Opinion

David Rohde

Has Iraq shackled American power?

David Rohde
Aug 29, 2013 22:19 UTC

In an extraordinary series of disclosures this week, Obama administration officials said that the United States will launch only cruise missile strikes in Syria. The attacks will last roughly two or three days. And the administration’s goal will be to punish President Bashar al-Assad, not remove him from power.

But those clear efforts to placate opponents of military action appear to be failing. Warnings of “another Iraq” are fueling opposition to the use of force on both sides of the Atlantic. And the Obama administration’s contradictory record on secrecy is coming back to haunt it.

In Washington on Wednesday, one-third of the members of Congress asked that they be allowed to vote on any use of American force. In London on Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron’s effort to gain support in Parliament for strikes failed, despite the release of an intelligence assessment which said Assad had used chemical weapons fourteen times since 2012.

The risks are high but President Barack Obama should follow Cameron’s example. Obama should allow the U.N. inspectors to complete their work, unveil any U.S. evidence of Syrian government involvement in chemical attacks and give Congress an opportunity to vote on the use of force.

Post-Iraq skepticism of American military action is extraordinarily high.  Obama should lead an open debate that helps restore confidence in the public’s control over the use of military force.

A moment of truth in Damascus and Washington

David Rohde
Aug 22, 2013 14:11 UTC

The images emerging from Syria — from this hysterical young girl to these rows of corpses — should be a turning point in a conflict that has killed 100,000 people. The deaths, if proven, demonstrate either the depravity of Bashar al-Assad — or the rebels fighting him.

But the Obama administration has spent so much time distancing itself and Americans from acting in Syria that a serious U.S. reaction is politically impossible in Washington. And instead of learning its lesson — and respecting Syria’s dead — the White House is repeating its destructive pattern of issuing empty threats.

Hours after the images appeared, National Security Adviser Susan Rice demanded on Twitter that the Syrian government “allow the UN access to the attack site to investigate” and vowed that “those responsible will be held accountable.”

The Arab Spring is just getting started

David Rohde
Jul 19, 2013 03:43 UTC

Amman, Jordan — After the Egyptian army toppled President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the U.S. Congress expressed the sentiment of many in Washington.

“The army is the only stable institution in the country,” he said.

In the Western media, Arab Spring post-mortems proliferated, including a 15-page special report in The Economist that asked, “Has the Arab Spring failed?” The answer: “That view is at best premature, at worst wrong.”

Here in Jordan, Arab Spring inspired protests demanding King Abdullah II cede power to an elected government has petered out. A crackdown on the media that shut down 300 websites last month elicited little protest.

Obama’s ‘best bad choice’ in Syria

David Rohde
Jun 14, 2013 17:58 UTC

Damaged buildings and debris in Deir al-Zor, June 13, 2013.Picture taken June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

UPDATE: The final passage of this piece criticizes the “Shia fundamentalists who are holding Iran’s staged elections.” Early results from Tehran suggest that reformist candidate Hassan Rohani has achieved a stunning victory. Iran’s green movement, which was crushed in 2009, is apparently alive and well.  The country’s conservative clerics are apparently unwilling to steal another election and risk another round of protests. The results reinforce the point at the end of the piece: we focus too much on the region’s fundamentalists and too little on its moderates.

Syria, of course,  is not Iran. A peaceful protest movement has devolved into a sectarian civil war. Gen. Selim Idris, the Free Syrian Army commander who is receiving American small arms, is a moderate who taught at the Syrian Army’s Academy of Military Engineering for twenty years.  Arming Idris now may be too little, too late. But as I argued in this February 2012 piece, the US should have supported moderate members of the Syrian opposition far sooner.

Changing Assad’s calculus

David Rohde
May 23, 2013 21:31 UTC

A deserted street with building destroyed by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad , near Aleppo International airport, May 20, 2013. REUTERS/Nour Kelze

AMMAN, Jordan – Secretary of State John Kerry and 10 European and Arab foreign ministers gathered here Wednesday night to again talk about helping Syria’s rebels.

As the international community discussed “grand strategy,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was taking decisive action.

The devil who can’t deliver

David Rohde
May 9, 2013 13:30 UTC

Picture of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad riddled with holes on the Aleppo police academy, after capture by Free Syrian Army fighters, March 4, 2013.  REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano

MOSCOW – After marathon meetings with Secretary of State John Kerry here Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hinted that Moscow may finally pressure Syrian President Bashir al-Assad to leave office.

“We are not interested in the fate of certain individuals,” Lavrov said at a late night news conference. “We are interested in the fate of the Syrian people.”

From Afghanistan to Syria, an anemic U.S. civilian effort

David Rohde
May 2, 2013 22:45 UTC

Rear Admiral Gregory Smith (L), director of the Multi-National Force – Iraq’s Communications Division, and Denise Herbol, deputy director of USAID – Iraq, in Baghdad January 13, 2008. REUTERS/Wathiq Khuzaie/Pool

After helping coordinate the American civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya, Mark Ward arrived in Turkey last year to oversee the Obama administration’s effort to provide non-lethal assistance to Syria’s rebels. Unwilling to provide arms, Washington hoped to strengthen the Syrian Opposition Coalition. Led by moderates, the group was seen as a potential counterweight to jihadists.

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Ward, a 57-year-old senior official in the U.S. Agency for International Development, had seen the successes and failures of similar post- September 11 programs. He was determined to get it right in Syria

Syria demands a new policy

David Rohde
Feb 21, 2013 22:38 UTC

Typhoid and hepatitis outbreaks are spreading. An estimated 70,000 people are dead, and another 850,000 are refugees. After covering the battle for Damascus for a month, my colleague – photographer Goran Tomasevic – declared the situation a “bloody stalemate” this week.

“I watched both sides mount assaults, some trying to gain just a house or two, others for bigger prizes, only to be forced back by sharpshooters, mortars or sprays of machine-gun fire,” Tomasevic, a gifted and brave photographer, wrote in a chilling first-hand account. “As in the ruins of Beirut, Sarajevo or Stalingrad, it is a sniper’s war.”

The Obama administration’s policy toward Syria is a failure. Iran, Hezbollah and Russia are funneling more aid, armaments and diplomatic cover to Bashar al-Assad. And Syrian rebels who once hailed the United States now loathe it.

Trying to have it both ways in Syria

David Rohde
Aug 23, 2012 15:43 UTC

Amid the daily reports of clashes and killings in Syria, a subtler message is emerging: America is increasingly irrelevant.

Inside Syria, opposition fighters complain that the United States is doing little to help them, according to intrepid reporting by correspondents for Reuters, the New York Times and Foreign Affairs. Instead, funds and arms from Qatar and Saudi Arabia are turning jihadists into a growing presence. Among international observers, Washington is seen as insignificant.

“On the ground, really, this administration has been essentially irrelevant, locked into its own perpetual debate on what to say and what to do,” said Peter Harling, Syria analyst for the International Crisis Group. “I think generally this administration in the Arab Spring has spent a huge amount of time trying to analyze events instead of shaping them.”

Obama, Romney and leading from the front in Syria

David Rohde
Jun 14, 2012 22:48 UTC

Next week in the Mexican resort town of Los Cabos, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin will meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Mitt Romney and his aides say that after 15 months of dithering on Syria, it is time for Obama to confront Putin on an increasingly brutal conflict that has left 10,000 dead.

“President Obama’s ‘reset policy’ toward Russia has clearly failed,” Romney said in a statement this week. “Russia has openly armed and protected a murderous regime in Syria, frustrated international sanctions on Iran and opposed American efforts on a range of issues.”

In an interview on Thursday, Richard Williamson, a senior foreign policy adviser to the Romney campaign, argued that the White House should stop naively hoping the Russian leader will end his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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