Obama’s policy on Syria leaves analysts guessing

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Haze of misinformation

From a public relations standpoint, the White House faces an uphill battle on Syria. With the U.N. saying more than 70,000 people have been killed in the war since March 2011, Mr. Obama risks being accused of flatly ignoring a highly publicized humanitarian crisis in the heart of the Middle East.

Some foreign policy insiders say the predicament finds the White House increasingly willing to play along with recent news reports suggesting the U.S. is clandestinely more involved than it actually is in an attempt to influence the outcome of the war.

Mr. Carney, for instance, did not deny the validity of reports last week by The Associated Press and Fox News, both of whom cited unnamed sources, that U.S. has for months been training Syrian opposition fighters at a secret camp in Jordan.

Nor has the administration sought to discredit a recent report by The New York Times, which also cited unnamed sources, that the CIA has helped Arab governments and Turkey sharply increase their military aid to Syria’s opposition with secret airlifts of arms and equipment during recent months.

“It’s useful for the administration to have all this reporting out there that we’re actually doing something and not just sitting on our hands,” said Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It’s useful to take the pressure off from various quarters about getting more involved.”

Mr. White, who spent three decades as an intelligence officers at the Defense Intelligence Agency, cautioned against reading the reports as an indication that U.S. policy is truly shifting. “There are huge amounts of smoke here, but I’m not sure how much fire there is,” he said.

Lack of strategic vision

While he acknowledged he “might be wrong,” Mr. White said there appears to be “no real strategic concept of how to manage getting the Assad regime off the stage and creating a stable Syria.”

The White House’s approach, he said, “seems more ad-hoc and reactive.”

Mr. Landis added that the conflict has grown far more complicated than most administration officials are now willing to publicly admit. One exception, he said, may be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who suggested recently that whatever vague grasp the administration may once have had on Syria’s opposition forces is now deteriorating.

“About six months ago, we had a very opaque understanding of the opposition and now I would say it’s even more opaque,” Gen. Dempsey said during a March 18 appearance at the Center for Strategic International Studies think tank in Washington. “I don’t think at this point I can see a military option that would create an understandable outcome.”

The assessment may offer the clearest insight into how the president actually sees the conflict, said Mr. Landis, who added: “There’s an ethnic civil war going on and Obama doesn’t want to get involved.”

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About the Author
Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor is the National Security Team Leader at The Washington Times, overseeing the paper’s State Department, Pentagon and intelligence community coverage. He’s also a frequent guest on The McLaughlin Group and C-SPAN.

His series on political, economic and security developments in Mexico won a 2012 Virginia Press Association award.

Prior to rejoining The Times in 2011, his work was ...

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