Dozens of state department employees have endorsed an internal document that advocates US military action to pressure Syria’s government into accepting a ceasefire and engaging in peace talks – a position that is at odds with US policy.
The “dissent channel cable” was signed by 51 mostly mid-level state department officials who deal with US policy in Syria, according to officials who have seen the document. Many of them are career officers in the foreign service who have been involved in Syria policy over the past several years.
It expresses clear frustration with America’s inability to halt a civil war that has killed perhaps a half-million people and contributed to a worldwide refugee crisis, and goes to the heart of President Barack Obama’s reluctance to enter the fray.
Obama called for regime change early on in the conflict and threatened military strikes against Syrian forces after blaming President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons in 2013. But Obama only has authorised strikes against the Islamic State and other US-designated terror groups in Syria.
While Washington has provided military assistance to some anti-Assad rebels, it has favored diplomacy over armed intervention as a means of ushering Syria’s leader out of power. A series of partial ceasefires in recent months have only made the war slightly less deadly, and offered little hope of a peace settlement.
Dissent document calls for ‘targeted air strikes’
The dissent document was transmitted internally in a confidential form and since has been classified, said officials who weren’t authorised to discuss such material and insisted on anonymity. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times both quoted from the document on Thursday, saying they had seen or obtained copies.
The Journal said the document called for “targeted air strikes”. The Times quoted a section urging a “judicious use of stand-off and air weapons” to advance the US diplomatic effort led by secretary of state John Kerry.
“The moral rationale for taking steps to end the deaths and suffering in Syria, after five years of brutal war, is evident and unquestionable,” the Times quoted the document as saying. “The status quo in Syria will continue to present increasingly dire, if not disastrous, humanitarian, diplomatic and terrorism-related challenges.”
State department spokesman John Kirby said the department is reviewing the cable, which arrived via a “vehicle in place to allow state department employees to convey alternative views and perspectives on policy issues”.
The “dissent channel” mechanism, which allows officials to offer alternative views on foreign policy without fear of retaliation, was established during the Vietnam War in the 1960s so that senior officials of the state department could access alternative policy views.
Sources familiar with the memo said officials had been discussing sending it for some time but they finally decided to move forward because “negotiations with Russia over a political transition in Syria have all but collapsed and the fragile ceasefire continues to disintegrate”, CNN reported.