During the Vietnam War, the U.S. State Department set up a Dissent Channel. This protected State Department employees from any career or political repercussions if they disagreed with certain foreign policy matters. According to the American Foreign Service Association, as defined under 2 FAM 072, the Dissent Channel “is a serious policy channel reserved only for consideration of responsible dissenting and alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues that cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels and procedures.”
According to the New York Times, on Thursday, 51 State Department officials used the Dissent Channel to share their disagreement with President Obama’s foreign policy stance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Since Kerry’s efforts to diplomatically suppress Bashar al-Assad’s multiple violations of ceasefire agreements in Syria’s civil war have all but failed, the Dissent Channel memo is calling for strong airstrike against Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
It is still uncertain or even likely that Obama will use drone strikes against Bashar al-Assad and if he were to, it would represent a major change in his military tactics in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry supports the Dissent Channel’s memo as he sees it as the only way to pressure al-Assad into forcing a diplomatic resolution in Syria’s civil war that has left over 400,000 people dead in its five year span.
The call for drone strikes against his forces are because of his consistent violations of cease fire agreements with moderate groups in Syria. The 51 officials believe that al-Assad is going unwatched and America must act as a watchdog in Syria protecting the more moderate and peaceful groups in the region. But the memo does not specify if they want al-Assad to be removed from his presidency.
Repercussions of drone strikes would irritate Russia. Russia has consistently backed al-Assad and his forces and have even conducted their own strikes in Southern Syria against American backed forces fighting the Islamic State. In March, Putin and Russia used airstrikes to help the Syrian army take back the ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State. This is despite Russia joining together with America in a 17 nation group that supports aid to Syrian civilians that have been caught in the civil war, known as International Syria Support Group.
This memo comes in the wake of al-Assad’s hard stance against the International Syria Support Group’s desire to aid Syria. He vowed to take back “every inch” of Syria for himself and end the Syrian Civil War, which he addressed in a speech earlier this month.
“The speech was, unfortunately, vintage Assad — unrepentant and damaging to international efforts to end the brutal civil war that has ravaged the country for more than five years — the same international efforts that his principal backers, Russia and Iran, support,” Mark C. Toner, a State Department spokesman, said about al-Assad’s speech. “His remarks show once again how delusional, detached and unfit he is to lead the Syrian people.”
The Dissent Channel’s memo is a response to al-Assad’s efforts blocking any humanitarian efforts in his country that the United Nations have called for. Secretary Kerry stated that al-Assad “flagrantly violated” the UN’s and ISSG’s cease fire efforts.
Only time will tell if Obama chooses to change his foreign policy efforts towards Syria in his final months in office. His stance on this memo will certainly have an effect on the upcoming election.