via Lobe Log

News and views relevant to US foreign policy for Sept. 15

No Rush to War“: The editorial board of the New York Times highlights the Iran Project report – authored and endorsed by a bipartisan group of high-level national security experts – that we discussed earlier this week, adding that:

There is no reason to doubt President Obama’s oft-repeated commitment to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon. But 70 percent of Americans oppose a unilateral strike on Iran, according to a new poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and 59 percent said if Israel bombs Iran and ignites a war, the United States should not come to its ally’s defense.

Iran is advancing its nuclear program in defiance of the United Nations Security Council. That’s a danger to Israel, the region and all efforts to curb proliferation. But administration officials and many other experts say Iran is still a year or more away from producing an actual weapon, and, if it begins to build one, they will know in time to take retaliatory action.

The best strategy is for Israel to work with the United States and other major powers to tighten sanctions while pursuing negotiations on a deal. It is a long shot, but there is time to talk. And that’s where the focus must be.

Leadership Rifts Hobble Syrian Rebels“: Charles Levinson of the Wall Street Journal reports on the tensions among anti-regime militias in Aleppo. While the regime’s crackdown against the militias there has been blunted somewhat, at the same time the rebels are hobbled by dearth of unity, men and material. In one camp that Levinson reported from are self-proclaimed local Islamists known as the “Tawhids,” while the other camp is led by an ex-Syrian Army colonel, who does not wholly trust the “Tawhids” because they have carried out extrajudicial killings and are a recruiting rival for his own command:

The colonel’s main tools to force loyalty are his control of weapons caches and a belief by urbanites and exiles funding the cause that Islamist peasants aren’t the proper leaders of the rebellion.

…. For commanders, arms are the way to secure the loyalty of fighters—and cadres of loyal fighters translate into political influence.

…. Similar tensions hurt rebel efforts in the battle for Aleppo’s strategic Salaheddin neighborhood, the bloodiest and most pivotal battle in the war for Aleppo so far.

The divisions among these two forces highlight the problems that proponents of arming the rebels – such as Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) – face in convincing the Obama Administration to authorize arms transfers to the militias. And the Syrian Support Group, so far the only Syrian Diaspora organization authorized (by a special Treasury Department exemption) to raise private funds in the US for the militias, says it has not disbursed any of its funds due to logistical and “vetting” hurdles.

The White House has so far only approved the transfer of several millions dollars worth of non-military aid (as well as some personnel) to assist Syrian exiles in Turkey set up refugee camps and run counterpropaganda campaigns against Syria’s state-run media.

Watching and waiting as Syria’s violence spreads“: The Washington Post’s editorial board criticizes the Obama Administration for withholding “lethal aid” to Syrian militias fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Claiming that an al Qaeda resurgence in Iraq (and Syria) and the destabilization of Turkey and Saudi Arabia will likely be the fruits of further US indecision, the editors urge Obama to “reconsider” his decision against arming the anti-Assad militias:

The United States has consequently withheld lethal aid — only to watch a deepening war in which al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups are gaining ground, while Shiite-Sunni clashes have steadily escalated in Iraq and Lebanon.

…. If the fighting continues to spread, important U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, could be destabilized; both are indirectly backing Sunni fighters. The fragile political order in Iraq, bought with thousands of American lives, could collapse. Al-Qaeda could acquire new recruits and sanctuaries across the region.

The best means of preventing this, as State Department Middle East experts have been pointing out for months, is to accelerate the downfall of the Syrian regime. There are several ways of doing that, short of direct military intervention: materiel aid to the rebels is one. Now that its refusal to take that step has led to the very consequences it warned of, the administration would be wise to reconsider.

Iraq’s Maliki says backs Syrian people’s wish for reform“: Reuters reports on the “tightrope” that the Iraqi government is walking over the Syrian conflict, caught between Iranian and American expectations as well as its own sectarian fault lines:

Close to Iran himself, Maliki has taken a more muted stance on Syria. He has not joined calls for Assad to quit, much less enforce sanctions against Damascus approved by the Arab League, but has called for reforms to end one-party rule in Syria.

Ali al-Moussawi, Maliki’s media adviser, said the meeting was not the first time Baghdad government leaders had met with Syrian opposition.

“We are with the demands of the Syrian people. We confirmed to the delegation that we are with them, stand with them, but we will never dictate to them and will not interfere in their affairs,” he said.