In the skies over Syria, Russian bombers began striking a garrison of U.S.-supported rebels on June 16. American F/A 18s scrambled the Russians, but when the U.S. jets needed to refuel, the Russians returned and bombed again.

As the Daily Beast reports, the aerial close encounter “underscores just how chaotic Syria’s skies have become.” It also highlights the risk of the U.S. and Russia getting into something bigger.

Jeremi Suri, chair for leadership in global affairs at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School, says the airstrikes are at the core of the conflict in Syria.

“We have a civil war but we also have a geopolitical conflict between Russia and the west,” Suri says. “We are trying to eliminate (President Bashar al-Assad) and the Russians are trying to protect him.”

Then, on our home turf, U.S. diplomats and policymakers are in a dogfight over what to do about Syria.

“There are a large number of experts and diplomats in the state department who would like to see the United States do more to protect Syrian civilians, and most of all to limit the power of the Syrian government,” Suri says. “They would like to see the United States take military action, and they’re quite frustrated that the White House is not doing that.”

More than 50 state department diplomats leaked a letter to the New York Times that they had originally written through an official dissent channel.

The letter asks for a more assertive U.S. military role in Syria, increased protection for regime opposition groups, and more constraints on Syria’s ability to bomb fighting forces and civilian targets.

The formal state department channel was set up during the Vietnam War in 1971. Any full-time diplomat is allowed to send a message about a major policy or personnel issue to the Secretary of State’s office and the office then has eight weeks to respond.

Suri says the dissent channel has been used quite often, especially during the 1990s war in Yugoslavia and the second Iraq war.

The channel is meant to be kept confidential, Suri says, but it could be that the letter was leaked to bring more political pressure to Syria.

“The perception is not that John Kerry, Secretary of State, doesn’t agree with the dissidents. It’s that he agrees with them, but he doesn’t have influence in the White House,” Suri says. “So those in the state department who wrote this memo … are leaking it to the press to put pressure on Obama.”

Web post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.

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