Now that the gloves have come off in the faux diplomacy between Russia and the US, which yesterday culminated with Putin halting a Plutonium cleanup effort with the US, shortly before the US State Department announced it would end negotiations with Russia over Syria, the next step may be one which John Kerry warned last week is "back on the table", namely the launch of military strikes on the Assad regime.
As WaPo reports, meetings have been going on within US national security agencies for weeks to consider new options to recommend to the president to address the ongoing crisis in Aleppo. A meeting of the Principals Committee, which includes Cabinet-level officials, is scheduled for Wednesday while a meeting of the National Security Council, which could include the president, could come as early as this weekend.
As Reuters hinted last week, at a Deputies Committee meeting at the White House, officials from the State Department, the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed limited military strikes against the regime as a "means of forcing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to pay a cost for his violations of the cease-fire, disrupt his ability to continue committing war crimes against civilians in Aleppo, and raise the pressure on the regime to come back to the negotiating table in a serious way." Or, in other words, to cut to the chase and go right back to what the US was hoping to achieve in Syria in the first place: another regime change.
Among the options considered include bombing Syrian air force runways using cruise missiles and other long-range weapons fired from coalition planes and ships. One proposed way to get around the White House’s long-standing objection to striking the Assad regime without a U.N. Security Council resolution would be to carry out the strikes covertly and without public acknowledgment, the official said. In other words, the warhawks in the administration are actively contemplating not only bypassing the White House, but flaunting the UN and launching a sovereign incursions, also known as a war, against Syria.
The CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, represented in the Deputies Committee meeting by Vice Chairman Gen. Paul Selva, expressed support for such “kinetic” options, the official said. That marked an increase of support for striking Assad compared with the last time such options were considered.
“There’s an increased mood in support of kinetic actions against the regime,” one senior administration official said. “The CIA and the Joint Staff have said that the fall of Aleppo would undermine America’s counterterrorism goals in Syria.”
The good news is that, at least for now, not everyone involved in the discussion is a hawkish neocon. According to WaPo there’s still skepticism that the White House will approve military action. Other administration officials told The Post this week that Obama is no more willing to commit U.S. military force inside Syria than he was previously and that each of the military options being discussed have negative risks or consequences.
There is another problem: launching bombing raides over Syria would necessarily require the creation of a "no fly zone" for Syrian and, more importantly, Russian warplanes. However, as we noted yesterday, during testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services last week General Joseph Dunford rang the alarm over a policy shift that is gaining more traction within the halls of Washington following the collapse of the ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia in Syria saying that it could result in a major international war which he was not prepared to advocate on behalf of.
The notable exchange took place after Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi asked about Hillary Clinton’s proposal for a no fly zone in Syria in response to allegations that Russia and Syria have intensified their aerial bombardment of rebel-held East Aleppo since the collapse of the ceasefire.
"What about the option of controlling the airspace so that barrel bombs cannot be dropped? What do you think of that option?" asked Wicker. "Right now, Senator, for us to control all of the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia. That is a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make," said the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggesting the policy was too hawkish even for military leaders.
As we further added last night, despite Dunford's warning, the military angle has gained traction in recent weeks among top US diplomats, as today's WaPo report confirms.
And since the report is, at least for now, just a trial balloon to gauge the Russian reaction to a potential US military incursion, we now wait to see what Putin's reaction to the possibility of a US military campaign in Syria will be.