'The FSA holding the UN hostage ...'
'Now that the Senate has confirmed John Brennan as CIA chief, President Obama has his full national security team in place. Both Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel have launched into an active travel program. By coincidence of timing Hagel’s first meeting with a foreign counterpart was with Ehud Barack, the Israeli defense minister who was visiting Washington for the winter AIPAC meeting. This allowed Hagel to dispel some of the criticism of him as insufficiently supportive of Israel that had built up during his nomination hearing. Although Hagel’s trip to Afghanistan is billed as to “assess operations”, our strong sense remains the major decisions on the pace of withdrawal have already been taken in the White House. Indeed, all the signs are that, as he prepares for a very full agenda of domestic legislation, President Obama is intent on avoiding being drawn into what he regards as foreign distractions and will exercise tight control over foreign policy to ensure that he avoids unwelcome surprises. This approach underlies Obama’s embrace of drones as his preferred instrument of power projection. The viability of this stand-back strategy is being tested by events in Syria where close allies of the US, notably the UK and France, are pressing for a more engaged intervention. US officials are trying to develop closer ties with the Syrian opposition, but the intelligence assessment is that they are neither unified, effective or necessarily aligned with US expectations.'