Arm Syrian Rebels: CIA, Pentagon And Hillary Said Yes; Obama Just Said No

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It would appear the undecideds had it. The WSJ reports that a proposal to arm Syrian rebels was stalled by the White House (cough Obama cough) because of lingering questions about which rebels could be trusted with the arms, whether the transfers would make a difference in the campaign to remove Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, and whether the weapons would add to the suffering. It seems, however, that the Pentagon, the State Department, and the CIA were all gung ho for the plan last year as a Senate hearing today uncovered some of the facts (and disagreements). As WSJ notes, the disclosures thrust a spotlight on the extent to which President Barack Obama charts his own course in the face of calls to action by members of his own team, and on the extent of his caution about entering a new conflict. In the post-Kofi Annan talks break-down in June 2012, Hilary pushed to arm the rebels and the CIA said arms would "materially" affect the situation to overthrow Assad. With the introduction of Kerry, Hagel, and Brennan, the tensions may flare once again though only the latter has suggested anything but backing Obama's perspective.

 

Via WSJ, Obama Blocked Rebel Arms

A proposal to arm Syrian rebels was backed by the Pentagon, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, but the White House decided not to act on the plan.

 

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The White House stalled the proposal because of lingering questions about which rebels could be trusted with the arms, whether the transfers would make a difference in the campaign to remove Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and whether the weapons would add to the suffering, the U.S. officials said. A U.S. official cited the findings of a CIA team of analysts, which cast doubt on the impact of arming the rebels on the conflict.

 

The disclosures thrust a spotlight on the extent to which President Barack Obama charts his own course in the face of calls to action by members of his own team, and on the extent of his caution about entering a new conflict. The White House declined to comment on internal administration deliberations.

 

In the months after the start of the conflict in Syria in March 2011, the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA began presenting the White House with multiple options for intervening with force, covert action or arms supplies. Options have included establishing a no-fly zone, bombing Syrian aircraft in their hangars, and funneling light arms and actionable intelligence to a select group of American-vetted rebels.

 

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A key turning point for many at the State Department came after a diplomatic initiative led by international envoy Kofi Annan broke down in June 2012, current and former officials said. The U.S. had seen the plan, which was supported by Russia and other major powers, as a breakthrough that would lead to a transitional governing body for Syria.

 

The deal's demise spurred support within the State Department for arming the rebels, according to U.S. officials. Mrs. Clinton joined forces with Mr. Petraeus to push for the administration to embrace a proposal for delivering arms.

 

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As concern grew about Syrian unrest in the late summer and early fall, Mr. Panetta and Gen. Dempsey threw in their support, a position the two men kept private until Thursday's Senate hearing.

 

The proposal was also backed by the nation's top spy, James Clapper, the director of the National Intelligence, officials said.

 

Around the same time, in a reflection of the ongoing debate, a team of CIA intelligence analysts found that the introduction of U.S. arms wouldn't "materially" affect the situation on the ground or help the rebels overthrow Mr. Assad, a U.S. official said. The rebels were already getting substantial quantities of weapons from other countries, including U.S. allies in the Gulf, the official said.

 

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The disclosures about the senior defense officials' support for the proposal came in response to sharp questions from Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) at a hearing on Thursday which was called to examine the military's response to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, but which also delved into other foreign-policy challenges, including the conflict in Syria.

 

"How many more have to die before you recommend military action?" Sen. McCain asked Gen. Dempsey and Mr. Panetta, citing United Nations estimates that up to 60,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war. "And did you support the recommendation by…then-Secretary of State Clinton and then-head of CIA, Mr. Petraeus, that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria?"

 

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In Syria, rebel groups had hoped that Mr. Obama's re-election would give him the political leeway to throw greater support behind the Syrian opposition. But current and former officials said the rebels misjudged the White House, which remains reluctant to enter a new conflict.

 

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Mr. Kerry, the new secretary of State, and Chuck Hagel, Mr. Obama's nominee to succeed Mr. Panetta at the Pentagon, are seen as more closely aligned with Mr. Obama's cautious approach to intervention in Syria than their predecessors.

 

But officials said John Brennan, Mr. Obama's longtime counterterrorism chief and nominee to succeed Mr. Petraeus as CIA director, could embrace greater covert action in Syria. Mr. Brennan is close to Mr. Obama and has made clear his concern about al Qaeda's growing strength in Syria.

 

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