World
Andrei Akulov
August 31, 2013
© Photo: Public domain

In a whirlpool of rapidly changing events around Syria one fact seems to be indisputable. The US has very little international support, the plans to lead a representative international coalition have gone awry. It’s an outright foreign policy failure. But the US seems to be unswerving ready to go alone against all the odds. The question is inevitable – does the US have method in its madness? Top US officials said Mr. Obama is intent to carry out a limited attack, «a shot across the bow» in the president's words, while broad international support and congressional authorization are wanted, but not necessary. The administration no longer considers other nations’ military participation vital. The officials say the intelligence is beyond doubt and there is no need to await the U.N. investigators' findings before deciding how to proceed. All indications suggest that a strike could occur soon after United Nations investigators leave the country. They are scheduled to depart Damascus on Saturday, August 31… 

International support waning in broad daylight

The broad international backing for the US position appears to be dissipating.

On August 29 the UK government's motion calling for a «strong humanitarian response» with possible military action in Syria, was defeated 285-272 in the British House of Commons. Prime Minister David Cameron stated in in a clear fashion, «It is clear to me that the British parliament…does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly». Ed Miliband, the opposition leader, nailed it saying «Evidence should precede decision, not decision precedes evidence». Angus Robertson of Scottish National Party said, «We cannot ignore the lessons of the calamitous Iraq war. We need safeguards to ensure that all is done to provide evidence about chemical weapons and support the United Nations and international law». She warned, «We need a coherent and comprehensive strategy which fully takes in the consequences of intervention. What is currently a calamity for the people of Syria could worsen and become a conflagration across the Middle East». The defeat of the government is a blow to the authority of Mr. Cameron. 

Previously United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said «Give diplomacy a chance. Stop fighting and start talking», The UN has said more time should be given to diplomacy. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League envoy for Syria, said that international military action could be carried out only after it has been approved by the Security Council. «I think international law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council», he told reporters in Geneva. A session of the UN Security Council in New York broke up without agreement.

France, which earlier this week declared its support for taking action against Syria, is now calling for more time so UN inspections can be completed. 

The German government has responded carefully to the recent developments in Syria. So far the Chancellor and the Foreign Minister were deliberately vague as to what the government considers to be expedient under the circumstances. In 2011, Berlin was out of tune with its NATO partners. Back then Germany abstained in the UN Security Council vote and was thus grouped with fellow abstainers China and Russia – against close allies the US, France and Britain.

Italy has marked itself out from key allies with a stand against participation in military action in Syria. Foreign Minister Emma Bonino has ruled out taking part without a UN Security Council mandate and said it would not be «automatic» even with such approval.

 

Actually NATO is far from rushing to support the US sabre rattling, not this time. 

The vast majority of Arabs are emotionally opposed to any Western military action in the region no matter how humanitarian the cause, and no Arab nation or leader has publicly endorsed such a step, even in the countries like the Persian Gulf monarchies whose diplomats for months have privately urged the West to step in. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have been shipping money and arms to rebels challenging Syrian troops. Neither Saudi Arabia nor any of the Sunni-dominated Gulf States have publicly endorsed Western intervention. Saudi Arabia—for more than a year the strongest advocate of international action on Syria—has limited its public response to last week's alleged chemical attack to statements by Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal calling for unspecified, decisive action under the U.N. In Jordan, where a U.S. – and Saudi-backed effort is helping train Syrian rebels, Jordanian King Abdullah publicly called for peaceful settlement. Jordan already has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria. Its fear is being «dragged into retaliation and war», a senior Jordanian official said. And all feel threatened by the regional rivalry with Iran. In the region, only Turkey has pledged to support intervention. 

Intervention policy hits snags at home

The US Congress is currently in recess until September 9, still the President is facing doubts at home as well: more than 160 members of Congress, including 63 Democrats, have now signed letters calling for either a vote or at least a «full debate» before any U.S. action. More than 80 members of Congress, most of them Republican, signed another letter by GOP Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia. That letter urged Obama «to consult and receive authorization» before giving an order for any military action. House Speaker John Boehner also sent a letter to the President on Wednesday, August 28, urging him to explain the legal justification behind any decision to launch an attack and demanding a «clear, unambiguous explanation of how military action…will secure U.S. objectives and how it fits into your overall policy». Most observers predict that were the issue to be put to a vote, Mr. Obama would very likely suffer a similar humiliation to that of Mr. Cameron and for that reason he may be grateful Congress is in recess for two more weeks.

The White House presented its case for military action to Congressional leaders on Thursday evening, August 29. The Pentagon and the intelligence agencies asserted that the evidence was clear that Mr. Assad’s forces had carried out the attack. The 90-minute briefing was conducted by Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, among others. Even before the call, however, some prominent lawmakers expressed anger that the White House was planning a strike without significant consultations with Congress. «When we take what is a very difficult decision, you have to have buy-in by members and buy-in by the public», Representative Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Thursday on MSNBC. «I think both of those are critically important and, right now, none of that has happened».

After the briefing, Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate armed services committee, urged a cautious approach. «Tonight, I suggested that we should do so while UN inspectors complete their work and while we seek international support for limited, targeted strikes in response to the Assad regime's large-scale use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people». Some other senior lawmakers were not persuaded that the Obama administration had made its case for military action in Syria. Representative Howard (Buck) McKeon, the California Republican who is Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Obama needed to make a forceful case to persuade both Congress and a «war weary» country. «If he doesn’t, I think he could have a real problem with the Congress and the American public», he said. «He’s got a big sell.» «Tonight the Administration informed us that they have a 'broad range of options' for Syria but failed to lay out a single option», said Oklahoma GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe in a statement. «They also did not provide a timeline, a strategy for Syria and the Middle East, or a plan for the funds to execute such an option. Several members agreed with me that whatever is decided upon, it's going to take military resources that are at decreased readiness levels due to a lack of funding».

Intervention – breach of domestic law

Much has been said about the planned intervention being an egregious violation of international law. It is in stark contrast with home laws too. The Constitution says – the Executive and Legislative Branches make this decision together. As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. True, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent but only in instances of self-defense. Some lawmakers strongly advice President Obama to seek the consent of Congress before deploying U.S. military assets in Syria, warning that failure to do so would violate the War Powers Act, which reserves for Congress the right to declare war. The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation, according to the War Powers Resolution of 1973. «While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate — and the active engagement of Congress — prior to committing U.S. military assets», the group, which so far includes 69 Republicans and 13 Democrats, writes. «Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution». In 2007 candidate Obama said, «The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation». He was criticizing the war in Iraq started by his predecessor at the time. 

Going to Congress would give the President more political cover on what is actually doomed to be an unpopular action and share the responsibility with the political parties. Perhaps the White House still believes it has ample room under the War Powers Act to use military force without Congressional authorization being afraid to be refused the authorization as it happened in the UK. 

American people say no to use of force

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll says  only 9 percent of respondents said that the Obama administration should intervene militarily in Syria. The poll was taken Aug.19-23, the very same week the reports emerged suggesting the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against his own people potentially killing hundreds or even thousands of civilians. This is the lowest support for intervention since the poll began tracking opinion on the issue. The survey also found that 60 percent oppose intervention outright, with the rest, perhaps sagely, saying that they don’t know. Strangely, 25 percent said that they support intervention if Assad uses chemical weapons. A large share of people who answered that the United States should intervene if Assad uses chemical weapons are apparently unaware that this time the so-called «red line» has already been crossed. Perhaps some of those asked would drop their support if they realized the question was practical not hypothetical. 

Military and experts say no

Amid resistance to a new war, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey has «adamantly opposed» US military intervention in Syria «because he believes that the Syrian opposition is not basically in any shape or form the reliable allies of the US», an American journalist has told Press TV on August 25. (1) He made his opposition public as far back as July this year during the procedure of his nomination approval by Senate. «General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has made a number of very clear statements in recent days adamantly opposing US military action» in Syria, said Jeff Steinberg, a senior writer at the weekly newsmagazine Executive Intelligence Review. Former and current officers, many with the painful lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, said the main reservations concern the potential unintended consequences of launching cruise missiles against Syria.

Some questioned the use of military force as a punitive measure and suggested that the White House lacks a coherent strategy. If the administration is ambivalent about the wisdom of defeating or crippling the Syrian leader, possibly setting the stage for Damascus to fall to radicals, they said, the military objective of strikes on Assad’s military targets is at best ambiguous. «There’s a broad naiveté in the political class about America’s obligations in foreign policy issues, and scary simplicity about the effects that employing American military power can achieve», said retired Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold, who served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the run-up to the Iraq war, noting that many of his contemporaries are alarmed by the plan. Marine Lt. Col. Gordon Miller, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, warned this week of «potentially devastating consequences, including a fresh round of chemical weapons attacks and a military response by Israel. «If President Assad were to absorb the strikes and use chemical weapons again, this would be a significant blow to the United States’ credibility and it would be compelled to escalate the assault on Syria to achieve the original objectives», Miller wrote in a commentary for the think tank.

Ken Pollack, a fellow from the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, said that with continuing uncertainty over the intelligence picture, and no obvious legal mandate for military action, the US will be desperate to secure more international backing to argue that intervention is «legitimate». «If the administration can't even count of the full-throated support of our closest ally, the country that stuck by us even during the worst days of Iraq, that legitimacy is going to be called into question», he said.

The administration officials never comment on the obvious fact – getting embroiled into the Syrian war would hamper the US exit from Afghanistan, endangering the lives of G.I.s – it a problem of mismatch between what the administration wants and the aspirations of common American people. 

* * *

It’s up to US citizens to decide what a president who violates international and domestic law deserves, if it is it an impeachment or something else. Looks like the despair of the job seekers. debt problems and the crumbling infrastructure pale in significance in comparison with a costly and unwinnable military adventure thousands miles away. Against all the odds, Mr. Obama is gung-ho on attacking Syria without even waiting for the UN inspectors to leave, without any solid evidence that the Syrian government was behind that chemical attack, without approval from the UN, or from his own allies, like the UK or Italy, for instance. And he does it against the opinion of the people he is elected to serve. Looks like the whole world is «out of step» while trying to keep away from or stop the US President from committing a folly he is sure to be sorry for afterwards. But he doesn’t listen being set in his ways. Still there is always an expectation, even it’s a hope against hope, the obviously disastrous ramifications could be avoided and the President would listen to voice of reason on many occasions raised by his own voters. 

Foto: topwar.ru

The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.
US – Syria: «Great Plans» Going Awry

In a whirlpool of rapidly changing events around Syria one fact seems to be indisputable. The US has very little international support, the plans to lead a representative international coalition have gone awry. It’s an outright foreign policy failure. But the US seems to be unswerving ready to go alone against all the odds. The question is inevitable – does the US have method in its madness? Top US officials said Mr. Obama is intent to carry out a limited attack, «a shot across the bow» in the president's words, while broad international support and congressional authorization are wanted, but not necessary. The administration no longer considers other nations’ military participation vital. The officials say the intelligence is beyond doubt and there is no need to await the U.N. investigators' findings before deciding how to proceed. All indications suggest that a strike could occur soon after United Nations investigators leave the country. They are scheduled to depart Damascus on Saturday, August 31… 

International support waning in broad daylight

The broad international backing for the US position appears to be dissipating.

On August 29 the UK government's motion calling for a «strong humanitarian response» with possible military action in Syria, was defeated 285-272 in the British House of Commons. Prime Minister David Cameron stated in in a clear fashion, «It is clear to me that the British parliament…does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly». Ed Miliband, the opposition leader, nailed it saying «Evidence should precede decision, not decision precedes evidence». Angus Robertson of Scottish National Party said, «We cannot ignore the lessons of the calamitous Iraq war. We need safeguards to ensure that all is done to provide evidence about chemical weapons and support the United Nations and international law». She warned, «We need a coherent and comprehensive strategy which fully takes in the consequences of intervention. What is currently a calamity for the people of Syria could worsen and become a conflagration across the Middle East». The defeat of the government is a blow to the authority of Mr. Cameron. 

Previously United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said «Give diplomacy a chance. Stop fighting and start talking», The UN has said more time should be given to diplomacy. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League envoy for Syria, said that international military action could be carried out only after it has been approved by the Security Council. «I think international law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council», he told reporters in Geneva. A session of the UN Security Council in New York broke up without agreement.

France, which earlier this week declared its support for taking action against Syria, is now calling for more time so UN inspections can be completed. 

The German government has responded carefully to the recent developments in Syria. So far the Chancellor and the Foreign Minister were deliberately vague as to what the government considers to be expedient under the circumstances. In 2011, Berlin was out of tune with its NATO partners. Back then Germany abstained in the UN Security Council vote and was thus grouped with fellow abstainers China and Russia – against close allies the US, France and Britain.

Italy has marked itself out from key allies with a stand against participation in military action in Syria. Foreign Minister Emma Bonino has ruled out taking part without a UN Security Council mandate and said it would not be «automatic» even with such approval.

 

Actually NATO is far from rushing to support the US sabre rattling, not this time. 

The vast majority of Arabs are emotionally opposed to any Western military action in the region no matter how humanitarian the cause, and no Arab nation or leader has publicly endorsed such a step, even in the countries like the Persian Gulf monarchies whose diplomats for months have privately urged the West to step in. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have been shipping money and arms to rebels challenging Syrian troops. Neither Saudi Arabia nor any of the Sunni-dominated Gulf States have publicly endorsed Western intervention. Saudi Arabia—for more than a year the strongest advocate of international action on Syria—has limited its public response to last week's alleged chemical attack to statements by Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal calling for unspecified, decisive action under the U.N. In Jordan, where a U.S. – and Saudi-backed effort is helping train Syrian rebels, Jordanian King Abdullah publicly called for peaceful settlement. Jordan already has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria. Its fear is being «dragged into retaliation and war», a senior Jordanian official said. And all feel threatened by the regional rivalry with Iran. In the region, only Turkey has pledged to support intervention. 

Intervention policy hits snags at home

The US Congress is currently in recess until September 9, still the President is facing doubts at home as well: more than 160 members of Congress, including 63 Democrats, have now signed letters calling for either a vote or at least a «full debate» before any U.S. action. More than 80 members of Congress, most of them Republican, signed another letter by GOP Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia. That letter urged Obama «to consult and receive authorization» before giving an order for any military action. House Speaker John Boehner also sent a letter to the President on Wednesday, August 28, urging him to explain the legal justification behind any decision to launch an attack and demanding a «clear, unambiguous explanation of how military action…will secure U.S. objectives and how it fits into your overall policy». Most observers predict that were the issue to be put to a vote, Mr. Obama would very likely suffer a similar humiliation to that of Mr. Cameron and for that reason he may be grateful Congress is in recess for two more weeks.

The White House presented its case for military action to Congressional leaders on Thursday evening, August 29. The Pentagon and the intelligence agencies asserted that the evidence was clear that Mr. Assad’s forces had carried out the attack. The 90-minute briefing was conducted by Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, among others. Even before the call, however, some prominent lawmakers expressed anger that the White House was planning a strike without significant consultations with Congress. «When we take what is a very difficult decision, you have to have buy-in by members and buy-in by the public», Representative Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Thursday on MSNBC. «I think both of those are critically important and, right now, none of that has happened».

After the briefing, Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate armed services committee, urged a cautious approach. «Tonight, I suggested that we should do so while UN inspectors complete their work and while we seek international support for limited, targeted strikes in response to the Assad regime's large-scale use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people». Some other senior lawmakers were not persuaded that the Obama administration had made its case for military action in Syria. Representative Howard (Buck) McKeon, the California Republican who is Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Obama needed to make a forceful case to persuade both Congress and a «war weary» country. «If he doesn’t, I think he could have a real problem with the Congress and the American public», he said. «He’s got a big sell.» «Tonight the Administration informed us that they have a 'broad range of options' for Syria but failed to lay out a single option», said Oklahoma GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe in a statement. «They also did not provide a timeline, a strategy for Syria and the Middle East, or a plan for the funds to execute such an option. Several members agreed with me that whatever is decided upon, it's going to take military resources that are at decreased readiness levels due to a lack of funding».

Intervention – breach of domestic law

Much has been said about the planned intervention being an egregious violation of international law. It is in stark contrast with home laws too. The Constitution says – the Executive and Legislative Branches make this decision together. As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. True, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent but only in instances of self-defense. Some lawmakers strongly advice President Obama to seek the consent of Congress before deploying U.S. military assets in Syria, warning that failure to do so would violate the War Powers Act, which reserves for Congress the right to declare war. The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation, according to the War Powers Resolution of 1973. «While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate — and the active engagement of Congress — prior to committing U.S. military assets», the group, which so far includes 69 Republicans and 13 Democrats, writes. «Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution». In 2007 candidate Obama said, «The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation». He was criticizing the war in Iraq started by his predecessor at the time. 

Going to Congress would give the President more political cover on what is actually doomed to be an unpopular action and share the responsibility with the political parties. Perhaps the White House still believes it has ample room under the War Powers Act to use military force without Congressional authorization being afraid to be refused the authorization as it happened in the UK. 

American people say no to use of force

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll says  only 9 percent of respondents said that the Obama administration should intervene militarily in Syria. The poll was taken Aug.19-23, the very same week the reports emerged suggesting the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against his own people potentially killing hundreds or even thousands of civilians. This is the lowest support for intervention since the poll began tracking opinion on the issue. The survey also found that 60 percent oppose intervention outright, with the rest, perhaps sagely, saying that they don’t know. Strangely, 25 percent said that they support intervention if Assad uses chemical weapons. A large share of people who answered that the United States should intervene if Assad uses chemical weapons are apparently unaware that this time the so-called «red line» has already been crossed. Perhaps some of those asked would drop their support if they realized the question was practical not hypothetical. 

Military and experts say no

Amid resistance to a new war, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey has «adamantly opposed» US military intervention in Syria «because he believes that the Syrian opposition is not basically in any shape or form the reliable allies of the US», an American journalist has told Press TV on August 25. (1) He made his opposition public as far back as July this year during the procedure of his nomination approval by Senate. «General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has made a number of very clear statements in recent days adamantly opposing US military action» in Syria, said Jeff Steinberg, a senior writer at the weekly newsmagazine Executive Intelligence Review. Former and current officers, many with the painful lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, said the main reservations concern the potential unintended consequences of launching cruise missiles against Syria.

Some questioned the use of military force as a punitive measure and suggested that the White House lacks a coherent strategy. If the administration is ambivalent about the wisdom of defeating or crippling the Syrian leader, possibly setting the stage for Damascus to fall to radicals, they said, the military objective of strikes on Assad’s military targets is at best ambiguous. «There’s a broad naiveté in the political class about America’s obligations in foreign policy issues, and scary simplicity about the effects that employing American military power can achieve», said retired Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold, who served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the run-up to the Iraq war, noting that many of his contemporaries are alarmed by the plan. Marine Lt. Col. Gordon Miller, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, warned this week of «potentially devastating consequences, including a fresh round of chemical weapons attacks and a military response by Israel. «If President Assad were to absorb the strikes and use chemical weapons again, this would be a significant blow to the United States’ credibility and it would be compelled to escalate the assault on Syria to achieve the original objectives», Miller wrote in a commentary for the think tank.

Ken Pollack, a fellow from the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, said that with continuing uncertainty over the intelligence picture, and no obvious legal mandate for military action, the US will be desperate to secure more international backing to argue that intervention is «legitimate». «If the administration can't even count of the full-throated support of our closest ally, the country that stuck by us even during the worst days of Iraq, that legitimacy is going to be called into question», he said.

The administration officials never comment on the obvious fact – getting embroiled into the Syrian war would hamper the US exit from Afghanistan, endangering the lives of G.I.s – it a problem of mismatch between what the administration wants and the aspirations of common American people. 

* * *

It’s up to US citizens to decide what a president who violates international and domestic law deserves, if it is it an impeachment or something else. Looks like the despair of the job seekers. debt problems and the crumbling infrastructure pale in significance in comparison with a costly and unwinnable military adventure thousands miles away. Against all the odds, Mr. Obama is gung-ho on attacking Syria without even waiting for the UN inspectors to leave, without any solid evidence that the Syrian government was behind that chemical attack, without approval from the UN, or from his own allies, like the UK or Italy, for instance. And he does it against the opinion of the people he is elected to serve. Looks like the whole world is «out of step» while trying to keep away from or stop the US President from committing a folly he is sure to be sorry for afterwards. But he doesn’t listen being set in his ways. Still there is always an expectation, even it’s a hope against hope, the obviously disastrous ramifications could be avoided and the President would listen to voice of reason on many occasions raised by his own voters. 

Foto: topwar.ru