First Saddam Hussein. Then Gaddafi. Now Assad. Regarding each of these Middle Eastern leaders, U.S. presidents have argued that they must go. After Hussein was ousted then lynched, Iraq descended into chaos. In the wake of Gaddafi’s ouster, Libya divided into fractious disharmony. Now President Obama insists that Syria’s Assad be gone as a condition for any negotiated settlements.
Russia’s Putin, however, counters that eliminating Assad will lead to even greater regional instability. So, Russia has acted to sustain Assad’s regime, however detestable its policies.
Seymour M. Hersh, writing (paywall) for the London Review of Books, suggests that people within the U.S. government, including the military, object to Obama’s position and, in effect, support Putin’s view. Indeed, U.S. military operatives are assisting Assad with intelligence and indirect arms. Hersh writes:
In July 2013, the Joint Chiefs found a more direct way of demonstrating to Assad how serious they were about helping him. By then the CIA-sponsored secret flow of arms from Libya to the Syrian opposition, via Turkey, had been underway for more than a year (it started sometime after Gaddafi’s death on 20 October 2011). The operation was largely run out of a covert CIA annex in Benghazi, with State Department acquiescence. On 11 September 2012 the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed during an anti-American demonstration that led to the burning down of the US consulate in Benghazi; reporters for the Washington Postfound copies of the ambassador’s schedule in the building’s ruins. It showed that on 10 September Stevens had met with the chief of the CIA’s annex operation. The next day, shortly before he died, he met a representative from Al-Marfa Shipping and Maritime Services, a Tripoli-based company which, the JCS adviser said, was known by the Joint Staff to be handling the weapons shipments.
But, Obama refuses to budge. He insists on Assad’s departure and resists cooperating with Putin.
Hersh quotes Tulsi Gabbard, Democratic representative from Hawaii, who served with the U.S. Army National Guard in the Middle East:
‘The things that are being said about Assad right now,’ Gabbard responded, ‘are the same that were said about Gaddafi, they are the same things that were said about Saddam Hussein by those who were advocating for the US to … overthrow those regimes … If it happens here in Syria … we will end up in a situation with far greater suffering, with far greater persecution of religious minorities and Christians in Syria, and our enemy will be far stronger.’