The day after President Obama’s re-election, one foreign policy issue is crying out for attention: the civil war in Syria.
In a sign of growing international concern, Turkey on Wednesday announced that NATO is to deploy Patriot missiles along the Turkish border with Syria.
It’s not clear yet if they will be crewed by Americans.
But Steven Cook, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says there is an intense reluctance to get more involved in Syria among officials at the Department of Defense, the State Department and the White House.
The deployment, he says, probably just indicates US and NATO support for Turkey, which is concerned about violence and refugees spilling over the border.
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Aaron Schachter: Israel’s neighbor, Syria, continues to be engulfed in violence. In fact, the civil war there has escalated in the past week while we in the U.S. were focused on Sandy and the Presidential campaign. Now that the election is over, President Obama is under international pressure to give the crisis new attention. Today, Turkey announced that NATO is deploying Patriot missiles along the Turkish border with Syria. Steven Cook is Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Steven, let’s start with that NATO Patriot missile deployment. What are the missiles doing there; what are they for?
Steven Cook: Well, it’s not entirely clear how useful Patriot missile batteries are for the Turks. There’s been no indication that the Syrians are going to use their own arsenal of missiles which are what the Patriots are supposed to defend against. Some have suggested that this is the precursor to the establishment of a de facto safe zone in Syria, but it’s hard to really see how the Patriots are the precursor given their limitations.
Schachter: The Patriots are an anti-missile missile? Is that what they’re for?
Cook: Yes, exactly. Patriots are an anti-missile missile. So, it seems that this deployment is more about NATO and the United States, in particular, as the primary actor in NATO reassuring the Turks about their security in a symbolic way. Washington wants to be sensitive to Turkish security concerns without, however, getting directly involved. I don’t think that this has anything to do with the election. I think it’s a coincidence.
Schachter: You don’t think there’s been any reticence on Obama’s part to step up actions against Syria because of elections?
Cook: Well, when you talk to administration officials, of course, who may or may not be posturing to outsiders, they say that there genuinely wasn’t an election timeline related to action or reaction on Syria. That’s to say that they were told not to do anything until November 6, and then November 7 there would be, if the President won, all options were on the table. I think there is a genuine reluctance on the part of the State Department, the Defense Department and the White House to get involved in a situation in which the United States and its NATO allies can find themselves trapped, and essentially facing a situation that’s similar to the one which we find in Afghanistan, having been there now for more than a decade.
Schachter: Okay, but given the fact that the election is over, can you foresee the Syria policy changing at this point? Are you hearing anything about that?
Cook: Well, we did see Secretary of State Clinton in Doha, the capital of Qatar, trying to help forge a new more unified Syrian opposition. I think that you will probably see a more diplomatic initiative, but I think that that is probably cover for not doing much in terms of military assistance to the Free Syrian Army or direct involvement in the conflict. It is complex and multi-layered and I think that the administration is profoundly concerned about the United States getting stuck there.
Schachter: Steven Cook, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you.
Cook: Thank you.
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