Newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry recently opened the door to a modest but nevertheless significant revision of U.S. policy. The offer of non-lethal assistance was apparently the least Kerry could do to prevent an opposition walkout at the recent meeting in Rome. Notwithstanding president of the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution Moaz al-Khatib’s support for a dialogue with the regime, the opposition has a congenital fear an American sellout. The US action offered support for the view that Washington can be successfully, if incrementally, “pushed from behind” — to keep faith with the militant opposition and to maintain a rein on the more aggressive actions of Sunni Arabs and others who see Syria as a proxy for the battle for regional sectarian domination opened to their disadvantage by Washington in Iraq a decade ago.
The Obama administration long ago declared that the fall of the Assad regime is a moral and policy imperative. It is having more difficulty, however, deciding upon the most effective means to achieve its much-desired end.