The Wall Street Journal has reviewed a copy of an internal State Department cable, signed by 51 officials across the department’s Syria desk and submitted to the department’s “dissent channel,” calling for targeted military strikes against the Syrian government and a regime change.
The “dissent channel” is an official means for department employees to critique the White House’s foreign policies without fear of retribution. The content of the Syria complaint isn’t unusual, the Journal reports, but the number of signatories is. “It’s embarrassing for the administration to have so many rank-and-file members break on Syria,” one former State Department official said.
The views expressed by the U.S. officials in the cable amount to a scalding internal critique of a longstanding U.S. policy against taking sides in the Syrian war, a policy that has survived even though the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has been repeatedly accused of violating ceasefire agreements and Russian-backed forces have attacked U.S.-trained rebels.
The State Department acknowledged the existence of the cable, which is a formal, confidential diplomatic communication, but wouldn’t comment on its contents until top officials had a chance to review it.
Obama administration officials have expressed concern that attacking the Assad regime could lead to a direct conflict with Russia and Iran.
More than 400,000 people have been killed so far in the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011. Although both the government in Damascus and opposition groups have violated the ceasefire ostensibly agreed to in February, the memo ascribes particular malevolence to Assad, who hasn’t taken “consequential negotiations” seriously.
In fact, the memo says, Assad’s use of barrel bombs on civilian populations is the “root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.”
“The moral rationale for taking steps to end the deaths and suffering in Syria, after five years of brutal war, is evident and unquestionable,” it said. “The status quo in Syria will continue to present increasingly dire, if not disastrous, humanitarian, diplomatic and terrorism-related challenges.”
Many Syrian rebel groups have been hesitant to ally themselves with the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, largely because of its singular focus on the extremist group, the Journal reports. But the Assad regime’s human rights abuses “against the Syrian people undermines both morally and materially, the unity of the anti-Daesh coalition,” the memo argues.
Stronger relationships with Syrian rebel groups, the officials write, would turn “the tide of the conflict against the regime [to] increase the chances for peace by sending a clear signal to the regime and its backers that there will be no military solution to the conflict.”