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Obama Should Resist Calls for War in Syria | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

Obama Should Resist Calls for War in Syria


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 Raqqa province, eastern Syria August 21, 2013. (Reuters/Nour Fourat)

The reports of poison gas use in Syria—with casualty estimates varying from a few dozen to more than a thousand dead—signal a new phase in Syria’s civil war, one in which President Obama will come under intense pressure to use military force.

Despite Obama’s countless mistakes and a series of bad judgments in Syria, which have had the effect of escalating the war, triggering the insurgency and creating a no-win situation for the United States, the president has resisted calls from hawks to get the United States directly involved. Now, however, with the usual suspects on the right calling for blood, expect the White House to come under heavy pressure from liberal imperialists and others—including Secretary of State Kerry, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice—to take aggressive action.

The president may also face pressure from his political team, despite the fact that polls show that Americans are strongly opposed to war in Syria.

In Europe, France—which seems not to have abandoned its fake-historic claim to Syria codified a century ago in the World War I–era Sykes-Picot Agreement—is calling for military action if the reports of gas use prove true. “There would have to be reaction with force in Syria from the international community,” said France’s foreign minister. Turkey, too, which once “owned” Syria in the days of the bygone Ottoman Empire, is thumping for war. Said its foreign ministry: “If these allegations are found to be true, it will be inevitable for the international community to take the necessary stance and give the necessary response to this savagery and crime against humanity.”

Members of Congress, including many Democrats, want war, too. So far, the Obama administration has limited its response to a call for a United Nations investigation of the allegations.

The Washington Post, which long ago became a bastion of neoconservative thought, is editorializing for war:

The United States should be using its own resources to determine, as quickly as possible, whether the opposition’s reports of large-scale use of gas against civilians are accurate. If they are, Mr. Obama should deliver on his vow not to tolerate such crimes—by ordering direct U.S. retaliation against the Syrian military forces responsible and by adopting a plan to protect civilians in southern Syria with a no-fly zone.

The Post, along with The Wall Street Journal and other neocon outlets, criticizes President Obama for his apparent refusal, once again, to act forcefully on the “red line” that he declared last year in regard to Syrian use of chemical weapons. That statement by Obama, which stupidly boxed him in and allowed hawks an opening to demand action, is one of the president’s major errors since the uprising began in 2011. Indeed, the White House statement on Syria yesterday makes no mention of any “red lines.” Here it is, in full:

The United States is deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of Syrian civilians have been killed in an attack by Syrian government forces, including by the use of chemical weapons, near Damascus earlier today. We are working urgently to gather additional information.
The United States strongly condemns any and all use of chemical weapons. Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable. Today, we are formally requesting that the United Nations urgently investigate this new allegation. The UN investigative team, which is currently in Syria, is prepared to do so, and that is consistent with its purpose and mandate. For the UN’s efforts to be credible, they must have immediate access to witnesses and affected individuals, and have the ability to examine and collect physical evidence without any interference or manipulation from the Syrian government. If the Syrian government has nothing to hide and is truly committed to an impartial and credible investigation of chemical weapons use in Syria, it will facilitate the UN team’s immediate and unfettered access to this site. We have also called for urgent consultations in the UN Security Council to discuss these allegations and to call for the Syrian government to provide immediate access to the UN investigative team. The United States urges all Syrian parties including the government and opposition, to provide immediate access to any and all sites of importance to the investigation and to ensure security for the UN investigative team.

A news analysis in the Journal goes farther than the Post, comparing Obama unfavorably to George W. Bush:

In just a few years, the U.S. has executed a 180-degree strategic turn in the Mideast, from President George W. Bush’s muscular interventionism to President Barack Obama’s more backseat approach. That, according to some regional diplomats and experts, has disoriented Arab governments and Israel, who have become accustomed to extensive U.S. leadership in their region. …

But while the Pentagon and White House have continued to debate what steps to take in Syria, Iran and Russia have mobilized to prop up Mr. Assad. In recent months, Tehran has facilitated the flow of thousands of Shiite fighters from Lebanon and Iraq to join the fight with Syrian forces, according to U.S. and Arab officials.

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Naturally, The Weekly Standard and other hawkish outlets are in full battle cry:

And what about Syria? In defending intervention in Libya, President Obama boasted that he had “refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.” The world has been seeing those images out of Syria for months. Isn’t the slaughter there a challenge that threatens our common humanity and common security? Does the president now find it acceptable, as he did not 18 months ago, for the United States “to turn a blind eye to the atrocities in other countries?” To abide “violence on a horrific scale?” Were the red lines and calls for Bashar al-Assad’s ouster merely “empty words” that threaten the future credibility of those who voiced them? Is our willingness to “brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and—more profoundly—our responsibilities to our fellow human beings” in the face of mass killings no longer a “betrayal of who we are?”

Leave it to General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to oppose war. Dempsey, who’s been critical of intervening in Syria before and who has expressed disdain for the various options open to President Obama, this week suggested that Syria’s Islamist rebels and ragtag fighters aren’t ready for prime time:

“Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides. It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.”

Why the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs opposes military intervention in Syria.

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