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Thursday, October 27, 2016

High Bar For U.S. Report On Syria Chemical Attack

High Bar For U.S. Report On Syria Chemical Attack

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House prepared Thursday to issue a report accusing Syria’s government of waging chemical warfare, but faces a high burden of proof due to the hangover from botched Iraq war intelligence and disquiet in Congress.

The report is meant to bolster the case for a probable U.S. military intervention in response to a horrific gas attack in a Damascus suburb last week which killed hundreds of people.

The White House has promised the analysis this week, but though there were expectations it could be released Thursday, sources said it was not yet complete.

The release of the document will lack fanfare. Officials are expected to brief reporters in a conference call with alongside the release of the hard copy of the report.

That is a far cry from the dramatic presentation by then secretary of state Colin Powell in 2003 at the United Nations, when Washington made the case for war with Iraq.

President Barack Obama’s aides stress they envisage only a “limited” punitive action in Syria and dismiss comparisons with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which the president built his political career on opposing.

But the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the discrediting of what was once deemed a “slam dunk” intelligence case for war are imposing a high burden of proof for the current administration.

Veteran national security analyst Anthony Cordesman termed the coming report the “most important single document in a decade” for the U.S. government.

He said that the administration “faces the dilemma that it must limit what it says to protect U.S. intelligence sources and methods.

“It also, however, faces the reality that the U.S. lost the credibility to argue from authority and on the basis of its reputation more than ten years ago,” Cordesman said a Center for Strategic and International Studies briefing paper.

Some reports this week suggested that the U.S. assessment would include communications intercepts and other data from inside Syria.

But administration sources are downplaying expectations, saying the public analysis will mirror the case already made by Washington, which they consider strong.

More detailed evidence may be included in the classified briefing to top U.S. lawmakers due to take place later Thursday.

The White House says there is no doubt that an attack took place — citing appalling footage of dead and wounded victims on television and social media and witness and medical reports.

It says only Syrian government forces have access to chemical weapons stocks and the rockets needed to deliver them.

“We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these (attacks) out,” Obama told PBS television Wednesday.

But officials refuse to publicly address the notion that a rogue military officer, or another actor, could have ordered the attack outwith the official Syrian chain of command.

“The commander-in-chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership … even if he’s not the one that pushes the button or said, ‘Go,’ on this,” said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman.

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  • John Pigg

    “The assessment said there was no credible intelligence to suggest opposition forces fired the chemical arms and that there was no “plausible alternative” to the idea that the regime was to blame.”

    So essentially, we are going to bomb a country because that country might have ordered a chemical weapons attack, then again it might not have.

    The Executive Power of the Commander in Chief wasn’t concocted so that Presidents would have flexibility in deciding what countries to bomb or invade. Commander in Chief was intended to offer the President full military powers in the event of a declared war. The British parliament just held a vote on military action and voted against it. The United States Constitution demands that Congress should have ultimate authority to attack a sovereign state.

    If the President of the United States unilaterally decides to attack a sovereign state without congressional consent….. then we should really be asking ourselves, whether or not we live in a liberal constitutional republic.

  • Dominick Vila

    While there is no question that the use of chemical weapons against civilians is reprehensible, no conclusive evidence has been presented confirming the latest chemical attack was carried out by al-Assad’s regime, or even a rogue military or police unit. For all we know, it may have been done by one of the many rebel factions whose objective does not include friendly relations with the West to provoke an incident and the ousting of Bashar al-Assad.
    Moreover, clear objectives, the scope of the operation, and a justification to attack a foreign country, regardless of how limited the attack may be, have not been made clear. To make matters worse, it is doubtful the UK will support us. The Labour party opposed action against Syria and succeeded in derailing PM Cameron’s original plans. France seems to be the only foreign country willing to step to the plate and stand by our side.
    UN sanction and approval are unlikely. The creation of the UN Security Council veto power exploded on our faces and instead of being a tool to deter Soviet expansionism, it is now being used to deter American interventionism.
    The issue that should be considered is the role that Syria plays in the region, its allegiance with Iran, their support to Hezbollah, and the destabilizing influence of the al-Assad regime throughout the Islamic world. Regardless of whether or not Bashar was directly involved in the chemical attack, he is a man capable of causing chaos and impacting our considerable interests throughout the Islamic world. With this in mind, should we admit that our plans have more to do with geopolitical and economic goals than moral considerations?
    Unfortunately, there is also a political angle that should not be ignored. As leaders of the free world our credibility depends largely on our actions and resolve. Ignoring crimes against humanity, if there is conclusive evidence indicating the Assad regime was behind the latest crime, will erode international confidence in our ability to offer leadership in a world beset by ideological and economic threats. Our choices are far from being palatable, but sometimes there is no choice but to do what we believe is right, or pack up, go home, and let others fill the void.