There has been a lot of talk about President Obama’s “red line” comment concerning the Syrian government using chemical weapons against its civilians. CBS is now reporting it likely that that President Obama will bomb Syria sometime in the coming weeks, conditional on a coalition mandate. US military sources are publicly confirming there is little doubt a poison gas attack occurred in the Damascus suburbs. That attack, just days ago, left hundreds dead.
What started as a Syrian uprising in 2011 evolved into a full-fledged civil war. And, as the world has watched now for over two years, a lightly armed rebel force has been going against the full military might of the Assad regime. To date there have been over 100,000 civilian deaths and the frightening wholesale destruction of cities. A recent UN report says that over two million Syrians have fled that country, with at least half of them being children.
The international community has struggled to arrive at a unified response to the conflict in Syria. But these new additional reports of chemical weapons could, if confirmed, cement the international resolve to act. Last year President Barack Obama said that the use of chemical weapons was a “red line” that, if crossed, the US would not ignore.
If the president were to order an attack, it would likely be a cruise missile attack from US warships, keeping US troops and airmen out of harm’s way. Such an attack would be a calculated warning designed to convince Assad that he cannot get away with using chemical weapons. In other words, the world is watching and will not allow it to happen.
Here we are now, the last week of August 2013. President Obama met in the White House yesterday with his top civilian and military to discuss options. American warships are in the Mediterranean and additional ships are on the way. The New York Times reported that Obama’s national-security aides are studying the 1999 air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for US action in Syria.
In the Kosovo conflict, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, an autonomous province of Serbia, were being massacred by Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. President Bill Clinton, after much reluctance, decided to intervene, but couldn’t get authorization from the U.N. Security Council, where Russia—Serbia’s main ally—was certain to veto any resolution on the use of force. So Clinton turned to NATO to deal with a crisis in the middle of Europe.
The Syrian parallel is obvious. In this case too, an American president, after much reluctance, seems to be considering the use of force but can’t get authorization from the U.N. because Russia and China are certain to veto. There is growing pressure to act, bolstered by evidence gathered by independent physicians’ groups and U.S. intelligence that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons.
Can Obama count on a multinational alliance? That is uncertain. NATO may be the answer—just as it was in Kosovo. Turkey might be a leading voice for intervention. Turkey is dealing with refugee pressure and its leaders are justifiably concerned by the growing death toll and instability in Syria just across their southern border.
If CBS is right and he Pentagon is making the initial preparations for a cruise missile attack on Syrian government forces, buckle your seat belts, because things could go from where they are to a full regional (if not world) conflict in the blink of an eye.
President Obama clearly does not want to take military action without international support. Responding to CNN questioning, the president said “If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country, without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it. Do we have the coalition to make it work?”
I think we are at a point where we are about to find out what the US is going to do about Syria.