The Syria dilemma: Dissecting the leaked diplomats memo calling for Obama to get tougher on Assad

The Syria dilemma: Dissecting the leaked diplomats memo calling for Obama to get tougher on Assad

Something smells fishy when a hawkish State Dept. memo “leaks” to the Times on the eve of Sec. Clinton’s nomination

It has been clear for some time that the Syria conflict was bound to turn into some magnitude of Waterloo for the policy cliques in Washington. It is doing so as we speak. Read into this carefully and you find that you are living through a moment of history.

Prompting this thought is a State Department memorandum intentionally shared last week with the government-supervised New York Times. It is nominally the work of 51 dissenting diplomats none of whom are named — and calls for “a more muscular military posture” in Syria. There is a lot of subtle choreography in this development — the document, the pre-arranged “leak,” the Times’ unusually extensive parse of the memorandum’s language, the staged public debate that ensued. A certain story is being conveyed. It is worth understanding it—providing you understand it is a story and it is being told to advise you of the proper way to think about Syria, what we have done there and what we may do in the future.

Before proceeding further, the “dissent channel” letter provided for publication in the Times is here in draft form. And here  is the Times’ careful interpretation of it as carried in Wednesday’s paper.

I urge readers to consider the document and the Times’ analysis with a couple of thoughts halfway back in the mind:

One, you are reading an expression of “frustration, even outrage,” as the Times put it, as those who execute American policy abroad discover they no longer enjoy the limitless prerogative they were trained to expect and exercise. This is the larger interpretation of what has just been put before us, and it is very large. It is at last dawning on the Foggy Bottom set that they are living in the 21st century. The news may arrive bitterly, but those favored in a given era are always going to regret its passing. These we call reactionaries.

Two, Hillary Clinton is likely to be elected Barack Obama’s successor in a few short months. This may seem entirely unrelated to the newly disclosed memo, but in my view just the opposite is the case: Clinton’s anticipated victory in November is what this document is all about.

I will return to both these points.

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