Tuesday, April 26, 2011

'Shift' on Syria

"... After a series of deliberations, culminating in a Deputies Committee meeting at the National Security Council last week, a new policy course was set. In the coming days, expect a new executive order on Syria, a draft presidential statement at the U.N. Security Council, new designations of Syrian officials as targets of sanctions, and a firmer tone on the violence that will include references to Iran's unhelpful influence on Syria's crackdown. The new sanctions will not target Assad directly and there will be no call for him to go.....
"A lot of people were wrong. The general assessment [inside the administration] was that this wouldn't happen, that Assad was too good at nipping these movements in the bud and also that he was not afraid to be brutal," one administration official said. "All of these things combined made this more of a surprise and made it much harder to deal with."........ The Obama administration has always been divided between those who prioritized efforts to convince Assad to break with Iran, those who wanted to concentrate on Syrian-Israeli negotiations (sometimes known as the "peace process junkies"), and those who believed that Assad would always be a ruthless and anti-Western dictator, and should be treated as such.
As the violence in Syria escalated, different parts of the administration pushed for different courses of action. At the Treasury Department, for example, sanctions experts were pushing for targeted and specific measures that could put financial pressure on the Syrian government.... At the State Department, the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs was also pressing for quicker decision making, multiple administration sources said. U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, in search of clear guidance for his discussions with the Assad regime, was pushing for specifics on U.S. demands and what pressures might be forthcoming should Syria not comply. However, a push for aggressive action wasn't necessarily the State Department's position at the end of the day. Multiple sources said that, when the Syria discussions reached the deputies or principals level, State was often viewed as taking a cautious line, not wanting to give U.S. critics ammunition to claim the protests were driven by the West. Meanwhile, the NSC staff was asking what leverage the United States has over Syria, and what exact steps it wanted the Syrian government to take.... 
"The people inside the administration who have been trying to craft a systematic narrative as to how the U.S. is responding to the Arab spring, they would like to see a more forceful response, but they are right to be cautious because it's very unclear exactly how widespread the support for the protests really are," said George Washington University professor Marc Lynch. The administration now has no choice but to increase its involvement, but it will continue to be mindful that U.S. pressure, even with international support, has limited influence. "Once Assad decided to use brutal force, it really forced their hand. But we still don't have a lot of leverage," Lynch said.

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