A group of U.S. intelligence veterans urges President Obama to resist the "reckless" call for a wider Syrian war from 51 State Department officials in a recent "dissent memo."
MEMORANDUM FOR: Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Subject: Beware Foggy Bottom Dissent
Dissent and disagreement within the foreign policy and national security bureaucracy only comes to the public's attention when there are deep and fundamental differences of opinion about the execution and objectives of a U.S. policy. Instances of dissent emerged during the war in Vietnam and have reappeared periodically, e.g., during the Contra War in Central America in the 1980s and the Cold War with the Soviets. We can now add Syria to this list.
The latest media buzz came with the leak that 51 "State Department Diplomats" signed a dissent letter advocating direct U.S. bombing as a tool to force Syria into submission to our government's dictates. U.S. Foreign Service Officers are a unique collection of highly educated people, who take great pride in having passed the Foreign Service Exam. Yet even among such "bright people," some succumb to the forces of careerism and the pressures to politicize intelligence.
Unfortunately the dissent signers are calling for America to threaten, and if our bluff is called, commit acts of overt, aggressive war against the forces of a sovereign nation on its own territory. One whose supporters include Russia, the world's other big nuclear power.
The line of thought -- that it is America's right and duty to employ large-scale death to enforce its leaders' will on other peoples -- adheres to the noxious notion that the U.S.A. enjoys uniquely privileged standing as the "sole indispensable country in the world." If this was ever an arguably legitimate position, that time is long gone -- and today demonstrably blinds its adherents to common sense.
Such thinking is not new. Theodore Roosevelt popularized it as we went to war to annex Spanish territories in the Philippines and Caribbean -- at the cost of over half a million indigenous lives -- more than a century ago. We saw it, in spades, with the "Best and the Brightest" -- those responsible for destroying Vietnam. Three million Vietnamese people died in that war (according to former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara), and another two million or so in its Indochina spin-offs. After this slaughter and the deaths of scores of thousands of its own troops, the U.S. endured a complete and humiliating defeat, one affecting its foreign policy and domestic politics to this day. Their bright successors supported the attack on Iraq in 2003, the catalyst for an outbreak of violence that has brought death reaching into the millions -- again -- in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and other neighboring locales we'll eventually read about. This aggression has created millions more traumatized refugees.
The memo, a draft of which was provided to The New York Times(and Wall Street Journal), presumably by one of the State Department employees who authored it, claims American policy has been "overwhelmed" by the unrelenting violence in Syria and calls for "a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process." Furthermore, per the NYT:
"In the memo, the State Department officials wrote that the Assad government's continuing violations of the partial cease-fire, officially known as a cessation of hostilities, will doom efforts to broker a political settlement because Mr. Assad will feel no pressure to negotiate with the moderate opposition or other factions fighting him. The government's barrel bombing of civilians, it said, is the 'root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.'
"The memo acknowledged that military action would have risks, not the least of which would be increased tension with Russia, which intervened in the war on Mr. Assad's behalf last fall. Russia subsequently helped negotiate the cease-fire. Those tensions increased on Thursday when, according to a senior Pentagon official, Russia conducted airstrikes in southern Syria against American-backed forces fighting the Islamic State."
The dissenters were smart enough to insist they were not "advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia," but rather a credible threat of military action "to keep Mr. Assad in line." Easier said than done! The 51 are silent on this point of major importance.
The foundational premise of their dissent is that Assad's "barrel bombing" (followed by chemical attacks) on civilians provoked civil war in Syria. It's true that the initial phase of the Syrian Spring seems to have been largely spontaneous. Facts show, however, that outside interveners-- primarily the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia -- cooperated in lighting the match that brought the inferno of civil war. Covert funding and provision of weapons and other material support to opposition groups for strikes against the Syrian Government provoked a military reaction by Assad -- which created a pretext for our enlarged support to the rebel groups.