A blockbuster story at the Washington Post this morning: turns out the U.S. government has “secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables.”
The TV broadcast effort began in 2009, according to the report, “but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad.”
Funding began in 2005, under former President George W. Bush, but “continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad.”
The secret opposition funding was revealed in – you guessed it – diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.
For weeks now, I’ve been hearing whispers in the pro-Israel world: U.S. forces are the major players in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya to help protestors there, but we seem largely apathetic as Syrian demonstrators get shot and arrested in significant numbers.
Libya’s Gaddafi is a tyrant, but so is Assad, who also arms and supports anti-Israel terror groups and is increasingly close to Iran, thereby undercutting U.S. aims in the region.
So why are we throwing bombs and cruise missiles at Gaddafi and seemingly ignoring Assad?
Well, maybe we’re not ignoring the Syrian leader as much as people assume, as today’s WaPo story suggests.
The Syrian situation reflects the incredible complexity of U.S. policy in the region. This and prior administrations have sometimes seen the potential for renewed Syrian-Israeli negotiations that might dramatically change the Middle East landscape and help isolate Iran. Tapping that potential might require stronger U.S.-Syrian relations.
But Assad clearly works against U.S. interests in the region, he’s a prime supporter of terrorism and he’s become adept at jerking U.S. diplomats – and members of Congress who think they have some kind of in with him – around, suggesting the need for a more confrontational approach.
As the Post notes, “[a]lthough the White House has condemned the killing of protesters in Syria, it has not explicitly called for [Assad’s] ouster.”
So this administration and its predecessors have apparently been involved in two-track policy – probing for diplomatic openings, but quietly cranking up support for the opposition, looking for quite ways to pressure Assad but – fearing what could come next – not demanding he relinquish power.
Makes sense to me – but I sure haven’t seen any signs that approach is working.