Obama Weighing Limited Strike On Syria By Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan (and a little history)

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DeM Banter…A little history….”Nevertheless, the administration believed that something had to be done. If the United States allowed itself to be humiliated by the regime, then its military credibility would be seriously undermined. The regional alliance that the United States led might dissolve as the area’s countries lost faith in American protection. Across the world, both enemies and allies might interpret American retreat as a sign of military incapacity or lack of political resolve. The reputation of the United States for power and determination, the basis of its rank in the regional and global hierarchy, was at stake.

Reluctantly the president ordered the bombing of the dictator’s homeland, hoping that air power alone would compel the dictator to abandon his campaign of aggression. Although a majority of Americans initially supported the bombing, the president’s critics accused him of waging war in violation of the Constitution. A number of leading radical leftist intellectuals and journalists denounced the bombing as an act of immoral American imperialism. “Realists” in the press and academy, dismissing the importance of U.S. military credibility as a factor in world politics, claimed that no vital American interest was at stake in this region of the world. Some conservatives denounced the limitations on the military effort as proof of the folly of trying to wage a “liberal war.”

(This is a description of the situation that confronted President Bill Clinton in the spring of 1999, after the United States and its NATO allies began bombing Serbia with the goal of forcing Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic to agree to autonomy for the Albanian ethnic majority in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. It is also a description of the dilemma of President Lyndon Johnson in the spring and summer of 1965, when the failure of U.S. bombing raids against North Vietnam)

August 27, 2013
Washington Post
August 27, 2013
Pg. 1

Kerry says regime’s culpability is ‘undeniable’

President Obama is weighing a military strike against Syria that would be of limited scope and duration, designed to serve as punishment for Syria’s use of chemical weapons and as a deterrent, while keeping the United States out of deeper involvement in that country’s civil war, according to senior administration officials.

The timing of such an attack, which would probably last no more than two days and involve sea-launched cruise missiles – or, possibly, long-range bombers – striking military targets not directly related to Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, would be dependent on three factors: completion of an intelligence report assessing Syrian government culpability in last week’s alleged chemical attack; ongoing consultation with allies and Congress; and determination of a justification under international law.

“We’re actively looking at the various legal angles that would inform a decision,” said an official who spoke about the presidential deliberations on the condition of anonymity. Missile-armed U.S. warships are already positioned in the Mediterranean.

As the administration moved rapidly toward a decision, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the use of chemical weapons in an attack Wednesday against opposition strongholds on the outskirts of Damascus is now “undeniable.”

Evidence being gathered by United Nations experts in Syria was important, Kerry said, but not necessary to prove what is already “grounded in facts, informed by conscience and guided by common sense.”

The team of U.N. weapons investigators on Monday visited one of three rebel-held suburbs where the alleged attack took place, after first being forced to withdraw when their vehicles came under sniper fire. The Syrian government, which along with Russia has suggested that the rebels were responsible for the chemical attack, agreed to the U.N. inspection over the weekend.

Videos and statements by witnesses and relief organizations such as Doctors Without Borders have proved that an attack occurred, Kerry said. The U.S. intelligence report is to be released this week.

Among the factors, officials said, are that only the government is known to possess chemical weapons and the rockets to deliver them, and its continuing control of chemical stocks has been closely monitored by U.S. intelligence.

Kerry said Syrian forces had engaged in a “cynical attempt to cover up” their actions, not only by delaying the arrival of the U.N. team but by shelling the affected area continually. Any U.S. strike would probably await the departure of the U.N. inspectors from Syria.

Kerry’s statement, which he read to reporters in the State Department briefing room without taking questions, was part of an escalating administration drumbeat, which is likely to include a public statement by Obama in coming days. Officials said the public warnings are designed partly to wring any possible cooperation out of Russia – or an unlikely admission from the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – before Obama makes his decision.

The administration decided to postpone a meeting with the Russians this week in The Hague to discuss a negotiated solution to the Syrian war, “given our ongoing consultations about the appropriate response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria on August 21,” a State Department official said.

At the State Department, Kerry said, “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. Nothing today is more serious, and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny.”

He and other officials drew a sharp distinction between U.S. action related to a violation of international law by what they called Assad’s “massive” use of chemical weapons and any direct military involvement in the Syrian conflict, which is in its third year.

“What we are talking about here is a potential response . . . to this specific violation of international norms,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “While it is part of this ongoing Syrian conflict in which we have an interest and in which we have a clearly stated position, it is distinct in that regard.”

Obama and other officials have said repeatedly that no U.S. troops would be sent to Syria. But despite Obama’s year-old threat of an unspecified U.S. response if Assad crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons, even a limited military engagement seemed unlikely before Wednesday’s attack near Damascus.

“This international norm cannot be violated without consequences,” Kerry said.

The options under consideration are neither new nor open-ended, officials said. The use of “limited stand-off strikes” has long been among the options the Pentagon has provided Obama. “Potential targets include high-value regime air defense, air, ground, missile, and naval forces as well as the supporting military facilities and command nodes,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a June letter to Congress. “Stand-off air and missile systems could be used to strike hundreds of targets at a tempo of our choosing.”

Although Dempsey, who has questioned the wisdom of direct military involvement in Syria, said that such an operation would require “hundreds” of ships and aircraft and potentially cost “in the billions,” the action that is being contemplated would be far smaller and designed more to send a message than to cripple Assad’s military and change the balance of forces on the ground. Syrian chemical weapons storage areas, which are numerous and widely dispersed, are seen as unlikely targets.

The language of international criminality has clearly resonated among U.S. allies and lawmakers.

“We will have to act,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who has long opposed any U.S. intervention, including the administration’s decision this summer to send light arms to Syrian opposition forces. “I don’t think we can allow repeated use of chemical weapons now, an escalated use of chemical weapons, to stand.”

Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, emphasized that a U.S. strike should not be directed at altering the dynamic of Syria’s larger civil war.

“I think it should be surgical. It should be proportional. It should be in response to what’s happened with the chemicals,” Corker said in an NBC interview. “But the fact is, I don’t want us to get involved in such a way that we change that dynamic on the ground.” The senator said he thought the administration’s response to the attack was “imminent.”

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said he had been in touch with the White House. In a statement, Boehner echoed concerns expressed by lawmakers from both parties that the administration further consult Congress before taking action.

The administration has said that it will follow international law in shaping its response. Authorization for the use of force against another nation normally comes only from the U.N. Security Council – where Russia and China have vetoed previous resolutions against Assad – or in a NATO operation similar to the one launched in the former Yugoslavia in 1999, without a U.N. mandate.

But much of international law is untested, and administration lawyers are also examining possible legal justifications based on a violation of international prohibitions on chemical weapons use, or on an appeal for assistance from a neighboring nation such as Turkey.

Britain, France and Turkey have said that they would support action if the use of chemical weapons was confirmed, but a clear-cut case is also likely to make approval easier for allies such as Germany, which disagreed with NATO’s 2011 operation in Libya despite the existence of a U.N. resolution.

“The use of chemical weapons would be a crime against civilization,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Monday. “The international community must act should the use of such weapons be confirmed.”

Consultations on Syria have been ongoing at the ambassadorial level at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where a meeting is scheduled for Wednesday. The Arab League, which approved the Libya operation, is also due to meet this week to discuss Syria.

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

***

U.S. interventions over the years

Since the Vietnam War, the United States has engaged in several military interventions. As the West looks ready to act against the Syrian government, which is accused of using chemical weapons against its own citizens, here are 10 instances in which the United States has intervened, sometimes without authorization from the United Nations.

Grenada — Operation Urgent Fury

Unilateral U.S. military action: In October 1983, the United States led a military invasion of Grenada, a tiny Caribbean island nation, after a coup ousted the government of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, who was assassinated. President Ronald Reagan was said to have been concerned about a 10,000-foot airstrip that the communist country’s military was building, which he thought would enable planes loaded with arms from Cuba to reach insurgents in Central America. The administration was also worried about the safety of 800 American medical students studying in Grenada.

Panama — Operation Just Cause

Unilateral U.S. military action: In December 1989, the United States invaded Panama with more than 27,000 troops. The operation lasted just over a month, resulting in the defeat of the Panamanian forces. Panama’s leader, Manuel Noriega, was overthrown during the invasion, and a new president was sworn in.

Iraq — Operation Desert Storm

Authorized by the United Nations: After the army of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the U.N. Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. When the U.N. deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal expired, the United States started a massive aerial war that drove Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait. U.S.-led coalition forces advanced well into Iraqi territory.

Somalia — Operation Gothic Serpent

Authorized by the United Nations: In June 1993, the United Nations passed a resolution declaring war on Mohamed Farah Aideed and his militia, after Aideed ordered an attack on a Pakistani force that was part of the U.N. Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM), which worked to monitor a cease-fire in the Somali capital and protect humanitarian supplies and convoys. Starting in August 1993, U.S. troops attacked various targets in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, to find Aideed. The operation ended in October, after a bloody overnight standoff later known as “Black Hawk Down,” referring to the downing of two UH-60 helicopters by Aideed’s men.

Afghanistan and Sudan — Operation Infinite Reach

Unilateral U.S. military action: After the bombings of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the United States in August 1998 launched cruise missiles at four terrorist training camps in Afghanistan in an attempt to assassinate Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders. The United States also dropped missiles on a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, claiming it was helping bin Laden build chemical weapons.

Federal Republic of Yugoslavia — Operation Allied Force

NATO operation not authorized by the United Nations: In March 1999, NATO began strategic airstrikes in Kosovo and Serbia because then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was continuing to persecute ethnic Albanians in Kosovo who were organizing mass protests against Serbian rule. After several weeks of bombing, the Yugoslav forces agreed to withdraw from Kosovo, and Milosevic accepted an international peace plan to end the fighting.

Afghanistan — Operation Enduring Freedom

NATO operation not authorized by the United Nations: After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States launched a war in Afghanistan, attacking al-Qaeda forces and the Taliban, which was hosting al-Qaeda’s leadership in the country. After removing the Taliban from power, the United States and its allies took control of several parts of the country and have since been fighting insurgents. Two months after the U.S.-led attack, the U.N. Security Council authorized the establishment of the International Security Assistance Force to oversee security and train Afghan forces.

Iraq — Operation Iraqi Freedom

Unilateral U.S. military action: In March 2003, President George W. Bush announced a war against Iraq, saying its goal was to “disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction” and remove Saddam Hussein from power. U.S. forces launched airstrikes on Baghdad, then began a ground invasion of the city that quickly led to the collapse of Hussein’s rule. The United States formally pulled out of Iraq in late 2011.

Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia

Unilateral U.S. drone strikes: Since 2002, the United States has regularly used armed Predator drones to target and kill terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The strikes have more than doubled under President Obama, who has expanded the scope and intensity of the drone campaign against militants in the Middle East and Africa. The United Nations has criticized the drone tactics, saying the United States has disregarded the threat of civilian casualties from its aerial operations.

Libya — Operation Odyssey Dawn

Authorized by the United Nations: In March 2011, France and Britain led, with U.S. assistance, a military operation in Libya, conducting airstrikes against Libyan army installations and air-defense systems, and imposing a no-fly zone. The NATO mission in Libya ended shortly after the death of Moammar Gaddafi in October 2011.

–Anup Kaphle

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