Is Obama Changing Tack on Syria?

John Glaser, December 04, 2013

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The Obama administration’s fumbling policy on Syria turned out better than it might have this past fall when unprecedented public and international opposition to a punitive U.S. strike against the Assad regime staved off another reckless U.S. war in the Middle East. The Obama administration was embarrassed and one-upped by Russia’s diplomatic solution, and that’s much better than war.

But if that weren’t proof enough of how clueless and capricious the U.S. approach to Syria is, the New York Times now reports that the Obama administration could end up fumbling on Syria in the other direction. “Some analysts and American officials,” the Times reports, are arguing for U.S. military action against the al-Qaeda militants in the Syrian opposition, despite the fact that it “would pose formidable political, military and legal obstacles.”

The concerns are based in part on messages relayed this year by Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s overall leader, indicating that he views Syria — where the number of jihadist rebels and foreign fighters is steadily rising — as a promising staging ground.

Some analysts and American officials say the chaos there could force the Obama administration to take a more active role to stave off potential threats among the opposition groups fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. But striking at jihadist groups in Syria would pose formidable political, military and legal obstacles, and could come at the cost of some kind of accommodation — even if only temporary or tactical — with Mr. Assad’s brutal but secular government, analysts say.

“We need to start talking to the Assad regime again” about counterterrorism and other issues of shared concern, said Ryan C. Crocker, a veteran diplomat who has served in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. “It will have to be done very, very quietly. But bad as Assad is, he is not as bad as the jihadis who would take over in his absence.”

Emphasis added. I tend to agree with Ryan Crocker there, but not if it means Washington is going to start cooperating with the Assad regime to quell Islamic militants in Syria. Short-sighted interventionism in Syria on the part of the U.S. and its allies helped lead to the situation we have now, so it is folly to think U.S. meddling in the other direction is going to have desirable effects.

We don’t want a U.S. war in Syria to topple the Assad regime. But we also don’t want another extended war – overt or covert – in yet another Muslim country that tries to bomb al-Qaeda out of existence. Lessons from Pakistan and Yemen demonstrate how poorly that can work.

There have been hints of this shift in the past. Back in March, the Obama administration ordered increased CIA support for Iraqi state militias to fight al-Qaeda affiliates there and cut off the flow of fighters pouring into Syria. And under the same logic, Obama even considered cooperating with the Maliki government in a drone war along Iraq’s border with Syria.

And staving off a collapse of the Assad regime for fear of providing haven for al-Qaeda has long been a concern in Washington. The Wall Street Journal reported this past summer 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.”

What is the best answer for a complicated case like Syria? It’s still to stay the hell out of it.




26 Responses to “Is Obama Changing Tack on Syria?”

  1. I often wonder that, if the US had stayed out of it in the first place, would Assad not have crushed the rebellion long ago and this nightmare would all be over? The US supplies many lethal weapons to Saudi Arabia and many other Mideast countries. How many of these weapons make their way into the jihadists hands? And why did the US back these "rebels" to begin with?

  2. I predicted this would be the new excuse for intervention in Syria, if nothing else works.

    It's the same as the neocons claimed after the Iraq war became a quagmire. They claimed it was "better to fight them there than fight them here."

    It was only a matter of time before the same nonsense surfaced with regard to Syria.

    The problem for Assad is that any "cooperation" with him the US intends is going to be just another excuse for degrading the Syrian military at some point to allow Israel to attack Hizballah in Lebanon and to remove Syria missiles as a threat to Israel in an Iran war.

    The US probably won't even bother to "cooperate" with Assad – they'll just use the Al Qaeda issue to justify a straight up attack on EVERYONE in Syria…

  3. Very good question

  4. The Russians are not going to allow the US to bomb Syria any more than the US is going to allow Russia to bomb Israel. This is why the British Government voted NOT to bomb Syria.

    Russia still has nuclear weapons and many of them are still pointed at many US targets.

  5. Problem for Assad or anyone else who cooperates with the US, is that the US ends up stabbing them in the back.

  6. The only lunatic who is not on board and think that jihadists that are supported by Saudis and UAE might win this war is David Cameron, otherwise everyone, even Hillary Clinton, have realized that Syria is the graveyard of these barbarians sent to fight the Syrian people. In the other hand, to save the face of the US Democratic Party, yes Obama is forced to change his standing toward Syria, he even have said: I am not a war president. Second: USA with NATO or French and others would not dare to attack Syria for two reason, Iran and Israel, Russia and China, Saudi Arabia and USA military bases in Persian gulf and in Turkey, you get the point John, right?

  7. USG didn't know what is it that they are getting themselves into, it was Hillary Clinton, the Turkish government, the French social democrats, the English, the Germans, the Swedish and others who orchestrated the uprising of these Sunni Muslims brotherhood, from there, it was the fractions of the very same brotherhood whom started the Syrian war, supported and armed by the Turkish government, as well as by Saudis and UAE and west followed blindly, doing the same mistake supporting the Libyan jihadist, thinking that Saudis religious expansion into Syria will stop the Iranian political regional influence, they didn't know that the barbarians are at the gate waiting to behead people for no reasons at all, although to some point the USG did support and even armed these people via Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan. The very same barbarians were feeding dead human flash to captured Libyan solders, which are main reasons for them to rethink their relation with Saudis and their barbarians, as Wahhabis and Salafis and other firm of barbarians. To save the USA Democratic Party is the main political reason for Obama to change his standing. No matter what or if USG have done, Syria was and is going to be the graveyard of all kind of terrorists, no matter where they are coming from or by who they are sent to Syria, Syrian war is the people war against tyrants of Middle East and their barbarians.

  8. Obama is at a crossroads when it comes to Syria, support Assad and get a trashing from the Saudis and Netanyahu, do nothing and the outcome will be the same.

  9. Good point, Rick. Cases in point: Mubarak in Egypt was always an ally of the US, and Kaddafi in Libya, though not necessarily an ally, was cooperating at the time the USG (with the help of Britain and France) decided to take him out. Look what's happened to those countries since.

  10. With all this rapprochement and winding down going on (theoretically – for local consumption only, of course) the MICC requires boogeymen to keep the level of fear and loathing ratcheted high and tight. The US would be forced to face the issues at home of all the conflicts they've manufactured dry up from "peace." Can't allow the "greatest fighting force in the world" to lie idle – god forbid they might get used to peace – and not dying for the multinationals they've been supporting for the past several decades. So, I'm confident that the pols and their backers will find or create a new evil-doer to point the angst of the American people toward.

    This will only end when the American people retire those in leadership positions who have little personal skin in the game and replace them with people who abhor war.

  11. There was a brief article on how the FSA – the group slated to take over when Assad was defeated – is now likely to join with Assad's forces to fight Al-CIA(duh).
    Another brief article on the UK seeking new rebels to support because FSA may join with Assad.
    Now this…

    One might question whether our leaders really have a clue what they're doing or why as they jockey back and forth driven by the lash of Israel's lobbies in the US and UK.

  12. If Obama had had the sense to scotch the plan and refused to sign the "Finding" for the operation to go ahead there would have been no "rebellion" ie a Covert Op in the first place.

    It was however an essential part of the plan to use the Jihadists who could then be sidelined and put back in the box.

    As people warned they got out of control and took over.

    A "brain dead policy" was the phrase used in America and "an insane policy" and "a clinically insane policy" were the phrases used in Britain.

  13. True. It is the LASH. And nothing more. Politicians are a sad lot today. Corporations, foreign interests — all whip them around. What they are doing to our economy is INEXCUSABLE. We are paying for their stupidity and cowardice by our standard of living, working conditions, security for our elderly and education of our new generations. While they spend every moment of their day plotting stupidities around the world.

  14. Just because the French and British divided Syria here and there does not make its borders sacrosanct. Syria is not going to be put together again. Despite what Assad, Russia, Iran, Hizbollah,Qatar, Saudi Sunni clerics and royal family, Ryan Crocker, or any empire builder in Obama's Pentagon wants. Assad can't rule it all. He is deligitimized. This is an interim period. Jordon can't have refugee camps permantly like when Israel pushed out the Palestinians. Neither will Turkey accept it. They don't want the refugees.This is not 1960 ba'athist government.They can't control it anymore.Al queda-ish rebels are not strong enough either. Best to keep USA weapons out. Rebels are not in solid retreat.

  15. The unfolding horror of the Syrian war was one that could have been avoided. It has been a running policy of the US to overthrow governments in Damascus as far back as the Eisenhower Administration. President Obama has succeeded where President “W” failed–the disintegration of the country. From “private” organizations providing communications and logistics that fanned local protests into a wider movement, to the orchestrated media coverage that accepted the most outlandish stories (purported demonstrations in Syria that took place in Egypt, the presence of thousands of Iranian troops, the lesbian Syrian that turned out to be a US male, etc.), to overt actions as in the US ambassador presence at anti-Asad rallies to clandestine actions as in meetings with neighboring countries that saw Saudi Arabia and Qatar spending millions of dollars to feed the rebellion as well as Turkey threatening to intervene to Jordan and Lebanon and Syrian border with Iraq that abetted that the flow of arms, men and money, the US and NATO help to create this disaster.
    What foreign policy wonks advised Obama that Bashar al-Asad would fade into obscurity rather than fight to preserve his rule? What cabal of news reporters or academics failed to envision the bloodletting when armed rebellion emerged? What politician assured Obama’s Administration that more arms, more money, more logistical help, more fighters would not result in opening up Syria to Islamist militants?
    With the level of death and destruction that has engulfed this nation, has anyone asked was it worth shattering Syria into ethnic and sectarian entities so as to remove a third rate dictator? Given our alliance with such “democratic” nations like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, etc. and the wonderful success we have had in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, Bashar al-Asad and his relatively secular rule may have been the lesser of evils.

  16. The fact of the matter is that the US's ME policies is still affected by plans laid down down some years ago and titled " Israel's Clean Break Plan". For details do a wiki. In the meantime heres a synopsis…….

    The reason to invade Iraq was part of a report of a Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000, for Bibi Nethanyahu. Former United States Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle was the "Study Group Leader", but the final report included ideas from James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Robert Loewenberg, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser.

    The plan proposed new policies:
    Rather than pursuing a "comprehensive peace" with the entire Arab world, Israel should work to "contain, destabilize, and roll-back" those entities that are threats.

    "SYRIA challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which American can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon,

    That Given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan comprehensive peace and move to contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction programs, and rejecting land for peace deals on the Golan Heights.

    That Israel can shape its strategic environment, by focusing on removing Saddam Hussein from power in IRAQ.— an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.

    The plan was prepared before GWB got elected and all those involved worked for Rumsfeld at one time.

    For an in depth review: http://www.mideastweb.org/Middle-East-Encyclopedi

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