A man inspects a site hit by what activists said were missiles fired by Syrian Air Force fighter jets loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, in eastern Syria, on August 21, 2013. Reuters/Nour Fourat.
Here’s the core question now, in regard to Syria: If it’s true that President Bashar al-Assad’s government used poison gas in an incident that killed hundreds of people, at least, in the suburbs of Damascus, can the United States avoid military action in response? The answer is: yes. And it should.
That doesn’t mean that the United States ought to do nothing. The horrific incident, reported in detail by Doctors Without Borders, demands action. But the proper response by the United States is an all-out effort to achieve a cease-fire in the Syrian civil war. It’s late in the game, but it can be done. The first step would be for Washington to put intense pressure on Saudi Arabia, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, and Turkey, to halt the flow of weapons to the Syrian rebels, while simultaneously getting Russia and Iran to do the same. A concerted, worldwide diplomatic effort along those lines could work, but there’s zero evidence that President Obama has even thought of that.
Indeed, it seems clear now that the United States is about to launch a series of cruise missile strikes against Syrian targets, including military command centers, airports, and other facilities. A US naval buildup in the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Syria, is underway, including four destroyers carrying cruise missiles. Ominously, the United States yesterday rejected as “too late” a Syrian offer—which, indeed, may have been disingenuous—to allow United Nations inspectors to visit the site where the gas was reportedly used. Virtually the entire Obama administration national security team huddled in the White House yesterday to decide what to do about Syria.
Obama, meanwhile, is busy building a “coalition of the willing” to back an American attack on Syria, calling the leaders of Britain and France, rallying support in Eastern Europe, NATO and the Arab League, and of course getting strong support from Saudi Arabia and Israel. The latter two countries see an attack on Assad’s forces as a proxy for an attack on what they consider their main enemy, Iran.
The Wall Street Journal reported that, meanwhile, the Obama administration is crafting legal justifications for unilateral action, perhaps under the umbrella of NATO and Arab League support, a la Libya 2011 (or Kosovo in 1999):
Administration lawyers have been crafting legal justifications for an intervention without U.N. approval that could be based on findings that Mr. Assad used chemical weapons and created a major humanitarian crisis.