Washington || President Obama is making the case for military strikes against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. The chief grievance asserts the Assad government released deadly sarin gas on citizens in suburban areas outside Damascus. Wednesday, Obama told PBS, “We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks,”
Meanwhile, the Syrian people are caught in the crossfires of U.S.-backed, anti-Assad rebels engaged in a 2-year conflict and a defiant government that now faces deadly reprisal by the U.S.
Beating the Drums of War…
Neo-conservatives, hawkish on the question of Syria, have for years sought U.S. dismantling of the Assad administration. Recent escalations in the form of rhetoric and moving weaponry are resulting in the most thundering drums of war during the President’s tenure. A group of more than 60 journalists, led by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier, have published an open letter that urges President Obama to order a bombing of Syrian installations.
Kimberly Kagan, of the Institute for the Study of War [ISW], wrote in a policy recommendation, “The United States should fully support the secular opposition to Bashar al-Assad through the provision of funds, weapons, equipment, and training. Syria has long been a major state-sponsor and supporter of terrorist groups including Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, and al Qaeda in Iraq.”
Kagan’s reference to Syrian rebels as secularists is debatable. But what is clearly emerging is a chorus of neo-conservative voices from RAND to American Enterprise Institute [AEI] in support of U.S. action. These voices have maintained a pre-occupation with reshaping Syria and now leverage the opportunity window of chemical weapons charges as a familiar pretext for war.
Mixed Reaction At Home and Abroad…
Stealth responses to possible U.S. direct intervention mark political and operational challenges to the Obama Administration. Recent discussions on Capitol Hill elicited mixed reactions. Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY), an Army veteran of 29 years, has reservations about end-state scenarios and strategies:
“It hasn’t been communicated what the strategy is — what’s the end-state that any U.S. involvement is seeking. What’s the strategy to accomplish that end-state? What would be the objectives — including military objectives — that support that strategy and what would a campaign look like to pursue those objectives? Four combat tours to Iraq, some of the rebels we’re talking about supporting shot at my paratroopers.” Source: Politico
Legal scholars note that Obama is treading a Constitution thin-line by framing U.S. options as a “limited” response instead of an act of war. This positioning seeks to: soften American public concerns; constrain Syria’s retaliation options that might otherwise include striking U.S. allies; and rationalize a unitary decision by the White House without a formal declaration of war from Congress. A number of media outlets are rejecting the nuances of the President’s position, calling for Congressional approval before the U.S. moves forward on what they deem would be an act of war.
Internationally, the British Parliament’s vote against support for intervention in Syria was a major defeat for Prime Minister David Cameron, leaving President Obama without this crucial ally. The U.K. is still reeling from what many call former Prime Minister Ton Blair’s fabrications that entangled the country in Iraq conflicts.
More strident opposition to military involvement in Syria invokes a tainted history of American interventionism. These concerns once permeated American public discourse during the height of U.S. activities in Chile, Iran, The Congo, and throughout Southeast Asia. Recent misadventures in Iraq, U.S. indifference to millions of Sudanese dying in bloody conflicts, and involvement in topping the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi have seen a resurgence of a basic notion that the U.S. is unjust in global dealings.
Yet another question that considers more regional implications is whether looming conflicts between the US and Syria are connected with their allies, Israel and Iran, respectively. Israel has been expressing concerns over Iran’s nuclear development program. Preemptive strikes against Iran have not occurred as of yet, and one plausible reason might be the tiny nation’s vulnerable geography in the Middle East. A conflict between the US and Syria occupies the latter, while establishing additional American weaponry in the region. Consequently, one might question whether tensions with Syria create the conditions for Israel to address the Iranian nuclear threat. If this is the unspoken end-game, the Syria decision takes on even greater significance and complexity.
Where from Here?
A number of issues surround U.S. military action against Syria. It is very likely that Syria will present a number of unanswered questions. Indeed, reports might refute our nation’s most egregious claims against Assad as was the case in Iraq. Recall that Iraq began without consideration of UN inspector findings to substantiate US claims. Are we again in that place? Did you learn any sustained lessons or have those lessons faded in time? How does the US justify double-standards in attacking Syria while being a bystander in the Sudan? Would the US accept a “no smoking gun” finding by UN investigations into Assad’s involvement in chemical attacks, or are we committed — irrespective of UN findings — to bringing down a government that does not cower to US mandates and interests? Americans cannot avoid the implications. Military action constitutes an assault on Syria and the idea of its sovereignty.
With UN inspectors scheduled to leave Damascus within the next few days, both the US and Russia have deployed warships to the Mediterranean amid growing tensions. A war-weary nation must now consider another conflict; the ends of which and the commitments to arrive at these ends being unclear.
What course should the U.S. follow in Syria?
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