Fifty-one current American diplomats urged the US to launch air strikes against the Iranian-backed Bashar al-Assad regime in order to put an end to its persistent violations of the ceasefire agreements and move the diplomatic process towards a transitional government forward, according to an internal memo obtained by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal on Friday. The memo was filed in the State Department’s “dissent channel.” The diplomats who wrote it warned that “failure to stem Assad’s flagrant abuses will only bolster the ideological appeal of groups such as Daesh [ISIS].” Likewise, according to a report in the Daily Beast, the US intelligence community also believes that ISIS cannot be defeated as long as Assad is in power. Secretary of State John Kerry has described the Assad regime and ISIS as having a “symbiotic relationship.” According to The New York Times, the number of signatories on the memo is “extremely large, if not unprecedented” and includes midlevel officials who have been involved in the administration’s Syria policy over the last five years.
Moreover, their calls echo those of Kerry, who reportedly privately urged President Barack Obama to bomb specific regime targets in order to “send a message” to the regime and its allies, Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran, giving him more leverage to push towards a negotiated solution to the conflict that includes a political transition. Obama’s former Special Advisor for Transition in Syria, Frederic Hof, has argued that the administration’s policy “is totally dependent on the goodwill, decency and compassion of Russia's president, Iran's supreme leader, and Syria's barrel-bomber-in-chief.” He writes, “Washington's response to date is to shoot rhetorical blanks into the air, importuning a trio of bad actors to live up to their commitments.” He and former Secretary of State and current Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton have both argued in favor of the establishment of no-fly zones to protect Syrian civilians. President Obama has rejected these proposals. Kyle Orton, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, has asserted that the US priority of avoiding friction with Iran has prevented efforts to protect Syrian civilians and hold the Assad regime accountable for its crimes.
During the five year-long civil war that has killed around 400,000 people and displaced millions, the Assad regime has committed war crimes including the indiscriminate murder of civilians through the use of barrel bombs, massacres, intentional starvation, and chemical weapons attacks. The Assad regime and its Russian backers have been denounced for intentionally targeting schools and medical facilities. On Thursday, Russia launched another air strike on US-backed rebels, in spite of US requests to stop doing so, and Syrian forces continue to block humanitarian aid to starving, impoverished areas. According to the State Department, the vast majority of violations of the cessations of hostilities have been perpetrated by the Assad regime and its allies. These violations have left the highly fragile and short-lived cessations of hostilities in tatters and have hampered efforts to reach a diplomatic solution. Earlier this month, Assad vowed to reclaim “every inch” of Syria.