State Dept and Pentagon form Syria prayer circle

The byline on the NBC News report below says Andrea Mitchell and Catherine Chomiak. I’ll assume Chomiak wrote it and Mitchell provided a veteran reporter’s oversight. “Now take care, we don’t want this to sound too much like Iraq. Make sure no one gets the idea that the US is planning an invasion and occupation.” I’m imagining Mitchell offered a tip like this, and that’s why, deep into the report a reference to the opposition comes out as “occupation.”

Besides planning for a major influx of additional refugees into neighboring states — a real likelihood that demands to be addressed by adequate planning and funding — the rest of this planning for a post-Assad Syria sounds like Washingtonian wishful thinking. An array of fine ideas and total lack of any practical means through which the U.S. might play an instrumental role in seeing they could be implemented. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as though I’m suggesting that it would be good if the U.S. actually had such power, but this looks like an Obama-esque PR exercise — the application of one of the lessons-learned from Iraq: the necessity for a post-regime collapse plan. But it skips over that little detail: the U.S. has no presence inside Syria and thus very little ability to control what happens after the fall of Assad even if this time there is a plan. It’s the bureaucrat’s security blanket: have strong documentation and then when others ask, what went wrong?, you can say: But we did have a very good plan.

Perhaps the phrase that most accurately captures the substance of this effort came when a State Dept spokesman said: “that’s certainly where our feelings are.”

The U.S. knows what it wants Syria to end up looking like and it’s going to pray in earnest that this might happen.

But what more tangible and immediate outcome might there be from this last-minute planning? The creation of a website in English and Arabic? The drafting of a “Syria roadmap”? I’m sure that will prove indispensable.

At the same time, have no doubt that anti-imperialist conspiracy theorists will be jumping all over this: the imperial blueprint for a NATO-controlled Syria. Hot stuff!

The State Department and the Pentagon are jointly working on plans for a post-President Bashar al-Assad Syria, NBC News has learned.

They hope to avoid the kind of implosion they believe occurred because of a lack of planning for post-Saddam Iraq.

The Bush administration’s decision to disband Iraqi security forces, made shortly after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, was a catalyst for the bloody civil war that followed.

Critics said that decision, made by senior Pentagon officials and announced by the head of the U.S. occupation authority at the time, Paul Bremer, set loose tens of thousands of armed, disaffected young men.

The U.S. is indicating to the Syrian army that it does not want it to dissolve and those not directly involved in atrocities could be part of a successor regime.

State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at a daily press briefing Monday:

“What we’re focused on and our concern is that as the opposition comes together with the remaining elements of the regime that don’t have blood on their hands, that they create an inclusive Syria where the rights of all Syrians are respected. And so that’s our focus and that’s what we’re directly communicating to the opposition, and that’s certainly where our feelings are.”

U.S. officials also hope that civil servants and other Assad holdovers will work with an interim government to avoid the kind of vacuum that led to widespread civil disorder, looting, and ultimately to civil war in Iraq.

Officials believe it is only a matter of time before Assad is gone, one way or another — although they can’t predict when.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, a veteran in Middle East affairs, is in charge of the planning.

An activist takes a photo of buildings damaged by what activists say is shelling by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in Talbeiseh, near Homs, on Monday.

He is assisted by U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who had returned to Washington after diplomatic operations in Damascus were suspended in February.

Last week, Ford talked with Syria opposition leaders in Cairo.

Burns’ schedule includes two White House meetings Tuesday, likely indicating more inter-agency planning on the Syria crisis.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, traveling in South Africa on Monday, announced a day earlier that she will add a stop in Turkey to her overseas trip for meetings with Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan on the Syria crisis.

Part of the U.S. planning includes Pentagon contingency plans for NATO and Syria’s neighbors to help provide transportation, food and medical supplies to a potential flood of refugees — well beyond the current numbers — in case there is a total collapse of the Syrian regime.

A key component of the post-Assad plan: pressing the occupation [sic] not to inflict reprisals against Assad loyalists after he goes.

“When we talk to the opposition we’re very clear … revenge or reprisals are totally unacceptable,” Ventrell said Monday.

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