Prologue: The Problem
President Obama and European leaders called Thursday for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign, after months of his violent crackdown on protesters. The rhetorical escalation was backed by new U.S. sanctions designed to undermine Assad’s ability to finance his military operation.
“The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way,” Obama said in a written statement. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”
Part I: The Pledge
Just a month before a peace conference that will seek an end to the grinding civil war in Syria, the Obama administration’s decision to suspend the delivery of nonlethal aid to the moderate opposition demonstrated again the frustrations of trying to cultivate a viable alternative to President Bashar al-Assad.
The administration acted after warehouses of American-supplied equipment were seized Friday by the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist fighters who have broken with the moderate, American-backed opposition, but who also battle Al Qaeda.
Part II: The Turn (2 Movements)
- Movement A: Call
President Obama is prepared to use U.S. military airstrikes in Syria as part of an expanded campaign to defeat the Islamic State and does not believe he needs formal congressional approval to take that action, according to people who have spoken with the president in recent days.
Obama discussed his plans at a dinner with a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts this week at the White House and made clear his belief that he has the authority to attack the militant Islamist group on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border to protect U.S national security, multiple people who participated in the discussion said. The move to attack in Syria would represent a remarkable escalation in strategy for Obama, who has sought during his presidency to reduce the U.S. military engagement in the Middle East.
- Movement B: Response
The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad warned against any military strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants in the Syrian side of the border, saying that such action would constitute “an attack on Syria” itself.
Part III: The Prestige
The Obama administration has threatened to destroy the Syrian government’s air defenses if US warplanes flying missions to attack militants in Syria are targeted over the country’s air space.
The public threat is an example of the difficult waters Mr. Obama is wading into with his plan to “destroy” the self-styled Islamic State, which is fighting to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The White House insists that its effort will neither help Mr. Assad nor involve his cooperation, more than three years into Syria’s civil war.
Epilogue: The Tease
America’s top military adviser Martin Dempsey says sending American ground troops to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria isn’t out of the question, especially if President Obama’s plan to combat the terrorist group fails.
“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Islamic State] targets, I’ll recommend that to the president,” said Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a hearing held Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee.