Obama appeals for backing on Syria strike, but shifts focus to Russian chemical plan

President Barack Obama addressed the United States Tuesday in efforts to convince the U.S. public of the need for retaliation against the Syrian regime for its suspected use of chemical weapons. Facing strong opposition, Obama argued that a military action is in the U.S. interest. However, he said he would hold off on a strike ...

Evan Vucci-Pool/Getty Images
Evan Vucci-Pool/Getty Images
Evan Vucci-Pool/Getty Images

President Barack Obama addressed the United States Tuesday in efforts to convince the U.S. public of the need for retaliation against the Syrian regime for its suspected use of chemical weapons. Facing strong opposition, Obama argued that a military action is in the U.S. interest. However, he said he would hold off on a strike to pursue a possible diplomatic option with a Russian proposal for Syria to turn over its chemical arms, and he has asked Congress to postpone a vote authorizing military action. Obama said the initiative has potential, but it is too early to know if it will succeed. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to meet with Russia's foreign minister Thursday to discuss the proposal, but said coming to an agreement on details for the plan would be "exceedingly difficult." Syria accepted the Russian plan on Tuesday and for the first time Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem admitted the government possesses chemical weapons. Moallem released a statement saying, "We are ready to reveal the locations of the chemical weapons sites and to stop producing chemical weapons and make these sites available for inspection by representatives of Russia, other countries and the United Nations." Up to that point, the government and President Bashar al-Assad have been unwilling to acknowledge possessing what is believed to be one of the largest chemical munitions arsenals in the world. Meanwhile, the U.N. Human Rights Council has released a report accusing all sides of committing war crimes in the Syrian conflict. U.N. investigators said government forces have massacred civilians and "committed gross violations of human rights." Additionally, rebel fighters have been increasingly responsible for summary executions.

Headlines

Suicide car bombings hit a military intelligence headquarters and an army checkpoint in the town of Rafah in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula after the military launched an offensive this week against militants in the region. A car bombing has damaged a foreign ministry building in the Libyan city of Benghazi on the anniversary of an attack on the U.S. Consulate that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Israel will pay $1.1 million to the family of "Prisoner X," alleged Mossad spy and Israeli and Australian national Ben Zygier, who reportedly hanged himself in prison in 2010. 

President Barack Obama addressed the United States Tuesday in efforts to convince the U.S. public of the need for retaliation against the Syrian regime for its suspected use of chemical weapons. Facing strong opposition, Obama argued that a military action is in the U.S. interest. However, he said he would hold off on a strike to pursue a possible diplomatic option with a Russian proposal for Syria to turn over its chemical arms, and he has asked Congress to postpone a vote authorizing military action. Obama said the initiative has potential, but it is too early to know if it will succeed. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to meet with Russia’s foreign minister Thursday to discuss the proposal, but said coming to an agreement on details for the plan would be "exceedingly difficult." Syria accepted the Russian plan on Tuesday and for the first time Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem admitted the government possesses chemical weapons. Moallem released a statement saying, "We are ready to reveal the locations of the chemical weapons sites and to stop producing chemical weapons and make these sites available for inspection by representatives of Russia, other countries and the United Nations." Up to that point, the government and President Bashar al-Assad have been unwilling to acknowledge possessing what is believed to be one of the largest chemical munitions arsenals in the world. Meanwhile, the U.N. Human Rights Council has released a report accusing all sides of committing war crimes in the Syrian conflict. U.N. investigators said government forces have massacred civilians and "committed gross violations of human rights." Additionally, rebel fighters have been increasingly responsible for summary executions.

Headlines

  • Suicide car bombings hit a military intelligence headquarters and an army checkpoint in the town of Rafah in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after the military launched an offensive this week against militants in the region.
  • A car bombing has damaged a foreign ministry building in the Libyan city of Benghazi on the anniversary of an attack on the U.S. Consulate that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
  • Israel will pay $1.1 million to the family of "Prisoner X," alleged Mossad spy and Israeli and Australian national Ben Zygier, who reportedly hanged himself in prison in 2010. 

Arguments and Analysis

What an attack on Syria will mean for US-Iran relations‘ (Geneive Abdo, Al Jazeera)

"If President Barack Obama does indeed attack Syria, with or without congressional approval, he will forfeit an opportunity to make headway with Iran over its nuclear programme and risk allowing Tehran once again to reap the greatest benefit from Washington’s military excesses in the Middle East.

The more reasonable minds among Iranian political elites, including former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and his protege, President Hassan Rouhani, have publicly condemned Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons. In doing so, they have become targets of Iranian hardliners, who voice unconditional support for Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Even though Rouhani’s rare, pragmatic messages from Tehran have caught the attention of the US, they should not be interpreted to mean that Iran would sit on the fence, if a strike is launched at Damascus.

If an attack occurs, Rouhani and company either will be pushed to the sidelines or be forced to join the chorus led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). As Major General Qasem Soleimani, the brilliant tactician inside the IRGC, said this week: ‘Some ask why we help Syria, why we need to. Syria is part of our axis of resistance, and we are responsible for the defence of all Muslims.’ These words are all too familiar to Western ears, but they indicate that in Iran, where the IRGC wields enormous economic and political power, the Guards will likely have more to say than the politicians on how to react to an attack on Syria."

A Syrian’s Cry for Help‘ (Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, The New York Times)

"In the West, reservations about supporting the Syrian rebels that once seemed callous and immoral are now considered justified because of the specter of jihadism. But this view is myopic.

Jihadist groups emerged roughly 10 months after the revolution started. Today, these groups are a burden on the revolution and the country, but not on the regime. On the contrary, their presence has enabled the regime to preserve its local base, and served to bolster its cause among international audiences.

It is misguided to presume that Mr. Assad’s downfall would mean a jihadist triumph, but unfortunately this is the basis for the West’s position. A more accurate interpretation is that if Mr. Assad survives, then jihadism is sure to thrive.

What Syria needs is a legitimate government that is strong enough to delegitimize militias, to disarm and integrate them, and to enforce adequate policies to confront them. The Assad government does not have popular legitimacy. Only its demise can signal the beginning of the end of nihilist jihadism, and thus the beginning of Syria’s recovery."

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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