WASHINGTON, DC – On June 16, 2016, The New York Times reported that more than fifty State Department diplomats had signed an internal memo critiquing the Obama administration’s Syria policy. The New York Times was provided a draft of the memo, which urges air strikes against the Assad regime in Syria. In response, Ambassador Frederic C. Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center and former special adviser for transition in Syria with the US State Department, issued the following statement:
Media reports indicate that fifty-one State Department officials have signed a “dissent cable” recommending that President Obama use military means, if necessary, to counter the mass homicide practices of Syria’s Assad regime; a policy that has made half of Syria safe for the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) while creating a humanitarian catastrophe and a tidal wave of humanity sweeping over the neighborhood and into Western Europe.
We have not seen the cable and therefore cannot comment on its substance. Americans, however, should be proud that serving officials have protested a morally vacuous and politically bankrupt policy and have done so in the proper way through the designated channel. Press reporting suggests that those who signed the dissent have worked on aspects of Syria policy over the past several years. No doubt they feel the moral strain of faithfully executing legal directives in support of a policy that cruelly and gratuitously leaves innocent civilians at the mercy of a mass murderer.
Senior officials in this administration have reportedly, from time-to-time, registered with President Obama their own deep reservations about their government’s failure to complicate and mitigate Assad’s campaign of collective punishment and mass homicide. It is time for them to make one last attempt to convince the President that “Never Again” is indeed applicable to Syria, and that peace negotiations are utterly futile as long as Assad is perfectly free to do his absolute worst to civilians. Fifty-one loyal and effective officials have risked their careers to protest a policy that is profoundly wrong and fully counterproductive. Their superiors should press President Obama one more time to change his policy. If he refuses, their choice is plain: stand up and publicly defend the indefensible, or resign.
Regardless of whether they can effect a change in American policy, these fifty-one dissenting officials have rendered a service of incalculable value to the United States: they have diluted, among Syrians and others, the toxic notion that Americans are cynical manipulators who care nothing about human suffering and its dire political consequences. Anyone in the White House tempted to question the motives of these decent American officials should first pause and reflect on what these dissenters have done to restore and uphold American credibility and honor. They have done us all a huge favor.