Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday told a group of 15 U.S. congressmen that the Obama administration’s policy toward Syria had failed – and that Washington must rush to arm relatively moderate rebel elements as to offset both Al Qaeda-linked radicals and the Iran-backed Bashar al-Assad regime – according to Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin and Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg both had early Monday morning articles about the leaked meeting, with the former characterizing the remarks as evidence that Kerry “has lost faith in his own administration’s Syria policy” and the latter framing the remarks as calling for “a new, more assertive, Syria policy” that may include “more dramatic arming of moderate Syrian rebel factions.”
According to Graham, Kerry gave the clear impression that Syria is slipping out of control. He said Kerry told the delegation that, “the al-Qaeda threat is real, it is getting out of hand.” The secretary, he said, raised the threat of al-Qaeda unprompted. “He acknowledged that the chemical weapons [delivery] is being slow-rolled; the Russians continue to supply arms [and that] we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy. He openly talked about supporting arming the rebels. He openly talked about forming a coalition against al-Qaeda because it’s a direct threat.”
The Washington Post‘s Fred Hiatt, who had also been briefed by Graham on the meeting, dryly opened his article on the incident by noting that “it is no secret that the Obama administration’s Syria policy, to the extent that one exists, is failing.” The reports that Damascus has turned over less than 5% of its chemical weapons (CW) arsenal and that Assad was – per a Times of London article – stockpiling WMDs as “an insurance policy.” They also came a day after White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough flat out declared on Face the Nation that the deal regarding CWs – which had seen the West forgo attacking the regime after it crossed an Obama administration red line against the use of such weapons – was “not falling apart.”
“It’s not falling apart, but we would like to see it proceed much more quickly than it is,” McDonough told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” McDonough continued to defend the deal that took military strikes off the table, if Assad abandoned his poison gas. He declined to say what the administration would do if he reneges. “I’m not going to get into any ‘or whats’ here,” McDonough said. “But they ought to do exactly what they said they would do.”
Recent days have seen a cascade of grim reports describing carnage inside besieged Syrian cities. A Saturday raid on Aleppo reportedly killed at least 85 people and another 26 people were reportedly killed in attacks on the city today. U.N. World Food Program chief executive Ertharin Cousin on Monday declared that the agency was having trouble accessing besieged areas inhabited by millions of civilians. The Syrian conflict’s death toll as of the end of January, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, topped 136,000.
[Photo: U.S. Department of State / Flickr]