The Middle East Channel

Obama vows to punish Assad regime for chemical weapons use

President Barack Obama vowed on Wednesday to send a "strong signal" to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces perpetrated the August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, Obama concluded. "I have no interest in any open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable," Obama said during an interview with PBS. Though hinting at U.S. plans to launch a limited strike aimed at deterring future chemical weapons attacks, Obama said he was undecided about whether to militarily intervene. The Obama administration said it would deliver a public presentation, possibly on Thursday, that shows hard evidence of a chemical weapons attack perpetrated by Syrian government forces. As the administration moves closer to military intervention in Syria, it faces a number of obstacles both at home and abroad. Some U.S. lawmakers voice consternation about a possible attack and call for prior congressional authorization, while the American public overwhelmingly opposes U.S. military intervention in Syria. International momentum toward military intervention has slowed, and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted on awaiting the results of the U.N. investigation in Syria before launching an attack. However, Russia opposes military intervention and will almost certainly veto any resolution mandating military action in the U.N. Security Council. In response to impending outside intervention, Assad declared that "Syria will defend itself in the face of any aggression," according to Syrian state television. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the U.N. team of weapon inspectors would return from Syria on Saturday and present their determination on whether chemical weapons were used.  

Headlines

  • The Iranian Foreign Ministry appointed Marzieh Afkham as its new spokesperson, marking the first time the Islamic Republic has appointed a woman to the position.
  • Egyptian soldiers will no longer offer a loyalty oath to the president of the republic, according to a decree issued by the interim president Tuesday, a symbolic shift that could enhance the military's independence from civilian oversight.
  • The Turkish government announced its support military intervention in Syria, but did not specify its role in such an effort.
  • The Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement declaring Egypt's "strong opposition to any foreign military intervention in Syria."

Arguments and Analysis

'Chemical Attacks and Military Interventions' (Omar Dahi, Jadaliyya)

"A political settlement would be the beginning not end of the struggle. Right now, the struggle is drowned out by a war of annihilation that is also a proxy war by regional countries at the expense of Syrians. There is no doubt that the Syrian regime has waged a war of destruction against its own people with decisive material and political support from Iran and Russia, and that it bears the primary responsibility for the violence. It has not shown a serious inclination for anything other than total victory. However, from the start of the uprising, the Gulf countries immediately saw the opportunity to defeat Iran in Syria and have used their money and arms to highjack the uprising and the language of the revolution in the benefit of a sordid counterrevolutionary agenda. This has led Iran to become more entrenched in its support of Syria, and to increase its support at every turn. The United States and its allies were setting up the possibilities for an endless civil war. The fact that the United States is threatening to strike now has nothing to do with the welfare of Syrians, and everything to do with the United States maintaining its own ‘credibility,' its position as a hegemonic power.

It is hard to avoid the hopeless feeling that Syrians have lost almost all agency over their collective future. The European Union, Gulf, and the United States may very well increase armaments to the rebels, the United States may launch cruise missiles into Syria, NATO may impose a no-fly zone or invade part or all Syrian territory. But whatever actions take place, continuing to claim them in the interests of the Syrian people is simply an exercise in public relations and deception."

'In Syria, U.S. Credibility is at Stake' (David Ignatius, Washington Post)

"What does the world look like when people begin to doubt the credibility of U.S. power? Unfortunately, we're finding that out in Syria and other nations where leaders have concluded they can defy a war-weary United States without paying a price.

Using military power to maintain a nation's credibility may sound like an antiquated idea, but it's all too relevant in the real world we inhabit. It has become obvious in recent weeks that President Obama, whose restrained and realistic foreign policy I generally admire, needs to demonstrate that there are consequences for crossing a U.S. ‘red line.' Otherwise, the coherence of the global system begins to dissolve.

Look around the world and you can see how unscrupulous leaders are trying to exploit Obama's attempt to disentangle America from the tumult of the Middle East. As we consider these opportunistic actions, it's easier to understand the rationale for a punitive military strike against Syria for its use of chemical weapons.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad overrode a clear American warning against such use of chemical weapons. According to U.S. intelligence reports, Assad's military last week fired rockets tipped with chemical warheads into rebel-held civilian neighborhoods east of Damascus. Reports from doctors on the scene are heart-rending. Medicine 'can't do much' to ease the suffering, wrote one doctor, because the concentration of the nerve gas sarin was so intense.

What did Assad and his generals think would happen in response to this blatant violation of international norms? Apparently, not much, and in a way, you can understand their complacency: Previous Syrian chemical attacks on a smaller scale hadn't triggered any significant U.S. retaliation, despite Obama's warning a year ago that such actions would be 'a red line for us.' "

-- Joshua Haber

Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

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