Two weeks ago when the US broke off bilateral relations with Russia over the ongoing Syrian proxy war, we reported that as part of America’s “next steps” would be a discussion on military options. As Reuters reported then, the “discussions were being held at “staff level,” and have yet to produce any recommendations to President Barack Obama, who has resisted ordering military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s multi-sided civil war. “The president has asked all of the agencies to put forward options, some familiar, some new, that we are very actively reviewing,” Blinken said. “When we are able to work through these in the days ahead we’ll have an opportunity to come back and talk about them in detail.”
Fast forward to today, when as Reuters once again reports, the time has come for the US to make a decision: on Friday President Barack Obama and his top foreign policy advisers are expected to meet to consider their military and other options in Syria as Syrian and Russian aircraft continue to pummel Aleppo and other targets.
The tensions here are well known: some of the more hawkish “top officials” told Reuters that the United States must act more forcefully in Syria or “risk losing what influence it still has over moderate rebels and its Arab, Kurdish and Turkish allies in the fight against Islamic State.” Naturally, this means that one set of options includes direct U.S. military action such as air strikes on Syrian military bases, munitions depots or radar and anti-aircraft bases.
That is also the scenario which General Joseph Dunford warned may lead to war with Russia. Indeed, the quoted said one danger of such action is that Russian and Syrian forces are often co-mingled, “raising the possibility of a direct confrontation with Russia that Obama has been at pains to avoid.” This is also known as the “world war” scenario.
Luckily, there are options.
One alternative, U.S. officials said, is allowing allies to provide U.S.-vetted rebels with more sophisticated weapons, although not shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, “which Washington fears could be used against Western airliners.” Like, for example, what happened above the Donestk region during the peak of the Ukraine proxy war in 2014.
As Reuters adds, Friday’s planned meeting is the latest in a long series of internal debates – which have so far achieved nothing but escalate the situation which fast approaches a point of no return – about what, if anything, to do to end a 5-1/2 year civil war that has killed at least 300,000 people and displaced half the country’s population. According to insiders, the ultimate aim of any new action could be to “bolster the battered moderate rebels so they can weather what is now widely seen as the inevitable fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo to the forces of Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.” The question is whether it was also “bolster” al-Qaeda linked jihadists whom the US has been supporting for the past several months as a result of the perverse merger of “moderate” rebel forces in Syria.
Apparently, there is also an element of pride:
It also might temper a sense of betrayal among moderate rebels who feel Obama encouraged their uprising by calling for Assad to go but then abandoned them, failing even to enforce his own “red line” against Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
This, in turn, might deter them from migrating to Islamist groups such as the Nusra Front, which the United States regards as Syria’s al Qaeda branch. The group in July said it had cut ties to al Qaeda and changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
In other words, having started the proxy war in Syria, with every passing day that Obama fails to resolve it – while ideally avoid a world war with Russia – is a day that more and more “moderate rebels” are likely to openly “migrate” to jihadist extremists, with all of the latest US military equipment so generously provided to them by the administration.
There is also hope that just like in 2013, Kerry and Lavrov will somehow cobble together another last minute peace agreement. The U.S. and Russian foreign ministers will meet in Lausanne, Switzerland on Saturday to resume their failed effort to find a diplomatic solution, possibly joined by their counterparts from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran, but U.S. officials were said to have voiced little hope for success.
Complicating matters, however, is that as we reported this morning, the US is now officially engaged in another regional conflict, after US warships fired ballistic missiles targeting Yemen radar stations in proximity to the critical Bab al-Mandab Straight.
Earlier Thursday the United States launched cruise missiles at three coastal radar sites in areas of Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi forces, retaliating after failed missile attacks this week on a U.S. Navy destroyer, U.S. officials said.
There is also the question of what to do in Iraq, where officials are debating whether government forces will need more U.S. support both during and after their campaign to retake Mosul, Islamic State’s de facto capital in the country. Some officials argue the Iraqis now cannot retake the city without significant help from Kurdish peshmerga forces, as well as Sunni and Shi’ite militias, and that their participation could trigger religious and ethnic conflict in the city.
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For now, the best news is that according to Reuters, US officials said they consider it unlikely that Obama will order U.S. air strikes on Syrian government targets, and they stressed that he may not make any decisions at the planned meeting of his National Security Council. However, that will only be the case should the US not be further humiliated in Syria, and – of course – all bets are off if and when Obama is replaced, especially if his successor is a well-known warmonger, directly and indirectly responsible for much of the unstable geopolitical situation across most of the region.