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Obama's War in Syria | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

Obama's War in Syria


Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. (AP Photo)

The US war in Syria is underway.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the CIA has already begun shipping weapons to “vetted Syrian rebels.” Says the Journal:

The Central Intelligence Agency has begun moving weapons to Jordan from a network of secret warehouses and plans to start arming small groups of vetted Syrian rebels within a month, expanding U.S. support of moderate forces battling President Bashar al-Assad, according to diplomats and U.S. officials briefed on the plans.

Most worrisome is that, with American support, Saudi Arabia is shipping Manpads, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, to the rebels, despite the risk that those deadly arms could fall into the hands of Al Qaeda and its allies:

Talks are under way with other countries, including France, about pre-positioning European-procured weapons in Jordan. Saudi Arabia is expected to provide shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, known as Manpads, to a small number of handpicked fighters, as few as 20 at first, officials and diplomats said. The U.S. would monitor this effort, too, to try to reduce the risk that the Manpads could fall into the hands of Islamists.

Saudi officials have told their American counterparts that they believe Riyadh can identify a small group of trusted rebel fighters and provide them with as few as 20 Manpads initially, reducing the risk that the weapons will fall into the hands of radical Islamists, a major U.S. and Israeli concern.

Ever naïve, the United States is asking the Syrian rebels to please, please don’t give any weapons to the Al Qaeda types in the coalition arrayed against President Bashar al-Assad’s secular government. Notes The Hill:

The Defense Department is seeking assurances from Syrian opposition leaders that U.S.-provided weapons to rebels in the country will not end up in the hands of Islamic militants.

Now that we know that Secretary of State Kerry is leading the hawkish faction inside the Obama administration, it appears that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are the “doves.” In a news briefing yesterday, Hagel and Dempsey made it clear that while they’ll carry out President Obama’s orders to arm the rebels, they’re not exactly happy about it. In reading the transcript, you have read between the lines, as both Hagel and Dempsey said that they’d support “the decision” by Obama. Said Hagel:

On Syria, I think the central point of your question is always going to be a factor. The opposition represents many different groups. And we will always be and have to be assured that assistance we give to the Syrian military council gets to the right people, and that isn’t a decision that can be answered quickly. It’s a constant process of assessment.

So that still remains as part of the overall objective and what we’re—we’re trying to do. We support what the decision is and what the president decided to do. As to your question, direct military and U.S. military involvement there, no.

And Dempsey added:

Well, the only thing I’d add is, you know, we—we support the decision that was made to provide direct support to the Syrian military council, the details of which I won’t discuss, but we support the decision.

Militarily, what we’re doing is assisting our partners in the region, the neighbors of Syria, to ensure that they’re prepared to account for the potential spillover effects. As you know, we’ve just taken a decision to leave some Patriot missile batteries and some F-16s in Jordan as part of the defense of Jordan. We’re working with our Iraqi counterparts, the Lebanese armed forces, and Turkey through NATO, and that’s—that’s what we’re doing at this point.

And Dempsey flatly shot down the idea of a no-fly zone, calling it “an act of war”:

A no-fly zone, by the way, is just one option of many that we have analyzed and—and prepared. It will be difficult, because the Syrian air defense system is sophisticated and it’s dense. As I’ve said many times, if that is a decision that the nation takes that we want to impose a no-fly zone, we’ll make it happen, and we can do that with a combination of standoff munitions, electronic jamming, long-range attack, and close air attack. We—we can, if asked to do so, establish a no-fly zone.

My concern has been that—that ensuring that Syria’s airplanes don’t fly addresses about 10 percent of the problem, in terms of the casualties that are taken in Syria. And if we choose to—to conduct a no-fly zone, it’s essentially an act of war, and I’d like to understand the plan to make peace before we start a war.

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It’s apparent that the idea of a harmonious Obama administration on Syria is poppycock, and that there are deep splits in the administration over how to approach this civil war. As I’ve written repeatedly, Obama resisted going to war in Syria for a long time, though he created a dangerous slippery slope for himself by calling for Assad’s ouster, helping Saudi Arabia and Qatar supply arms to the rebels, ordering the CIA to train select rebel fighters in Jordan and, of course, drawing a foolish “red line” over the use by Syria of chemical weapons. By agreeing to arm the rebels, however, Obama has finally caved in to the hawks’ (including Bill Clinton’s) pressure. There’s still time for him to right himself, by accelerating plans for the Geneva peace conference and by inviting Iran to attend, but it’s not looking good.

Secretary of State John Kerry is America’s top diplomat, but he is leading the charge for military action in Syria.

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