The Middle East Channel

U.S. and Britain consider military action on Syria as Kerry claims chemical attack “undeniable”

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said he rejects "utterly and completely" accusations that government forces used chemical weapons. His comments came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was undeniable evidence that the Syrian regime carried out chemical weapons attacks accusing the government of "indiscriminate slaughter of civilians." The United States has been consulting with its allies on options on Syria, and military leaders met Monday in Jordan. U.S. officials said that President Barack Obama has not yet made a decision on military action, but is likely to order a limited military operation. The United States, Britain, and France expect they cannot work through the U.N. Security Council because of a nearly certain Russian veto. The United States postponed a meeting scheduled for this week with Russia on the Syrian crisis because of the U.S. administration's "ongoing consultations about the appropriate response to the chemical weapons attack." British Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled parliament from its summer recess for Thursday to debate options as the British Armed Forces are reportedly making "contingency plans" for military action. After being targeted by sniper fire Monday, a team of U.N. inspectors was able to investigate the Mouadamiya suburb of Damascus, one of at least four sites allegedly hit by chemical weapons attacks last Wednesday. The Syrian Foreign Ministry has reported that the team's trip to a second site has been delayed due to rebel fighting. According to U.S. officials, Obama will make his decision based on a U.S. intelligence assessment of last week's attacks rather than the U.N. investigation, which is set to determine whether chemical weapons attacks occurred, but not who used them.

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Arguments and Analysis

'How to Wage War Against Assad' (Anthony Cordesman, Real Clear World)

"Even if the U.S. can somehow stop all future use of chemical weapons, the military impact will be marginal at best. Moreover, anyone who has actually seen wounds from conventional artillery -- or badly treated body wounds from small arms -- realizes that chemical weapons do not cause more horrible wounds. If anything, an agent like Sarin tends to either kill quickly or result in relative recovery. The case for intervening cannot be based on chemical weapons. It has to be based on two factors: Whether it serves American strategic interest and whether it meets the broader humanitarian needs of the Syrian people.

Americans also need to remember that the U.S. has chosen bad options in Syria before, and the sheer pointlessness of largely symbolic U.S. strikes. The pointless use of battleships to shell Druze and Syrian forces in Syria in 1983 led to the Marine Corps barracks bombing and a similar attack on French forces on October 23, 1983.U.S. mistakes and debates within the Pentagon then led the U.S. to suddenly halt its part of what might have been a meaningful, large-scale U.S.-French strike plan, have the U.S. halt its strikes without telling its French ally, and result in a totally ineffective French bombing of Syrian targets on November 16, 1983. On December 4, 1983, the U.S. finally did launch 28 airstrikes because of Syrian air defense attacks on U.S. F-14s flying reconnaissance missions. The end result, however, was a pointless attack on Syrian air defense targets, the loss of two U.S. aircraft, one pilot dead, and another held prisoner until he was rescued by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

If the U.S. is to intervene in Syria, its options must have some strategic meaning and a chance of producing lasting success. They must have a reasonable chance of bringing stability to Syria, of limiting the growth of Iranian and Hezbollah influence, of halting the spillover of the Syrian struggle into nearby states, and helping to deal with the broader humanitarian crisis."

'An American Attack on Syria Will Achieve Nothing' (Shlomi Eldar, Al-Monitor)

"To attack or not to attack -- that is no longer the question. US President Barack Obama, despite the opposition of public opinion in his country, is obliged to launch an attack in Syria because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has long since crossed Obama's unequivocal red line. One chemical attack in a Damascus suburb has shocked the world much more than the 100,000 people who have fallen in the bloody Syrian battlefield to date.

The fundamental question to be asked now is: What does the United States intend to achieve by a military strike? Does it have an objective other than showing that Obama is a man of his word? An American assault might be limited to a single blow. Or it might consist of a series of assaults on strategic targets such as a chemical weapons factory, arms depots or even an assault on the presidential palace in Damascus in order to deter Assad. The result in any case will follow accordingly. Assad will emerge from his hideout to announce to whatever is left of his nation that he will not yield to predatory American imperialism on Syrian land.

Under such circumstances it is very likely that Israel's name will also find its way onto the list of those who connive against Assad, those who try to divide and destroy his country. Several days after such an assault, hundreds of thousands of Syrians will conduct demonstrations in support of their leader. They will protest the fact that the Americans and their partners join hands with the rebels to oust their president, who is fighting for his life and for the liberty of his country."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

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