The Middle East Channel

Gen. Dempsey outlines U.S. military options on Syria as Congress supports arming rebels

Gen. Dempsey outlines U.S. military options on Syria as Congress supports arming rebels

The Pentagon has given Congress its first detailed list of military options for the United States on Syria. In a three-page letter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey expressed his concerns over U.S. military involvement in the Syrian conflict, saying it would cost billions of dollars and carry significant risk. Dempsey warned of "unintended consequences" and said that once the United States got involved, "deeper involvement" would be hard to avoid. He continued, "We have learned from the past 10 years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state." Dempsey outlined costs and risks involved in five military options including arming and training opposition fighters, conducting airstrikes, imposing a no-fly zone, creating buffer zones inside Syria, and controlling chemical weapons. He asserted that going with any of the options would be a political decision, which should not be entered into lightly, and would be "no less than an act of war." In June, the Obama administration committed to supplying arms to rebel fighters, however the measure has been stalled in Congress. On Monday, House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said despite "very strong concerns" the Senate and House intelligence committees had reached a consensus to support the White House’s plan to provide weapons to opposition fighters. The timeline for delivery, however, remains unclear.


  • Clashes broke out between opponents and supporters of ousted President Morsi across Egypt on Monday continuing into Tuesday with an estimated six people killed near Cairo University.
  • The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a branch of al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks in Iraq on the Taji and Abu Ghraib prisons in which dozens of people were killed and over 500 inmates set free.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Kerry is finalizing a team of representatives for Israeli and Palestinian peace talks, but officials would not confirm if former ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, would lead the U.S. negotiating team.
  • Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has accepted the resignation of five cabinet ministers from the Istiqlal party, paving the way for Prime Minister Benkirane to form a new government.

Arguments and Analysis

What America Wants in Egypt‘ (Anne-Marie Slaughter, Project Syndicate)

"Both the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s liberal opposition are roundly criticizing the United States. That is hard on Ambassador Anne Patterson, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who just visited Cairo. But it is also evidence that the US is trying to pursue the right policy.

The US is doing its best to support not a particular party, but rather a conception of liberal democracy that entails free and fair elections and a mode of governance that respects and includes minority views and upholds individual rights. To pursue this course, however, will require standing up to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The young people who led Egypt’s revolution two and a half years ago have been suspicious of the US for the simple reason that it supported former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime for 30 years. From the US perspective, President Barack Obama pivoted quickly from Mubarak to the people; but it did not look that way on Cairo’s streets. When the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was elected President in 2012, many Egyptians assumed that America must have supported him, because they could not imagine that the US would accept a result that it did not want.

When Patterson tried to work with Morsi’s government in ways that allowed her to pursue US interests, including pushing for more inclusive and rights-respecting policies, the liberal opposition saw her as supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. But when the US refused to call the Egyptian military’s removal of Morsi a coup (a designation that would have required it to cut off the $1.5 billion in aid provided annually to the Egyptian army), Muslim Brotherhood supporters concluded that America supported the army’s decision.

So what should the US and other governments that support liberal democracy do now? The answer could affect Egypt’s political future and that of countries throughout the region."

An Opening in Iran‘ (Cliff Kupchan, The International Herald Tribune)

"When Iran’s president-elect Hassan Rouhani takes office on Aug. 3, he will probably bring moderation to at least some aspects of Iranian nuclear policy. It would be tragic if Rouhani’s ascent becomes yet another missed opportunity in the U.S.-Iran saga.

Rouhani was elected with a popular mandate to pursue centrist policies and ease the nuclear standoff. He has consistently called for more transparency in Iranian policy in order to show that Iran seeks nuclear energy and not an atomic bomb. He has called for a more prudent negotiating strategy. He has committed himself to improving Iran’s economy, and he recognizes that lifting the yoke of sanctions is important to achieving that goal.

But Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will continue to call the shots on nuclear policy, and the common wisdom is that Khamenei is implacably opposed to an agreement. Indeed, Khamenei views the United States with great enmity, and his core constituency — the Revolutionary Guard — will be wary of a deal.

But there are reasons for hope. Khamenei must be aware of Iran’s dire economic plight, which is in significant part the result of sanctions; the inflation rate is over 40 percent; nearly a quarter of men under the age of 25 are unemployed; and swaths of the economy are failing.

Khamenei is aware of Rouhani’s mandate for change, and the election campaign made clear that other powerful groups share Rouhani’s views. Khamenei also very likely knows how the new Middle East handles autocrats who completely ignore popular will."

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber