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In response to the State Department dissent memo signed by 51 officials who have worked on Syria in recent years, the White House probably won’t change its approach to the . After nearly two years of American military operations in Syria, after an estimated 400,000 or more dead in Syria, and after Syrian refugee flows have raised questions about European unity itself—the unity that was a goal of American foreign policy dating back to Truman—the memo is right to urge we review how can we achieve secure our strategic objective in Syria. The discussion is all the more urgent since there are no sure-fire solutions and no options without risks.
The dissent memo supports the administration’s goal of ending the conflict by having Syrians negotiate the establishment of a new government that could rally Syrians to fight extremists like the Islamic State. The memo doesn’t call for regime change; it doesn’t say that Bashar al-Assad has to go. That’s an issue for Syrians to negotiate in what surely would be very hard talks.
Those talks have never really started mainly because of constant Syrian government violations of the ceasefire. In a reminder of Richard Holbrooke’s use of NATO air power to change the calculations of Serbia and its Bosnian Serbian allies, the memo urges deterring the Syrian government from further violations by destroying some Syrian military assets with stand-off strikes. Once Assad understands the ceasefire is for real, and he can’t win militarily, the memo reasons that real political talks about Syria’s future can finally begin.