Exclusive: Despite the angry tone, the Syrian peace talks have made some slight progress, at least in that President Obama and the opposition have backed away from making President Assad’s removal a precondition for negotiations, but the neocons still want U.S. military action, reports Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
The Washington Post’s neocon editorial page is back baiting President Barack Obama to issue more military ultimatums to the Syrian government, presumably with the hope that a failure to comply will get the ball rolling toward another U.S.-enforced ”regime change.”
In one more lead editorial demanding action on Syria, the Post’s editors picked up on a slanted Post news article which had Obama admitting that his diplomatic initiatives are ”failing,” though Obama didn’t use the word in a Tuesday press conference with French President Francois Hollande.
Instead, Obama was quite circumspect. He acknowledged that the Syrian civil war had created a ”horrendous” situation on the ground and cited ”enormous frustration here” about the difficulties of relieving the suffering of civilians. But he downplayed the possibility of a U.S. miitary intervention.
”Right now we don’t think that there is a military solution, per se, to the problem,” Obama said. But the Post’s editors took heart with his next line: “the situation is fluid, and we are continuing to explore every possible avenue to solve this problem, because it’s not just heartbreaking to see what’s happening to the Syrian people, it’s very dangerous for the region as a whole.”
The Post’s editors called this possibility that Obama might finally resort to force or threats of force “good news. … Now he needs to act on that analysis.”
Much as occurred in the run-up to war with Iraq in 2003, the mainstream U.S. news media seems eager to see the U.S. missiles fly, an attitude reflected in the question from New York Times correspondent Mark Landler. He encapsulated Official Washington’s conventional wisdom in his declaration/question:
“Everybody agrees that more pressure needs to be brought to bear on the Assad regime to change this deadly equation. And so I wonder … what additional, tangible steps did you discuss in your meetings today to help the moderate opposition to try to change that equation on the ground?”
Presumably, Landler’s “everybody” meant everybody in his circle of contacts and associates, i.e. “everybody who matters.” One must assume that there are some people around Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at least who don’t think that more pressure is needed on them. And there are surely other people, including the Russian leaders, who believe more pressure is needed on the Saudis and other Sunni oil sheikdoms to stop them from arming Islamic terrorists linked to al-Qaeda who now dominate the armed opposition in Syria.
But Landler, the Washington Post’s neocon editors and other militant U.S. journalists clearly have bought into the scenario that the Obama administration must help the Syrian opposition overthrow Assad, either via covert military training and assistance to the rebels or through air strikes and more direct intervention, as occurred in the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
The Post’s editors, who were important collaborators in building political support for President George W. Bush’s disastrous Iraq War, always bristle when the Iraq example is cited in connection with Syria, but the assumption in Landler’s question and the Post’s editorial – that there is some middle way to defeat the Assad regime without risking even greater chaos in the Middle East – is dubious at best.
Obama made clear in his answer that he was looking for a negotiated transitional government in Syria that would maintain the state institutions, apparently a lesson learned from both the reckless dismantling of the Iraqi army in 2003 and the chaotic overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011.
The President said the Geneva negotiations are “committed to a transition process that would preserve and protect the state of Syria, would accommodate the various sectarian interests inside of Syria so that no one party was dominant, and would allow us to return to some semblance of normalcy and allow all the people who have been displaced to start moving back in. We are far from achieving that yet.”
Equally if not more important was what President Obama didn’t say. He made no reference to his earlier insistence that “Assad must go” as a precondition of a negotiated settlement. That silence was echoed by the peace proposal submitted by the opposition representatives in Geneva. That plan, too, talked about a transitional government but didn’t mention Assad’s departure, a non-starter for the government side at least as a precondition.
Between Obama’s more temperate tone and the opposition’s greater pragmatism, the chances for some eventual progress in Geneva may be brightening, not dimming, despite the surface acrimony that was not unexpected given the barbarity of actions on both sides in the conflict.
However, instead of noting these modest signs of progress, the still-influential neocons appear determined to pressure Obama into some form of military escalation or at least the cavalier declaration of ultimatums that – if not met – would create a new casus belli. The same voices would surely declare that war would be necessary then to maintain U.S. “credibility.”
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.