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Obama ‘Red Line’

Tag Archives | Obama ‘Red Line’

Obama: No Decision on Syria Strike

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Syrian rebels take cover in Deir al-Zor on August 27. Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

Syrian rebels take cover in Deir al-Zor on August 27. Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

With all of the speculation over when President Barack Obama will order military strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the one variable that isn’t being considered is whether Obama will order some sort of military strikes against a number of limited targets in Syria. Obama told “PBS NewsHour” that he has “not made a decision” on the use of force. “Although what’s happened there is tragic…what I’ve also concluded is direct military engagement…would not help the situation on the ground.”

As to whether the Assad regime carried out the attacks, Obama had this to say, “We’ve concluded that in fact the Syrian government carried out these [chemical] attacks, and if that’s so, there needs to be international consequences.”

While many analysts and Middle East experts have concluded that the Syrian Civil War, which has killed close to a 100,000, wouldn’t be decided by airstrikes alone, the Assad regime has pretty much acted with impunity and any U.S. or European airstrikes would be intended to send a message to the regime that for any use of chemical weapons there are repercussions.

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The ‘Red Line’ Strikes Back

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A Syrian Army soldier in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus. Source: Associated Press

A Syrian Army soldier in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus. Source: Associated Press

It remains uncertain just who is responsible for last week’s alleged chemical attack that left scores dead and scores more injured. Accusations have become a game of ‘he said, she said’ at the highest levels. US and other Western governments hold the Syrian government accountable, while Russia and Iran blame the assault on Syrian rebel groups eager to ramp-up international condemnation against the Assad regime.

The UN has negotiated for its monitors to inspect the alleged attack site, however, as the US mulls over possible action in Syria, it remains unclear how intervention would further US interests. In fact, it would seem that President Obama has potentially backed himself into a corner, and perhaps endangered US influence, as allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria tests his ‘red line’ policy.

Syria’s humanitarian crisis is unequivocally tragic yet the gulf in public opinion surrounding the conflict has widened over the years. US policy has consistently remained focused on containing Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles, or at the very least deterring Assad’s forces from using chemical weapons during the ongoing conflict. The recent attack in eastern Ghouta crossed the ‘red-line’ which many deem necessary for intervention. However, should it turn out that Syria’s rebels forces are indeed behind the August 21 attack as Russia suggests, questions will linger on how the US will and should react, potentially exposing a double-standard in US policy.

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A Thoughtful Response is Needed in Syria

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Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Syria at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on August 26, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Syria at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on August 26, 2013

Secretary of State Kerry has found Syria guilty in the court of public opinion without offering any evidence to support his claim that the government of Syria was responsible for the chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus several days ago. The U.S. and UK have sent warships off the coast of Syria while at the same time preparing to discuss the prospects for peace at a conference between the Syrian government and rebels in Geneva in October.

British Foreign Minister Hague says the UK would be compliant with international law if it bypassed the UN in order to proceed with an attack. Even George Bush had the good sense to have UN backing before he invaded Iraq. This ‘attack Syria’ hysteria is filled with contradictions and because of its implications, borders on madness.  Why jump to any conclusions before/until the investigation is completed by the UN High Commissioner for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane? After more than two years of an absence of direct military response on the part of the West, what is the sudden hurry?

If the Syrian government is guilty, show the evidence and get a UN mandate before commencing any military action. Of course, a UN mandate is unlikely to occur since China and Russia have vowed to continue to oppose Western-sponsored resolutions against Syria. That is why Hague said what he said. So is the West now going to bypass the rule of law and procedures it has put in place when it is ‘inconvenient’? If so, what does that say about what may happen in future conflicts? That is a very dangerous road to go down.

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Chuck Hagel: U.S. Ready to Launch Syria Strike

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel testifies before the House Armed Services Committee with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel testifies before the House Armed Services Committee with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

American forces are “ready” to launch strikes on Syria if President Barack Obama chooses to order an attack, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says. “We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfil and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” Hagel told the BBC.  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said there is “undeniable” proof that Syria used chemical weapons.  The UK Parliament is to be recalled on Thursday to discuss possible responses. Prime Minister David Cameron, who has cut short his holiday and returned to London, said MPs would vote on a “clear motion”.  The crisis follows last Wednesday’s suspected chemical attack which reportedly killed more than 300 people.

French President Francois Hollande said France was “ready to punish” whoever was behind the attack, and had decided to increase military support for Syria’s main opposition.  BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins says the US, UK and France will now have the larger task of building as wide a coalition as possible to support limited military action. Meanwhile the Arab League said it held Syrian President Bashar al-Assad responsible for the attacks and called for UN action.

Syrian opposition sources have said they have been told to expect a Western intervention in the conflict imminently. “There is no precise timing…but one can speak of an imminent international intervention against the regime. It’s a question of days and not weeks,” AFP news agency quoted Syrian National Coalition official Ahmad Ramadan as saying.  Ramadan continued, “There have been meetings between the Coalition, the [rebel] Free Syrian Army and allied countries during which possible targets have been discussed.”

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The White House’s Unworkable Syria Strategy

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President Barack Obama briefs the press from the White House press briefing room on Syria. Obama has all but ruled out the use of U.S. ground forces. Source: Reuters

President Barack Obama briefs the press from the White House press briefing room on Syria. Obama has all but ruled out the use of U.S. ground forces. Source: Reuters

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime…that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.”

– President Barack Obama, August 20, 2012

There is mounting evidence that Bashar al-Assad’s regime has deployed a limited amount of chemical agents against the rebels who are trying to depose the beleaguered Syrian president. Israel, the UK and now the U.S. intelligence community have asserted that Assad has used chemical weapons against Syrian insurgents. In a letter to U.S. lawmakers, the White House notes, “Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.”

Hawkish US lawmakers jumped at the White House’s statement that Obama’s “red line” had indeed been crossed and that a more robust policy must be implemented. The inherent dilemma faced by conservative lawmakers is that public support for U.S. involvement hovers around 20 percent, so they have been noticeably vague about what that involvement entails. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee said on ABC’s “This Week” that “some action needs to be taken” against Assad’s government for its alleged deployment of chemical weapons. Rogers emphasized, the Obama administration’s red line “can’t be a dotted line.”

What complicates the US position and might force action are the recent Israeli airstrikes in Syria. According to Israeli officials, Israel struck suspected weapons sites believed to hold Iranian Fateh-110 missiles bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Whether the Israeli strikes prompt a new battlefront with Israel remains to be seen. Israeli defense officials are seemingly weighing the calculation that Assad neither has the means nor the will to do so. Even so, following the strikes, Israel deployed two of its Iron Dome missile batteries to Israel’s north in what has been described by Israeli officials as “ongoing situational assessments.”

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Red Lines and Syria’s Chemical Weapons

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Syria's Bashar al-Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

While the Obama administration has for many months stressed the need to give diplomacy another chance to work in Syria, the administration has now decided that if Assad were to employ his vast chemical weapons stockpile against the rebels, the U.S. would have no choice but to intervene in the nearly two-year old conflict. Fears about the potential fallout of the demise of the Assad regime are running high, as a post-Assad Syria could likely degenerate into a sectarian civil war that would make Iraq look like a picnic, given the complex religious and ethic fabric of Syrian society.

With the rebels making significant advances throughout Syria, and inching closer to the heart of Damascus, the fear is that Assad could launch chemical weapon attacks against rebel positions in a bid to halt their advance. Employing chemical weapons is not a precision game – numerous factors would impact the success or failure of their use, including prevailing winds. Collateral damage would likely be immeasurable, essentially constituting mass murder on a scale not witnessed in decades. Assad could be using the threat of chemical weapons as a bargaining chip to secure more preferential terms, should he decide to flee – which is becoming increasingly likely.

U.S. Intervention

There is no good option for American or NATO intervention in Syria. Reports have suggested that it could take as many as 60,000 ground troops to secure chemical and biological weapons sites throughout the country. This assumes accurate intelligence, the ability to deploy that size of force quickly, and limited opposition to foreign troops once on the ground. Such intervention would be costly, and assuming elements of Assad’s regime remain, it could prove to be such a hurdle that success could be problematic.

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