Wednesday, January 30, 2013

One disgruntled State Department official: “For nearly two years we have heard mostly about the downside of getting involved militarily in Syria,”

MEPGS: Excerpts: (Basically, today's brief is "all Obama's fault!")
With his two new appointments as Secretary of State and Defense, President Obama, in the view of a number of veteran observers, has served notice that he will be reticent about employing direct force against anyone who is not engaged in or constitutes a direct threat to the US.  “From a `Team of Rivals’,” says one former senior US official, “The President has now appointed a `Team of Lap D ogs’.”  If there was any doubt that this was just one man’s opinion, the President made clear in an interview with The New Republic magazine that he could not justify greater military intervention in Syria, despite pressure from various parties including European allies.  As he put it in the interview, “How do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?”  Says one veteran US analyst, “In [Senators] Hagel and Kerry, the President has the perfect people to carry out a policy that devolves from `leading from behind’ to “farming out our military capabilities’.”
The practical implications of this new, improved version of, what, one analyst calls, “abandoning the role of a superpower,” can be most readily felt in Syria and by extension in dealings with Iran.  Regarding Syria, many US and European officials believe it is already too late for the US to make a difference in the outcome of the civil war there.  Saudi Arabia and even more so, Qatar, have provided the rebels with necessary weaponry until now, experts say, as the rebels are able to seize sufficient arms by taking over Syrian government warehouses and arsenals.  “We are not in it, no matter the outcome,” says one US analyst.  “We are irrelevant.”
Another criticism privately made by middle level US officials is that despite the endless meetings from the top [The President and the National Security Council] on down [a myriad of working groups], is that each and every meeting ends with no change in policy.  “For nearly two years we have heard mostly about the downside of getting involved militarily in Syria,” says one disgruntled State Department official.  “We were told that it would only lead to more violence and the rise of extremist forces.  So we did nothing and all the bad things predicted have come true anyway.”
The Europeans are, if anything, even more frustrated with Administration inaction.  “One year ago a simple series of air strikes would have dealt a crippling blow to Assad,” says one European diplomat, who argues that a “no-fly zone” was not required to ground the Syrian air force.  Even as recently as last fall’s political meetings in Doha and Marrakech, where the August 12 coalition representing 90% of the opposition was in attendance, bold US follow-up with, at least funding, could have tipped the balance in Syria, say these diplomats.  Instead, now, the consensus is that the situation on the ground will continue to slowly deteriorate.  “There is no end in sight,” says one US official.  “Other than a failed state.”  This, in turn, predict US analysts will lead to increased instability among Syria’s neighbors, particularly Lebanon and Jordan.
So far, observers have considered it remarkable that both countries, especially Lebanon, have been relatively quiet.  But another feature that concerns many analysts is the impact continued civil war will have on Iran and ultimately the one issue that could bring US military intervention, the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon. ...  As one analyst put it this week, “Syria is beginning to look like a good playing field for Iran.”...  More important, say those involved in the Iranian “nuclear file,” will be the increased perception in Teheran that the US is not meant to be taken seriously.  Already, key US officials admit privately that, in the words of one State Department insider, “The Iranians are toying with us.”  They have not responded to a number of entreaties to resume talks with the P-5 + 1 [US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China].  Some analysts thought that they were waiting until after the US election and hoped that a meeting in Istanbul in January would take place.  But January is gone and according to informed sources, Istanbul is no longer a likely venue.
US and European officials are encouraged by the success of economic sanctions....
Iran may be the most “existential” threat to Israel, but it is not the only one that keeps its strategic planners busy.  For that matter, their most important concerns, the safety of chemical weapons in Syria, stability in Jordan and the unfolding political crisis in Egypt are also shared by US officials.  Egyptian President Morsi’s widely viewed “overreach” has resulted, says one US official in leaving a set of `checks and balances’ in the hands of people on the street.  While Morsi continues with his plans to visit Paris and Berlin, European governments are less than eager to help his country’s faltering economy.  While Qatar has chipped in several billion dollars in grants and loans, Saudi Arabia has failed to follow suit and, in any event, an internationally-led effort of much greater magnitude and discipline is necessary.   Meanwhile, Egypt’s control of the Sinai weakens daily and the burden place on the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty – the cornerstone of US Middle East policy – nears the breaking point, say some State Department experts.

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