Monday, June 20, 2016

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT - Dissent in the Ranks

"State Department officials push for military intervention in Syria" PBS NewsHour 6/17/2016


SUMMARY:  The question of how to end the devastating five-year Syrian Civil War has split the United States foreign service.  Recently, a group of State Department officials signed an internal memo protesting U.S. policy in Syria and calling for military intervention to destroy the Islamic State and force the Assad regime into peace negotiations.  Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  How do you end the war in Syria?  It is a question that has plagued world leaders since the start of the devastating civil conflict there.

Today, we learned more about the extent of disagreement inside the U.S. State Department about the course set by President Obama.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER (NewsHour):  For five years, the savage Syria conflict has killed some 400,000 and put millions more to flight.

Now 51 mid-level diplomatic officials have gone on record advocating a dramatic shift in U.S. strategy.  They have signed an internal so-called dissent letter, calling for targeted military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's government.

The dissenters argue it would help bring Assad to the negotiating table and deal a major blow to ISIS.  The document remains secret, but Andrew Tabler, an expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is familiar with the document's contents.

ANDREW TABLER, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy:  If the Assad regime violates the cessation of hostilities and uses it to further its position on the battlefield, in such cases, military force could be used.  Second, if humanitarian assistance is not provided or is impeded in some way, military force could be used.

MARGARET WARNER:  In Copenhagen today, Secretary of State John Kerry said he had not yet seen the memo, but welcomed it.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State:  I think it's an important statement, and I respect the process very, very much, and I will probably meet with people or have a chance to talk with them when we get back.

MARGARET WARNER:  The memo came through a channel created for State Department employees to register policy disagreements without retaliation.  When conflict first broke out in 2011, President Obama called for ousting Assad.  And in 2012, he threatened military action.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  A red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.  That would change my calculus.

MARGARET WARNER:  But after a regime chemical attack killed more than 1,000 Syrians in August 2013, the President didn't launch military strikes, nor step up arming the Syrian rebels.

More recently, he's launched U.S. airstrikes in Syria, but only against ISIS.  Instead, Russia intervened last fall on Assad's behalf, bolstering him.  Today, Russian air attacks hit anti-Assad rebels battling is in Southern Syria.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin warned today any U.S. move targeting Assad's forces would plunge the region into total chaos.

Andrew Tabler's response?

ANDREW TABLER:  If you look at this, over time, whether it's the United States and the threat of use of military force in 2013 or Israel's continued use of strikes inside of Syria, this is something that the Assad regime is known to respond to.

MARGARET WARNER:  All of this comes as a February cease-fire has largely dissolved.  It did let humanitarian aid reach some Syrian communities, but others remain cut off by Assad loyalists.  And peace talks backed by Secretary of State Kerry and the Russians have shown no progress.

An August 1 deadline for a political transition won't be met.  Plans now are only to resume talks then.

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