The Wall Street Journal put out a dramatic headline, “John Kerry, U.S. Military Clash on Approach to Syria’s Rebels“.
Well, dramatic if you haven’t been paying attention to the US and the Syrian conflict since 2012.
The Journal opens:
Frustrated by the stalemate in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry has been pushing for the U.S. military to be more aggressive in supporting the country’s rebel forces. Opposition has come from the institution that would spearhead any such effort: the Pentagon.
The same lead paragraph could have been written — and indeed was written — in August-September 2013, before and after the Assad regime’s chemical weapons attacks near Damascus. It might have been the basis for video analyses last autumn and early this year:
Indeed those words could have been written as far back as summer 2012, when the White House rebuffed a plan by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus to arm the insurgency.
There are some new characters in the latest Journal story. Unsurprisingly, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power backs Kerry, while Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel side with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey.
But this is a Groundhog’s Day story, with the same fundamental disputes — is the US helping the insurgency challenge a brutal regime or aiding “extremists” who would be worse? will the military be bogged down in an Iraq Mark 2? — being played out again and again.
Every week, unnamed “senior administration officials” put out the line that plans are being considered, such as training of insurgents and covert supply of weapons to “moderate” factions.
Every week, we get reports that — while some US operatives on the ground and in the Jordanian operations center are trying to get some assistance into Syria =— American officials are blocking a significant supply effort.
No, what is significant about the Journal’s non-exclusive is its confirmation that the process will go on and on.
Consider this. We have been told by the unnamed senior officials in a series of leaked stories going back many months that the US has been involved in the training of opposition fighters in Jordan. But in the Journal story, the plan has not even been adopted:
A senior administration official said top national-security advisers to Mr. Obama have now backed the training proposal in principle as their “consensus recommendation”.
No doubt we will get yet more stories that the US is on the cusp of a decision — after all, Waiting for Godot is regularly staged even though the title character never arrives — but their significance lies in the performance, rather than any American action.