Wednesday, September 04, 2013

US senators' draft backs limited action against Syria

Putting his case before congress, John Kerry warned that US inaction concerning Syria and its use of chemical weapons would be a grave mistake and send the wrong message to the likes of Iran, Hezbollah and North Korea.

Kerry made a further appeal to those who had doubts especially after the fiasco surrounding the false intelligence connected with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the ''dodgy dossiers' that were put before both the British parliament and US Senate.

The Secretary of State insisted that the intelligence bore out and the facts were indeed clear. "Our intelligence community has scrubbed and re-scrubbed the evidence," Kerry said, in his statement.

Continuing he said that there were many who would be hoping that Congress would turn down the President's "very limited request" for military action.

"Iran is hoping you'll look the other way. Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip for them to at least misinterpret our intention, if not put it to the test," Kerry declared. "Hezbollah is hoping isolation will prevail. North Korea is hoping ambivalence carries the day."

"They are all listening for our silence." [The Age / Telegraph / Daily Mail / BBC]

Russia, China call for calm

There certainly have been many calling for America to back down. There have been anti-war protests in the US and several European countries as well as across parts of the Middle East. Several countries have also called for the US to hold off from military action.

Russia's president Putin said it would be a "mistake" to launch an attack on Bashir al Assad's regime and disputed the claims that his army had used chemical weapons [BBC]. Earlier Moscow had already warned that any intervention would have "catastrophic consequences" for the region.

Russia is not the only country to have raised its concerns. China has also been vocal in warning off the US from engaging in any show of force [BBC / ABC].

"China ... holds the belief that a political resolution is the only realistic way to solve the Syrian issue," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Monday this week, only hours after President Barack Obama had declared he had decided military action was "necessary".

"China is highly concerned about the relevant country's plan on taking unilateral military action," Hong said, adding that the international community must "avoid complicating the Syrian issue and dragging the Middle East down into further disaster."

China, which has strong ties to Russia, as well as good diplomatic relations with Syria, is often reticent to become embroiled in any foreign dispute not directly connected with its own country's interests. Furthermore China often repeats the mantra of not "meddling in its (or other's) internal affairs" [Washington Post].

China has consistently joined Russia in blocking any UN action that could lead to the downfall of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government. And both countries have disputed recent evidence suggestion that Assad's use of chemical weapons in Syria killed at least 1,429 civilians.

Risks of conflict

There are certainly risks involved in engaging in any military strike against the Assad regime.

There is the possibility, if somewhat remote, that both UN inspectors and foreign intelligence services could have been duped by rebel forces into believing Assad was responsible.

This is unlikely given the information coming from many sources. The UN have conducted investigations, and both the French and US intelligence services have released independent reports backing up their findings.

Even whilst the facts maybe clear, intervention could potentially complicate matters. Support of the rebels is not so clear cut with some believed to have ties with terrorist groups including al-Qaeda. While Assad may be overthrown, it may well transpire that another tyrannical regime replaces it rather than a more democratic government that the west desires.

There is also the risk that a wider conflict could ensue, with neighbouring countries and even Russia or China being drawn into a war.

When the British parliament last week rejected a call for military intervention there were some MPs that raised just such concerns.

David Davis, a British Conservative MP, said that it was right that Britain rejected the proposal to launch attacks saying that it could be a repeat of the same mistakes seen in the Iraq war. He pointed to intelligence that  pointed to the attacks possibly being "ordered by rogue or panicking officers without the knowledge or permission of Assad or even his senior military commanders."

Alternatively, Davis suggests, the Syrian rebels themselves could have launched gas attacks with the aim of dragging Britain and the US into the war.

While conceding that Syria was run by "a totalitarian ruler who would stop at nothing – even the massacre of his own people – to hold onto power", Davis pointed out that the rebels were far from being white knights in shining armour and they too had engaged in "torture and murder in pursuit of victory" [Yorkshire Post].

Point scoring

This was certainly not the view of everyone. Political commentator Quentin Letts poured a vitriol of criticism on those who had voted against the motion, and particularly opposition leader Ed Miliband whom he labelled a "slippery hypocrite" interested only in scoring political points.

"It was certainly not about those children whose suffocated bodies were seen wrapped in white burial shrouds after the Damascus suburbs gas attack," Letts wrote in the Daily Mail. The "Murdered innocents" were "very low on the Miliband priority list," he asserted.

Past mistakes

Labour ranks may still be reeling from the fallout concerning the mistakes made concerning Iraq, the dodgy dossiers and the reports of WMDs that never surfaces. They may not want more finger pointing accusing them of making the same mistakes again.

Conservatives too also fear a long drawn out conflict and one which like Iraq may continue for many years, drawing the west into a bloody war.

The latter is just concern, but the evidence concerning Assad's use of chemical weapons and his ruthless treatment of his people is far more clear cut than the 'evidence' put forward to justify action against Saddam Hussein's regime.

While Hussein had indeed been ruthless in his grip on power, and had himself used chemical weapons on his own people, at the time of the west making the decision to launch an invasion Iraq was relatively stable and the horror of Halabja was past history having occurred in 1988, fifteen years prior to the 2003 invasion and three years before the 1991 Gulf War.

In fact Halabja was only a passing comment concerning the reasons for launching the second Gulf War. The main focus was Saddam Hussein's supposed possession of WMD's, his ability to launch an attack on the west within 45 minutes [Daily Mail / September Dossier] and even claims he was complicit in the 9/11 attacks [YouTube / Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda link allegations] though such links were later acknowledged to be erroneous [BBC].

Attack window

President Obama has a 60 day window to launch hostile action against the Assad regime, and as yet it is unclear what targets have been drawn up. He may confine himself to limited strikes against known storage depots of chemical weapons or WMDs, though such intelligence could well be flawed. More likely the president will strike key military installations and government buildings known to still be under Assad's control.

Military strikes now seem certain, though the vote is to be held next week. What is not so certain is how Assad and his allies might respond.

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China

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