U.S. ADMINISTRATION RETHINKS SYRIA STRATEGY

Wall Street Journal on September 17, 2015, reported that the Obama administration is considering scrapping its effort to create a large-scale Syrian force to fight Islamic State as it searches for alternatives to prevent the American-led effort from collapsing, officials said. Excerpts below:

Under one proposal being crafted at the Pentagon, the $500 million train-and-equip program—a core component of the U.S. Syria strategy—would be supplanted by a more modest effort focused on creating specially trained militants empowered to call in U.S. airstrikes, defense officials said.

The reconsideration comes after new disclosures of failures in the U.S. strategy in Syria, which is under intensified scrutiny at home and abroad.

Defense officials said there is widespread agreement on the need to overhaul the program, but no consensus yet on how far-reaching the changes should be.

The changes are being propelled by in part by the burgeoning refugee crisis which is fueled by an exodus from Syria…

The administration is under pressure over disclosures by top commanders this week that the training program has produced only a handful of fighters on the battlefield. U.S. policy is also coming under growing criticism at home, where foreign policy experts and Republican political candidates have zeroed in on errors.

“I’m someone who has supported the president on many issues, and on this one I think we’ve made a major mistake by being so standoffish and uninvolved,” said R. Nicholas Burns, who advised President George W. Bush on Iran policy as undersecretary of state for political affairs and U.S. representative to NATO.

“I hope that there will be a sea change in the administration, that they will recognize that they need a comprehensive policy. It may take years to succeed, but you’ve got to start,” Mr. Burns said. “If this administration doesn’t, no matter who we elect in 2016—Republican or Democrat—will have to.”

In dealing with Russia, U.S. officials have said any immediate talks would likely be among midlevel emissaries of the countries, not top officials.

Republican presidential candidates almost uniformly have denounced Mr. Obama’s Syria policy, saying his reluctance to more deeply involve the U.S. for fear of dragging the country into another Middle East war has allowed the crisis to spread.

In recent days, Russia has brought into a growing Syrian airfield its first drones, attack helicopters and transport choppers, along with expanding housing that U.S. defense officials estimate could be used by 2,000 people.

The shift would mean that U.S.-backed fighters would join larger groups that haven’t been vetted by American officials.

The U.S. would rule out working with al Qaeda affiliates such as the Nusra Front and would focus on identifying other groups in Syria.

The proposal would build on the successful model of cooperation between the U.S. and the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG. The militia has had the greatest success in Syria in seizing ground from Islamic State. YPG forces are able to request airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

If the Pentagon shifts course to focus on training small numbers of fighters, it would represent a reversal.

As the administration looks to ramp up its diplomatic efforts, U.S. officials have said Russia and Iran—the Assad regime’s most important international allies—would be major players. The U.S. discussions would also include European allies and Arab states.

The question facing Mr. Obama is whether he wants to make Syria a higher foreign policy priority, said Jon Alterman, a former State Department official, now Middle East analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“I don’t think the administration has set an objective to resolve this,” Mr. Alterman said.

“U.S. allies in the Middle East are increasingly acting independently because they think the United States is too passive,” he added. “The limited nature of the U.S. response leaves people too free to feel they can act with complete impunity and they act without regard to the United States because we’ve become like part of the furniture.”

Comment: It seems clear that the present US administration will only make tactical changes in the Syria policy. That Washington might seek negotiations with Russia and Iran, two main geostrategic enemies, is worrying. No doubt these powers, heartened by the near collapse of US policy, seek to strengthen influence in the Middle East. Russia is providing military hardware and Iran terrorist support. The Middle East and terrorism is only part of Obamas geopolitical problems. Russia and China have also been neglected

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