Over at the New Republic, John Judis has published a piece in which he infers from Kerry's comments Obama's "true intentions."
Judis ultimately opines that there is "coherent strategy," though one slightly different from what has been reported.
The main takeaway is that the military campaign is not merely meant to punish Assad or deter him and others from using chemical weapons, but also to affect the balance of power in Syria with the intention of leading to a political settlement.
The point of this diary is not to commend or disapprove of the strategy, but just to point it out (at least as implied by Kerry). Below the fold are the observations from Judis that I found particularly interesting (and less well reported).
I encourage you all to read the entire piece, but here are my snippets:
—The goal of the military campaign, combined with aid to the opposition, would not be to defeat Assad. Instead, the war would be ended by an international negotiation in which Russians would play a very important role. Such a deal would eliminate any role in Syria’s future for jihadist elements, but it might include a role for allies of Assad, if not for Assad himself.
The Republican hawks on the committee seemed to envision a clear victory by the Free Syrian Army over Assad, but Kerry repeatedly said that the administration’s goal was a “negotiated settlement” that was based on the Geneva agreement of June 2012 that included the U.S. and Russia. “[T]he president is convinced, as I think everybody is, that there is no military solution, that ultimately, you want to get to Geneva, you want a negotiated settlement, and under the terms of Geneva One, there is an agreement which the Russians have signed onto, which calls for a transition government to be created with the mutual consent of the current regime and the opposition,” Kerry told Senator Jeanne Shaheen. “And that transition government will establish the rules of the road for the Syrian people to choose their new government.”
Several senators urged Kerry, Hagel and Dempsey to skewer the Russians for their threatened veto on the Security Council, but Kerry kept insisting that the Russians were essential to a future agreement on Syria. “Russia does not have an ideological commitment here. This is a geopolitical transactional commitment,” Kerry told Risch. “And our indications are, in many regards, that that's the way they view it, there may be more weapons to sell as a result of weapons sold, but it's not going to elicit some kind of major confrontation. Now, let me go further: They have condemned the use of chemical weapons, the Russians have. The Iranians have. And as the proof of the use becomes even more clear in the course of this debate, I think it is going to be very difficult for Iran or Russia to decide against all that evidence that there is something worth defending here.”
There was one area where Kerry seemed to tailor his words to his audience. Asked about the Syrian opposition and about fears that by getting rid of Assad, the administration would bring Islamists to power, Kerry portrayed the moderate elements in the opposition as being entirely in command. Asked by Senator Ron Johnson about al Qaeda’s role in the opposition, Kerry replied, “The opposition has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution, which will be broad-based and secular with respect to the future of Syria. And that's very critical.”
Kerry’s view of the opposition is probably closer to the more pessimistic view of which Dempsey expressed in a letter last month to Rep. Eliot Engel—one of Syria and the opposition riven by “historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues.” And he hinted as much when he described to Shaheen the alternative to a negotiated settlement. “The alternative is that you stand back and do nothing and Syria in fact implodes, becomes an enclave state, there are huge ungoverned spaces, al-Nusra, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, others become more of a threat to our friends in the region, and the region becomes much more of a sectarian conflagration.” The administration’s strategy assumes that in the absence of a negotiated settlement, the war would result finally in a partitioned Syria in which jihadists would enjoy a haven. And in pressing for authorization of a military strike against Syria for using chemical weapons, the administration is not merely aiming to punish Assad, but to bring Syria closer to a negotiated settlement.