US: Chemical attacks make Syria top security risk

Obama administration pledged that any U.S. military action in Syria will be very narrow and limited in its mission.
Associated Press
Sep 5, 2013

For the first time in more than two years of a bloody civil war, President Barack Obama has declared Syria a national security threat that must be answered with a military strike — and in doing so he is warning Americans as much about the leaders of Iran and North Korea as about Bashar Assad.

America's credibility with those countries will be an immediate casualty if it stands down now on Syria, administration officials say in making their case for U.S. missile strikes.

Following an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, the White House declared Syria's 2-year civil war a top risk to American interests. If the U.S. fails to respond, officials said this week, it could encourage other hostile governments to use or develop weapons of mass destruction without fear of being punished.

It's a connection that's not immediately clear to many Americans — especially after the White House refused to send military support earlier in the Syrian war. The recent chemical weapons attack killed 1,429 people, U.S. intelligence officials say. Other estimates are somewhat lower. The wider war has killed more than 100,000.

In House and Senate hearings this week designed to seek congressional approval to strike Assad 's government — probably with cruise missiles but not with ground troops — top administration officials pleaded with skeptical lawmakers to consider the risks of doing nothing.

"Iran is hoping you look the other way," Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip for them to at least misinterpret our intention, if not to put it to the test. Hezbollah is hoping that isolationism will prevail. North Korea is hoping that ambivalence carries the day."

"They are all listening for our silence," Kerry said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel raised the possibility that Assad's chemical weapons stockpile, considered one of the world's largest, could be seized by his allies, including the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah. "We cannot afford for Hezbollah or any terrorist groups determined to strike the United States to have incentives to acquire or use these chemical weapons," Hagel told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Vali Nasr, a former senior official in Obama's State Department, said Syria's spiraling death toll, the rise of fighters in Syria associated with al-Qaida and other extremist groups, and pressure on neighboring nations from a flood of refugees have already threatened U.S. security interests for years.

"For a very long time we reduced Syria to just a humanitarian tragedy that, as bad as it was, was not a sufficient cause for American involvement," said Nasr, now dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "That meant we ignored all the other ways in which Syria was a national security threat. And for two years we tried to minimize the impact of Syria, and now all of a sudden the administration finds itself in the position of having to give sufficient urgency to Syria to justify action."

Over the past two years, the White House has mightily resisted intervening in Syria's civil war with U.S. military force. A year ago, Obama signaled the one "red line" exception would be the use of chemical weapons.

At the same time, the U.S. has used a heavy hand in years of negotiations with Iran as world powers try to persuade Tehran to significantly scale back its nuclear program, and seek to prevent its ability to build a bomb.

And Washington has repeatedly and sternly warned North Korea against launching underground nuclear tests and missiles that have rattled its regional neighbors and raised concerns that Pyongyang is building a nuclear-tipped rocket that can reach the United States.

"Iran and North Korea are carefully watching our next move," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said during the House hearing Wednesday. "A refusal to act in Syria after the president has set such a clear red line will be seen as a green light by the Iranian regime, who will see that we don't have the will to back up our words."

The administration's credibility was already at risk, however, after its muted response to a series of small-scale chemical weapons attacks this spring in Syria that killed a few dozen people.

As a result of those attacks, Obama pledged in June to increase aid to certain vetted rebel groups fighting Assad in a package that officials said included some weapons. But the aid did not start flowing until very recently and, overall, fell far short of being seen as a decisive or forceful action to punish Assad for the attacks.

Kerry on Wednesday said the scope of the August attacks — and strong intelligence indicating that Assad's government was to blame — convinced Obama that his red line had been crossed. Before now, "the president didn't want to rush into something," Kerry said.

The administration is alone in claiming such a high death toll, citing intelligence reports but refusing to be more specific. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-regime activists in Syria, said over the weekend that it has been compiling a list of the names of the dead and that its toll reached 502.

Obama, in Russia on Thursday for a world leaders' economic summit, has insisted that his red line merely mirrors that of an international treaty banning the use of chemicals weapons. The treaty has been signed by more than 180 countries, including Iran and Russia — two of Assad's key supporters.

Still, recent polls indicate meager support among Americans for using military force in Syria, and many lawmakers, including Obama's fellow Democrats, remain unconvinced.

"I see this potential bombing campaign as a potential next step toward full-fledged war," said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who voted against the Senate panel's plan to allow military force in Syria.

Alluding to U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have cost lives and money for more than a decade, Udall added: "We have been here before."

Mindful of the president's intended legacies of ending the war in Iraq and winding down the one in Afghanistan, the Obama administration recently has rejected any comparisons to Iraq, pledging that any U.S. military action will be very narrow and limited in its mission.

But in pressing the urgency in Syria, the administration reached back to the specter of 9/11 attacks — which killed almost 3,000 people 12 years ago next week — as an example of the danger of inaction.

U.S. intelligence officials warned for years before 2001 of a need to curb al-Qaida's threat before it could spread.

"What can I tell my constituents about why these strikes are in our national security interest? Why these matter to these folks who are struggling every day?" Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., asked at the House hearing.

Hagel cited "a clear, living example of how we are not insulated from the rest of the world, how things can happen to the United States in this country if we are not vigilant, and think through these things, and stay ahead of these things, and take action to prevent these things from occurring."

"Maybe something would not happen in this country for a couple of years," Hagel said. "But the 9/11 anniversary, I think, is a very clear example you can use with your constituents."

 

Comments

Contango

Re: "pizza guy"

So why aren't you supporting YOUR Pres.?

gramafun

this is about as much a threat to us as a cockroach in Bulgaria is to a cockroach in NY. One has nothing to do with the other. It is THEIR civil war.....stay out of it. If they want to kill each other with chemical weapons, so be it. Stay out of it and let them do as they please. We should NOT be getting involved in something that has nothing to do with with is not our business....no matter WHO the President is at this time.

Contango

Gotta ask:

If the U.S. destroys Syrian chemical weapons facilities, won't that spread toxic elements over a wide area potentially killing even more civilians?

bullydogs1971

or this could happen.........“If a warhead, by design or by chance, were to hit the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR) near Damascus, the consequences could be catastrophic,” Aleksandr Lukashevich said in a Wednesday statement.
http://www.globalresearch.ca/rus...

Contango

Pres. Obama:

"I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line."

No mandates from: The UN, The Arab League, the UK, NATO or the U.S. Congress.

EVERY poll shows Americans OVERWHELMINGLY against military intervention.

Looks like the ONLY "red line" is in the addled brains of the CIA Sock Puppet-in-Chief and his fellow Admin. clowns.

The New World Czar

Maybe we should stop electing lawyers to elected offices, and begin choosing fruit farmers...They already know how to grow a pear!

Darwin's choice

^^THIS^^

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

BAZINGA!

coasterfan

Nah, Contango...the only puppet regime America has ever had occurred in 2000-2008, when a truly evil Vice-President played puppetmaster with a semi-literate, mono-syllabic drinking buddy who somehow got voted into the Oval Office.

Seriously. Obama is an eloquent former Constitutional law professor. George W Bush, the family ne'er-do-well, constantly mangled the English language, had a poor grasp of basic grammar, and actually needed reporters to ask him questions in a pre-set order during White House press conferences, so that he could read the answers his staff had prepared/typed up for him.

Darwin's choice

Teleprompter President! You are warped.

Contango

Re: "Nah, Contango..."

Off topic.

So why aren't you supporting YOUR Pres. on Syria?

The Big Dog's back

bush's daddy's friends on the Supreme Court put him in office.

grumpy

This pertains to the topic of this article in what way? Or is this just your way of putting bush into the conversation? You are acting like a child, trying to inject things that have nothing to do with the topic at hand, anymore than the cluster f### Carter had when he sent a rescue mission into Iran. Neither have anything to do with Syria, and the chemical weapons.

Do you ever do more than deflect from the screw ups that obama makes?

grumpy

doubled

grumpy

More and more dims in Congress are admitting that IF they vote for it, the only reason will be because obama is a democrat. They are against it but will back him because of party politics. They don't give a crap about those they "represent", nor about what those they represent want done. It is ALL about the "party". I doubt it matters which "party" as there is little difference.

http://www.slate.com/articles/ne...

Loyal to the President: “[Democrats in Congress] just don’t want to see him shamed and humiliated on the national stage.” —Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Washington, D.C.

Contango

Re: "They are against it but will back him because of party politics."

The CIA/Ruling Class Sock Puppet is against partisanship until he isn't.

The Big Dog's back

poohs, all the Repubs are voting for it. What about them?

grumpy

"all the Repubs are voting for it."

Why do you make statements that are incorrect? Or do you just lie out of habit? If you pick up a newspaper or read an article about how the vote is being seen it is obvious that you are either lying, stupid, or both. I figure both.

See article Contango linked to in post below this one he made this morning.

http://www.bloomberg.com/infogra...

Contango

Regarding the Congressional vote:

"Obama Far From Approval on Syrian Vote"

http://www.bloomberg.com/infogra...

bullydogs1971

Marine Infantry Combat Veteran Bryan Bates at John McCain Tucson Town Hall, September 5, 2013

https://www.youtube.com/watch?fe...

dorothy gale

I am against sending troops ANYWHERE in this effed-up world. They need to be HERE, where they really can protect us! Why can't we just send in some assassins to take out the bad guy? And no matter which course of action the President takes, those who hate him will say it was the wrong decision. If he strikes, he's a warmonger. If he doesn't, he's weak. What if he does what the people want, doesn't engage, and then all hell breaks loose? Will all the haters suddenly forget that he did what they wanted? It's a no-win situation.

SamAdams

US law specifically prohibts the US military from action on American soil. It's called "posse comitatus." Look it up.

On American soil, we have the National Guard. There's a reason the Founders feared a permanently standing army!

Contango

Re: "'posse comitatus.'"

Sadly irrelevant.

The U.S. has militarized the police (SWAT) and also has Homeland Security.

When rules and regs interfere, work around them.

SamAdams

Technically still in effect; realistically, you're right. By militarizing domestic law enforcement, it can be tough to see a material difference, mostly because there ISN'T one.

KnuckleDragger

Actually, posse comitatus does not apply in the case of foreign attacks on our soil.

SamAdams

No, and no one said that it did. My original response was made in answer to the idea that we bring the military men and women home where they could do more good.

arnmcrmn

Drop a few billion in bombs from the sky. Pull up some navy ships so they can get into range. Waste billions of dollars a month in limited upkeep and the result......some dead Syrians, some hole in the ground and ONE MAD NATION. THIS WILL NOT CHANGE A THING OVER THERE.

Sure you can kill a few cockroaches from above but to actually change Syria, we would have to invest in another 20 year war with no promise, no guarantee and loss of many lives. THIS IS NOT OBAMAS PLAN. He wants limited action from above. WASTING BILLIONS OF DOLLARS WE DO NOT HAVE.

OBAMA the TRUE HYPOCRITE. Liberals its time for you to sack up and call Obama out on this.

bayshore

Time to ground his plane, take away his golf clubs and lock this idiot in the White House fruit cellar and lose the key.

Darwin's choice

^^THIS^^ And, he cheats at golf....

JACKEL

He wants to help his Muslim Brotherhood Buddies so we can fight them later like we are fighting the same ones in Afghanistan Crazy Joe Wilson armed to drive out The Russians.First of all where this Phoney U.N that we send billions too.?This has to be all Bush's fault,everything else is.Putin already said you better have proof or else.The CIA can't even find Big Foot.

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