Things are moving fast now, although it isn’t clear where they’re going.
For the first time, a serving general officer has explicitly and categorically — and officially — contradicted the stated policy of the Obama administration. He’s basically said the policy will not be executed.
This isn’t a matter of shading a meaning here and there, so that the White House and the Pentagon can seem to be saying the same thing even though they’re not. Nor is it a matter of differing interpretations of facts, or carefully framed silence from the military, which can avoid contradicting the president or his other top officials directly, but also convey to knowledgeable observers that the senior brass in the military sees things differently.
No, in this case, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has just told Congress that the military will not execute a policy touted through press disclosures by the Obama administration, alluded to in general terms, on multiple occasions, by Obama, and urgently pursued by John Kerry.
Morgan Chalfant summarized the statement from General Joseph Dunford, USMC, to the Senate Armed Services Committee on 22 September:
Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that it would be a bad idea to share intelligence with Russia on the conflict in Syria.
“The U.S. military role will not include intelligence sharing with the Russians,” Dunford told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing on U.S. national security challenges and ongoing military operations. “I do not believe it would be a good idea to share intelligence with the Russians.”
The comments by the highest-ranking military officer Thursday morning are out of step with the Obama administration’s latest efforts to solve the years-long civil war in Syria, which involve cooperating with Moscow given the success of a cessation of hostilities.
I wrote most recently about Kerry’s pursuit of the deeply misguided “cooperation” policy here. Dunford’s comments are indeed “out of step” with the policy course Obama is pursuing. That’s putting it mildly.
It’s interesting that this is quite a remarkable development, and yet it seems to be getting very little attention — as if it’s an ordinary thing for a serving general officer to tell Congress the military won’t be executing the policy the president is pursuing.
The inattention is a sign, perhaps, of how shell-shocked and overwhelmed people are by everything that’s going on.
SECDEF Ashton Carter was sitting next to Dunford when he said this. Apparently, Dunford has Carter’s support.
These walls of convention that are falling are real ones, with real meanings. A lot can happen in four months. For what it’s worth, I think that if “something” happens, it will be in Syria, not Washington, and will be precipitated by Russia and/or Iran.