Friday, June 27, 2014

Obama's Bulked-Up Plan to Aid Rebels Deepens U.S. Role in #Syria

Following-up on my last post, "#ISIS Commander Abu Omar Photographed in Tent Marked 'U.S. Agency for International Development'."

Now here's more at the Wall Street Journal, "Obama Administration Deepens U.S. Role in Syria and Iraq: Funding and Arming Fighters Presents Risks, Officials Say":
PARIS—The Obama administration ended the week deeply immersed in stemming crises in Iraq and Syria as it launches a new strategy that American and Arab officials acknowledge could be risky for the U.S. and its closest Mideast allies.

Days of high-stakes Middle East diplomacy on a trip Secretary of State John Kerry completed Friday, combined with a $500 million plan for supporting Syrian rebels announced the day before by the White House, outline a markedly expanded U.S. role in the region's chaotic security and political landscape.

A primary risk for the administration is that much of the strategy rests on the removal of Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from office, an outcome that remains deeply uncertain, according to these officials, as Baghdad embarks next week on the task of picking a new national government.

Washington's new approach also entangles the administration in a volatile thicket of interests held by America's friends and foes. Taking on a larger share of responsibility in Iraq and Syria, President Barack Obama finds himself funding a war against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but aligned with the Syrian strongman in the fight against Islamic extremists who are seizing control across Iraq.

"It's a devilishly difficult circumstance to confront," said former Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad. "My experience in that part of the world is you better be very modest about what you think you are going to achieve…in part because we're stepping into what is in essence a family feud."

Mr. Kerry ended his weeklong trip to the Middle East and Europe on Friday in Saudi Arabia, in a visit that brought the Iraq and Syria crises into a single frame. The U.S. diplomat held meetings in the Red Sea city of Jeddah with Saudi King Abdullah as well as with Ahmed Jarba, head of Syria's main political opposition coalition.

Mr. Kerry noted that Mr. Jarba "represents a tribe that reaches right into Iraq," and would be crucial to countering the insurgents of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Like King Abdullah's mother and some of his wives, Mr. Jarba is a member of the Shammar tribe, whose ranks sprawl across the adjoining borders of Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Jarba, however, said the situation in Iraq is different than Syria. He said Mr. Maliki's divisive approach calls for "greater efforts on the part of the U.S. and regional powers to address the situation in Iraq."  Mr. Kerry, in the week's meetings with Middle East leaders in Paris, Baghdad, Erbil and Jeddah, sought to forge a regional consensus among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to create a new Iraqi government that is more representative of the country's three main communities and unified in the fight against ISIS.

But after a week of intense pressure, the Iraqi leader so far has offered no sign that he is willing to leave office. Many U.S. and Arab officials acknowledge that Washington and its allies may not be able to refrain from military action against ISIS while Baghdad sorts out its political divisions, due to advances by the al Qaeda-linked militia.

If Mr. Maliki does leave office in the selection process that begins next week in Baghdad, the administration will face a vexing choice: Get more deeply involved in a country that has little chance of holding together, or watch 10 years of U.S. investment disappear in the carnage.

U.S. officials also are contemplating military strikes against ISIS sites in Syria, a move Mr. Obama has struggled for years to avoid. Washington's closest Mideast allies—whose support Mr. Obama critically needs to execute his Iraq strategy—are pressing the White House to strike ISIS inside Syria.

"If there are bad guys and they represent a threat, you have to hit them wherever they are," said a senior Arab official who has taken part in discussions about ISIS with the U.S. in recent days. "I think they understand this now. I also think they understand how dangerous not dealing with them is."