President Barack Obama is waging a hard battle to acquire support at home for a military action against Syria. On Wednesday, September 4, the US Senate key panel – the Committee on Foreign Relations – has okayed the use of military force in Syria.
The measure was endorsed by 10-7 votes with one abstained to be moved to a full Senate session expected next week. It allows the use of force in Syria for 60 days with the possibility to extend it for 30 days preventing the use of troops on the ground.
The resolution was added by accepting an amendment by Republican Senator John McCain that advocated increasing support for anti-government forces. It is still unclear what the full Senate will say. Democrat Senator Tom Udal said he had voted no because the planned action would embroil the US in the Syrian civil war. He was joined by five Republicans in voting against the resolution, including Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, both tipped as potential 2016 presidential candidates.
So far, only 23 senators have said they support or are likely to back the resolution, according to a tally by ABC/BBC News. Sixteen have said they oppose or are likely to oppose the resolution, while 61 votes are undecided or unknown – this is a considerable swing potential to sway the final decision. The US House of Representatives is also to say its word on the measure. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, meanwhile, continue to press the case before a House of Representatives panel.
Politicians and savvies come out with warning to heed
Before the panel vote the US emerging political star Marco Rubio, a Republican Senator from Florida, had made known his disagreement with the President Obama’s plans. As he put it, «First of all it’s for military action. I don’t believe we should take military action unless we have a clear and achievable goal in mind. And one of the clear goals of this action he’s arguing for is to impede Assad from using chemical weapons in the future. I am highly sceptical. Now we have a closed hearing tomorrow where classified information will be discussed, and I’ll wait until then to reserve judgment. But I remain very sceptical that the kind of attack they’re contemplating, this limited attack, is going to actually achieve that goal of preventing Assad from using chemical weapons in the future».
Rep. Tom Reed on September 3 announced his opposition to U.S. military strikes on Syria, saying such attacks could lead to a dangerous escalation of violence in the Middle East. He said the information he has received from the White House, along with feedback from constituents, makes him a likely «no» vote when Congress takes up the issue next week. «I believe that what we are dealing with is a situation where authorizing the president to engage in these limited airstrikes that he is proposing is dangerous, and absent some compelling information to the contrary, I am not going to support it», Reed said. «To me, the risk of escalation is great». In announcing his opposition to intervention in Syria, Reed joins Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who announced his opposition last week.
An anti-interventionist wing in the Senate led by Rand Paul remains a substantial challenge for the White House… House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said Syria’s alleged used of chemical weapons was «outside the circle of acceptable human behaviour», but said she would not whip Democrats into voting yes.
Retired Representative Ron Paul, the congressional old timer, said on August 1 that it would be «reckless and immoral» for the United States to intervene in the country’s civil war. «President Obama announced this weekend that he has decided to use military force against Syria and would seek authorization from Congress when it returned from its August break»,Paul wrote in a weekly column posted Sunday on the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity website.
«Every Member ought to vote against this reckless and immoral use of the US military». He added, «I disagree with the idea that every conflict, every dictator, and every insurgency everywhere in the world is somehow critical to our national security», Paul said. «That is the thinking of an empire, not a republic. It is the kind of thinking that this president shares with his predecessor and it is bankrupting us and destroying our liberties here at home».
Paul’s son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, has asserted that he too is against military intervention in Syria. He voted «no» on September 4 and opposed the legislation to arm the Syrian rebels earlier this year by saying such a move would boost al Qaeda.
On August 28, 2013 former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) told The Hill that airstrikes on Syria would turn the U.S. military into «Al Qaeda’s air force». The outspoken anti-war activist said any such action would plunge the United States into another war in the Middle East and embolden Islamist militants fighting Bashar Assad’s regime. «So what, we’re about to become Al Qaeda’s air force now?» Kucinich said. «This is a very, very serious matter that has broad implications internationally. And to try to minimize it by saying we’re just going to have a ‘targeted strike’ — that’s an act of war. It’s not anything to be trifled with».
Some well-known experts stepped into the fray to warn the President of consequences. Christopher Griffin, executive director of the Washington-based Foreign Policy Initiative, questioned the wisdom of conducting a limited operation to punish Assad. «Any military action taken just to send a message would send the wrong message», said Griffin. «It would undermine the president’s stated policy that Assad must go and the administration’s stated intent to work with a moderate anti-Assad opposition».
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said air strikes were a wrong way to go, «I think the strikes are in a narrow way successful by simply occurring», Haass said. «It shows that you cannot use these weapons and get off scot-free». He also added that, «If the Syrians continue to slaughter — as I believe they probably would — their fellow citizens as the civil war continues, then the United States has other means rather than direct military participation to counter that».
Common Americans question Mr. Obama’s decision
President Barack Obama has failed so far to convince most Americans that the United States should launch a limited military strike against Syria in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government. Americans widely oppose launching missile strikes against the Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that finds little appetite for military action across the country despite a growing drumbeat in Washington. Nearly six in 10 oppose missile strikes in light of the U.S. government’s determination that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people.
Democrats and Republicans alike oppose strikes by double digit margins, and there is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the survey. Political independents are among the most clearly opposed with 66 percent saying they are against military action. The public expresses even wider opposition to arming Syrian rebels, which President Obama authorized in June. Fully seven in 10 oppose arming them, including large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents.
The poll finds somewhat lower support for military action than an NBC News poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday of last week. In that survey, 42 percent supported military action, rising to 50 percent for limited strikes targeting Syria’s chemical weapons facilities. Here is a link to the wording and results in that survey.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone Aug. 28-Sept. 1, 2013, among a random national sample of 1,012 adults, including users of both conventional and cellular phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Repercussions to face
There are questions frequently asked that are still to receive definite answers from the administration. Can the US afford it while struggling against huge state debt? Is there a clear-cut goal to achieve by launching a military action? Is there really any threat to US national security or is it invented to justify the intervention?
Will Al Qaeda become stronger in Syria as a result? Should the US go on being a world cop in the times of economic woes? What about the UN inspectors working in Sweden to corroborate the evidence? Their efforts should be respected. If Israel is an ally, will the action make it subject to retaliation? What about the shadow of Iraq? Did it serve the interests of American people? If not, why the planned action should?
With all these questions asked by Americans, some things are evident.
The intervention will be an egregious violation of international law.
Syria will strike back. There will be losses. It’s not air defence only, there are other ways to respond against the US military in the region. Air strikes may start a chain reaction to gradually making inevitable a ground phase will all the corresponding implications. The US will have to face the costs.
The high-precision munitions are expensive to spend. An operation in Syria will sap the resources reducing the potential capability to conduct an operation against Iran. The cost will go up, the casualties will mount. And subsequent public outcry will make those politicians, who support the action today, be responsible for their decision, while the international outcry will greatly damage the US international standing and image. Just think twice about it!
The war will pour oil on inter-communal clashes in Lebanon. Then US had a sad experience of intervening in Lebanon in 1983. The Lebanon-based Hezbollah organization is Syria’s loyal ally with more than 20,000 soldiers, tanks and missiles, and it may take action. The group has branches in Jordan, Yemen and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Iran said it would step into the fray striking US allies. Remember Israel? It is urgently testing the missile defence capability as the test showed on Tuesday, September 3. The intervention may also aggravate the situation in in Iraq. The lesson of Iraq is too fresh to be forgotten, the consequences are dire.
There will be inevitable collateral damage and the responsibility to face.
Striking an Arab country will fuel anti-US feelings in the Muslim world. The intervention will convince Iran it would be a right thing if it steps up its nuclear efforts.
There will be no allies by the side of the US military. Europe is going through hard times. The international support is not tangible at best, there are too few nations to talk seriously about the coalition of the willing.
The US conviction the chemical weapons were used by Syrian government appears to hold no water, otherwise the evidence would be provided for the whole world to see. The UN inspectors still have their word to say.
A military operation will put an end to any prospects for negotiated peace. The more the situation in Syria is complicated, the more importance the planned Geneva – 2 conference acquires. In case the US strikes, the US-supported anti-government forces will have no desire to be involved in any peace talks.
An intervention could spur a civil war and result in an ethnic cleansing. Also it would most certainly make radicals grab power in Syria making the rest of the world face the fallout.
The list of consequences is far from being not full, but is it not enough to say «no» to the planned folly?