Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

August 30, 2013

U.S. readies possible solo action against Syria

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday prepared for the possibility of launching unilateral American military action against Syria within days as Britain opted out in a stunning vote by Parliament. Facing skepticism at home, too, the administration shared intelligence with lawmakers aimed at convincing them the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people and must be punished.

Despite roadblocks in forming an international coalition, Obama appeared undeterred and advisers said he would be willing to retaliate against Syria on his own.

“The president of the United States is elected with the duty to protect the national security interests in the United States of America,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Even before the vote in London, the U.S. was preparing to act without formal authorization from the United Nations, where Russia has blocked efforts to seek a resolution authorizing the use of force, or from Capitol Hill. But the U.S. had expected Britain, a major ally, to join in the effort.

Top U.S. officials spoke with certain lawmakers for more than 90 minutes in a teleconference Thursday evening to explain why they believe Bashar Assad’s government was the culprit in a suspected chemical attack last week. Lawmakers from both parties have been pressing Obama to provide a legal rationale for military action, to specify objectives and to lay out a firm case linking Assad to the attack.

Afterward, the House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, pointedly sided with Republican Speaker John Boehner of Ohio in urging the administration to do more to engage with Congress on the matter, even as she expressed “my appreciation for the measured, targeted and limited approach the president may be considering.”

She said in a statement she agreed with Boehner and other lawmakers who say the administration needs to consult more with “all members of Congress” — a reference to the limited circle briefed Thursday night — and provide “additional transparency into the decision-making process.”

The high-level officials who spoke to the lawmakers offered more details of the suspected chemical attack and their firm conviction that the Syrian government was to blame — but little new evidence backing up that conviction. It remained to be seen whether any skeptics were swayed by the call, given the expectation in advance that officials would hold back classified information to protect intelligence sources and methods.

The officials told lawmakers 1,300 men, women and children died in the attack, said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. That’s a far higher death toll than has been reported; the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders says the attack outside Damascus killed 355.

A number of lawmakers raised questions in the briefing about how the administration would finance a military operation as the Pentagon is grappling with automatic spending cuts and reduced budgets.

Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee and a participant on the call, said in a statement that the administration presented a “broad range of options” for dealing with Syria but failed to offer a single plan, timeline, strategy or explanation of how it would pay for any military operation.

“The main thing was that they have no doubt that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons,” New York Rep. Eliot Engel, top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a supporter of Obama’s course, said after the briefing.

Even so, he said the officials did not provide much new evidence of that.

“They said they have (intercepted) some discussions and some indications from a high-level official,” he said, and that they possess intelligence showing material being moved in advance of the attack.

An intelligence report similar to the findings shared with lawmakers Thursday night is expected to be released publicly on Friday.

In London, Prime Minister David Cameron argued a military strike would be legal on humanitarian grounds. But he faced deep pressure from lawmakers and had already promised not to undertake military action until a U.N. chemical weapons team on the ground in Syria released its findings about the Aug. 21 attack.

The prime minister said in terse comments after the vote that while he believes in a “tough response” to the use of chemical weapons, he would respect the will of the House of Commons.

Caitlin Hayden, Obama’s National Security Council spokeswoman, said the U.S. would continue to consult with Britain but Obama would make decisions based on “the best interests of the United States.”

It was not certain the U.S. would have to act alone. France announced that its armed forces “have been put in position to respond” if President Francois Hollande commits forces to intervention against Syria. Hollande does not need French parliamentary approval to launch military action that lasts less than four months.

Assad, who has denied using chemical weapons, vowed his country “will defend itself against any aggression.”

Some of the U.N. chemical weapons experts will travel directly from Syria on Saturday to different laboratories around Europe to deliver “an extensive amount of material” gathered, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said. While the mandate of the U.N. team is to determine whether chemical agents were used in the attack, not who was responsible, Haq suggested the evidence — which includes biological samples and witness interviews — might give an indication of who deployed gases.

Obama and other top officials have not revealed definitive evidence to back claims that Assad used chemical weapons on Syrians. U.S. officials say the intelligence assessments are no “slam dunk,” with questions remaining about who actually controls some of Syria’s chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the intelligence publicly.

Despite shortcomings in the intelligence, the White House signaled urgency in acting, with Earnest, the White House spokesman saying the president believes there is a “compressed time frame” for responding.

“It is important for the Assad regime and other totalitarian dictators around the world to understand that the international community will not tolerate the indiscriminate, widespread use of chemical weapons, particularly against women and children as they’re sleeping in their beds,” he said.

But many Congress members were pressing Obama to explain the need for military action and address fears that such a move might draw the U.S. deeper into the Syrian civil war.

Washington Rep. Adam Smith, senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, cautioned that an attack might be ineffective and might draw the United States into the Syrian civil war, now in its third year.

“Simply lashing out with military force under the banner of ‘doing something’ will not secure our interests in Syria,” Smith said in a statement.

Obama continued making his case for a robust response to world leaders, speaking Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. With national elections scheduled in Germany for next month, Merkel is unlikely to pull her country into a military conflict.

Merkel also discussed Syria by phone Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisting that the attack “requires an international reaction,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Obama has ruled out putting American forces on the ground in Syria or setting up a no-fly zone over the country. He’s also said any U.S. response to the chemical weapons attack would be limited in scope and aimed solely at punishing Assad for deploying deadly gases, not at regime change.

“We do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable,” he said during a television interview.

The most likely military option would be Tomahawk cruise missile strikes from four Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. At a minimum, Western forces are expected to strike targets that symbolize Assad’s military and political might: military and national police headquarters, including the Defense Ministry; the Syrian military’s general staff; and the four-brigade Republican Guard that is in charge of protecting Damascus, Assad’s seat of power. Assad’s ruling Baath Party headquarters could be targeted, too.

U.S. officials also are considering attacking military command centers and vital forces, communications hubs and weapons caches, including ballistic missile batteries.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Boston Marathon Bombi_Rich copy.jpg Questions linger year after Boston Marathon bombs

    A surveillance video shows a man prosecutors say is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placing a bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, just yards from where an 8-year-old boy was killed when it exploded.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP120401029 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 15, the 105th day of 2014. There are 260 days left in the year.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Space Station_Rich copy.jpg NASA OKs space station visit despite dead computer

    NASA is pressing ahead with Monday’s planned launch of a supply ship despite a critical computer outage at the International Space Station, promising the situation is safe.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fatal Shooting Kansas_Rich copy.jpg 3 dead after suburban Kansas City shooting

    A man opened fire outside a Jewish community center on Sunday, killing two people before driving over to a retirement community a few blocks away and killing someone else, authorities said.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Seven Dead Babies Arr_Rich(1) copy.jpg Utah woman arrested after 7 dead babies found

    A Utah woman accused of killing several babies she gave birth to over 10 years was arrested Sunday after police discovered seven tiny bodies stuffed in separate cardboard boxes in the garage of her former home.
    Megan Huntsman, 39, who lived in the Pleasant Grove home until three years ago, had the infants between 1996 and 2006, investigators said.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP110714053482 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, April 14, 2014

    Today is Monday, April 14, the 104th day of 2014. There are 261 days left in the year. The Jewish holiday Passover begins at sunset.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Range Showdow_Rich copy.jpg Feds release cows gathered in Nevada roundup

    Federal land managers confirmed Saturday that they released all 400 or so head of cattle rounded up on public land in southern Nevada from a rancher who has refused to recognize their authority.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Ukraine_Rich copy.jpg Uniformed men occupy Donetsk police HQ

    Men in the uniforms of Ukraine’s now-defunct riot police on Saturday occupied police headquarters in Donetsk, the eastern city that is one of the flashpoints of a wave of pro-Russia protests, hours after armed men seized local police headquarters and a local branch of the Security Service in a nearby city.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Australia Malaysia Pl_Rich copy.jpg Long hunt for missing jet looms as pings go silent

    After a week of optimism over four underwater signals believed to be coming from the missing Malaysian plane, the sea has gone quiet and Australia’s leader is warning that the massive search will likely be long.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP82016106626 copy.jpg Today in History for Sunday, April 13, 2014

    Today is Palm Sunday, April 13, the 103rd day of 2014. There are 262 days left in the year.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

What you think about school and workplace rules about Facebook friends?

There have to be rules.
No need for rules, just use common sense.
If people want to be friends, what is the big deal?
Nobody uses Facebook anymore.
     View Results