Dozens of U.S. diplomats urge military
strikes against Syria's Assad
Send a link to a friend
[June 17, 2016]
By John Walcott and Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 50 State
Department diplomats have signed an internal memo critical of U.S.
policy in Syria, calling for military strikes against President Bashar
al-Assad's government to stop its persistent violations of a civil war
The "dissent channel cable" was signed by 51 mid- to high-level
State Department officers advising on Syria policy.
It calls for "targeted military strikes" against the Syrian
government in light of the near-collapse of the ceasefire brokered
earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing copies
of the cable it had seen.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Copenhagen, told
Reuters on Friday: "It's an important statement and I respect the
process, very, very much. I will ... have a chance to meet with
people when I get back (to Washington)."
He said he had not seen the memo.
Military strikes against the Assad government would represent a
major change in the Obama administration's policy of not intervening
directly in the Syrian civil war, while calling for a political
transition that would see Assad leave power.
Such strikes would put the United States on a collision course with
Russia, which is backing Assad with air strikes, equipment, training
and military advice.
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had only seen
media reports about the memo, but said: "Calls for the violent
overthrow of authorities in another country are unlikely to be
accepted in Moscow.
"The liquidation of this or some other regime is hardly what is
needed to aid the successful continuation of the battle against
terrorism. Such a move is capable of plunging the region into
One U.S. official, who did not sign the cable but has read it, told
Reuters the White House remained opposed to deeper American military
involvement in Syria.
The official said the cable was unlikely to alter that, or shift
Obama's focus from the battle against the threat posed by the
Islamic State militant group.
PRESSURE ON ASSAD
A second source who had read the cable said it reflected the views
of U.S. officials who have worked on Syria, some for years, and who
believe the current policy is ineffective.
"In a nutshell, the group would like to see a military option put
forward to put some pressure ... on the regime," said the second
source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
While dissent cables are not unusual, the number of signatures on
the document is large.
"That is an astonishingly high number," said Robert Ford, who
resigned in 2014 as U.S. Ambassador to Syria over policy
disagreements and is now at the Middle East Institute, a Washington
"For the last four years, the working level at the State Department
has been urging that there be more pressure on Bashar al-Assad's
government to move to a negotiated solution," to the civil war, he
[to top of second column]
Syria's president Bashar al-Assad speaks to Parliament members in
Damascus, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on June 7,
Ford said this was not the first time the State Department has
argued for a more activist Syria policy. In 2012, Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton proposed arming and training anti-Assad rebels. The
plan, which had backing from other Cabinet officials, was rejected
by President Barack Obama and his White House aides.
The dissenting cable discussed the possibility of air strikes but
made no mention of adding U.S. ground troops to Syria. The United
States has about 300 special operations forces in Syria carrying out
a counter-terrorism mission against Islamic State militants but not
targeting the Assad government.
"We are aware of a dissent channel cable written by a group of State
Department employees regarding the situation in Syria," State
Department spokesman John Kirby said.
"We are reviewing the cable now, which came up very recently, and I
am not going to comment on the contents."
Kirby said the "dissent channel" was an official forum that allows
State Department employees to express alternative views.
Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan told a
congressional hearing on Thursday that Assad was in a stronger
position than he was a year ago, bolstered by Russian air strikes
against the moderate opposition.
Brennan said Islamic State's "terrorism capacity and global reach"
had not been reduced.
The names on the memo are almost all mid-level officials, many of
them career diplomats, who have been involved in Syria policy over
the past five years, at home or abroad, the New York Times said.
(Additional reporting by Warren Strobel, Lesley Wroughton in
Copenhagen and Dmitry Solovyov and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Writing
by Eric Beech and Teis Jensen; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.