On the Broken Hand!
On the one hand, U.S. involvement in Syria will under no circumstance be a cakewalk. On the other hand, broken as it is at this stage, the longer we wait the more complex the task will be. For the U.S., there is no running away from this, irrespective of the wishes of its leaders.
Rebels Charge That Assad Continues to Use Chemical Weapons On Thursday, the Syrian Support Group (SSG), a U.S.-based advocacy organization that has pressed Obama to provide the Syrian opposition with advanced weapons, issued a report that said two chemical weapons attacks were conducted on April 25 in the southern part of Daraya, a suburb of Damascus. One doctor working from the Daraya medical center said 75 victims were treated for symptoms including “muscle spasms, bronchial spasms, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, and miosis” following a 1 a.m. rocket strike. Another 25 victims were sent to the medical center complaining of similar symptoms when a second attack hit the area at 7 a.m. local time, according to the SSG and a statement from the local coordinating council of Daraya, a media group affiliated with the Syrian opposition.
U.S. believes Syria used chemical weapons but says facts neededU.S. intelligence agencies believe Syria’s government has likely used chemical weapons on a small scale, the White House said on Thursday, but added that President Barack Obama needed “credible and corroborated” facts before acting on that assessment. The disclosure of the assessment, which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said was made within the past 24 hours and the White House said was based in part on physiological samples, triggered immediate calls for U.S. action by members of Congress who advocate deeper U.S. involvement. But while President Barack Obama declared that Syrian use of chemical weapons would be a game-changer, his administration made clear it would move carefully – mindful of the lessons of the start of the Iraq war 10 years ago.
Lawmakers demand ‘action’ in Syria after intel confirms chemical weapons use Top-ranking lawmakers on both sides of the aisle declared Thursday that the “red line” in Syria has been crossed, calling for “strong” U.S. and international intervention after administration officials revealed the intelligence community believes chemical weapons were used. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, were among those urging swift action.
McCain: “Chemical weapons being used” in Syria “The president of the United States said that if [Syrian president] Assad used chemical weapons it would be a game changer, that it would cross a red line,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., adding that in light of recent reports that chemical weapons were used on a small scale in Syria, “I think it’s pretty obvious that red line has been crossed.”
Rebels: West should react to Syria’s chemical attacks Several groups including the Syrian Network for Human Rights say Assad has been using weapons like sarin gas far more frequently than has been reported. Early this week, an intelligence chief for the Israeli Defense Forces said Israel concluded Assad used them last month. In a report released exclusively to USA TODAY, the network said Syrian human rights observers such as itself have concluded that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons on “10 separate locations in Syria” in four provinces over the span of several months starting in December. “Beginning at Homs, and then in the suburbs of Damascus, and then at two attacks inside Damascus in Jobar neighborhood,” Damascus-based activist Sami Ibrahim, of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, told USA TODAY. Ibrahim says his group — a Syrian group of human rights activists that collects victims’ accounts of the conflict — can back up its claims of chemical weapons use by Assad. Its report says Assad has been using “different types” of chemical weapons, including sarin gas, on at least two separate occasions in suburban Damascus and Aleppo. “We have videos of those killed, we have photos, we have testimony from the eyewitnesses, from the doctors inside the hospitals; they are speaking inside the video,” Ibrahim said of his report’s findings.
US has a range of military options in Syria after revelation of regime use of chemical weapons The military options could include establishing a no-fly zone or a secured area within Syria, launching airstrikes by drones and fighter jets and sending in tens of thousands of ground forces to secure the regime’s chemical weapons caches. Setting up a no-fly zone over Syria would present a greater challenge than it did in Libya because Syria has a more sophisticated and robust air defense system. Crippling it would require jamming the radars and taking out the missile sites, or possibly even using some type of cyberattack to interfere with the system.
Syria Claims Disruption of Rebel Supply Lines The official SANA news agency said that soldiers fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad had overwhelmed the opposition in the town, Otaiba, to such an extent that they “discovered a number of tunnels which were used by terrorists to move and transfer weapons and ammunition.” Terrorist is the word used by Mr. Assad to describe armed opponents, backed by the West and many Arab states, seeking his overthrow in a revolt that is now more than two years old. The rebels see Otaiba as a crucial way station for supplies of weaponry and food in their campaign to advance toward the capital, Damascus, and have been resisting a furious government onslaught there for weeks. Rebel fighters on the ground said Thursday that, despite the official claims, the insurgents were still holding on to some parts of the town. An activist who had been involved in the fighting and who wished to be identified only as Ammar said the claimed capture of Otaiba was an exaggeration. “Both sides are still fighting,” the activist said. “The regime are attacking from the east side, the Free Syrian Army from the west side.”
FPI Board of Directors Urge U.S. Action After Assad’s Chemical Attacks “Other nations, such as Iran and North Korea, will be watching the American reaction closely. If the U.S. government itself declares that a red line has been crossed in the use of such weapons but then takes no action, this may give Iran, in particular, confidence that it can move forward in developing a nuclear weapon without fear of any action by the United States. It may choose to ignore President Obama’s repeated warnings that development of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable to the United States. This is a critical moment for the Obama administration. We urge the President and his advisers to take the necessary action to save countless innocent lives, deter further dangerous actions by Assad and others, and restore confidence in American global leadership.”
Syria rebels launch attack in central Hama after months of calmHeavy clashes erupted for the first time in months in Syria’s central city of Hama Thursday as rebels tried to relieve pressure on comrades under attack from President Bashar Assad’s forces elsewhere, activists said. They said at least seven people were killed and dozens wounded when fighting broke out at 4 a.m. in Hama, a historic symbol of dissent against four decades of Assad family rule. Most of the reported casualties were civilian, they said.
Revealed: tragic victims of Syria’s nerve gas war The chemical attack that killed Yasser Yunis’s family was a small, almost private affair. Had the 27-year-old car mechanic not managed to struggle out of the doorway of his home in Aleppo on to the street in the darkness of night, clutching his infant son to his chest, no one might have ever known what wiped out the family. They died twitching, hallucinating and choking on white froth that poured from their noses and mouths. Their doctors believe that they were killed by nerve gas.
A Hired Killer in Syria Reconsiders His Role Abu Rami said he was paid 15,000 Syrian pounds, or $215, per month, which is around the minimum wage in Syria. Payments were higher, he added, for those who accepted missions outside their own neighborhoods and for killing armed opponents. A confirmed kill earned a bonus of 2,000 pounds… Life changed for Abu Rami in January, however, when his older brother, in a bid to extract him from the shabiha, took him to a workshop organized by an opposition group that promotes dialogue over violence. The group, Building the Syrian State, known by its acronym B.S.S., is a political movement founded by a longtime opposition figure, Louay Hussein, that focuses on removing Mr. Assad by political, not military, means… “It was an astonishing result,” Mr. Joudeh said. “In just four days he experienced a dramatic change in both behavior and personality.” For example, Mr. Joudeh said, one of the workshop’s first activities was to write down roles models based on their spheres of influence. Abu Rami put down the leader of Hezbollah and Mr. Assad: but “after the first day of the workshop, he went back to that paper and tore it off the wall,” Mr. Joudeh said.
Seven Times The White House Discussed The Syria Red Line Ever since August 2012, the Obama administration has defined the use or proliferation of chemical weapons as a game-changer that would be a “grave mistake” for the Assad government. But the “red line,” and threat of a resulting response by the U.S., has never been clearly defined by the White House. Obama has qualified his statements by saying the red line would be crossed with “a whole bunch” of chemical weapons. He has also never explicitly promised a military response to the use of chemical weapons, though his administration’s comments have suggested such a possibility. For now, the White House is only saying it will investigate further, and stay prepared.
Analyses & Op-Eds
The Case for Intervening in Syria: More than two years into the uprising, the balance of power does not look like it’s tipping in favor of the rebels. A bloody, grinding stalemate in Syria will not only empower Islamist extremist groups, who are currently still limited in their support and power inside Syria. It will also increase tensions in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. Both scenarios have catastrophic consequences for regional stability and for the position of the United States in the Middle East. The Syrian crisis has long since reached the point where, the least bad–and the least risky–scenario is a serious international effort to shift the military balance toward resistance forces, and specifically those that are not radical Islamist. Multilateral intervention is needed toward this end, and only the United States can lead it.
Syria’s uneasy Christians feel both sides closing in Traditionally regarded as loyal to Assad, Christians are facing aggression from Islamist rebels, and, whatever their sympathies, are becoming a trapped minority in a disintegrating country.
Is the U.S. Set to Intervene in Syria? “Since the mid-1920s chemical weapons have been taboo—not that they haven’t been used by Mussolini in Ethiopia, the Japanese during a battle in China, or the Egyptians in Yemen, but the only major use of chemical warfare has been by Saddam Hussein against the Iranians and his own Kurdish population in the 1980’s.” The use of chemical weapons in Syria would be the first time they’ve been used since the Chemical Weapons Convention was signed in 1993, Juul notes, “So maintaining the taboo here is important.”
The Thick Red Line: White House Cautious on Chemical Weapons Use in Syria Catching up with the assessments of France, Great Britain and Israel, the Obama administration now says it believes that chemical weapons, including the lethal nerve agent sarin, have been used in Syria. Given that President Obama has declared chemical weapons use a “red line,” this could mean war. But it almost certainly won’t.
Lee Smith: Obama’s Meaningless ‘Red Line’? It is very unlikely that the administration is now going to find sufficiently compelling evidence, because the White House has designed its conditions so that they would be virtually impossible to meet, evidently because it does not want to do anything to bring down Assad. In a conference call this afternoon, a senior Obama administration official explained that the White House is “pressing for a comprehensive U.N. investigation that can credibly evaluate the evidence and establish what took place in association with these reports of the use of chemical weapons.” That investigation, said the official, “needs to have credible access in order to ascertain exactly what took place.”
My new paper, prepared for a briefing in Washington, D.C. that took place on January 15, 2013, is now out and is titled “Syria 2013: Rise of the Warlords.” It should be read in conjunction with my previous briefing “The Shredded Tapestry,” and my recent essay “The Creation of an Unbridgeable Divide.”
On the Broken Hand
Approaching the conflict in Syria from the perspective of “maintaining the taboo” on use of chemical weapons is not enough, and will surely not end the conflict. Classical containment no longer works. The focus in Syria should be on stopping state-level impunity. At this point in the development of global order, state-sponsored crackdowns and state-instigated civil wars are not issues that can be tolerated as domestic affairs, because their repercussions will reverberate across the world. Classical interpretations of sovereignty need to be reassessed. Security is no longer a local concern. The tendency for overt authoritarian and corrupt practices such the ones observed in Syria today pose a clear and present danger to global order, they need to be curbed and punished. Attempting to contain the conflicts they generate is no longer sufficient to ensure global security, because the repercussions in such an interconnected world are hard to predict.
Case in point: chemical weapons are now being used in Syria, and the fate of huge stockpiles is now at stake. If one rogue state gets away with it, what would stop another rogue state from following suit? This was the question that the crackdown in Syria posed even without the use of chemical weapons. Use of chemical weapons simply ups the ante. Moreover, with the identity of the Boston attackers in mind, and the fact that there are Chechen groups now operating in Syria, and while there is no clear organizational connection between the two theaters at this stage, we cannot but wonder about the future and its possibilities. Indeed, conditions are fast ripening for the emergence of such connections.
Containing the fallouts from this situation requires serious involvement through supporting moderate rebels and imposing a no-fly zone in order to facilitate the emergence of local governance structures. It will be up to these structures to maintain local law and order as well as a system of accountability that prevents vendettas and stands up to extremists. Assad has to go as well, the sooner the better. In order for the current global order to have any legitimacy, it cannot give a pass to someone willing to engage in such unspeakable acts of horror. Accountability is critical to legitimacy. That makes involvement in Syria a pretty toll order, but that’s the nature of the challenge, and it will not disappear or get any simpler just because we are wary of it. The reality is Syria has already been broken, and the world already owns it.
In the words of Timothy Garton Ash, a professor at Oxford University: “In a no-polar or G0 world, with multiple competing powers, both global and regional, having an interest in a fractured country, such civil and proxy wars become more difficult to stop… Unless we develop new ways of conflict resolution, strong enough to constrain this new world disorder, the 21st may be bloodier yet.”