US rethinking Syrian 'failure'

 
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry talk before the State of the Union address on January 28, 2014. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry need to sell Americans on a new Syria strategy

Americans would like nothing more than to put Syria and its ongoing civil war in the rear-view mirror. Unfortunately for them, ignoring the conflict could have serious long-term implications for the region and, possibly, US security at home.

Policymakers in Washington have begun to realise this, rekindling a debate about the nation's Syria strategy.

After the aborted military strike in September, the focus had turned to diplomacy, including the UN chemical weapons deal and the peace negotiations between President Bashar al-Assad and opposition forces. But Syria is stalling on its promise to abide by the chemical deal, and the Geneva II peace talks for now have failed to achieve anything.

When conditions in a conflict change, the natural next step is to reassess your approach, and conversations with American officials and Syrian opposition activists indicate this time has come in Washington.

When the popular uprising in Syria started to turn violent in late 2011, few officials in Washington seemed worried about the long-term consequences. Warnings about the Assad government's ability to feed extremism to scare the West about the alternative to its own rule barely registered on anyone's radar.

As the conflict dragged on, and regional experts warned about Mr Assad's willingness to use scorched-earth policies to keep the upper hand militarily, the response was that a civil war is not America's problem to solve.

Now Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is telling Congress that the most radical elements in the Syrian rebellion could pose a threat to the US. He also warns the chemical weapons deal with the UN strengthened Mr Assad.

On Tuesday Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement condemning the Syrian government's continued indiscriminate use of barrel bombs dropped from helicopters in civilian areas and said: "The regime is single-mindedly focused on inflicting further destruction to strengthen its hand on the battlefield and undermining hopes for the success of the Geneva II process."

Mr Kerry was also reported to have vented his frustration during a private meeting with senators over the weekend, telling them the administration's Syria policy has failed. While Kerry's aides denied he made those comments, it's clear from what he and others officials have been saying in public that the momentum is building within the administration to reconsider all its options.

On Thursday the Washington Post laid out some of the choices available to the president - more robust than the current policy but less than a full US war. Arming the rebels is already happening by proxy, but it could be accelerated with more US support. This would not hand the rebels an outright victory but could help strengthen their hand at the negotiating table.

The problem for Mr Obama and his key advisers is that they don't see a military option that doesn't carry the risk of leading to large-scale military action. Even arming the "moderate" rebels is fraught with risks and means getting more involved, which is why the administration has not jumped on this before. The Saudis and other American allies in the region did, and would ideally want the US to fight the whole war for them.

Mr Obama has been trying to find a balance between the US role as a world leader and an American public that mostly wants to forget about the world after a decade of foreign conflicts. He has defined US interests and its response to problems in much more narrow, security-based terms. His factual references to Syria in his State of the Union address did not match the horrors of a conflict that is killing a whole country.

Public opinion in the US has yet to be moved by the war in Syria. Americans are focused on their economic recovery and healthcare reform, and are generally in a more isolationist mood.

Whatever policy course he chooses, Mr Obama needs to start preparing the American public for the possibility that the US will have to take further action in Syria. He can do this by explaining that indifference to problems in faraway countries today does not guarantee they won't become America's problems in the future. And deploying drones to strike al-Qaeda militants will not be the answer to dealing with radical militants in the Mediterranean.

 

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 56.

    Quite the list of current violent conflicts: Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Ukraine and today, Bosnia. Drivers are basically poverty, property and religion and for-profit weapons sales flourishing for the UN Security Council 5! The hapless in the crossfire, as always.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 55.

    @Superalien3 It's hardly a lie. It's easily 100K, if not more. Have you seen any of the images from Homs or Aleppo, or heard any of the testimony of folks tortured by this monster for decades? Are you and Assad Facebook buddies or something? You're really going to debate the veracity of the chemical weapons attack? Unbelievable....

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 54.

    US rethinking Syrian 'failure'

    The problem with this headline is that it implies that there was thinking in the first place. The absolutely inept Obama painted himself into a corner and was pushing us to war again! The ironic thing is that he got his hide save by--the Russians!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 53.

    re. 51.Superalien3:
    " Libya is on its way to a hell hole. The country is now being run by war lords, murderers and terrorists. Qaddafi by comparison was a pacifist vegan saint."

    Pacifists don't blow up airliners.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 52.

    Convincing the American people to support U.S. military action in Syria is going to a tough sell. Most Americans are sympathetic to the suffering of the people there but don't regard Syria as their problem to "fix", and not much chance of a "winner" there being well disposed to us if we did get involved. Unless Assad gets stupid with chemical weapons again Obama should steer clear of this one.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 51.

    What Western intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq achieved that now we are being encouraged for another decade of war in Syria?

    Are these achievements not enough: http://goo.gl/gCl0v5

    Enough with lies. Stop supporting terror in Syria.

    They Libya is on its way to a hell hole. The country is now being run by war lords, murderers and terrorists. Qaddafi by comparison was a pacifist vegan saint.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 50.

    48. Your only suggestion, rabid US jingoism and Ted Cruz is your man (Jeb Bush's Mom doesn't want another Bush in the White House), supported by McCain and Graham, shills for the NRA materiel folks. You rednecks continue with 'no matter the question, the answer is US military force' and why open-carry is a-must: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/06/wendy-davis-open-carry-gun-rights-texas

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 49.

    @ 41. HoyaTom;

    That is a lie. That number has come from a London based opposition group, the Syrian human rights observatory and it clearly says that most of those 100 K are Syrian Army soldiers. Get your facts right. No body believes war mongering emotion-blackmailing propaganda. People are now much better informed. They literally stopped another war a couple just months ago over chemical lies.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 48.

    @ 43.Chris A

    " .... And back to a Republican Neo Con warmonger puppet to head US foreign policy? ....... looking for a dumb as a plank redneck front guy for their 'empire' military driven plan: PNAC! ....."

    Y'all got to lay off the Kool Aid dude...its potent in the midday sun

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 47.

    Bush41 trashed Saddam - who had Iran boxed - nobody cared about Kuwait - Saddam needed to be redirected, rearmed, pointed at Iran

    Now we have Iraq out-of-control, Iran nuclear and the only person with any stones is Bibi - Obama is owned by the Fed & Wall St Bankstas and wont touch them - ever - same with Holder - they are both waiting to take the retirement package smoke some dope, drink whisky

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 46.

    "Only a few weeks ago the info on the destruction and isolation of Syria´s nerve gas was positive --now we hear only 5% is destroyed and has left Syria ?"

    Syria , a country in the middle of a war , manages to destroy some of it's chemical weapons.

    The United States ,which declared it's stockpile in 1997 , still has 10% - 3000 ton (which is more than the total Syria possessed) not yet destroyed.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 45.

    Let's assume that the makers of foreign policy in every government are motivated by a desire to improve the world - a tricky assumption, I agree, but if it were so they'd do well to take the Hippocratic Oath, & undertake, at least, to do no harm.The example of the 'patient' in Iraq illustrates the medical black joke 'the operation was a complete success, sadly the patient died.....'

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 44.

    Give it 5 to 10 years. Young Americans will care even less about the ME when they have no jobs and/or no incentive to work even the available jobs, and it finally dawns on them they're controlled by a dictatorship with an uncontrolled border. Will there be an uprising?

    As usual, it will be up to whoever controls the "US" govt at the time, to stir the ME pot.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 43.

    42. And back to a Republican Neo Con warmonger puppet to head US foreign policy? i.e. Bush Jr 2? The blue-blood Connecticut Bush family moved to Texas and Jr went native: became a rancher with drawl and swagger, i.e. the good old boy BS that got him elected often and caught the eye of the Neo Cons, looking for a dumb as a plank redneck front guy for their 'empire' military driven plan: PNAC!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 42.

    Obama was incompetent from day-one - Kerry is way out of his league,
    he should be pensioned off to lick ketchup labels and cut paper dolls.

    Everybody in DC are waiting for the next faux pas - whether its swearing
    at each other or trying to pass the buck for a failed Obamacare website

    The sooner Obama leaves office the better - he is complete puppet even Putin thanks him - with zero KGB help

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 41.

    Really can't believe some of the comments on here. 100K+ mostly civilians dead is not a civil war...it's genocide. Are we really so timid about stopping the carnage that we can't at least set up a no-fly zone? If the world learned anything from the first decade of the 20th Century, as well as the 1930s, it's that isolationism is a flawed policy.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 40.

    With the actions of Ed Miliband using the civilians of Syria as pawns in his party political games brought massive shame on our Labour Party, he should be sent to Syria to live with some of the families he chose not to help.
    The west should intervene and help civilians survive the ludicrous destruction.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 39.

    "...indifference to problems in faraway countries..."

    ----------

    Problems in faraway countries, "allies" and foes, seem to be many and don't seem to be diminishing, but I'm not aware of any intel or brass that suggests the US use of force in Syria achieves things like peace, democracy, etc. Our reluctance to engage in that manner may be more a desire to avoid lethal errancy than indifference.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 38.

    As long as Assad and the FSA have unrealistic ideology then the extremist elements have free reign in which to continue to subvert the unchecked flanks.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 37.

    Both America and UK appear to believe the World exists for them to ´play´ with.

    Only a few weeks ago the info on the destruction and isolation of Syria´s nerve gas was positive --now we hear only 5% is destroyed and has left Syria ?

    Ideas, more than --eeny, meeny, miny, mo --are lacking.

 

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