Are We Bumbling Toward War in Syria?
The Syrian government may or may not have used chemical weapons in its civil war this week. Or, if you buy the word of the Syrian regime, rebels may have used chemical weapons. After an attack in the city of Aleppo Tuesday, the Syrian government released photos that it says show evidence that the rebels used chemical weapons in a rocket attack. The rebels claim that they don't have chemical weapons at all. The US and Russian governments so far have very different views of what happened. Or didn't. Not all experts even agree that the photos show evidence of a chemical attack at all, though a top Israeli official says chemical weapons were used. President Obama is visiting Israel this week.
Two senior U.S. officials said they don't believe the rebels used chemical weapons and suggested the government itself may have manufactured the incident to preserve the ability to use them in the future.
"The regime is using (the claims) as a pretext for their own possible use," one of the officials said. "The opposition has no such weapons."
But the Russian Foreign Ministry, citing information from Damascus, said rebels did use chemical weapons, causing deaths and injuries.
"We believe the new incident is an extremely alarming and dangerous development in the Syrian crisis," the ministry said. "Russia is seriously concerned about the fact of (weapons of mass destruction) coming into the hands of militants, which makes the situation in Syria even worse and brings the confrontation in the country to a new level."
Syria is a long-time ally of the Russians, along with the Iranians.
The calls for more direct US intervention grew after Aleppo, on both sides of the aisle. Rep. Mike Rodgers (R-MI) says that it's "time to act" in Syria, without specifying that the US action should be. Rep. Carl Levin (D-MI) endorsed establishing a no-fly zone over Syria. That idea was first floated during the 2012 presidential primary, by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has gone the farthest, calling for the US to insert ground troops to secure Syria's chemical weapons sites.
"My biggest fear beyond an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is the chemical weapons in Syria falling in the hands of extremists and Americans need to lead on this issue. We need to come up with a plan to secure these weapons sites, either in conjunction with our partners [or] if nothing else by ourselves," Graham said.
Asked if he would support sending U.S. troops inside Syria for the mission, Graham said yes.
"Absolutely, you've got to get on the ground. There is no substitute for securing these weapons," he said. "I don't care what it takes. We need partners in the region. But I'm here to say, if the choice is to send in troops to secure the weapons sites versus allowing chemical weapons to get in the hands of some of the most violent people in the world, I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) hints of very serious difficulties to come in Syria:
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein says "The probabilities are very high that we're going into some very dark times. And the White House needs to be prepared."
The Obama White House has repeatedly stated that the Assad regime's use of its chemical weapons would cross a "red line," but has not stated what the consequences of crossing that line would be. It doesn't appear to have a plan in place for Syria.
There are no good guys leading either side of this fight, from a strategic US perspective. The Assad regime has been a US enemy for decades and has aligned itself with the Iranian mullahcracy. It lends itself as a proxy against Israel, dominates Lebanon which it uses along with Hizballah as a base to attack Israel, and is also aligned with the Russians, raising at least the possibility of direct Russian military involvement. The rebels include many Islamists aligned with al Qaeda. The US would have to borrow more money from China to fund any Syria operations.
And yet, the Obama administration's "red line" talk and the statements coming from Congress suggest that pressure is building to do...something.