Saturday, April 27, 2013

NSC Official: "Our 'Syria' options are severely limited... we want to avoid an intervention that makes matters worse.”

'It is often said that Washington can only deal with one crisis at a time. Thus, North Korea has been shunted from view, to be replaced by Syria where new reports of the regime’s use of chemical weapons have reinforced the trend to greater US engagement in the conflict. Consultations with allies have increased, as seen in the visit to Washington by Jonathan Day, head of the British Joint Intelligence Committee, for consultations on the underlying intelligence which may stimulate a change in US policy. In the face of rising hawkish pressure to intervene militarily in short order, President Obama continues to act cautiously. While we understand that a number of measures are under consideration – more targeted aid to the Syrian opposition, the creation of no-fly zones, further tightening of sanctions – Obama remains minded to act in concert with the international community, including Russia and China. The intelligence evidence is therefore being rigorously examined and, even if it shows conclusively that the regime has deployed chemical weapons, our Administration contacts tell us that the US response will be proportionate and will begin with diplomacy in the UN Security Council. As one NSC official put it to us, “the momentum for action is building, but our options are severely limited. Most of all, we want to avoid being bounced into an intervention that makes matters worse.” Overall, therefore, we expect US policy will evolve slowly, with much emphasis on the risks that any Western action might unleash region-wide instability. One specific risk being talked about behind the scenes is that action in Syria might spill over into conflict with Iran, as well as sink the Middle East peace process once and for all. Given that Administration analysts hope that the June presidential elections in Iran may potentially set the stage for a more productive dialogue with Tehran over nuclear issue, the geo-strategic reasons for caution over Syria weigh heavily in the White House. With regard to Afghanistan, the looming onset of the summer “fighting season” is prompting a flurry of diplomatic exchanges led by Secretary of State Kerry. Concern is rising in the Pentagon of, as one senior analyst put it to us, of “an extremely dangerous scenario of a retreat under fire.”

No comments: