Obama administration faces gut check moment in Syria
June 10th, 2013
05:36 PM ET

Obama administration faces gut check moment in Syria

By Elise Labott

Key meetings this week on Syria will try to figure out how the Obama administration can help moderate heavy rebel casualties and stem opposition defections to radical groups as the prospect for a political solution to the civil war grows dim.

Recent gains by the regime in Qusayr and its ongoing offensive to retake areas of Aleppo - all with the help of Hezbollah fighters - has created an urgency in the administration to act before President Barack Obama's stated policy objective of ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is lost.

"It's really bad but whether this is fatal, we don't' know," one senior administration official said of recent gains by regime forces. "There is a recognition that unless we provide help, a lot of help, the situation is going to be very, very terrible."

Officials say in numerous conversations with U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and other officials, Salim Idriss, the commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, described a dire situation. He pleaded for weapons and ammunition to stop both causalities and defections to radical groups like Jabat al-Nusra.

"He said he is losing people left and right, either being killed by the regime or being recruited by al-Nusra," one administration official said. "The situation for the moderate opposition, according to Idris, is very grave.

Discussions this week, including a meeting of the National Security Council principals on Wednesday, will center around whether to provide arms to vetted, moderate rebel units.

Although debate continues about a possible "no-fly" zone, officials said there is a reluctance to commit the kind of resources that would be needed to counter the regime's air defenses, when the majority of the fighting is on the ground.

"A 'no-fly' zone doesn't get you much," the senior official said. "There simply isn't enough being done from the air."

The official described a "somber mood" among Syria hands throughout the administration, who remain frustrated at the inaction by the Obama administration in the face of a deterioration on the ground in Syria and spillover to neighboring states like Lebanon.

Administration officials spent much of the past weekend studying the implications of the devastating defeat of opposition forces in Qusayr.

A senior administration official tells CNN that, even after all the anlysis, "we just flat don't know" what it means for the rebels.

"Is it sort of the end of the road for these guys?" the official said. "I hope it isn't but there's no question that substantial re-supply is going to be necessary in order for the Free Syrian Army to be able to hold their own," the official said.

At Qusayr it was notable, the official says, how little Syrian Army forces loyal to al-Assad were directly engaged, "except from the air."

Instead, militias from Lebanon, Iran and Iraq did most of the fighting.

"I think there's no question that Qusayr was a very serious negative point for the Syrian opposition, for the Free Syrian Army," the official says. "Principally because they were facing, for the first time, major Hezbollah fighters as well as Iraqi militia, as well as Iranian militia. They just couldn't overcome that."

The rebels need weapons and ammunition, the official says, "and they need a lot more of it."

While Obama is said to be inching closer toward arming the rebels, officials and experts wondered whether he would ultimately decide to do that with things getting worse.

"Think of the implications for the neighborhood and the region. We have refugees, radicals in Syria and spillover and radicals in the neighborhood," another senior official said. "Everyone knows unless we do something, and fast, it will be untenable for the U.S. But is government ready to make these political decisions?"

Meanwhile, planning for a conference in Geneva to bring together members of the opposition and the regime to discuss a political transition has taken a back seat as the administration turns its attention to the worsening situation on the ground.

The conference had been postponed while the opposition tried to unite and choose its leadership, but officials said it was an almost certainty the opposition would not attend, even if it was organized, because of the situation on the ground.

"I think Geneva is on a slow roll at the moment," the senior official said. "I think it has to be."

CNN's Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.

soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. ClarkClurn

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    March 1, 2021 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  2. this link

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    July 20, 2013 at 6:18 am | Reply
  3. Loyal Northern Democrat

    when those of us who are regional democratic party leaders were flown to Kenya and briefed on Obama's plans, we were told they were all originally decided upon and approved by the Moscow Democratic Party Headquarters and we were to do everything we could to support our president.

    June 15, 2013 at 12:38 am | Reply
    • Brazil Nut

      The first bit of honest I have seen on this blog.

      June 15, 2013 at 12:42 am | Reply
    • Killer O'Bama

      Thank you, Loyal Northern Democrat, for your support. We have too many humanitarians here who oppose my plans to jump into Syria's civil war in order to kill off more of these Towel heads!

      June 16, 2013 at 6:54 am | Reply
  4. 2020

    If McCain wants to drag US into war again, he can sell his 6 or 7 mansions, to be his own hero. American is sick and tired of carrying everyone's baggage.

    June 14, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Reply
    • John Geheran

      Well put, 2020. Thank you. If that freak McCain wants to take over Syria, let him do it himself! Thank God that this clown was not elected back in 2008, but then again, Barack Obama is hardly any better since he threw in with the right-wing establishment!

      June 16, 2013 at 6:51 am | Reply
  5. Matt

    Mission creep you have to watch for the switch to come in when the enemy seek to draw you in. No if you are in an out with air strikes that is one thing to create a no fly zone. Safe zones require air to surface and protracted over flights as does a long term to short term enforced no fly zone. So Russia and Iran send MANPADS some end up with Hizbullah. So the air war is intensified to counter the threat then observes/advisors are sent to coordinate then JSOC, drones, then marines and it ends in a desert storm operation in which the enemy tries to draw you into a long term insurgency. Because the safe haven Israel would have to hit Lebanon or the US will be draw over the border. So giving the rebels, anti-tank weapons, mortars, MANPADS, parts and ammo for their armor and once no more Migs and rotary assets, artillery pieces. Than a permanent no fly zone and the Iran and Russians flood the enemy with MANPADS. Syria is not Libya, Afghanistan or Iraq.

    June 14, 2013 at 10:12 am | Reply
  6. fiscaltiger

    it would seem in the battle to remove assad that defectors to jabat al-nursa are intelligence operatives. the objective monitor and eventually destroy that group. what other way would a western friendly revolt want assad to be ended.

    June 13, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  7. California

    1) Obama politicized Benghazi when they blamed the video and it was blatantly obvious it wasn't the video.

    It was a coverup from day 1.

    June 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Reply
    • maximusvad

      Off topic and irrelevant.

      June 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Reply
  8. California

    The real question is will the MSM continue to cover for Obama or will they actually report the real news.

    How about you just ask him CNN. I'm sure he'll tell you the truth (sarcasm).

    June 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  9. California

    This whole administration is obviously corrupt.

    A scandal a day.

    June 12, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Reply
    • Travis

      That it is California, that it is! Do you remember the dastardly bombing of the Amriya air raid shelter in Baghdad, Iraq on Feb.13, 1991 by two American pilots, slaughtering well over 414 civilians who had nothing to do with the Gulf War? I do and that incident made me sick to my stomach. This is just more evidence of the corruption in our government since nobody ever bothered to bring these creeps to justice or tried to find out who's behind this atrocity! Another cover up, I presume!

      June 12, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Reply
      • USMC1371

        Oh not to mention the Iraq military was using it for a commad post.

        June 12, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
      • giggig

        it was a command post before, they were no longer comfortable so they assign people they did not like anyway , to use that shelter locality, and sure enough the bomb hit the innocent people. Saddam killed them , indirectly.

        June 13, 2013 at 3:11 am |
      • Portland tony

        I too heard that right-wing bla-bla-bla about it being some kind of "command post". Unfortunately, most of the public fell for it although there was not a word of truth to it! I remember seeing on man on the news the next day who had his entire family in that shelter mourning his horrific loss and that made me sick.

        June 13, 2013 at 4:30 am |
  10. Ph

    Assad is the devil we know, the rebels are the ones we don't. Refugee camps are a breeding ground for hate. Im no fan of their beliefs but this needs to stop. No weapons because a lot of rebels are not from there anyway.There will be no end to this. When things settle( use that term loosely) there will be revenge and more atrocities.

    June 12, 2013 at 7:43 am | Reply
  11. Dan

    The reality is that so many people have died in Syria because the Obama regime did not support the LEGAL Syrian goverment (as we would do for any other gverment). Instead, by ignoring the situation it gave heart to the minority opposition groups in Syria. How would people like

    June 11, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Reply
    • USMC1371

      Hold on.....the deaths of all those people is Obama's fault for staying out of fight that not any of our business??
      Hell if thats the case I am proud of him.

      June 12, 2013 at 5:24 am | Reply
    • Pete

      @Dan,damn if you do,damn if you don't..We can't keep interceding in every freakin countrys problems like international police..Take care of our own first here..We have more problems than most countrys to deal with in a lifrtime..Quit thinking we're everybodies savior when we're not!!

      June 14, 2013 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  12. USMC1371

    With the ACLU sueing you, Hillary about to get hung for all the actions she allowed to happen at the state department, and Obama care falling on its face before it ever gets going just some advise Mr.President....another police action in a conflict we have no issue's in is the last thing you need right now.

    June 11, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  13. john smith

    "Syrian people" have spoken. Roughly 70% support the government of Bashar al-Assad. Another 20% are neutral. And only 10% are aligned with the Western-supported "rebels", including those of the kidnapping, lung-eating, beheading jihadi kind.

    The data was provided mostly by independent relief organizations working in Syria.

    June 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Reply
    • Portland tony

      Well said, john smith. I totally agree.

      June 11, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Reply
  14. uncdig

    anybody thinking or waiting for Obama to make a move on this is delusional. He will sit back and make a non-decision like he usually does. Leadership takes courage which is lacking here.

    June 11, 2013 at 8:29 am | Reply
    • USMC1369

      I expect that, sooner or later, this clown Obama will find some kind of an excuse to drag us into Syria's civil war where we have no business whatsoever. He'll do whatever it takes to be politically "correct", no matter how many people get hurt or killed in the process!

      June 11, 2013 at 10:52 am | Reply
      • Pete

        @usmc1369,you mean like McCain and republicans the advocates of war and the MICs minions want to do!!Pres.Obama obviously isn't the clown your republicans are being messengers of death like in many wars ,military interventions that kill for no reason but to keep the complex filling their corrupt republicans pockets at our kids expense...Is that reason enough for war if so you go fight it,I'll just watch!!

        June 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  15. harvty

    Irrelevant question. He is incapable of sound policy decisions; making pretty speeches is the only thing he's got. Oh yeah, he's also quite talented at screwing hard working American people and creating a food stamp kingdom.

    June 11, 2013 at 7:57 am | Reply
    • FatCatsStache

      All the US has to do is commit to using chemical weapons on the rebels behalf like Iran and Russia have for Asad. It helped tip the scales quite a bit.

      I find it amusing that the "West" is slow-playing this proxy war because they do not benefit from a vicorty in any case, but the Russians and Iran, however, have every interest in expiditing the upheaval of American infulence in the region.

      A clash of priorities; the strongest wills will win out. I guess Obama will have to switch sides or get off the pot and support. Any time top officials are talking about no-fly zones to the press but saying they won't do it it's because there's nothing going on currently on the drawing board. "Um, well, we could do this ... but we won't."

      I, personally, would like to see all of this end because I've spent some time in Afghanistan, and war is severely retarded. But the rebels winning will delay any imminent overthrows - like Turkey. But only delay.

      June 11, 2013 at 8:27 am | Reply
      • giggig

        Look , Obama is thanks goodness,reasonable. Assad nees to plausibly explain, why the opponents are thugs and why they do not belong there. Gen Idriss is minority , so he will get geographically allocated a small piece near kurdistan.
        Idriss and his true followers need to extricate themself from those thugs. US Army from Jordania with the consent of Maliki need to secure borderline Syria Iraq, and the thugs have no way to go.Putin will have a place for them in cold siberian gulags for ever. A No fly – zone is a we only fly zone. Why not let Assad have Syria back and see how he is doing.

        June 13, 2013 at 3:20 am |
  16. Jerry

    Obama should keep his sorry/clueless butt out of a foreign country (Syria). HE has screwed up enough already! DO NOT ARM THE REBELS!!! Use all that money to help out here in América.

    June 11, 2013 at 6:42 am | Reply
    • StanCalif

      The USA should remain out of this mess in Syria! These Muslims are intent on killing each other and will do so with or without our help. Iraq is melting down into civil war after we spent so many American lives and enormous sums of money trying to "save" them! Yet, they go right back to killing each other!
      What happens when we leave Afghanistan and Pakistan? Same thing! What was accomplished in Egypt? Leave these people to kill each other as much as they want, fewer Muslims equals a greater chance of peace. Maybe someday these people will wake up! It just is not happening! So go ahead, kill each other all you want!

      June 11, 2013 at 8:17 am | Reply
    • USMC1369

      Well posted, Jerry. Thank you.

      June 11, 2013 at 10:48 am | Reply
  17. Lewtronix

    Mr. President please give this a quick read before you make any decisions, lives depend on it.

    2 Chronicles 16:9

    The Message (MSG)

    June 11, 2013 at 5:40 am | Reply
  18. Steve

    Syria is in a civil war. This is not our war and it would be wise for the US to stay out of a foreign country's civil war. From reports via social media it is also not clear which side we should help; there are enough attrocities on both sides as is often the case in civil war. If we wish to contribute, humanitarian aid and our prayers for all Syrian people would be best.

    June 11, 2013 at 5:15 am | Reply
  19. Andrew Davis

    Mr. President,

    You have become worse then Bush on policies, and you have beaten Nixon on scandals... can you please just stop?

    June 11, 2013 at 12:14 am | Reply
    • Killer O'Bama

      I can Andrew, but I'm not going to. I want to do the politically correct thing here which is helping out that riff raft in Syria! Don't you know that in Washington, war is big business, putting money in our pockets!

      June 11, 2013 at 4:27 am | Reply
    • Pete

      @Andrew Davis,Pres.Obama has had no policies bud that murdered over 5000 innocent military and untold thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians to make Bush and Cheneys Halliburton with no bid contracts wealthy at taxpayers, our kids expense!!And remember Mr.Davis its republicans since Pres.Obamas inaugeration that been more enthusiastic about filibustering,obstructing jobs,infastructure bills by him,democrates that helping America and its people ...Don't bring up that class clown of Nixon either because I tend to wonder if Nixon and Bush were kin because both were imbeciles of the highest level ..And I just hope for your sake you didn't vote for both because you just killed any chance of credibility on these sites as well!!

      June 12, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  20. robroy

    well well,for months the U.S. and the Brits gave the thumbs to the camel jockies as the Arab uprising was going as planned.but every now an then a wrench get's thrown into the cog. As Syrian,Afghan,Saudi, Yemen,Lybian,and numerous other nationalities were making gains against the Assad forces,certain foreign governments,behind the scenes were applauding while publicly saying "it's just a matter of months until Assad is toppled".Well folks,Assad initially took a punch on the chin,staggered but now it seems he's got his feet back under him.he just purchased some high tech anti-aircraft missiles thru a legit military contract with Russia.you Americans and Brits should know how legit military contracts work seeing how both of you are not only permanent members on the U.N. security council but are also in the top 5 arms dealing nations ,ironic?in recent fighting a Syrian captain was asked about the involvement of Hezbollah fighters .he calmly looked at the reporter and replied"why not ,we're fighting half the world aren't we"

    June 10, 2013 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  21. Gomer Pyle

    obozo should just keep his head up his azz and let adults make the decisions

    June 10, 2013 at 9:48 pm | Reply
    • Jeb

      When was the last time you talked like an adult?

      June 10, 2013 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  22. are122

    If Obama waits another six months or so he will probably only need to hand out three or four weapons.

    June 10, 2013 at 9:10 pm | Reply
  23. Kent

    We need to back off or take over. No other country in history to my belief would go to war , win and give back a country! Enough is enough as far as I am concerned, we should have the US southern hemisphere flag flying in Iraq! This country has to stop spending billions with no benefit to tax payers. What would our fuel prices be today if Iraq oil was taken for ourselves? Not 4.21 a gallon! We are all getting screwed big time! Wake up America, just because we our free doesn't mean we should finance freedom for the world! Get realistic!

    June 10, 2013 at 8:59 pm | Reply
    • giggig

      Wait for this,Hizbollah turns on Assad !

      June 13, 2013 at 3:22 am | Reply
  24. Paul

    This afternoon I tuned into to CNN's The Situation Room. One report was introduced as "Outside groups may force action in Syria" with a tag line that indicated that groups inimical to the US have begun to control large sections of Syria.

    Finally, I thought, somebody within the bubble surrounding DC has figured it out – that there are no moderate rebel forces. Instead we have the same forces who initiated the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the 1996 attack on the Khobar tower, the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

    To my surprise, the reporter, Jill Daugherty, began to talk about Hizbullah, Iraqi Shia militia and Iranian support for Assad. Her report was centered on the Obama administration's fears that these groups would, in effect, rule Syria if the government forces would win the civil war That Assad would become a figure head, a puppet controlled by Tehran.

    When will the US learn its lesson. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend and when faced with two equally bad choices, the best course of action is to do nothing and develop contingency plans for either eventuality.

    June 10, 2013 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  25. John Smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    June 10, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Reply
    • TMLRD67K

      Mr Smith- check your facts: the Soviet Union shot down a passenger plane- KAL flight 007 killing 289 people including Congressman Lawrence McDonald in 1981

      June 10, 2013 at 9:11 pm | Reply
      • TMLRD67K

        My apologies- KAL flight 007 was shot down in 1983, September 1st

        June 10, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
    • Andrew Davis

      You are no where near right on any of your facts...

      June 11, 2013 at 12:14 am | Reply
  26. Bobby

    arming rebels in Siria
    all western countries close eyes on atrocities commited by rebels to all women,children and sirian people not supporting them
    Last issues of American Free press Clearly reveal those murders by armed heavely rebels in Siria

    June 10, 2013 at 7:18 pm | Reply
  27. California

    Watch Obama arm the rebels (AKA terrorists) again.

    June 10, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  28. Wesley

    I'm like the 200 millionth person to say this: DO NOT ARM THE REBELS. Can ANYONE in Washington listen after they've been elected? ANYONE??

    June 10, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Reply
    • TMLRD67K

      I agree- do not arm the rebels, Keep Turkey out of it and let the Syria work out its own problems

      June 10, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Reply
    • John Geheran

      Evidently not, Wesley. The only people that 90% of Congress and Obama listen to is the M.I.C. in Washington which pays kickbacks to them! For them, war is big business!

      June 11, 2013 at 4:21 am | Reply

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