Focal Points Blog

Victory for Syrian Rebels: Be Careful What You Wish For

Assad2

It’s unclear exactly how a rebel victory, the chances of which might improve in the event of missile strikes by the United States, would help the Syrian people. On August 26 at Syrian Comment, Joshua Landis provided three reasons why it wouldn’t. First:

The opposition is incapable of providing government services: Millions of Syrians still depend on the government for their livelihoods, basic services, and infrastructure. The government continues to supply hundreds of thousands of Syrians with salaries & retirement benefits. Destroying these state services with no capacity to replace them would plunge ever larger numbers of Syrians into even darker circumstances and increase the outflow of refugees beyond its already high level. Syria can get worse.
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Suspicions That Rebels Launched Chemical-weapons Attack Refuse to Die

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad once again denied, in so many words, that his regime was responsible for chemical-weapons attacks.  In an interview with Le Figaro, he said, “I’m not at all suggesting that the Syrian army does or does not possess such weapons.” Then he reiterated what he said in an earlier interview:

Let’s suppose that our army wishes to use WMD: is it really going to do so in an area where it is actually present and where soldiers have been wounded by these weapons, as the UN inspectors found during their visit to the hospital where they were being treated? Where is the logic in that?

However far-fetched, according to Washington group-think and what’s now conventional wisdom, a hotly disputed article by Dave Gavlak at Mint Press News based in Minneapolis suggests that’s in our best interest not to discard the-rebels-did-it scenario just yet. Gavlak writes:

… from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.

However implausible to most, the tale “many” tell is too plausible to ignore. In other words, it sounds too realistic and detailed to be the work of their imaginations. Based on the excerpt below, see what you think.
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The Real Reason Obama Drew Brakes on Syria Attack

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, President Obama surprised the nation and the world when he announced that he would seek the approval of Congress before launching cruise (presumably called that because they fly far and at a constant speed) missiles at Syria. At the New York Times, Mark Landler reports (emphasis added):

He had several reasons, he told [his staff], including a sense of isolation after the terrible setback in the British Parliament. But the most compelling one may have been that acting alone would undercut him if in the next three years he needed Congressional authority for his next military confrontation in the Middle East, perhaps with Iran.

If he made the decision to strike Syria without Congress now, he said, would he get Congress when he really needed it?

“He can’t make these decisions divorced from the American public and from Congress,” said a senior aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations. “Who knows what we’re going to face in the next three and a half years in the Middle East?”
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President Obama’s Bush Moment?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

President Obama has really put himself in a bind with this red line on Syria. As his call to action escalates following President Bashar al-Assad’s probable use of chemical weapons against thousands of his own people last week, it seems likely that the U.S. will make targeted strikes against the Syrian regime. The only question is who will join us.

This week, the President repeatedly referred to Syria’s breach of an international norm prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, but his administration has yet to provide a sufficiently detailed justification and compelling outcome in support of intervention. For instance, in his speech to the American public on Friday, did Secretary of State John Kerry describe the graphic images of slaughter to garner support for a humanitarian intervention to protect civilians? Or did he speak to our worst fears to highlight the security risks to America and its allies to justify a preemptive strike in the name of self-defense? How will a strike against Assad, however narrow, serve the American interests Obama continues to incorporate into his rhetoric?

Since well before Assad’s use of chemical weapons, many experts have called for humanitarian intervention as a means to protect civilians. Some advocate a Clinton era NATO bombing campaign similar to the 1999 intervention in Kosovo, which stopped Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from committing additional atrocity crimes against Kosovar Albanians. Yet, on Friday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that NATO has no plans to act.

Even before this impasse with NATO, the administration has signaled that protecting America’s interests may justify intervention. In recent days, the President and Secretary of State Kerry have echoed these sentiments by noting that the situation in Syria matters to the security of America and its allies. This rhetoric sounds dangerously similar to the flawed Bush Doctrine, which condoned preemptive war as a means of self-defense.

This rationale would also explain why the President decided to draw a red line at chemical and biological weapons instead of calling for humanitarian intervention much earlier. After all, Syria’s civil war has raged on for over two years right under our watch, with some 100,000 deaths and 2 million refugees. One only need read the news over the past two years – such as Luke Mogelson’s heart-breaking and apocalyptic account in the New Yorker of a day in the life of Aleppo – to ascertain the sheer terror that Syrians have been living under since long before the chemical attacks.

Regrettably, Obama is implicitly drawing a boundary on acceptable instruments of mass atrocity crimes instead of calling for accountability for these crimes, which are also forbidden under international law, regardless of the method. The President could have sounded the clarion call well before the conscience-shocking events of last week based on the international community’s responsibility to protect (R2P), an emerging legal norm endorsed by the UN General Assembly. Though controversial due to its infancy, R2P has been a buzzword in international relations circles throughout Syria’s civil war.

The contours of the responsibility to protect are still developing in practice. As pointed out by legal scholars long before Assad resorted to chemical weapons, however, Obama had the opportunity last August when he announced the red line to present the case for intervention on a narrow basis to protect civilians. The President and the international community had a toolkit in R2P that could have been debated and presented to the public as a means to prevent the seemingly inevitable use of chemical weapons.

In fact, R2P helped justify NATO’s intervention in Libya that toppled Muammar Qaddafi’s regime. Granted, the intervention in Libya had support from the UN Security Council. Even in the absence of such support, the NATO bombing in Kosovo could have provided a basis – albeit one widely labeled as unlawful but legitimate – to circumvent a stalemate at the UN Security Council.

Instead, Obama kicked the can and tied his own hands. He may have been paralyzed by Bush’s debilitating legacy of intervention. Yet, by invoking America’s security interests and drawing a line at chemical and biological weapons – or weapons of mass destruction in the parlance of the Bush administration – President Obama set the United States on course for preemptive strikes in the name of national security.

In essence, his stance is not even about Syria’s civil war or widespread atrocity crimes. As the President told PBS on Wednesday, those weapons could get into the wrong hands — the implication being that Assad’s hands might be okay if they were contained. The perpetual irony is that jihadists and enemies of the United States who might be aided on the battlefield by our efforts may be some of the very hands that the administration fears. This, coupled with Obama’s increasingly unilateral stance, and his demand as early as August 2011 that Assad step down, smells like vintage Bush Doctrine.

And so, President Obama faces another quagmire — perhaps not an Iraq occupation style one, but entanglement in an increasingly sectarian and complicated hornet’s nest that, at the moment, has nothing to do with meddling by the United States. Regrettably, there might have been greater hopes for regional stability if the United States had rallied an international coalition much earlier to stop ongoing, widespread slaughter. Now the lid has blown, and it seems a little too late in the game for a face-saving measure. This is particularly true without the support of our greatest ally, Britain, and dwindling hopes for a NATO-led intervention.

An Obama Attack on Syria Will Backfire (Part 2)

SyriaMap

False Flag Operations: What Are They?

While the US, UK and France (the old and the new colonial powers) debate their response to the suspected chemical weapons use in Syria, the Syrian government continues to deny the allegations. Since last Saturday we have witnessed a number of reports, documents and pictures that plainly indicate that the use of these weapons was by the mercenaries supported by the US and the Saudis, not by Damascus.

The US on the other hand has ignored all such evidence and continues to talk of attacking Syria, which might have already taken place before this article goes to print. The Syrian government and its allies maintain that it was the mercenaries that launched a “false flag” attack by using chemical weapons on civilians, anticipating that the blame would fall on the government and provoke the international community into a response that would help their positions on the ground after being defeated by the Syrian army in a number of confrontations.

What is a ‘false flag’ operation?
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Taking the U.S. Gov’t Assessment of Syria’s Use of Chemical Weapons on Faith

 

Sarin Aleppo

The “U.S. Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons,” just released today, makes a convincing case that the Assad regime is responsible for the attack that it estimates killed 1,429 people, including 429 children.

Multiple streams of intelligence indicate that the regime executed a rocket and artillery attack against the Damascus suburbs in the early hours of August 21. Satellite detections corroborate that attacks from a regime-controlled area struck neighborhoods where the chemical attacks reportedly occurred – including Kafr Batna, Jawbar, ‘Ayn Tarma, Darayya, and Mu’addamiyah. This includes the detection of rocket launches from regime controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media.
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Parliament Stonewalls Latter-Day Bush and Blair on Syria

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

At the New York Times, Mark Landler, David Sanger, and Thom Shanker write of President Obama’s decision to strike Syria even though the British Parliament refused to allow Prime Minister Cameron to follow through on his pledge of support.

The decision to proceed without Britain is remarkable. … Even in the Iraq war, Mr. Bush relied on what he called a “coalition of the willing,” led by Britain. Mr. Obama has made clear that this initiative would come from the United States, and that while he welcomed international participation, he was not depending on foreign forces for what would essentially be an operation conducted largely by the United States, from naval vessels off the Syrian coast.

It’s just as well for Obama and Cameron: what could be more humiliating than comparisons with George W. Bush and Tony Blair’s bromance. But, when it comes to those unilateral decisions that Bush held so dear, Obama seems to be surpassing him.
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An Obama Attack on Syria Will Backfire (Part 1)

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

“Now we sit and wait while the Washington regime makes its next lethal move. Let us lift our voices in unison to prevent it.”

“Before another rush to judgment and ‘punishment’ based on a presumption of guilt, as in Iraq, this time, let the UN inspectors do their job: We still don’t know who used chemical weapons in Syria — regime or rebels. Without UN Security Council’s approval, any military action by US and its NATO or even Arab allies will itself be illegal, an international war crime itself. Such an attack will not protect innocent civilians, but hurt them. US attacks will backfire, trigger a retaliatory response, escalate the civil war into region or world war.”

– Comments of friends on Facebook

This is the second time in six months that the United States has accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons. The first time, Washington was forced to eat its words as international organizations, including Human Rights Watch, claimed that it was the rebels and not the government forces which had employed them.
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The Obama Administration’s Hollow Case for Striking Syria

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

For once, the views of the New York Times editorial board and Focal Points align perfectly. From an op-ed today:

Despite the pumped-up threats and quickening military preparations, President Obama has yet to make a convincing legal or strategic case for military action against Syria.

Where, the author asked,

… is the proof that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria carried out the attack?… If the Obama administration has such evidence, it should make it public immediately. Given America’s gross failure in Iraq — when the Bush administration went to war over nonexistent nuclear weapons — the standard of proof is now unquestionably higher. We are also eager to hear the conclusions of the United Nations inspectors who are in Syria taking samples from victims and interviewing witnesses. 
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Is Assad a Rational Actor?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

On Monday at Focal Points, I wrote about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad invoking logic to refute the charges that his government carried out chemical-weapon attacks. He pointed out in an interview with Izvestia reported on by the New York Times that

… government troops would have risked killing their own forces if they had used chemical weapons. “This contradicts elementary logic,” news reports quoted him as saying. It is “not us but our enemies who are using chemical weapons,” he said, referring to antigovernment rebels as “the terrorists.”

I wrote:

Bearing in mind that just because he invokes logic doesn’t necessarily mean Assad actually isn’t capable of acting irrationally. But, remember, the area subjected to clouds of poison gas was the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, also his home. Though I’m unfamiliar with drift patterns of poison gas, putting Damascus, himself, and his family in possible harm’s way would make him obstinate to the nth degree, not to mention self-destructive, on top of irrational. We’re talking about Hitler territory.
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