WASHINGTON—Senior Obama administration officials have caught some lawmakers and allies by surprise in recent weeks with an amended approach to Syria: They don't want an outright rebel military victory right now because they believe, in the words of one senior official, that the "good guys" may not come out on top.http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142 ... 66234.html
Administration officials fear that with Islamists tied to al Qaeda increasingly dominating the opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad , too swift a rebel victory would undercut hopes for finding a diplomatic solution, according to current and former officials. It would also shatter national institutions along with what remains of civil order, these people say, increasing the danger that Syrian chemical weapons will be used or transferred to terrorists.
This assessment complicates the White House's long-standing push to see President Assad step from power. It also puts a spotlight on the U.S.'s cautious approach to helping the opposition, much to the frustration of U.S. allies including France and the U.K., which want to arm Syria's moderate rebels.
The result of this shift, these officials say, is the U.S. has sought a controlled increase in support to moderate rebel factions. President Barack Obama is expected as early as this week to authorize the provision of nonlethal military aid such as body armor and night-vision goggles to moderate fighters, though officials said Mr. Obama still opposes sending American arms and taking unilateral military action.
The administration goal, according to people briefed on the effort, is to provide enough aid to strengthen U.S.-vetted fighters without tipping the balance so far that Islamists who dominate rebel ranks will be able to overrun the regime and its institutions.
"We all want Assad to fall tomorrow, but a wholesale institutional turnover overnight doesn't make a whole lot of sense," a senior U.S. official said. "The end game requires a very careful calibration that doesn't tip the meter in an unintended way toward groups that could produce the kind of post-Assad Syria that we aren't looking for."
But several current and former officials briefed on these calibrated efforts to bolster moderate rebels without strengthening the Islamists said the U.S. doesn't have the influence to precisely control the flow of aid.
"This is like Goldilocks, but I don't think we live in a world in which we have porridge that's just right," said a U.S. official familiar with the new approach.
Syria's conflict, which began in peaceful protests against President Assad, has since exploded into a war that has fractured the country's opposition, divided the Mideast and claimed the lives of an estimated 70,000 people as it grinds into its third year.
The U.S. administration considers Syria's conflict a war of attrition, however, and believes that the rebels are gradually gaining the upper hand, an assessment the administration doesn't believe Mr. Assad accepts. Officials say it will require delicate maneuvering to restrain the influence of radicals while buying time to strengthen moderate rebels who Western governments hope will assume national leadership if Mr. Assad can be persuaded to leave.
British and French officials have voiced frustration with the Obama administration's reluctance to do more for rebels. Britain and France are drawing up plans to provide certain types of arms to select rebel groups once a European Union arms embargo of Syria expires at the end of May, European officials said.
According to officials, Secretary of State John Kerry believes Mr. Assad can still be persuaded to abandon the fight and leave the country, but only if the U.S. can convince him that he can't win militarily.
While the British and the French share the U.S.'s goal of empowering moderate rebels in order to push Mr. Assad toward a diplomatic solution, they are more skeptical than the U.S. that Mr. Assad will succumb to the pressure.
Several U.S. officials share that skepticism. Testifying to Congress last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Mr. Assad appears unlikely to step down on his own anytime soon.
"His perception is that he's winning," Mr. Clapper told the House intelligence committee. "He seems very committed to seeing this through and does not seem to be interested at this point in leaving or voluntarily stepping down."
By strengthening moderates, the U.S. wants to put pressure on Assad supporters to cut a deal that would preserve governing institutions.
"Assad has lost all legitimacy and must step aside—the sooner the better," said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell when asked about the administration's messages to lawmakers and allies.
The White House has drawn up elaborate plans for a post-Assad Syria that includes an orderly political transition that keeps the country together and preserves Western interests, according to administration officials.
To bring this about, the U.S. doesn't want the rebels to overrun key institutions. A top concern is that Islamists could end up in control of "unit 450," the Syrian military branch that U.S. officials say oversees Syria's chemical-weapons stockpile.
The U.S. also wants to keep technocratic elements of the state in place, seeking to avoid a repeat of what happened in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion. Then, civil authority evaporated after the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi military.
The U.S. fears that the abrupt collapse of the Assad regime will lead to Syria's Balkanization, threatening North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally Turkey, key partner Jordan as well as neighboring Iraq, whose government looks increasingly fragile, according to a senior defense official.
On Wednesday, Mr. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are expected to face tough questioning on Syria in separate congressional hearings.
At a Senate hearing last week, the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, said the U.S.'s top priority was to prevent Mr. Assad's stockpiles of chemical weapons from being used in the conflict or from falling into the hands of terrorist groups. After that, he said, the U.S.'s priority was preventing Syria from becoming a base for terrorists.
"We do not think that these things can be achieved without a political transition—a negotiated political transition," Mr. Ford told a Senate panel. "If we don't have a negotiated transition, senator, our view is that the move towards fragmentation in Syria will continue, that the sectarian divides…will actually get worse, and the risks to those interests that I outlined at the beginning will actually grow worse."
In recent months, al Qaeda has stepped up its role in Syria. A top al Qaeda figure from Pakistan recently traveled to Syria and al Qaeda in Iraq, the network's branch in Iraq, announced it was merging with the Nusra Front.
The Obama administration has so far provided limited, nonlethal support to the opposition, reflecting Mr. Obama's determination to avoid getting pulled into the conflict as well as concerns that American arms could inadvertently be passed on to the al Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate that now dominates the opposition.
British and French officials say they believe the arms they want to provide will help strengthen moderate fighters and that their distribution can be controlled to reduce the risk of strengthening the Nusra Front.
Last year, some top U.S. officials advocated providing U.S. arms to selected rebels, but Mr. Obama rebuffed the proposal.
The US is becoming rightly spooked about the prospect of a rebel victory given the rebel roster consists mostly of Islamist factions. I still dont understand where they get that the rebels will negotiate with the state in some sort of mediated transition of power. Islamists don't negotiate, especially when the US wants the state institutions of Syria preserved after any transition of power. Now the notion that the US doesn't know who they are funding in Syria is absurd. Since there are documented reports that the US is sending aid to the rebels by proxy through Qatar and Saudi Arabia and those two countries arm the Islamist element.
The Turks are liers as well, they provide transit and refuge for terrorist groups in the North and arm the rebles, they are themselves pretty responsible for the radicalization.
Towns and villages along Turkey’s long border with Syria have for months been havens for an influx of Syrian rebels and refugees. Some fighting units now rotate, to let the exhausted and the wounded come and go. A small but burgeoning number of Syrian Islamists and foreign fighters are using transit points to cross from Turkey, especially since the battle for Aleppo, Syria’s second city, began in late July.
At least 300 foreign fighters are thought to have trickled into the largely liberated north-western province of Idleb. Others have crossed into the eastern plains of Syria, near the rebellious city of Deir ez-Zor, an hour’s drive from the border with Iraq. Libyans and other Arabs have been spotted, along with smaller numbers of British Muslims, Pakistanis and Chechens. The black banner of jihadist groups, including those that identify with al-Qaeda, has been sighted.
Turkish villagers near the border dub one building occupied by foreigners the “al-Qaeda House”, though the people inside it deny any connection to the network. One of its inmates, a Syrian general who recently defected from Mr Assad, says that captured soldiers should be given a fair trial if they are thought to have committed atrocities. But he is angrily interrupted by a young Sunni from Latakia, a port in the Alawite heartland. “The killing will not stop when Assad falls,” he shouts. “We will kill all those who stood by the regime—and not just Syrians.”http://www.economist.com/node/21559968