Fifty-one career diplomats have signed a protest to the Secretary of State and Pres. Barack Obama concerning U.S. policy toward the chaotic situation in Syria. Their essential point, that the U.S. should be doing everything it can to unseat the barbarous regime of Haffez al Assad, is well taken. Al Assad’s regime is now responsible for some 400,000 deaths by using weapons of war including aerial bombing against innocents caught up in the fighting. The barbarism of the regime is unparalleled. save perhaps that of Al Assad’s father, the former Syrian dictator. Unfortunately the regime is now regaining lost territory and taking a stronger line against any negotiated settlement of the civil war proposed by the U.S. and its allies in the Geneva peace conference which would see Al Assad go.
Yet we think the diplomats’ protest is a mistake. First of all, diplomats are civil servants, whose duty lies in implementing policies in which they have a participatory contribution, but one that demands public loyalty. For diplomats who cannot and will not abide by what they see as unredeeming strategic or policy mistakes, there is only one position: either keep still and work against policies within the Department or, resign with a public denunciationt as the Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, a career diplomat, did in May 2014. Ford was pulled out of Syria in a U.S. protest in February 2012 as the civil war escalated. He remained ambassador until 2014 but with an active campaign on against the regime on the social media.
But the diplomats’ statement – and surrounding publicity engendered by its being leaked to The New York Times. — has a much graver problem. The memorandum, or at least what has been released to the media, places the entire onus for the current state of Syria, on the al Assad regime. Unfortunately, there is not much now to choose from as far as U.S. policy is concerned in the parties in the chaotic internal struggle.
A moderate and democratic opposition to the al Basher regime — if it ever existed in sufficient numbers and influence even had it had American assistance which was not forthcoming from the Obama Administration — has been wiped out. Opponents of the regime now consist of Islamic terrorists of whatever flavor, but including both the two principal American enemies, Al Qaeda and Daesh [ISIS or ISIL].
While one can make the argument, and that is implied in the diplomats’ statement, that the nature of the al Basher regime was the fundamental reason for the breakdown in civilization in the country, today the threat to U.S. national security comes from the Islamicist opponents of the regime. That has been proved conclusively in the series of terrorist attacks in the U.S. over the last year culminating in the greatest mass killing in U.S. history in Orlando.
The final outcome of the civil war in Syria – with growing Russian and participation by other Arab regimes – appears likely to culminate in an international conflagration ended only by an international negotiation. From the U.S. standpoint, absolutely essential to such a settlement would be the disarming and destruction of the regime’s Islamicist enemies. In that, at least, we appear to have the support of Moscow and certainly of our Western allies, led by the French with their long influence in the country and who have long advocated a more aggressive policy than the Obama Administration.
The Obama Administration has made its concept of threats to U.S. national security the sine qua non of its foreign policy. Whether it has, indeed, always recognized the issue in the tangled Syrian environment is another question. It may well be argued that it was Pres. Obama’s reluctance to intervene, after initially announcing a “red line” in Syria, and his earlier overly rapid withdrawal from Iraq, which brought on the current situation.
It would be well, then, were the concerned diplomats to consider the broader issues involved in the current Syrian inferno, before taking a position outside what are their normal demanding functions.