Monday, August 26, 2013

Obama and Syria

The Obama Administration and our Nobel Peace Prize-winner President are floating trial balloons on direct and open military intervention in the Syrian civil war. A really bad idea. Hannah Allam, James Rosen and Jonathan Landay report for McClatchy in U.S. appears to weigh military response to alleged Syrian use of chemical weapons 08/25/2013:

But any strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime would occur over the misgivings of a majority of Americans, according to a new poll, and with only limited support from Congress. The fallout from such action includes likely retaliation from Iran, Russia and the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah – Assad’s three chief foreign patrons – and could draw the United States deeply into a new Middle East conflict after years of entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, many foreign policy analysts argue that after more than two years and a death toll exceeding 100,000, President Barack Obama has a moral imperative to step in now because of the escalation from the regime’s apparent use of chemical weapons in defiance of his warning that such warfare was a “red line.”

Statements from the administration over the weekend suggests that Obama’s extreme reluctance to wade into the bloody crisis was easing, though there were no details yet on a course of action as U.S. officials continued consultations with European and Arab allies.

Obama appeared to be shoring up international support for action, speaking with his second ally in as many days, French President Francois Hollande. The White House said the two discussed "possible responses by the international community" and agreed to stay in touch.

At a news conference Sunday in Malaysia, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated that he’d prepared "options for all contingencies" at Obama’s request.

"We are prepared to exercise whatever option if he decides to employ one of those options," Hagel said.
Elias Groll in Morning Brief: U.S. Considers Military Action After Syrian Chemical Weapons Strike Foreign Policy/Passport 08/26/2013:

Obama has made no decision thus far on the use of force in Syria, but statements by senior administration officials took on a surprisingly hard tone -- especially for a White House that has fought tooth and nail to avoid getting dragged into yet another war in the Middle East. U.S. military planners have now updated their contingencies for a Syrian intervention, and U.S. warships in the Mediterranean are stationed, ready to carry out a strike using, for example, long-range cruise missiles. While Obama mulls over a strike, U.S. officials say they plan to take their case to the U.N., though they emphasize that there are other legal routes they may use in order to secure legal backing for military action.
It doesn't strike me that the Administration "has fought tooth and nail to avoid getting dragged into yet another war in the Middle East." But it has been a strong point of Obama's foreign policy that he has contained pressure to escalate to military confrontation with Iran.

When it comes to war in the Middle East, Juan Cole is always worth listening to. Although I disagreed with him on his support for US/NATO intervention in Libya, I paid attention to what he said about even so. In Obama’s Limited Options: Bombing Syria unlikely to be Effective Informed Comment 08/25/2013, he warns about the all-too-frequent US hubris about what military intervention can accomplish. He gives some background:

... Obama has also been getting substantial pressure from the French and British to do something, and French intelligence has been the most vigorous in pressing the case that the Baath regime in Syria crossed the red line of chemical weapons use. France and Britain have longstanding imperial interests in the Levant, and both fear that the Syrian civil war could produce terrorism that spills over onto Western Europe. Unstated is that it may also produce a refugee crisis in which tens or hundreds of thousands of new immigrants wash up on European soil. Immigrants and terrorism are two key issues in French and British politics, and may be spurring them to action.

Likewise, the Baath and Hizbullah counter-attacks against the opposition in the past two months have yielded battlefield victories and the reassertion of Damascus over parts of the country that had been lost. Russian support appears to have increased in kind and quality, and Iran is playing the Shiite card. If someone doesn’t intervene soon on the rebel side, Washington hawks realize, the war might soon be over and the pro-Iranian regime will survive (just as Algeria’s did).

Obama seems to be attempting to find a face-saving way of getting a little involved but not too much, by sending light weaponry (which of course is not what the rebels need). [and now by a few strategic strikes from the air.] (brackets in original)
And he weighs in on the analogy front; every such intervention involves analogies in advocacy for and against. Cole: "The backing for the regime of Russia and Iran makes this more like Vietnam, where the Russians and Chinese supported the Viet Cong, than like the Balkans in the early 1990s when the Russians were weak and supine."

Here we have Richard Gowan warning about the undead bogeyman of US foreign policy, Credibility. But also pointing out some of the real risks in intervention. U.S. Considers Military Options in Syria PBS Newshour Online 08/25/2013

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