An 'embarrassing' break: Dozens of State Department officials just revolted against Obama's Syria policy

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US officials urge strikes against Assad: NYT

At least 51 "mid-to-high-level State Department officials" have signed a dissent channel cable breaking with President Barack Obama's policy on Syria and calling for US airstrikes on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The cable was provided to several news outlets on Thursday, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

"Failure to stem Assad's flagrant abuses will only bolster the ideological appeal of groups such as Daesh, even as they endure tactical setbacks on the battlefield," the cable reads, according to The Journal.

Daesh is an alternate name for ISIS, aka the Islamic State or ISIL.

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Syrian children, refugees and soldiers
In this March 3, 2016 photo, Maria Al-Tawil, poses for a portrait inside her family's tent in Idomeni, Greece. Maria was born in Damascus just four months before the war in Syria broke out. She has experienced nothing but war, her mother Narjes Al Shalaby, 27, told the Associated Press. âI have a lot of anxiety, she hasnât lived a good day in her life,â she said. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
In this March 6, 2016 photo, Winda Farman Haji, a 5-year-old refugee from a town outside Malikiyah in northeast Syria, poses for a portrait inside the tent she shares with her family at Kawergosk refugee camp in Iraq. Winda was born in a village outside Malikiyah in the Kurdish part of northeastern Syria, where her father Sharif Farman Haji, 44 worked as a lorry driver on the Malikiyah-Qamishly route. They fled August 2012 but their troubles didnât end there. Her uncle, died fighting IS in Kobane in the ranks of the Iraqi Peshmerga. (AP Photo/Alice Martins)
In this picture taken on March 2, 2016, five-year-old Syrian refugee Yasmine Abdulkarim, poses inside her tent at an informal camp, in Qab Elias in the Bekaa valley, eastern Lebanon. She was born in the province of Aleppo on October 15th 2011 but doesnât have any recollection of Syria. âIf we were in Syria, I would love to take her home, to the house she was born in but doesnât know.â Her mother Rukaya says. âI would take her to all the places we loved and she would love them too.â (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
FILE - In this Thursday, May 29, 2014 file photo, a Syrian refugee girl sits in a classroom at a Lebanese public school where only Syrian students attend classes in the afternoon, at Kaitaa village in north Lebanon. UNICEF said Monday, March 14, 2016 that one-third of Syrians under the age of 18, or about 3.7 million, were born since an uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted in 2011 and escalated into a civil war. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
FILE - In this May 29, 2014, file photo, a Syrian refugee boy stands outside his family room at a collective center, in Kirbet Daoud village in Akkar north Lebanon. The U.N. agency for children says more than 80 percent of Syria's children have been harmed by the five-year-old conflict, including growing numbers forced to work, join armed groups or marry young because of widening poverty. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
In this March 6, 2016 photo, Winda Farman Haji, right, a 5-year-old refugee from a town outside Malikiyah in northeast Syria, walks back to her tent after school alongside friends at Kawergosk refugee camp in Iraq where she has lived since 2012 . Winda shows great talent in drawing and her parents say she is very impatient to go to kindergarten every morning. (AP Photo/Alice Martins)
In this Feb. 13, 2016 photo, five year-old Hamza Ali, who fled with his family from Aleppo, Syria 3 years ago, poses for a portrait in Istanbul, Turkey. Mustafa Ali often tells his children about the beauty of the land they left behind. He was a primary school teacher and a sports trainer in Aleppo until he had to flee three years ago with his wife Suzan, 25, and his two children Sedra, 8, and Hamza, 5. His youngest daughter, Hulya, 2, was born in their adopted city, Istanbul, Turkey. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
In this Monday, March 7, 2016 photo, Tala al-Faouri, 5, poses for a picture inside her family's shelter in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, near Mafraq, Jordan. Just two weeks after the Syrian conflict started, Tala was born in the southern province of Daraa, where the Syrian conflict originated, on March 28, 2011. Her mother Doaa dreams of returning and raising Tala in Syria. âWe were not rich, but we were not poor. We lived a fine life. God willing, she will live like we once did. We donât want more, or less, than that,â she says. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
FILE -- In this May 29, 2014, file photo, Lujain Hourani, 11, a Syrian refugee girl who lost part of her shoulder in a government forces airstrike in the Syrian village of Zara, near Homs, stands outside her family room, at a collective center where many Syrian refugees live, in Kirbet Daoud village in Akkar north Lebanon. The U.N. agency for children says more than 80 percent of Syria's children have been harmed by the five-year-old conflict, including growing numbers forced to work, join armed groups or marry young because of widening poverty. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 file photo, A Syrian refugee boy sits on the ground at a temporary refugee camp, in the eastern Lebanese Town of Al-Faour, Bekaa valley near the border with Syria, Lebanon. UNICEF on Monday, March 14, 2016 said it verified close to 1,500 grave violations against children in 2015, including killings and abductions. The agency says the actual figure is believed to be higher. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2015 file photo, a Syrian boy looks out through his tent door covered in snow at a refugee camp in Deir Zannoun village, in the Bekaa valley, east Lebanon. UNICEF said Monday, March 14, 2016 that one-third of Syrians under the age of 18, or about 3.7 million, were born since an uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted in 2011 and escalated into a civil war. The fighting has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced almost half the country's pre-war population of 23 million. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
In this March 6, 2016 photo, Winda Farman Haji, right, a 5-year-old refugee from a town outside Malikiyah in northeast Syria, walks back to her tent after school alongside friends at Kawergosk refugee camp in Iraq where she has lived since 2012 . Winda shows great talent in drawing and her parents say she is very impatient to go to kindergarten every morning. (AP Photo/Alice Martins)
FILE - In this Sunday, July 19, 2015 file photo, Syrian refugee girl, Zubaida Faisal, 10, skips a rope while she and other children play near their tents at an informal tented settlement near the Syrian border on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan. UNICEF said Monday, March 14, 2016 that one-third of Syrians under the age of 18, or about 3.7 million, were born since an uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted in 2011 and escalated into a civil war. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen, File)
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"We are aware of a dissent channel cable written by a group of State Department employees regarding the situation in Syria," State Department spokesman John Kirby told The Wall Street Journal.

"We are reviewing the cable now, which came up very recently, and I am not going to comment on the contents," he said.

The officials who signed the document "range from a Syria desk officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to a former deputy to the American ambassador in Damascus," and have all been involved in formulating or carrying out the administration's Syria policy.

That policy has largely emphasized defeating the Islamic State over bolstering Syria's anti-Assad rebel groups.

According to the American Foreign Service Association, the dissent channel is "a serious policy channel reserved only for consideration of responsible dissenting and alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues that cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels and procedures."

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It is available to all "regular or re-employed annuitant employees" of the State Department and the US Agency for International Development.

The number of officials — at least 50 — who have signed the internal document calling for military action against Assad is unusual, a former State Department official who worked on Middle East policy told The Journal.

"It's embarrassing for the administration to have so many rank-and-file members break on Syria," they said.

Fighters of the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) sit in a look out position in the western rural area of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi SaidJonathan Ernst/Reuters

The cable calls for the Obama administration to place more emphasis on defeating Assad — whose brutality is seen by many experts as the driver of Syria's jihadist problem — by arming and regaining the trust of Syria's moderate opposition.

That, in turn, will "turn the tide of the conflict against the regime [to] increase the chances for peace by sending a clear signal to the regime and its backers that there will be no military solution to the conflict," the cable reportedly says.

The CIA-backed factions of the Free Syrian Army — the majority of which are Arab and battling forces loyal to Assad — have at times clashed with Pentagon-trained fighters associated with the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are predominantly Kurdish and focused on defeating the Islamic State.

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Their divergent military objectives and ethnicities have bred mistrust and fighting that is ultimately counterproductive to the cause of the revolution.

Several high-ranking government officials, moreover — including Robert S. Ford, a former ambassador to Syria, and Obama's former defense secretary, Chuck Hagel — have left their positions over Obama's failure to act decisively against Assad, whose brutality continues to fuel a bloody revolution that has left over 400,000 people dead and millions displaced.

"Many people working on Syria for the State Department have long urged a tougher policy with the Assad government as a means of facilitating arrival at a negotiated political deal to set up a new Syrian government," Ford told The New York Times on Thursday.

Free Syrian Army IdlibJonathan Ernst/Reuters

"The moral rationale for taking steps to end the deaths and suffering in Syria, after five years of brutal war, is evident and unquestionable," the cable said. "The status quo in Syria will continue to present increasingly dire, if not disastrous, humanitarian, diplomatic and terrorism-related challenges."

Assad crossed Obama's now infamous "red line" for airstrikes in 2013, when he used chemical weapons to kill more than 1,000 people in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Obama backed away from that red line when Assad agreed to a Russia-brokered deal to destroy his chemical-weapons stockpile.

Some experts say, however, that the entire stockpile has not been destroyed as promised.

The administration insists that it has maintained throughout the nearly five-year civil war that Assad "must go." But that stance has been muddled as the administration continues to soften its position on Assad's future.

"The US' Syria policy has always been in the head of one man, and one man only: Barack Obama. No one else has ever really had a say in what happens in Syria," Tony Badran, a Middle East expert and researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider in a previous interview.

"Obama has owned it since day one — and from day one, he never intended to remove Assad," he said.

The cable addresses Russia's bombing campaign in Syria as well, asserting that Moscow and Assad have not taken past ceasefires and "consequential negotiations" seriously.

Russia entered the war in late September 2015 on behalf of Assad under the guise of fighting ISIS. Russian warplanes have primarily targeted non-jihadist, anti-Assad rebel groups, however, many of which are backed by the US, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

Government warplanes bombarded the besieged Syrian town of Darayya with barrel bombs last weekend, shortly after food aid was delivered to the town for the first time in nearly four years.

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