Saturday, July 13, 2013

“Nothing game-changing.”

'Although events in Egypt and Syria show signs of spinning out of control, there is little sign of urgent engagement by President Obama or other top foreign policy officials. Obama is actively pursuing telephone diplomacy with regional allies, but is otherwise showing little inclination to involve the US more directly on the ground. Regarding Egypt, the Administration’s de facto acquiescence in Mohammed Morsi’s ouster signals and criticism of his government as “not democratic” signals, as senior State Department officials have commented to us, that “when it is a choice between Islamists and the military, we will always side with the latter.” The trajectory of events in Egypt could still test that approach, but our assessment is that the White House remains confident that the situation in Egypt will gradually calm down. On Syria, there is more than one voice in senior policy-making circles, with officials close to Secretary of State Kerry advocating a more activist approach. However, concern about the viability and cohesion of the opposition continues to build. Some weapons are beginning to flow their way, but, in the words of a Pentagon adviser, “nothing game-changing.” Unless Obama modifies his deeply ingrained reluctance to re-engage the US military in the military, we do not see this stand-back posture changing. On a more strategic level, the  outcomes of the latest round of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue indicate that both Washington and Beijing are making some headway in engaging each other on areas where partnership is possible like the Korean Peninsular and on areas of profound disagreement like cyber. Concerning Afghanistan, the White House has been surprised by the criticism it has received since surfacing the so-called "zero option" of US troop withdrawals.  Privately, we have been told that this is not being seriously considered. Nevertheless, there are increasing bipartisan complaints on the hill that these statements are indicative of the policy indecision when it comes to meeting next year's drawdowns of personnel. '

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