WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is opposed to even limited US military intervention in Syria because it believes rebels fighting the Assad regime wouldn’t support American interests if they were to seize power right now, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote to a congressman in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
Effectively ruling out US cruise missile attacks and other options that wouldn’t require US troops on the ground, Dempsey said the military is clearly capable of taking out Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air force and shifting the balance of the Arab country’s 2½-year war back toward the armed opposition. But he said such an approach would plunge the United States deep into another war in the Arab world and offer no strategy for peace in a nation plagued by ethnic rivalries.
“Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides,” Dempsey said in the letter Aug. 19 to Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel. “It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.”
Dempsey’s pessimistic assessment will hardly please members of the fractured Syrian opposition leadership and some members of the administration who have championed greater support to help the rebellion end Assad’s four-decade family dynasty. Despite almost incessant bickering and internal disputes, some opposition groups have worked with the United States and other European and Arab supporters to try to form a cohesive, inclusive movement dedicated to a democratic and multiethnic state.
But those fighting the Assad government range wildly in political and ethnic beliefs and not all are interested in Western support.
As the conflict has gone on, killing more than 100,000 people and ripping apart the delicate sectarian fabric of Syrian society, al-Qaida-linked rebels and other extremist groups have been responsible for some of the same types of massacres and ethnic attacks that the Assad regime has committed. On Tuesday, Kurdish militias battled against al-Qaida-linked fighters in the northeast in fighting that has fueled a mass exodus of refugees into Iraq and risks exploding into a full-blown side conflict.
Dempsey said Syria’s war was “tragic and complex.”
“It is a deeply rooted, long-term conflict among multiple factions, and violent struggles for power will continue after Assad’s rule ends,” he wrote. “We should evaluate the effectiveness of limited military options in this context.”