Kerry tells Capitol Hill that Obama's Syria policies have failed

Josh Rogin gets this bombshell from two of the Senators in the closed-door meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, who briefed them and thirteen other members of Congress on progress in Syria. In short, it doesn’t exist. The chemical-weapons inspection regime set up by Russia to protect Bashar al-Assad is nothing short of a joke, and the peace talks are going exactly where everyone else knew they would … nowhere. Kerry told his former colleagues that he has lost faith in Obama’s policies, and now the US must intervene to stop Syria from being taken over by radical Sunni terror networks:


Secretary of State John Kerry has lost faith in his own administration’s Syria policy, he told fifteen U.S. Congressmen in a private, off-the-record meeting, according to two of the senators who were in the room.

Kerry also said he believes the regime of Bashar al Assad is failing to uphold its promise to give up its chemical weapons according to schedule; that the Russians are not being helpful in solving the Syrian civil war; and that the Geneva 2 peace talks that he helped organize are not succeeding. But according to the senators, Kerry now wants to arm Syria’s rebels—in part, to block the local al Qaeda affiliates who have designs on attacking the U.S. (Kerry’s spokesperson denied that he now wants to supply weapons, but did not dispute the overall tenor of the conversation.)

“[Kerry] acknowledged that the chemical weapons [plan] is being slow rolled, the Russians continue to supply arms, we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, who attended Kerr’s briefing with lawmakers on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. “He openly talked about supporting arming the rebels. He openly talked about forming a coalition against al Qaeda because it’s a direct threat.”

Kerry’s private remarks were a stark departure from the public message he and other top Obama administration officials repeatedly have given in public. Shortly after the meeting ended, Sens. Graham and John McCain described the meeting to The Daily Beast, The Washington Post, and Bloomberg News. Given newly-released intelligence on the growing al Qaeda presence in Syria, as well as shocking new evidence of Syrian human rights atrocities, the senators said they agreed with Kerry that the time had come for the United States to drastically alter its approach to the Syrian civil war.


How drastically? It depends on whom one asks. McCain and Graham said that Kerry wants to go forward on arming the rebels, but the State Department said that they heard what they wanted to hear, and not what Kerry was actually telling them:

Kerry’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Psaki, called it a “mischaracterization.” …

Psaki, who attended the meeting, said Kerry did not raise the prospect of lethal assistance for the rebels. “This is a case of members projecting what they want to hear and not stating the accurate facts of what was discussed,” she said.

Fred Hiatt reminds readers at the Washington Post that Kerry’s impulses have been more in line with McCain and Graham than Barack Obama all along, though:

In fact, more than a year ago Kerry openly advocated changing the dynamics in Syria so that dictator Bashar al-Assad would have an incentive to negotiate. But the White House vetoed any serious training or arming of the rebels. That left Kerry beseeching Russia to persuade Assad to make concessions even as the dictator was gaining on the battlefield. Not surprisingly, that hasn’t worked.

Once again, we’re back at the intervention point against al-Qaeda in Syria, even though the situation appears more dire in Iraq. Furthermore, we’d be intervening into a civil war within a civil war in Syria in order to support the supposedly more moderate native opposition, even though they’re fading into irrelevancy. Why not attack al-Qaeda in Iraq in support of a government with much closer ties to the US? That would force AQ back into that front and take some of the pressure off of the native rebels in Syria, and force AQ into a straight-up fight with potentially much less confusion between groups on the battlefield.


The bigger news here, though, is that there appears to be a split on foreign policy in the Obama administration, although the size of the split may be difficult to size up. Obama himself wanted an intervention in Syria when his hand was forced on the chemical-weapons “red line,” but not on the scale demanded by McCain and Graham. Either way, this looks very similar to the Western intervention in Libya, where arms shipments (mostly but barely covert) was preceded by a bombing campaign against the regime in service to a coup d’etat. That left a huge vacuum in which the radical Islamists could exploit the failed-state environment and export their jihad into Mali and, er, Syria too.

How much distance is there really between Kerry and Obama now? I’d doubt that it’s much, but the fact that Kerry is talking about Obama’s policy failures in Syria is bad enough for the administration.

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David Strom 3:20 PM | May 24, 2024