The Middle East Channel

Obama gains support for military action on Syria

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has agreed on a draft resolution on Syria, which is expected to come to a vote on Wednesday. The resolution is scaled down from what was requested by President Barack Obama setting a 60-day limit on military action, with a possible 30-day extension, and preventing the use of U.S. ground troops. Obama has garnered increasing support for an attack on Syria, winning backing from key Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Additionally, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she supported "targeted, tailored" action "of short duration." While a bill on a military action is expected to pass in the Senate, it will meet challenges in the House. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the United States against a unilateral action on Syria. He said it would be "absolutely absurd" for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to have used chemical weapons when it was making significant gains in the conflict. However, Putin said Russia had not ruled out supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force against Syria if it was proven "beyond doubt" that Assad's forces had used chemical weapons. Putin was speaking ahead of the G20 conference, which will begin Thursday in St. Petersburg, and will likely be dominated by the Syrian crisis. Putin said that Russia had suspended a partially delivered contract to send an air defense missile system to Syria. Meanwhile, according to Interfax, Russia is sending a missile cruiser, set to arrive in the east Mediterranean in 10 days, to take over naval operations.

Headlines

  • Gunmen killed 16 members of a Shiite family in the Iraqi town of Latifiya overnight meanwhile bombings and shootings on Wednesday targeting Iraqi security forces killed at least 12 people.
  • An Egyptian military court has issued lengthy sentences to dozens of supporters of ousted President Morsi accused of opening fire on soldiers, including one life term.
  • Israeli police have reportedly arrested seven Palestinians after clashes in Jerusalem's Old City.
  • Bahrain's justice minister has issued an order requiring political groups to obtain authorization to meet with foreign diplomats or international organizations further limiting opposition groups. 

Arguments and Analysis

'The Syria vote's political stakes' (Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times)

"Every member of the Senate with a glimmer of ambition to run for president -- and that's most of them -- knows that a vote for war can make or break a political career. The example of Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose vote to authorize the 2003 invasion of Iraq crippled her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, is vivid in every mind on Capitol Hill.

So while it might be tempting to assume that members of Congress will be thinking solely of the national interest when they vote on President Obama's request for punitive strikes against Syria, there will be old-fashioned politics at work as well. And the stakes are higher for some than for others.

Obama, of course, has the most to lose. He has made it clear that, like all his recent predecessors, he doesn't think he needs authorization from Congress to launch missile strikes against Syria. But that only underscores the fact that Obama turned to Congress out of weakness, not strength."

'Syria: what happened to diplomacy?' (Trita Parsi, Reuters)

"There is a bizarre quality to the U.S. public debate about bombing Syria. Much time and effort has been spent analyzing President Barack Obama's decision to finally call for a vote in Congress: whether this was a wise choice; what the repercussions of an attack may be; the (il)legality of acting without a United Nations Security Council mandate; the moral case for bombing, and the strategic case for restraint.

But almost no attention has been paid to a fundamental question: Have all other options been exhausted?

Obama has presented the American public with a false binary choice: taking military action or doing nothing.

It is perhaps the sign of our times that diplomacy is not even being talked about as an option, though Obama's 2008 platform included restoring diplomacy as a central tool of American statecraft.

If the key concern is humanitarian -- putting an end to the senseless slaughter of Syrian civilians -- rather than U.S. credibility -- ensuring the enforcement of the president's 'red line' -- much more should have been done earlier to press all sides of the conflict to agree to a cease-fire.

Undoubtedly, this is not an easy task. Neither Syrian President Bashar al-Assad nor the various opposition forces (not to mention the growing al Qaeda elements) are reliable negotiation counterparts.

But such is the nature of civil wars. They are rarely fought by your ideal negotiating partners. Yet most civil wars can only come to an end through a negotiated settlement. The longer one waits, the higher the death tolls, the deeper the wounds and the harder the task."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images

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