Friday, 17 June 2016
Dozens of U.S. Diplomats, in Memo, Urge Strikes Against Syria’s Assad
'More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war.
The memo, a draft of which was provided to The New York Times by a State Department official, says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”
Such a step would represent a radical shift in the administration’s approach to the civil war in Syria, and there is little evidence that President Obama has plans to change course. Mr. Obama has emphasized the military campaign against the Islamic State over efforts to dislodge Mr. Assad. Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, have all but collapsed.
Robert S. Ford, a former ambassador to Syria, said, “Many people working on Syria for the State Department have long urged a tougher policy with the Assad government as a means of facilitating arrival at a negotiated political deal to set up a new Syrian government.”
In the memo, the State Department officials wrote that the Assad government’s continuing violations of the partial cease-fire, known as a cessation of hostilities, will doom efforts to broker a political settlement because Mr. Assad will feel no pressure to negotiate with the moderate opposition or other factions fighting him. The government’s barrel bombing of civilians, it said, is the “root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.”
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. 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.
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.” '