51 U.S. Diplomats Urge Strikes Against Assad in Syria

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51 U.S. Diplomats Urge Strikes Against Assad in Syria

“The moral rationale for taking steps to end the deaths and suffering in Syria, after five years of brutal war, is evident and unquestionable,” it said. “The status quo in Syria will continue to present increasingly dire, if not disastrous, humanitarian, diplomatic and terrorism-related challenges.”

The memo acknowledged that military action would have risks, not the least further tensions with Russia, which has intervened in the war on Mr. Assad’s behalf and helped negotiate a cease-fire. Those tensions increased on Thursday when, according to a senior Pentagon official, Russia conducted airstrikes in southern Syria against American-backed forces fighting the Islamic State. The State Department officials insisted in their memo that they were not “advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia,” but rather a credible threat of military action to keep Mr. Assad in line. Once that threat was in place, the memo said, Mr. Kerry could undertake a diplomatic mission similar to the one he led with Iran on its nuclear program.

 

The expression of dissent came a week after Mr. Assad showed renewed defiance of the United States and other countries, vowing to retake “every inch” of his country from his enemies. The cease-fire, which Mr. Kerry helped negotiate in Munich last winter, has never really taken hold. Mr. Assad has continued to block humanitarian convoys, despite a warning that the United Nations would begin airdrops of food to starving towns. “There is an enormous frustration in the bureaucracy about Syria policy,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy. “What’s brought this to a head now is the real downturn in the negotiations, not just between the U.S. and Russia, but between Assad and the opposition.” Last month, Mr. Kerry rejected the suggestion that the United States and its allies would never use force to stop the bombings or enforce humanitarian access.   “If President Assad has come to a conclusion there’s no Plan B,” he said, “then he’s come to a conclusion that is totally without any foundation whatsoever and even dangerous.” Still, Mr. Obama has shown little sign of shifting his focus from the campaign against the Islamic State — a strategy that probably acquired even more urgency after the mass shooting Sunday in Orlando, Fla. In the memo, the State Department officials argued that military action against Mr. Assad would help the fight against the Islamic State because it would bolster moderate Sunnis, who are necessary allies against the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL. While the State Department has a tradition of being open to dissent — in the 1990s, Secretary of State Warren Christopher met with Foreign Service officers who had written a 30-page dissent on the Clinton administration’s Balkans policy — Mr. Christopher and his successors have been frustrated when these classified memos become public.     In this case, the memo mainly confirms what has been clear for some time: The State Department’s rank and file have chafed at the White House’s refusal to be drawn into the conflict in Syria. During a debate in June 2013, after the Assad government had used chemical weapons against its own people, Mr. Kerry brandished a State Department report that argued that the United States needed to respond militarily or Mr. Assad would view it as “green light for continued CW use.” Three years later, the sense of urgency at the State Department has not diminished. The memo concludes, “It is time that the United States, guided by our strategic interests and moral convictions, lead a global effort to put an end to this conflict once and for all.”   ____________________________________________________   ©2016, The Washington Post 


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