The Middle East Channel

Obama pushes Congress for approval of Syria strike as refugees top 2 million

The White House is pushing for Congressional approval of an attack on Syria. The efforts have come after an abrupt reversal over the weekend by President Barack Obama postponing military action in order to first seek authorization from Congress. Obama seems to have won support of Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, however many lawmakers completely oppose a military strike, and the debate has come at a time of extreme bipartisanship. The Obama administration sent a draft resolution to Congress, which is expected to come to a vote next week. It seeks the use of force in Syria which the president "determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction." France is also pushing for military action on Syria, and released an intelligence report claiming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's connection to a "massive and coordinated chemical attack." On Monday, Assad warned the United States and its allies against a military strike on Syria saying the region is a "powder keg" and that "chaos and extremism will be widespread." Russia has raised concerns Tuesday reporting two ballistic "objects" were launched in the Mediterranean Sea. Israel said it had conducted a joint missile test with the United States. Syria did not detect any foreign missile strikes on its territory. Meanwhile, on Tuesday the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said that the number of Syrians registered as refugees has exceeded two million, increasing by a million in the past six months. Additionally, approximately 4.25 million people have been displaced within Syria by the nearly two-year conflict.

Headlines  

  • An Egyptian judicial panel has advised the court to remove the Muslim Brotherhood's NGO status, threatening the group's political future, meanwhile Egypt's state prosecutor has referred former President Morsi for trial on charges of inciting murder.
  • An estimated 14 people have been killed Tuesday in shootings and a car bombing in and near the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
  • The daughter of Libya's former intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, has been abducted after being ambushed leaving a Tripoli prison Monday.
  • An Egyptian court on Tuesday ordered four TV stations known for their coverage of Islamist protests to stop broadcasting, including Al Jazeera's affiliate Mubasher Misr.
  • The Mujahideen-e Khalq has accused Iraqi soldiers of attacking Camp Ashraf, which houses Iranian exiles, killing 52 of the group's member, however Iraqi officials denied entering the camp. 

Arguments and Analysis

'Syria Statement' (International Crisis Group)

"Assuming the U.S. Congress authorises them, Washington (together with some allies) soon will launch military strikes against Syrian regime targets. If so, it will have taken such action for reasons largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people.  The administration has cited the need to punish, deter and prevent use of chemical weapons -- a defensible goal, though Syrians have suffered from far deadlier mass atrocities during the course of the conflict without this prompting much collective action in their defence. The administration also refers to the need, given President Obama's asserted ‘redline' against use of chemical weapons, to protect Washington's credibility -- again an understandable objective though unlikely to resonate much with Syrians. Quite apart from talk of outrage, deterrence and restoring U.S. credibility, the priority must be the welfare of the Syrian people. Whether or not military strikes are ordered, this only can be achieved through imposition of a sustained ceasefire and widely accepted political transition."

'Syrians want rid of President Assad, but without US bombs' (Wadah Khanfar, The Guardian)

"The Arab world has longed to get rid of the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad for years. In their minds it represents absolute evil. Future generations will remember the savage massacres perpetrated by the Syrian regime and the images of women and children who were slaughtered. But this strong desire to eradicate the regime will, for the most part, never be translated into support for American military intervention. That is because of misgivings and mistrust concerning US motives.

President Obama's address last Saturday was loaded with emotions. He used the phrase ‘moral responsibility' to justify punishing the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons against civilians. That, however, did little to convince many Arabs. Few have felt this moral responsibility in their dealings with the US, which has been losing credibility with the Arab public for decades. An entrenched image of American double standards and political bias against Arab interests has taken root; especially with regard to US bias towards Israel and America's longstanding support for tyrannical Arab regimes. This image was reinforced even more strongly after Washington's ‘war on terror' and its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

While Obama's election initially seemed appealing, with his promises of new policies in the Middle East, he missed the opportunity in his very first test in dealing with the Palestine question. He retreated from his demands for an end to Israeli settlement of Palestinian land -- a demand he had personally made -- and backtracked on a promise to close Guantánamo detention facility. And under Obama the US continued to cause heavy civilian casualties through its use of drones against targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, quashing Arab hopes of any serious change in policy."

'Forcing Obama's Hand in Syria' (Vali Nasr, New York Times)

"Mr. Obama has understandably viewed any involvement in Syria as a slippery slope to an expensive war that Americans do not want and will not support. Even after President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons, his administration has been slow to react, and after much back-and-forth it has decided to punish Mr. Assad -- but only in a discrete operation that would not have a direct bearing on the outcome of the civil war, and only, as Mr. Obama suggested on Saturday, if Congress gives its blessing.

The world will not see this as prudence but rather as dithering -- reinforcing the perception that the United States is hiding behind its economic woes and, hounded by the ghosts of Iraq, is no longer keen on leading the world. That will embolden America's adversaries and deject its friends. America could soon find itself alone in standing up to Iran or North Korea, or in pushing back against China and Russia, which have used their veto power on the Security Council to block United Nations authorization for intervention in Syria.

Americans are justifiably weary of war, but the lesson of Syria is that shirking from our global responsibilities will only create bigger problems that will eventually raise both the cost and the likelihood of American intervention."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

Kristoffer Tripplaar-Pool/Getty Images

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