If the bombs start falling on Damascus, Monday afternoon will be cited as the moment when the Obama administration laid out the moral case for military action in Syria.
In a stern statement, Secretary of State John Kerry presented the White House’s case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and pledged that the United States will hold him accountable for turning his chemical weapons on his own people. Against the background of White House leaks that President Obama has been presented with updated target lists and is mulling military intervention in Syria, Kerry’s remarks had the unmistakable feel of a prelude to war.
"Make no mistake: President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people," Kerry said. "Nothing today is more serious, and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny."
On the heels of previous allegations of chemical weapons use, the administration has attempted to defuse calls for a military response by emphasizing the need for scientific verification that chemical weapons had in fact been used. That caution was nowhere to be found in Kerry’s remarks on Monday.
"Anyone who could claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass," Kerry said. "What is before us today is real, and it is compelling."
"The reported number of victims, the reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, the firsthand accounts from humanitarian organizations on the ground, like Doctors Without Borders and the Syria Human Rights Commission, these all strongly indicate that everything these images are already screaming at us is real, that chemical weapons were used in Syria," Kerry added.
In his daily briefing Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney underscored the White House view that chemical weapons were used and that Assad was responsible. "There is very little doubt in our minds that the Syrian regime is culpable," he said.
Since last week’s apparent chemical weapons attack, which left as many as 1,000 people dead in a suburb east of Damascus, there has been a clear shift in tone from the Obama White House, and nowhere was that more on display than in Kerry’s remarks, where the secretary’s personal anguish was placed front and center.
"As a father, I can’t get the image out of my head of a man who held up his dead child, wailing, while chaos swirled around him, the images of entire families dead in their beds without a drop of blood or even a visible wound, bodies contorting in spasms, human suffering that we can never ignore or forget," Kerry said.
Though Obama has at nearly all turns of the Syrian conflict resisted any action that might drag the United States into another war in the Middle East, the latest reports of chemical warfare in the country presents the clearest challenge yet to the president’s now-infamous declaration that the use of such weapons constituted a clear "red line" in the conflict that the Assad regime should think twice about crossing. Now, the Assad regime has flouted that demand and left Obama looking hapless in the face of its brutal tactics.
Taken together, the Obama administration’s actions now point to a readying of the country’s military apparatus to strike back at Syria. On Saturday, President Obama huddled with his national security advisors to consider potential military options, though Carney went to great lengths to emphasize that "no decision has been made" about military force. Meanwhile, American warships with the capability to launch cruise missiles deep into Syrian territory continue to idle in the Mediterranean.
But even if no decision has been made, Carney laid out a deliberate case for war against Syria, which appears to hinge on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. "The use of these weapons is a threat to our national interest and a concern to the entire world," Carney said. "It is because this international norm exits and because it has been so clearly violated that we and people around the world have to address this and seek an appropriate response."
For now, the White House appears committed to a political juggling act that protects the president’s options in choosing how to respond. Should he choose to launch a retaliatory strike, his lieutenants have already laid out a case justifying the move. If Obama backs down, his administration has at the very least issued a forceful statement and rattled its saber in a very loud way.
Does Israel have chemical weapons, too? McCain, Graham: not trusting; Is Idris being shunned from DC?; POGO: security shortfalls at Kabul embassy; and a bit more [presented today by Lockheed Martin]Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |
Yochi Dreazen is a Managing Editor for News at Foreign Policy. He is also writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security. His book about military suicide was published by Random House's Crown division in 2014.
Prior to joining Foreign Policy, Dreazen was a contributing editor at the Atlantic and the senior national security correspondent for National Journal. He began his career at the Wall Street Journal and spent 11 years at the newspaper, most recently as its military correspondent. He was born in Chicago, and later attended the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, he edited the award-winning daily campus newspaper and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1999 with degrees in History and English. He was hired by the Wall Street Journal immediately after graduation. Dreazen arrived in Iraq in April 2003 with the Fourth Infantry Division, and spent the next two years living in Baghdad as the Wall Street Journal's main Iraq correspondent.
Dreazen has made more than 12 lengthy trips to Iraq and Afghanistan and has spent a total of nearly four years on the ground in the two countries, mostly doing front-line combat embeds. He has reported from more than 20 countries, including Pakistan, Russia, China, Israel, Japan, Turkey, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.
In 2010, Dreazen received the Military Reporters & Editors association’s top award for domestic military reporting in a large publication for a series of articles about military suicide and the psychological traumas impacting veterans of the two long wars. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Smithsonian, Tablet and the New Republic and he appears regularly on TV and radio programs such as NPR's Diane Rehm Show and PBS' Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Dreazen gives frequent lectures about journalism, the wars and current events to both civilian and military audiences.
Dreazen lives in Washington with his wife, Annie Rosenzweig Dreazen, and their beloved Golden Retriever, Charlie.| The Cable |