Is the White House Mulling “Non-Diplomatic” Means to Stop Assad’s Attacks on Civilians?

The White House has no shortage of advice from outside the government (including from Just Security) and from within the administration on the best options for addressing the carnage unfolding in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria at the hands of Assad’s forces. What direction might the President take? On Tuesday, the State Department’s Daily Press Briefing included a potentially significant exchange. Maybe it was only a bit of saber-rattling to advance U.S. diplomatic efforts. Perhaps it was only an honest reference to the boilerplate idea that no options are ever taken off the table. We thought it was worth flagging here. The transcript and video clip follow.

QUESTION: What makes Aleppo different from the Yezidis who were on Mt. Sinjar, from the Libyans who Qadhafi said he was going to hunt down like rats? What’s the difference here? You have 250,000 people in a defined area that are now surrounded that are subject not just to air, but now to ground assault. What’s – why did the United States deem it to be in the U.S. national interest to intervene in those other circumstances but not in this circumstance?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, I don’t want to necessarily get in the habit of comparing different conflicts and different circumstances, such as the ones you raised, because every set of circumstances is a little bit different. And in the case of Aleppo and the case of Syria, it’s hard to find one that’s more complex. We’ve talked about that. But also the fact that really until the past few weeks, we felt like we were on a firm path towards a possible diplomatic resolution to this. We still believe that’s possible. As I said, we haven’t given up on that process. But that’s where we still are in terms of our approach.

Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not mindful – I don’t know how anyone could not be – of the tremendous humanitarian suffering that’s going on right now in Aleppo, and that’s why we’re working so hard to ramp up our assistance but also to gain access for humanitarian convoys. And I would just finish by saying we’re continuing to weighing all – we continue to weigh all options. Those discussions are ongoing. I don’t want to rule anything out, but right now we’re focused on the diplomatic one.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: When you say you don’t want to – I’m sorry, the last one from me.

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: When you say you don’t want to rule anything out, Secretary Powell once stood at that exact podium and said in early 2003, “The time for diplomacy is over.” Is it conceivable to you, since you don’t want to rule anything out, that the Administration may come to the conclusion that having expended five years of effort on diplomacy and particularly three and a half under Secretary Kerry, that the time for diplomacy is over and that you need to make use of other elements of national power? Or is that not conceivable to you?

 

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