Leaks portray a torn White House through Syrian crisis

Report shows turmoil between US and foreign allies and mounting pressure on Obama to act as casualty count rose.

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
October 23, 2013 18:55
2 minute read.
US President Barack Obama walks from his residence to the Oval Office on September 10, 2013.

obama walking in white house 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON – Jordan offered the United States the opportunity to use its land as a base for drone strikes against Syria on multiple occasions, according to an investigative report published on Wednesday.

The extensive account in The New York Times claims that US President Barack Obama repeatedly denied the offers, made as early as March during the president’s visit to the region, as well as various other lobbying efforts pursued by aides and foreign allies aimed at making Syria a priority of the White House.

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Pressure increased from national security advisers and regional leaders alike as casualties mounted and momentum shifted in the months before a massive chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb in August.

Former officials secretary of state Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus supported the US putting “skin in the game” in order to maintain the edge of rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. But for months, the president put off a decision on whether or not to pursue the operation, until agreeing to it in theory back in April – two months before the policy was announced on the phone to journalists, the report claims.

The mission to provide light arms was designated as covert, and not under the purview of the Pentagon, so as to avoid any legal ramifications of the US government aiding in the attempt to overthrow a “sovereign government.” The Times report details a strategically significant meeting in June, during which Secretary of State John Kerry – bullish on intervention and on an imperative to punish the use of chemical arms – presented the president with a letter warning him of the consequences of inaction.

This is when the president’s deputy national security adviser announced the covert plan, without any word from the president himself.

Kerry’s letter called repeated use of chemical weapons gone unpunished a “green light for continued CW use,” echoing a phrase used repeatedly after the August 21 attack by Sen. John McCain.



US officials told The Jerusalem Post that the report was not seen as revelatory, as the fevered debates over Syria in the Oval Office and Situation Room were well publicized throughout the crisis.

But Obama is cast as eager to find an exit ramp, as he eventually does with a deal brokered by Russia to facilitate the elimination of Syria’s 1,000-ton chemical weapons stockpile.

The State Department announced this week that the US had flown 10 armored vehicles from Maryland to Lebanon, donated to the United Nations’ Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Meanwhile, in London this week, Kerry continued to push for the enforcement of the Geneva Communique, which calls for a peaceful settlement to the Syrian conflict with the establishment of an interim government.

Iran, benefactor to the Assad government, has refused to endorse the document.

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