Obama administration’s aim to strike Syria divides opinion

President Obama is pursuing a course of military action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Here is a round-up of the debate over intervention in Syria.

President Obama is pursuing a course of military action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. On Wednesday US Senators will vote to decide on a 90-day window allowing US intervention against Syria. In the meantime Obama’s team aims to persuade members of Congress to vote for military action.

Obama has said that military action:

“… fits into a broader strategy that can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic, economic and political pressure required – so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability, not only to Syria but to the region.”

Here is the New York Times’ analysis of the political developments in the US capital:

“On Tuesday evening, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed on the wording of a resolution that would give Mr. Obama the authority to carry out a strike against Syria, for a period of 60 days, with one 30-day extension. A committee vote on the measure could come as early as Wednesday.

“Uncertainties abound, particularly in the House, where the imprimatur of the Republican leadership does not guarantee approval by rebellious rank and file, and where vocal factions in both parties are opposed to anything that could entangle the nation in another messy conflict in the Middle East.

“Still, the expressions of support from top Republicans who rarely agree with Mr. Obama on anything suggest the White House may be on firmer footing than seemed the case on Saturday, when the president abruptly halted his plans for action in the face of growing protests from Congress.”

Opinion on Syria remains divided, although more Americans are opposed to intervention than support it.

On one side Andrew Sullivan echoes many by  writing that America and liberal internationalists should have learnt  lessons from Iraq and should resist any intervention in Syria:

“I’ve spent much of the day reading, reading and reading all I can about the events in Syria that I missed while on vacation. The more I read, the more opposed I became to what seems to me a potentially disastrous new war in the Middle East. And yet the more I absorbed the full incoherence of the argument for another utterly unpredictable war (you’ve probably read William Polk already but if not, do), and the more the arguments of John Kerry fell apart upon Senate inspection, and the more a look-back at the past two weeks revealed truly staggering policy confusion and doubt in the administration, the more it seemed that momentum was, incredibly, for another war.

“… So now we are treated to the argument from “credibility”. Enough with the arguments about credibility! The United States would benefit by nothing more than accepting the fact that we do not have the power to control that region and shouldn’t die trying. Our credibility is threatened not when we stay out of other people’s civil wars, but when we make threats we cannot enforce. I am emphatically not dismissing the Rubicon of chemical weapons, and am as appalled by their use as anyone. But if we cannot resolve the question without entering another full-scale, open-ended war on the basis of murky intelligence about WMDs, then we should resign ourselves to not resolving the question. Repeat after me: American power is much more limited than our elites still want to believe.

“Our choice right now is between enabling Assad to stay in power and murder and gas more innocents or entering an unknowable conflict with no clear goals and no vital national interest at stake. If we do the latter, we will prove either that we bombed Assad and he survived or that we bombed Assad and we got al Nusra in charge of the chemical arsenal. If we are truly worried about the spread of Assad’s chemical weapons, we should ensure he keeps a tight lid on them and prevails in the civil war. That’s the goddawful truth we want to avoid and Obama thinks he can elide. He cannot. Get your Niebuhr back out, Mr President.”

In contrast, Wolfgang Ischinger argues that the situation in Syria more resembles Bosnia in the 1990s and that the west should intervene:

“Apparently, the old saying that politicians and the military tend to fight the “last war” a second time, applies here as well. Impressions from most recent experiences are, after all, the freshest. However, it can also mean that we end up viewing the current crisis through the wrong filter. The situation and the development of the conflict in Syria are in many respects more reminiscent of Bosnia than Iraq or Afghanistan. And Bosnia continues to offer lessons that are more relevant today than ever.

“All officials and policymakers involved are surely aware that the current policy being pursued by the West and the international community with regards to the Syrian conflict is completely insufficient and unacceptable. Appeals, sanctions, embargos, certain forms of support for the opposition, diplomatic offensives, and mediation attempts: In the end all that has been — rather half-heartedly — undertaken by external parties has failed in Syria, as it did in Bosnia prior to 1995.

“A first key similarity between the two conflicts can be found in the (initial) inability to get the fighting parties together around a table in order to achieve a viable diplomatic solution. Just like Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad sees no obligation at present to negotiate seriously. In Bosnia, too, peace plans and blueprints (“Vance-Owen”) were laid out in the early stages, but led to nothing because of the West’s lack of willingness to implement them.”

Meanwhile Slate has a list of some of the key arguments being made by either side.

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