The State Department’s Syria Revolt

June 22 2016

Last week, over 50 U.S. diplomats submitted an official letter of protest criticizing the White House’s Syria policy and calling for air strikes and bombardment to enforce the U.S.-sponsored cease fire and protect civilians. Elliott Abrams comments:

Diplomats rarely do this sort of thing—official, written dissents—because it is not generally good for their careers.

A cynic might note that in this case, the Obama administration has only six months to go, and the policies being proposed are not far from those supported by Hillary Clinton. But I would not be so cynical. I think this memo reflects anguish and disgust by dozens of career diplomats (I will bet every single one of whom voted for [Obama]), and I wish the president were sufficiently open-minded and humble to ask himself how we got to this place. He is not, but this is nevertheless a moment worth reflection.

There are eight million refugees and displaced persons and perhaps 400,000 dead in Syria, a reassertion of Russian power, and an extensive presence of Hizballah and Iranian forces. Those are the fruits of the president’s policy—a policy that in 2012 Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff rejected when they recommended that the United States support the rebels. But Obama [in turn] rejected all that advice.

Career diplomats in the State Department, in my experience, do not run around calling for bombing campaigns very often. Unsurprisingly, they usually call for diplomacy—but at least in this case are able to see that diplomacy unsupported by strength is foolishness, mere words, not a policy but a substitute for policy. They have manned the desks handling Mr. Kerry’s Syria negotiations in Geneva, and been embarrassed by the effort.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Politics & Current Affairs, State Department, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen