Lining up all his ducks behind “surgical” military strikes in Syria, President Barack Obama’s credibility’s on the line, delivering on his 2012 promise to intervene if Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons. With Paris-based Doctors Without Borders all-but-confirming the use of Sarin nerve gas in rebel-controlled East Damacus last Wed., Aug. 21, there’s little left of Obama’s “red lines.” Fearing possible air strikes, Damascus offered a ceasefire while U.N. inspectors combined through the bombed out areas where DWB estimated at least 355 died of poison gas asphyxiation. Trying to divert attention since Aug. 2, the Syrian government tried to blame Israel, a sure sign that al-Assad’s guilty as charged. When that didn’t fly, he then blamed Syrian rebels for staging a gas attack to get the government in hot water. No one at the U.N. or White House buys al-Assad’s excuses.
Holding the largest chemical weapons stockpile in the Middle East, Western allies feared that a desperate al-Assad would unload his arsenal. Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi, sounding more like Saddam’s former propagandist Saeed al-Sahaf, “Baghdad Bob,” warned the U.S. that attacking Syria would “create a ball of fire that will inflame the Middle East.” Telling the real story, the head of al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front Abu Mohammad al-Golani promised to target al-Assad’s Alawite sect for attacking his mujahedeen with chemical weapons in East Damascus. “For every chemical rocket that had fallen on our people in Damscus, one of their villages will, by the will of God, pay for it,” said al-Golani. While al-Qaeda’s known for its own propaganda, al-Golani wouldn’t fabricate chemical weapons casualties. Blaming attacks on anyone but the government looks more transparent.
Even if al-Zoubi want to raise doubt as to who’s to blame for the chemical attacks, he’s admitted that chemical attacks indeed took place. Passing the buck to everyone but al-Assad exposes the diversionary tactic. “This crime must not be swept under the carpet,” said U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron after conferring with Socialist French President Francois Hollande. Conferring with his Pentagon and national security team Saturday, Obama weighed his options, ordering Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to reposition U.S. naval assets off the Syrian Mediterranean coast. Despite a new Reuters/Ipsos poll indicating that 60% of Americans oppose Syrian military intervention, Barack must lead the Western alliance against egregious violations of the Geneva Convention. If the world’s last superpower fails to lead, then it loses hard-earned global prestige and credibility.
No one in the U.S. wants to see more U.S. troops, or, for that matter, tax dollars, wasted in another Mideast war. Yet when the president warns a country over the use of chemical weapons, there must be consequences. Russian and China—both voting members of the U.N. Security Council—buy al-Assad’s excuse that rebels, not the Syrian government, used the chemical weapons. Both oppose any outside military intervention in Syria, regardless of chemical weapons use. Whoever used chemical weapons, they most likely got them from the Syrian government. “America know the limitation of the red line of the Syrian front and any crossing of Syria’s red line will have severe consequences for the White House,” said Massoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of Iran’s military. Iranian-backed Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas have been fighting to keep al-Assad in power.
Calling for U.S. military intervention, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urged the White House to finally take action. McCain and Graham have said al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons crosses the line “and it is the responsibility of civilized nations everywhere to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.” Clarifying any U.S. response, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign relations committee, envisioned the U.S. response as targeted air strikes to degrade Syria’s war machine. “Using standoff weapons, without boots on the ground, and at minimal risk to our men and women in uniform, we can significantly degrade al-Assad’s air power and ballistic missile capabilities and help establish and defend safe areas on the ground,” said McCain and Graham. Corker only supports “surgical” air strikes with no boots on the ground.
If and when Obama makes the decision to intervene in Syria, he’d better have strong coalition with European and Mideast allies with a strong strategic plan and exit strategy. Recent polls show U.S. public is completely jaded when it comes to Mideast wars. There’s no compelling national security reason for the U.S. to intervene in Syria’s civil war. If Obama decides he must keep his word on so-called “red lines” with respect to Syria’s likely use of Sarin nerve gas, he needs to follow Corker’s advice of “surgical” air strikes with no U.S. boots on the ground, other than perhaps Special Forces and CIA. “But obviously, not boots on the ground,” Corker told Fox News Sunday. “I do think we will take action,” supporting Obama’s humanitarian mission to stop al-Assad from using more chemical weapons. No one wants another Mideast war. But surgical strikes to stop more bloodshed in Syria only makes sense.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.