Obama Not Shifting Toward Strikes on Assad

Obama Not Shifting  Toward Strikes on AssadObama Not Shifting  Toward Strikes on Assad

The US administration sought on Friday to contain fallout from a leaked internal memo critical of its Syria policy, but showed no sign it was willing to consider military strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces called for in the letter signed by dozens of American diplomats.

Several US officials said that while the White House is prepared to hear the diplomats’ dissenting viewpoint, it is not expected to spur any changes in President Barack Obama’s approach to Syria in his final seven months in office, Reuters reported.

One senior official said that the test for whether these proposals for more aggressive action are given high-level consideration will be whether they “fall in line with our contention that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria”.

The document, sent through the State Department’s “dissent channel”—a conduit for voicing contrary opinions meant to be confidential, underscored longstanding divisions and frustrations among Obama’s aides over his response to Syria’s five-year-old civil war.

Obama’s Syria policy has been predicated on the goal of avoiding deeper military entanglements in the chaotic Middle East and has been widely criticized as hesitant and risk-averse.

His limited intervention has focused on fighting the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group that controls a swathe of Syria and Iraq and which has inspired attacks on US soil.

A draft of the cable, signed by 51 State Department officers, calls for “targeted military strikes” against Assad’s government, something Obama has long opposed.

The document, initially crafted in secret by a small group before their State Department bosses were made aware, was intended to “spark internal discourse” toward a policy shift but was not meant to be made public, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The signatories, mostly rank-and-file diplomats who had worked on Syria policy, may have put their careers at risk, current and former officials said. But State Department spokesman, John Kirby, insisted there would be no reprisals.

Obama’s critics quickly seized upon the letter, which also calls for a political transition that would usher Assad out.

In what other officials called an attempt to limit any damage to Obama’s policies, one senior US official stressed that it is only natural that “on a subject as complex and complicated as Syria that we have a diversity of views.”

White House spokeswoman, Jen Friedman, said Obama is open to a “robust discussion” on Syria but insisted that deliberations by Obama’s aides have already looked closely at a range of options.

A former senior US official said disclosure of a document of this type-the final version of which is classified-“corrodes the trust between the president and those who serve him”.

But those who signed have no plans to resign, the source familiar with the matter said.

Whoever leaked the memo may have been looking past Obama’s tenure. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, for instance, was among senior aides who urged Obama early in the conflict to take a stronger stand against Assad.