The West Must Not Appease Bashar al-Assad

No reasonable person, neither American nor Syrian, wishes to see the United States and its allies become deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, but for the western powers to fail to act now is tantamount to appeasement of a butcher of children. No one knows what will happen if we strike Syrian military targets; no one knows what will happen if we do not. That is not an argument. If the past is prologue, then Assad will continue to slaughter the people of Syria without discrimination. That much appears certain.

The confiscation of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal does not look like a realistic proposal on its face, because the safe transfer of massive quantities of chemical weapons in a war zone would be risky and problematic at best. How will compliance be verified when it was difficult just for UN inspectors to reach a suburb of Damascus?

The French are correct to insist upon stringent preconditions before any negotiated deal with Assad on chemical weapons. The world has tolerated this monster long enough. Every person who detests war should take a hard look at the situation in the Middle East today, and then explain to themselves how a victory for Assad, Iran and Hezbollah reduces the probability of a Middle East war, one into which the United States would be inextricably drawn by its many alliances in the region. To those who believe that opposing military action against Syria is the path of peace, I respectfully ask that they think again of the likely consequences of doing nothing.

There are indeed shades of past conflicts evoked by the images of carnage in Syria. But the deja vu being experienced is not that of Iraq–which was completely different–but of another, similar atrocity that occurred at Guernica, Spain, in 1937, of another moral failure to respond, and of the results of a flawed strategy of trying to appease a monster.

On April 26,1937, bombers and fighters of the German Luftwaffe and the Italian air force attacked the small Basque village of Guernica in northern Spain. It was an outrageous assault on an unarmed civilian population. It was the blatant mass murder of hundreds of civilians, by some accounts over a thousand were killed, men, women and children.

For America in those days, neutrality was the dominant U.S. foreign policy model, enshrined in a series of congressional acts that had been designed to further and further remove the United States from the possibility of involvement in “foreign wars.” The prevailing American sentiment then, as today in regard to atrocities being committed in Syria, was that what had happened in Guernica was not our problem. It simply didn’t involve us.

Four years later, the relevance of Guernica to the security interests of the United States became more than apparent. On December 8, 1941, in the wake of a devastating attack on American naval forces at Pearl Harbor, the United States formerly declared war on imperial Japan. Three days later, war was declared on the United States by those same German and Italian fascist regimes who had bombed Guernica only four years earlier.

Red Lines Matter – NYTimes.com

 

BERLIN — Europe knows, and this city in particular, about the importance of American “red lines.” West Berlin, caught for more than four decades 100 miles within the Soviet occupation zone, survived on the credibility of the U.S. commitment to it, demonstrated by the Allied airlift in response to the Soviet blockade of 1948.

A shattered Europe became whole, free and prosperous under the shield of U.S. credibility. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty spelled out that an armed attack against one member “shall be considered an attack against them all.” This was believable enough to deter a Soviet attack on Western Europe.

American credibility in Asia has played a substantial part in the rapid but peaceful rise of China, a power shift of a kind that has seldom, if ever, occurred in world history without major conflict. China believes in the U.S. defense commitment to Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. America has been the offsetting power allaying the tensions of China’s emergence.

It is the credibility of the United States as a European and Asian and Middle Eastern power that underwrites global security.

Read more at The New York Times.

Exclusive: Intercepted Calls Prove Syrian Army Used Nerve Gas, U.S. Spies Say

 

Bodies of people activists say were killed by nerve gas in the Ghouta region are seen in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus

 

Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, The Cable has learned. And that is the major reason why American officials now say they’re certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime — and why the U.S. military is likely to attack that regime in a matter of days.

But the intercept raises questions about culpability for the chemical massacre, even as it answers others: Was the attack on Aug. 21 the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds? Or was the strike explicitly directed by senior members of the Assad regime? “It’s unclear where control lies,” one U.S. intelligence official told The Cable. “Is there just some sort of general blessing to use these things? Or are there explicit orders for each attack?”

American intelligence analysts are certain that chemical weapons were used on Aug. 21 — the captured phone calls, combined with local doctors’ accounts and video documentation of the tragedy — are considered proof positive. That is why the U.S. government, from the president on down, has been unequivocal in its declarations that the Syrian military gassed thousands of civilians in the East Ghouta region.

Read more at Foreign Policy

Air War in Kosovo Seen as Precedent in Possible Response to Syria Chemical Attack – NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — As President Obama weighs options for responding to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, his national security aides are studying the NATO air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for acting without a mandate from the United Nations.

With Russia still likely to veto any military action in the Security Council, the president appears to be wrestling with whether to bypass the United Nations, although he warned that doing so would require a robust international coalition and legal justification.

“If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work?” Mr. Obama said on Friday to CNN, in his first public comments after the deadly attack on Wednesday.

Mr. Obama described the attack as “clearly a big event of grave concern” and acknowledged that the United States had limited time to respond. But he said United Nations investigators needed to determine whether chemical weapons had been used.

Kosovo is an obvious precedent for Mr. Obama because, as in Syria, civilians were killed and Russia had longstanding ties to the government authorities accused of the abuses. In 1999, President Bill Clinton used the endorsement of NATO and the rationale of protecting a vulnerable population to justify 78 days of airstrikes.

Read more at The New York Times.