Obama Weighing Option to Strike Assad in Syria

Obama Italian news conference

While the media appears fixated on Donald Trump's sexual problems with women, President Obama and his aides sat down yesterday to examine their options in Syria. With relations with Russia almost as bad as they were in the early 1980s, the fact that the administration is weighing whether to bomb President Assad's military forces engaged in a slaughter of civilians in Aleppo has huge consequences for the U.S. - and the future of the human race.

Russia has repeatedly warned the U.S. not to attack the Syrian military. But there are some in Washington who believe taking the risk of a confrontation with Russia is necessary due to the deteriorating state of the rebellion in Syria and our own waning influence in the Middle East.

Reuters:

Some top officials argue the United States must act more forcefully in Syria or risk losing what influence it still has over moderate rebels and its Arab, Kurdish and Turkish allies in the fight against Islamic State, the officials told Reuters.

One set of options includes direct U.S. military action such as air strikes on Syrian military bases, munitions depots or radar and anti-aircraft bases, said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

This official said one danger of such action is that Russian and Syrian forces are often co-mingled, raising the possibility of a direct confrontation with Russia that Obama has been at pains to avoid.

U.S. officials said they consider it unlikely that Obama will order U.S. air strikes on Syrian government targets, and they stressed that he may not make any decisions at the planned meeting of his National Security Council.

One alternative, U.S. officials said, is allowing allies to provide U.S.-vetted rebels with more sophisticated weapons, although not shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which Washington fears could be used against Western airliners.

The White House declined to comment.

Friday's planned meeting is the latest in a long series of internal debates about what, if anything, to do to end a 5-1/2 year civil war that has killed at least 300,000 people and displaced half the country's population.

The ultimate aim of any new action could be to bolster the battered moderate rebels so they can weather what is now widely seen as the inevitable fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo to the forces of Russian- and Iranian-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

It also might temper a sense of betrayal among moderate rebels who feel Obama encouraged their uprising by calling for Assad to go but then abandoned them, failing even to enforce his own "red line" against Syria's use of chemical weapons.

This, in turn, might deter them from migrating to Islamist groups such as the Nusra Front, which the United States regards as Syria's al Qaeda branch. The group in July said it had cut ties to al Qaeda and changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.

Russia is about to become even more angry and belligerent. The CIA is planning to retaliate against Moscow for hacking our political organizations.

The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.

Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging "clandestine" cyber operation designed to harass and "embarrass" the Kremlin leadership.

The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation. Former intelligence officers told NBC News that the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin doesn't care about what we might expose about him. He has a stranglehold on the Russian people and they will believe anything he tells them.

But such an attack would hit Putin where it hurts: his pride. Given this, an attack on Assad would be foolhardy, giving Putin a chance to even the score by shooting down a few American planes.

In the end, it is doubtful anything more than smoke and mirrors will emerge from these discussions. Short of going to war with Russia, the president has few viable options.