The New York Times and Hurriyet on White House's incoherent and opaque Syria policy.3:01 PM, Oct 23, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
A long New York Times story today details the quarrels and vicissitudes that have marked the Obama White House’s Syria policy over the last two and a half years. Some senior officials wanted to arm the rebels to topple Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, while others pushed back.
As has been previously reported, former CIA director David Petraeus was in the first camp, as was former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey. Samantha Power, at the time on Obama’s NSC staff and now ambassador to the U.N., also advocated arming the rebels.
“Denis,” Power is reported to have said to current White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, “if you had met the rebels as frequently as I have, you would be as passionate as I am.”
“Samantha,” McDonough replied, “we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”
Obama’s past and present national security advisers, Tom Donilon and Susan Rice were once against arming the Free Syrian Army and eventually switched sides, joining Clinton’s replacement John Kerry as well as the man who succeeded Petraeus at the CIA, Michael J. Morrell who, according to the Times, “renewed his predecessor’s pitch to begin arming the rebels.”
In June after the administration confirmed reports that Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons, the White House hinted, without any official announcement, that it would enforce Obama’s redline by sending lethal aid, even as it is unclear whether weapons were ever actually sent.
McDonough it seems is the one senior official who never thought it was a good idea to arm the rebels. According to the Times, he believed “that the status quo in Syria could keep Iran pinned down for years. In later discussions, he also suggested that a fight in Syria between Hezbollah and Al Qaeda would work to America’s advantage.”
Besides McDonough, the other constant in the administration’s opaque and incoherent policy is a detached and disinterested president. During senior staff meetings to discuss Syria, according to the Times, Obama “often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.”
Obama was apparently never interested in arming the rebels and now, according to a report yesterday from the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, the administration has cut off its nonlethal assistance to rebel groups in northern Syria. The White House blames al Qaeda groups for blocking dispersal of the aid but, according to Hurriyet’s Washington correspondent Tolga Tanis, the decision is another part of the administration’s “disengagement” from the Syrian conflict. Perhaps with the prospect of cutting a deal with Iran, Obama is loath to upset Tehran by committing any resources to toppling an ally in whom they’ve invested money, manpower and weapons.
When the administration signed on to the Russian initiative to strip Syrian president Bashar al-Assad of his chemical weapons, Obama effectively partnered with Assad and Vladimir Putin, which invariably precluded sending the rebels lethal aid. Now Obama has cut off nonlethal assistance as well, again dividing the administration, including one senior CIA official, who, according to Tanis, resigned in protest in September. Perhaps it was Morrell who, as he explained to the Wall Street Journal last month, sees Syria as the greatest threat to U.S. national security. In any case, the president he served doesn’t share that assessment.
They’re not all jihadist dead-enders.Sep 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 02 • By LEE SMITH
Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry went against received wisdom—and against the assessment of the White House he works for—when he argued that Syrian opposition forces are not dominated by Islamic extremists. “I just don’t agree that a majority are al Qaeda and the bad guys,” Kerry argued in his congressional testimony. “There are about 70,000 to 100,000 oppositionists. . . . Maybe 15 percent to 25 percent might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys.”
8:01 AM, Jun 15, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
Thursday the White House announced that the American intelligence community assesses, with a level of high confidence, that the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against the opposition multiple times, in a limited fashion. Now that it is clear Assad has crossed the Obama red line by using chemical weapons, the question is, has this changed the president’s “calculus,” as he said it might? The media is reporting that it has.
10:40 PM, Apr 17, 2012 • By ANN MARLOWE
As shells fell around the Amazigh city of Zwara on the evening of April 3, the city’s five tanks thundered back at its Arab neighbors in Rig Dalin. Men, ranging in age from their teens to their sixties, fought and supported the fighters—and updated the Zwara Media Center’s very active Facebook page. Also, they talked incessantly about the meaning of democracy, minority rights, gun control, and other topics usually left to less urgent settings.
10:39 AM, Sep 2, 2011 • By DALIBOR ROHAC
As heartening as it is to see Muammar Qaddafi lose his grip on power, our expectations of Libya's future need to take into account this ethnically diverse country’s complicated reality. The biggest problem is Libya's enormous oil reserves.
9:35 AM, Sep 2, 2011 • By ANN MARLOWE
Libya—Here, west of Tripoli, the revolutionaries are fighting largely without direction from Benghazi's Transitional National Council. I’m traveling with three Sabratha fighters—Rowad, his brother Ahmed, and their cousin Mansur. The goal is to get to the frontline at Adjilat, where they plan to join a large force campaigning against one of the remaining groups of Qaddafi loyalists.
7:44 PM, Aug 25, 2011 • By ANN MARLOWE
Zwara, Libya—We’ve arrived in Zwara, which is about 70 miles from Tripoli and 35 miles from the Tunisian border. It’s impossible to get out in any direction, though one could get out to sea, if one fancied a long boat trip.
12:07 PM, Aug 24, 2011 • By ANN MARLOWE
Zwara, Libya—The coastal city of Zwara, near the Libya-Tunisia border, is under siege by pro-Qaddafi forces who continue to shell the city and appear to be the last of Qaddafi’s forces still fighting in Libya.
12:16 PM, Aug 18, 2011 • By ANN MARLOWE
Jadu, Libya—Yesterday, around 4 p.m., 10 Jadu fighters, who were attempting to cut off the retreat of a column of Qaddafi militiamen, were killed by an errant NATO missile strike near Badr, Libya. Two other fighters are missing. The loss of ten, who included two commanders, is an unimaginable catastrophe in this closeknit town of 10,000 Amazigh or Berber citizens, which until yesterday had lost just 4 men in the revolutionary war.
2:26 PM, Aug 16, 2011 • By ANN MARLOWE
Western Libya—Only about thirty volunteers of the three hundred strong Martyr Wasam Qaliyah Brigade are gathered around former Libyan army general Senussi Mohamed as he outlines the plan for the liberation of the coastal city of Sabratha, about 90 kilometers north from Qaddafi’s forces. Crouched in a pleasant pine grove in Jafara Valley, just north of Zintan, they listen intently. This morning, they struck their camp in Jadu, in the western mountains, to join the Sabratha Brigade and volunteers from other cities in what’s planned as a big operation for this Lilliputian war, where groups of 100 or 200 barely trained volunteers skirmish in the streets of rundown cities.
3:38 PM, Aug 4, 2011 • By ANN MARLOWE
Djerba, Libya—As Saturday night wears on, the young men talk more and more confidently about an offensive they anticipate the next day, the big move 100 km north that will allow them to liberate their city of Sabratha. The mood is exultant, with some speculation that we will move forward at dawn.
10:52 AM, Aug 2, 2011 • By DANIEL VAJDIC
Last month President Obama called his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, to “discuss a range of bilateral and international issues,” according to the White House, and to formally back Moscow’s arbitration in Libya. Meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov a day later in Washington, D.C., Obama reiterated “his support for Russia’s efforts to mediate a political solution in Libya.”
1:01 PM, Jul 15, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
The State Department announced this morning that the U.S. would recognize the rebels in Libya "as the legitimate (governing) authority."
Here's the AP report: