Thanks to clever diplomacy by the Russians, the U.S. war against Syria has been averted or at least postponed. They called President Obama’s bluff. If the alleged nerve agent attack is really the issue, then obviously an agreement that insures the Syrians will not possess or use chemical weapons is the answer- the Russians are willing to guarantee that. If the real goal of the Obama administration is regime change, then chemical weapons have been taken off the table as a rallying cry to justify direct American intervention in the Syrian civil war.
There are a number of points in the President’s speech tonight that are controversial. Acknowledgement to Kevin Gosztola for much of the following.
1. President Obama claimed that “over a thousand” civilians were killed by nerve agent on August 21.
Doctors Without Borders has reported that 355 people died. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights “confirmed 502 dead, including about 100 children and ‘tens’ of rebel fighters,” according to McClatchy. That is still far less than a thousand.
2. “We know the Assad regime was responsible.”
As the Associated Press reported on September 8, the American public has “yet to see a single piece of concrete evidence—no satellite imagery, no transcripts of Syrian military communications—connecting the government of President Bashar Assad to the alleged chemical weapons attack last month that killed hundreds of people.”
Rebels and local residents in Ghouta accuse Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan of providing chemical weapons to an al-Qaeda linked rebel group, and told a reporter that the release of nerve agent was accidental.
3. “It was a violation of international law.”
This is true only if civilians were intentionally targeted, which is one possible scenario. However, the nerve agent “attack,” if it was that, is no more a war crime than many other incidents that have already occurred on both sides of the Syrian civil war. Indeed, it is also comparable to well-documented war crimes committed by U.S. forces in neighboring Iraq. It should be noted that Syria is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (interestingly enough, Israel also refused to sign the treaty).
BTW, a unilateral attack on Syria by the USA would also violate international law, which prohibits wars of aggression.
4. “I possess the authority to order military strikes… in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security…”
“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”
– Barack Obama, when he was running for President in 2007
5. “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria.”
This is hard to believe, because how else can we be certain Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles are neutralized, peacefully or otherwise?
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has predicted, “During conflict, the intelligence community and Special Forces units would likely play a major role in locating and securing such weapons in a combat environment.”
By one estimate, 75,000 soldiers would be needed to handle the job. Where will they come from?
6. “Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.”
This is a response to Secretary of State Kerry’s characterization of the planned military strike as “unbelievably small.” Clearly, the administration has plans for a “shock and awe” bombardment that would be limited in duration but of high intensity. It’s very likely that more civilians would be killed than died in the August 21 nerve agent incident.
7. The Assad regime can’t retaliate against us or Israel.
You had better be really sure about that, Mr. President. Remember how many Americans were killed by a small group of 19 terrorists in 2001 that didn’t have much in the way of state sponsorship. Assad and his loyalists are literally fighting for their lives. If they get into a situation in which they have nothing to lose, what deters them from seeking revenge?
8. “Because of the threat of military action,” Russia and Syria are willing to pursue diplomacy.
That is one explanation, but history will likely record that it was the public debate in the United Kingdom and the USA, followed by President Obama’s decision to ask for congressional war authorization, that led to diplomacy.
9. American exceptionalism means it’s our job to enforce international agreements.
No, it’s the job of the United Nations Security Council. If America is to be exceptional, let’s set an example as a law-abiding nation by not violating the U.N. Charter again.
More info: Obama’s Confusing Speech On Syria