President Barack Obama rejected U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s urges to launch secret missile attacks inside Syria without the United States admitting responsibility.
In recent months and without success, Kerry has sought to get Obama’s approval for cruise missile strikes against the Syrian government.
Kerry’s strategy in promoting the Syrian peace negotiations in recent months was based on much heavier pressure on the Assad regime to agree that President Bashar al-Assad must step down than was apparent. Kerry, in fact, has been the primary advocate in the Obama administration of war in Syria ever since he became Secretary of State in early 2013.
Several times, Kerry urged Obama to strike missiles at “specific regime targets,” in order to “send a message” to Assad – and his international allies – to “negotiate peace.” Kerry suggested to Obama that the U.S. wouldn’t have to acknowledge the attacks publicly, according to Goldberg, because Assad “would surely know the missiles’ return address.”
Obama not only repeatedly rejected Kerry’s requests for the use of force, but also decreed at a National Security Council meeting in December that any request for the use of military force must come from his military advisers in an obvious rebuff to Kerry. Immediately after Kerry had suggested that a “Plan B” was under discussion in the administration, it was a senior Pentagon official who dismissed the idea that any confrontational move was under consideration, including the well-worn idea of a “no-fly zone.”
At Kerry’s urging Obama signed a secret presidential “finding” in May 2013 for a covert CIA operation the objective of which was to provide enough support to the rebels so they wouldn’t lose, but not enough so they would win. But that was a compromise measure that Kerry believed would be inadequate to support a negotiated settlement.
He wanted much more, an urgent program of aid to the opposition, and he resorted to a shady bureaucratic tactic to advance his aim. Beginning in March 2013 and throughout that spring, the armed opposition accused the Assad regime of using Sarin gas against opposition population centers on several occasions. The evidence for those accusations was highly doubtful in every case, but Kerry seized on them as a way of putting pressure on Obama.
In June 2013, he went to the White House with a paper assuming the truth of the accusations and arguing that, if the United States did not “impose consequences” on Assad over his supposed use of chemical weapons, he would view it as “green light” to continue using them. At a National Security Council meeting that month, Kerry urged shipments of heavy weapons to the rebels as well as U.S. military strikes, but Obama still said no.
As the Russian campaign of airstrikes began to push back the extremist-led military forces and even threaten their lines of supply, Kerry’s strategy to pressure the Assad regime to make a major diplomatic concession became irrelevant.
Kerry’s demands for U.S. cruise missile strikes became even more insistent. Without them, he argued, he couldn’t get the Russians to cooperate with his peace negotiations plan.
Obama, who had already succumbed in 2014 to domestic political pressure to begin bombing the Islamic State, saw no reason to get into even deeper war in Syria in support of Kerry’s plan.
The true motives behind the current Syrian peace negotiations is John Kerry’s own self-interest in pursuing the pathetic illusory aim of winning a diplomatic victory.
Gareth Porter contributed to this article.