Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"U.S. policy is now aligned with enabling the opposition to overthrow the Assad regime"

The White House has stepped up its "official" aid to the Syrian opposition forces by providing direct communication and humanitarian assistance, according to Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy's: The Cable.  Rogin writes:
Last week, a group of senior Obama administration officials met to finalize a package of options for aiding both the internal and external Syrian opposition, to include providing direct humanitarian and communications assistance to the Syrian opposition, two administration officials confirmed toThe Cable. This meeting of what's known as the Deputies Committee of the National Security Council set forth a new and assertive strategy for expanding U.S. engagement with Syrian activists and providing them with the means to organize themselves, but stops short of providing any direct military assistance to the armed opposition.
Rogin quotes his official sources further, writing, "These moves are going to invest the U.S. in a much deeper sense with the opposition," one administration official said. "U.S. policy is now aligned with enabling the opposition to overthrow the Assad regime. This codifies a significant change in our Syria policy."

The article also lays out the administration's thinking on a number of related issues.
  • Concerning the Syrian Opposition being armed by allied Gulf States like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the administration is tolerant of the idea, but does not want to publicly endorse it, in a sense giving the White House future wiggle room.. "The decision has been made at the next Friends of Syria meeting to not oppose any proposals to arm the FSA and we're not going to publicly or privately message on that," said one 
  • The plan to provide communication and humanitarian assistance to the opposition is being tasked to the State Department and USAID, working through State's "Middle East Partnership Initiative."
  • Perhaps most importantly, the White House has decided to back the newly established Syrian National Council Defense Committee as the administrative body through which opposition assistance will be coordinated, despite the dismissal of the SNC'd defense committee by the Free Syrian Army
In a telling sign, this newest policy shift comes just as the usual trio of Senate hawks (McCain, Graham, and Lieberman) on the Armed Services Committee call for air strikes to be leveled against Syria.  As from the start of the Obama administration's regime change policy in Syria (April 2011), the White House has tagged only slightly behind these Senators in their belligerence.  Each round of Syrian sanctions issued by the Treasury Department so far has been predicated by a statement of bill from this trio.  Will this pattern continue, with the White House looking more fondly at the McCain idea of air-strikes, or will they ere of the side of caution, only "officially"  providing communication and humanitarian help?

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