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.


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


The Middle East Channel

Snipers fire on U.N. investigators as international leaders debate options on Syria

Unidentified snipers have hit the convoy of a team of 20 U.N. inspectors as they set out to investigate the sites of Wednesday's alleged chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus, which killed hundreds of people. The Syrian government and opposition fighters had agreed to a cease-fire to allow for the investigation. The team of experts has returned to a checkpoint and said they will continue the inquiry, which is set to determine whether chemical weapons were used, but not who used them. The United States and Western countries have said there is little doubt that the Assad regime used chemical weapons and a U.S. official said the inspection of the sites is likely "too late to be credible." Western and Middle Eastern military leaders are meeting in Jordan to discuss the two and a half year Syrian conflict. The United States is debating options on Syria, including possible military action, a year after President Barack Obama declared the use of chemical weapons a "red line." Speaking with the Russian newspaper Izvestia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed that accusations that government forces conducted a chemical attack were "nonsense" and warned the United States that military involvement would bring "failure just like in all previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to our days." Russia cautioned against prejudging the results of the U.N. investigations and undertaking "armed actions against Syria." U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said there can be "no impunity" if the investigators find evidence of the use of chemical weapons. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that an international response could come without a U.N. Security Council consensus.


  • Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak faced a retrial Sunday after being released last week from prison to house arrest, while the trial of Muslim Brotherhood leaders also began in Cairo.
  • A wave of attacks across Iraq targeting mainly Sunni areas killed at least 42 people Sunday in a recent surge in violence.
  • Israeli security forces killed three Palestinians in clashes Monday after a raid in the West Bank Qalandia refugee camp.
  • A bombing killed three people and wounded another 23 on a bus carrying high-ranking Yemeni air force officers in Sanaa Sunday. 

Arguments and Analysis

'Foreign Policy by Whisper and Nudge' (Thomas Friedman, The New York Times)

"To help another country change internally requires a mix of refereeing, policing, coaching, incentivizing, arm-twisting and modeling -- but even all of that cannot accomplish the task and make a country's transformation self-sustaining, unless the people themselves want to take charge of the process.

In Iraq, George W. Bush removed Saddam Hussein, who had been governing that country vertically, from the top-down, with an iron fist. Bush tried to create the conditions through which Iraqis could govern themselves horizontally, by having the different communities write their own social contract on how to live together. It worked, albeit imperfectly, as long as U.S. troops were there to referee. But once we left, no coterie of Iraqi leaders emerged to assume ownership of that process in an inclusive manner and thereby make it self-sustaining.

Ditto Libya, where President Obama removed Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's top-down, iron-fisted regime, but he declined to put U.S. troops on the ground to midwife a new social contract. The result: Libya today is no more stable, or self-sustainingly democratic, than Iraq. It just cost us less to fail there. In both cases, we created an opening for change, but the local peoples have not made it sustainable.

Hence the three reactions I cited above. People of the region often blame us, because they either will not or cannot accept their own responsibility for putting things right. Or, if they do, they don't see a way to forge the necessary societal compromises, because their rival factions take the view either that 'I am weak, how can I compromise?' or ‘I am strong, why should I compromise?' "

'Who Is Ali Khamenei?' (Akbar Ganji, Foreign Affairs)

"As a young man, Khamenei saw a tension between the West and the Third World, and these views hardened during his dealings with the United States after the Iranian Revolution. He concluded that Washington was determined to overthrow the Islamic Republic and that all other issues raised by U.S. officials were nothing more than smoke screens. Even today, he believes that the U.S. government is bent on regime change in Iran, whether through internal collapse, democratic revolution, economic pressure, or military invasion.

Khamenei has always been critical of liberal democracy and thinks that capitalism and the West are in inevitable long-term decline. Moreover, he sees Washington as inherently Islamophobic. Nevertheless, he is not reflexively anti-Western or anti-American. He does not believe that the United States and the West are responsible for all of the Islamic world's problems, that they must be destroyed, or that the Koran and sharia are by themselves sufficient to address the needs of the modern world. He considers science and progress to be ‘Western civilization's truth,' and he wants the Iranian people to learn this truth. He is not a crazy, irrational, or reckless zealot searching for opportunities for aggression. But his deep-rooted views and intransigence are bound to make any negotiations with the West difficult and protracted, and any serious improvement in the relationship between Iran and the United States will have to be part of a major comprehensive deal involving significant concessions on both sides."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber 

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