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."



Darwin's choice

Stay out of Syria Obama!!!!

The Big Dog's back

If bush and the Repubs wouldn't have screwed up every other country over there, this wouldn't be happening.

Darwin's choice

More bullspit from the azzlikker.


Yeah, right. What a bozoid comment. Your bro has become dillusional Big Dog!! Now he is making up crap to save his big mouth.


Our Middle East policy has been screwed up since the 1950's Big Dog, every President (Dem and Rep) has screwed up dealing with them.


True, our longterm policy with the Middle East has been a mixed bag of results, but Bush definitely ramped up the hatred towards America with his own particular brand of foreign policy/arrogance/warmongering. When you have people throwing shoes at you during an overseas press conference, it's a sign that things have hit rock bottom. Watching Bush duck the airborne sandal was just one of a long list of embarrassing foreign pratfalls that happened during the Bush/Cheney regime.

I laughed my a$$ off when I saw that. He showed himself to be one of the most athletic Presidents ever, I would have probably taken one on the forehead. To be honest, I don't see anything different from the current administration...most claims of WMD and the promise of a war that will not result in victory and will cost future generations billions if not trillions of dollars.

There you go again

Some people get help for their delusional thoughts. Just a suggestion.....


Re: "screwed up every other country over there"

Leftovers from the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after WWI.

Blame the Brits and the French putz.


Do tell, Big Dog! Was there a Bush in the White House when Egypt dissolved into chaos and when the Muslim Brotherhood — hostile to the West — took over? Was there a Bush in the White House when Libya's dictatorship — not good, but at least stable — fell and hard line Muslims took over? Was there a Bush in the White House when four Americans were murdered in Benghazi (I wish there HAD been — at least HE wouldn't have gone to bed and then blamed a YouTube video)?

The Middle East as a whole has been a mess for thousands of years. In specific, however, the Middle East has become even MORE of a threat since your much-vaunted Nobel Peace Prize-winning President has taken over the reins of a (non-existent anymore) foreign policy!

red white and blue

Its sad as americans we are to busy arguing over who's right and who's falt it is instead of seeing the big pic.this is not going to end well for us remember that when ww111 starts it will end up on our turf mark my words


I share your concern, RWB. Obama is 100% right when he says that the entire world should stand in outrage at the Syrian gas attacks. My wife had an interesting discussion with her students yesterday, about the Nazi concentration camps, and how the rest of the world stood by for a few years, allowing it to happen. There are no easy answers.


Re: "Nazi concentration camps, and how the rest of the world stood by for a few years,"

Ridiculous premise using a fallacy based on recency.

Know your History - the Nazis worked largely in secret.

Most avg. Germans were unaware of the camps, as most were in conquered Poland.

Also, the question became: Fight to win the war, or fight to free the Jews.

FDR was not a big fan of the Jews anyway, nor were the Russians.

I'm surprised that you aren't blaming GW Bush. :)


Very true. Nazi camps were stashed away out in the middle of nowhere with no general access. Most had no clue that stuff was going on until the camps were discovered late into the war.


An Open Message To Congress On Syria


"narrowed and limited"????? wtf does that mean????????????

we are only gonna kill a few people instead of alot?!? this has got to be the stupidest president we have ever had! fool me once shame on you....fool me twice....well you know the rest....this government wont fool me again!


the vaporization of small children into a fine mist! this is what will happen when our President Barack Hussein Obama decides we should attack Syria!!!! - Michael Covel: Trend Following


Woman Makes Emotional Plea to McCain to Reject Military Action in Syria!
A Christian Syrian woman (by her own testament) made a very emotional plea to Sen McCain during a town hall meeting to use diplomacy to stop the violence in Syria. She pointed out McCain and Congress should put pressure on the Saudi’s and Iran to stop the violence because both are enabling the fighters on both sides in Syria with innocents, like Christian minorities, caught in the middle. This woman expressed the feeling most Americans have that we do not want another middle eastern war that will end up, IMO if we’re lucky, like another Iraq. I say we will be lucky because we will be/ are engaged in a proxy war with Iran!


McCain....what a PieceOS


75,000 troops needed to secure chemical weapons if Damascus falls!

so who is going to give up their children for this war??? I had a son graduate this year and when they announced who was doing what with their lives...there where a couple of people who clapped with all of their hearts for their children who were "joining the military" heart sank....i was in those stands crying for the stupidity of what these parents thought was something to be proud of. I don't understand how anyone could be happy to send their child to another county to fight for this! For what? It makes no sense! We are going to murder more innocent women an children for what? Democracy? We are going to kill Syrians because "Syrians" are killing other Syrians??? How brainwashed are you? This county is falling apart....our economy is crumbling....we have become a decadent land....and we are more concerned about a country half way across the world than our own people?? Where is this going to lead us? WW3.... the military might of the US, Russia and now China are amassing their Navy in the Mediterranean.....all the surrounding countries are readying their ground troops!!!!!!!! This is a World War!

be for real

I dont believe for a minute that americans are for this war.America needs to take care of America.This is crazy and shouldn't happen,hopefully they will vote no


How's that hope and change working for all of you that voted this guy back in?


Things are changing for the better, slow but sure. Do you guys ever get tired of whining???


It's working great, thanks! Things are way better than they were under Bush, and I shudder to think where we would be if McCain or Romney had won. You're not telling me that you'd rather go back to double-digit unemployment and the Bush recession, the worst economic disaster of the past 90 years, are you?


Really unemployment U6 is currently 13.7%. Thats double digits. Get a refund for wherever you got a diploma from please.


Re: "Bush recession,"

WAY off-topic.

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

The Big Dog's back

What does it matter to you?


To those who voted for this nut because they were sick of Bush. Looks like you've gotten the African American version of Bush. Nobel should have a category for warmonger.


I guess we should have voted for the pizza guy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Silly us!

Darwin's choice

You're correct!