President Obama's efforts to persuade the U.S. Congress to back his plan to attack Syria were met with skepticism on Monday from lawmakers in his own Democratic Party who expressed concern the United States would be dragged into a new Middle East conflict.
Obama's abrupt decision to halt plans for a strike against Assad's forces and instead wait for congressional approval has generated a hot debate just as the president prepares to depart on Tuesday on a three-day trip to Sweden and Russia.The biggest obstacle he faces is winning the support of members of his own party in the House of Representatives and conservative Republicans who see little need for the United States to get involved in distant civil wars.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who was among the Obama advisers on the call for the Democrats, urged support for giving Obama a resolution to use force, saying Syria had reached a "Munich moment," according to participants.
The White House argument is that Syria must be punished for the chemical weapons onslaught and that at stake are the integrity of an international ban on such weapons and the need to safeguard U.S. national security interests and allies Israel, Jordan and Turkey.
Syria has blamed the attack on rebel forces.
While Obama faced obstacles at home, key U.S. ally France said it had evidence showing that Assad's government had ordered chemical attacks.The French government released a nine-page intelligence document that listed five points that suggested Assad's fighters were behind the "massive and coordinated" August 21 chemical attack.
Secretary general Nabil al-Arabi of the Arab League has said military intervention in Syria is not an option - a further blow to the United States' efforts to act. Following emergency meetings in Cairo on Monday, Al Arabi said the League held the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad responsible for the August 21 attack, but a "military option is out of the question". Al Arabi added that he considered that only the UN, "as the official representative of the international community" could "take action to stop those who committed this crime". Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and an ally of Assad, has said there is no evidence that the chemical attack was launched by the Assad regime.
Maybe it is good to quote as yet Stephen Walt's Op Ed in the New York Times of 26 August. Even if Assad may have used chemical weapons, Walt argues (which of course is bad, although not necessarily that much worse than 'using 500-pound bombs, mortar shells, cluster munitions, machine guns, or icepicks') it is still a bad idea, to strike him:
Airstrikes cannot eliminate Assad’s chemical arsenal and are unlikely to tip the balance in favor of the rebels. And even if they did, this situation would give Assad a bigger incentive to use these weapons more widely. Assad’s fall would create a failed state and unleash a bitter struggle among the various rebel factions. The Syrian uprising may have started as a peaceful reform effort, but today the most powerful rebel groups are jihadi extremists, the last people we want in power in Damascus. These prudential concerns still apply, regardless of the weaponry Assad's forces may have employed.I think Walt is right.
Lastly, Obama may be tempted to strike because he foolishly drew a “red line” over this issue and feels his credibility is now at stake. But following one foolish step with another will not restore that lost standing. U.S. power is most credible when it is used to protect vital U.S. interests. The United States has little interest in getting bogged down in Syria, and the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces does not alter that fact.