Diplomats’ Dissent Over Syria Widens Policy Split Between Obama and Clinton

But the cable signed by 51 diplomats probably won’t make Obama change his mind – and gives Clinton daylight to rebut Trump.

President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a cabinet meeting in 2012. A recenctly-surfaced cable shows a divide between the two on Syria. T.J. KIRKPATRICK/BLOOMBERG/ABACA PRESS/MCT/GETTY IMAGES

There hasn’t been much political daylight between President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ presumptive choice to succeed him, and for good reason: As a former member of his cabinet, she can help cement his legacy, while he gives her the “halo effect” of a second-term president with a 51 percent approval rating.

Except when it comes to the deadly Rubik’s Cube of a war in Syria, where Clinton has argued for more intervention but Obama, backed by the Pentagon, is not willing to enter what he sees as a military quagmire.


 A Syrian girl holds a sign during a rally in solidarity with Aleppo, in the Lebanese northern port city of Tripoli, on May 1, 2016.
Syria Prepares For More Bloodshed as Assad Threatens Turkish Leader
But a back-channel State Department cable urging the president to take military action against the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria arguably widened the biggest policy split between the commander-in-chief and his former secretary of state – and sides with her.

According to The New York Times, which obtained the memo, American policy in Syria has been “overwhelmed” by the massive bloodshed and unrelenting violence. Leaders, it adds, should abandon the status quo 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.”

Headlines about the cable also comes just as Obama’s and Clinton’s divergent views on fighting terrorism were on display in response to Sunday’s Orlando, Florida, nightclub massacre – initially thought to be the act of a homegrown, radicalized jihadi – and in Clinton’s attempts to rebut attacks on her national security positions from Donald Trump, her Republican counterpart.

“Whatever we learn about this killer, his motives, in the days ahead, we know already the barbarity that we face from radical jihadists is profound,” she said in a high-profile speech in Cleveland. “We should keep the pressure on ramping up the air campaign, accelerating support for our friends fighting to take and hold ground and pushing our partners in the region to do even more.”

That’s in sharp contrast to Obama, who on Monday broadly described progress in the seemingly intractable war against radical extremists in Iraq and Syria. Since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, the president has resisted calls for military intervention – and what some say would be a proxy war with Iran and Russia, Syria’s allies – in favor of a political solution, and that’s unlikely to change. The closest the president came was after a 2012 speech in which he declared that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line,” but he famously decided against military strikes after evidence the regime had crossed that line.

“With regard to Syria, it means our continued support for the fragile cessation of hostilities there,” the president said in a televised statement Tuesday after a meeting with his national security staff. The cease-fire, reportedly violated with impunity, “has not stopped all or even most of the hardship on the Syrian people, the hardship on civilians. And the Assad regime has been the principal culprit in violating the cessation of hostilities.”


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