from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

American Diplomats Call for Bombing Syria

June 17, 2016

Blog Post

In an extraordinary development, more than fifty American diplomats have dissented from the Obama administration’s Syria policy and challenged it in an internal "dissent channel" memo.

Here’s how The New York Times’s story begins:

 

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.

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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 dissent channel memos are very rare and almost always written by one man or woman. I cannot recall one being signed by dozens of diplomats. But then again, it is hard to recall a policy as dangerous and inhumane as Obama policy in Syria.

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 (and I will bet every single one of them voted for him), 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 a deep presence by Hezbollah and Iran. Those are the fruits of Obama policy--a policy that in 2012 Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Panetta, CIA Director Petraeus, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs rejected when they recommended that the United States support the rebels. But Obama 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.

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My guess is that most signatories to this dissent channel message have no illusions about its results: they do not expect Obama to change his mind or to take their advice. What they are doing, I think, is an act of conscience: they are saying they do not wish to be held responsible for this policy any longer. They are saying the policy is unconscionable and they wish to be on record as opposing it. What an achievement for Obama foreign policy.

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