthrow a government but to produce deadlock, forcing negotiations on Washington's terms and the effective surrender of the victim state. Syria is no different here, and a peace plan has been issued today by the Centre for Syrian Political and Strategic Studies.
    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/syria-opposition-propose

    It's address is in Washington.

    But the Jihadists won't go away!

  4. Glaser…

    Instead of directly responding to this absurdity, I'll just let the Washington Post respond, since it's an Administration mouth-piece anyway:

    —————

    Obama opted to approve the program as a CIA covert action to avoid international law restrictions on military efforts to overthrow another government and the need for wider congressional approval. Although approval by the intelligence committees was not required to initiate the program, the money must be taken from other programs the committees had already approved.

    Officials declined to indicate the overall cost of the program but said it was significantly less than what it would cost the military to undertake the same operation.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-secu
    ——————-

    Assad and the Syrian Arab Army will not be handing Syria over to the US, Israel, and/or Al Qaeda and giving the new rulers of Syria their blessing and "support" on their way out…EVER… Even if this were to theoretically happen in Obama Administration fantasy land, how long do you really think a US backed stooge would even stay in power/alive before a military coup and/or some kind of overthrow were to take place? 5 seconds…maybe 10??? This is illogical Glaser…

  5. [...] Confused US Syria Policy: Pro/Anti-Assad & Pro/Anti-Rebel [...]

  6. [...] Full of convoluting objectives and unclear goals the US policy to wards what is going on in Syria is a mess. As one pundit put it; “We’re backing the same guys in Syria that we’re fighting in Iraq.” One minute we want Assad out the next we want to keep him from being replaced by bad guys. One thing remains constant, and that is a flow of money (1 billion in 2 years) into Syria. MORE… [...]

  7. Come on guys , this is so transparent I do not know how you don't see the reason. They are waiting for a certain Shi**y little country there to make it's mind up. Crystal clear if you ask me.

  8. All that is true, but how did al-Qaida come to fill the vacuum, lack of support. So in way they created their own problem. The strategy was go out after friday prayers and get shot until you stop coming out. That is what will happen in Egypt. So they either arm themselves go home or die. Reason for it is a crazy thing the Arab Spring, so they go for the status quo, no one likes change especially not radical change. Early with Libya Bob Gates did not like any of it let alone Syria. Qaddafi and Assad went busrk, at the moment Sisi is killing them in batches, a few hundred here a few thousand wounded, they go away mourn their dead, then they regroup like the protests in Alexandria, then he whacks a few more. I don’t think it will work. Support from the gulf is reliant on a quick resolution of a few years or it is fiscally non viable and will harm their own security they have to roll out the cash to keep their own people cool and not look for reforms. Killing people in batches long time. So you can see Sisi is building up testing the waters, psychological conditioning to find the level of people you can kill before it emplodes on you like Libya or Syria and international pressure, crowd of that size a couple of thousand knocked at the camp sites. But it will still take a few years and for the gulf Egypt is more expensive than Syria. It may go full blown at some stage due to cost per corpse. I would expect weapons to come from Africa so they can steal Nile water and weaken Egypt regionally in the AU.

  9. [...] has long viewed toppling Assad as problematic. The State Department said early this year that it is of utmost [...]

  10. [...] has long viewed toppling Assad as problematic. The State Department said early this year that it is of utmost [...]

  11. [...] has long viewed toppling Assad as problematic. The State Department said early this year that it is of utmost [...]

  12. [...] that will last for months until the Assad regime is toppled. Regime change is pretty explicitly not the goal. Instead, the Obama administration and senior officials speaking to the press have suggested the [...]

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