So Ed was right. They sent out the Big Dog to pretend-goad Obama into intervening, knowing that Clinton’s popularity would give O extra cover on his already-made decision to intervene. They’ve been planning to do this for weeks at least, I’d bet. You don’t promote “responsibility to protect” aficionados like Susan Rice and Samantha Power if you aren’t.
And away we go.
According to an internal memorandum circulating inside the government on Thursday, the “intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year.” President Obama said in April that the United States had physiological evidence that the nerve gas sarin had been used in Syria, but lacked proof of who used it and under what circumstances. He now believes that the proof is definitive, according to American officials…
It is unclear precisely how the Obama administration made its final determination about the chemical weapons use in Syria. According to the internal memorandum, intelligence agencies have “high confidence” in their assessment, and estimate that between 100 and 150 people have died to date from chemical weapons attacks. The memorandum goes on to say that the conclusion is based on a variety of intelligence…
The Obama administration’s cautious approach about Syria has already frayed relations with important American allies in the Middle East that have privately described the White House strategy as feckless. Saudi Arabia and Jordan recently cut the United States out of a new rebel training program, a decision that American officials said came from the belief in Riyadh and Amman that the United States has only a tepid commitment to supporting rebel groups.
Here’s the official White House statement, which emphasizes that using chemical weapons is a “red line” in case you had any doubt that this announcement means we’re intervening in some way. Their findings are based in part on hair, blood, and urine samples from two rebels that showed traces of sarin. I’ll repeat what I said in this post last month about polls showing deep opposition to U.S. action in Syria: The only way he can sell it is by emphasizing the WMD angle. If you look back at the polling data, only when chemical weapons are mentioned does public opinion against getting involved there begin to soften. Go figure that U.S. intelligence would suddenly conclude that sarin has been used at precisely the same time that Obama’s looking to intervene in Syria for strategic reasons unrelated to WMD — namely, that if the rebels aren’t reinforced soon somehow, Assad and Hezbollah might roll right over them and the big upcoming “peace” conference will be even more meaningless than it’s expected to be. One of the ironies of the U.S. putting such stock in the peace talks, notes Aaron David Miller, is that when they inevitably fail, military intervention of some form will be the only option left to Obama. He boxed himself in. Maybe he realized that and decided to get the ball rolling today. Another grand irony is that if you asked Americans what they’re most afraid of vis-a-vis Assad and WMD, most would probably say it’s the prospect of jihadi rebels overrunning his stockpiles and using those chemical weapons against western targets. Well, thanks to Assad’s recent victory streak, that seems less likely than ever right now. And yet here we are.
What will intervention look like? White House advisor Ben Rhodes isn’t sure yet, but…
Rhodes says U.S. assistance to SMC "will include military support," but won't detail what type.
— Mike O'Brien (@mpoindc) June 13, 2013
More details from the Journal:
A U.S. military proposal for arming Syrian rebels also calls for a limited no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced from Jordanian territory to protect Syrian refugees and rebels who would train there, according to U.S. officials.
Asked by the White House to develop options for Syria, military planners have said that creating an area to train and equip rebel forces would require keeping Syrian aircraft well away from the Jordanian border.
To do that, the military envisages creating a no-fly zone stretching up to 25 miles into Syria which would be enforced using aircraft flown from Jordanian bases and flying inside the kingdom, according to U.S. officials…
Proponents of the proposal say a no-fly zone could be imposed without a U.N. Security Council resolution, since the U.S. would not regularly enter Syrian airspace and wouldn’t hold Syrian territory.
That last bit is the key. A UNSC resolution won’t work because Assad is, of course, a Russian client and Russia will veto the resolution. An NFZ needs to be done through other means; this is what they’ve come up with. And note: This does mean that we’re on the brink of a proxy war with Russia, or maybe even something slightly more. What happens if one of those advanced anti-aircraft missiles given by Moscow to Assad ends up blowing a U.S. jet out of the sky?
Stand by for updates. While you wait, if you’re in the McCain camp in thinking that we’ll be able to keep weapons out of the hands of bad guys while supplying the good guys, read this piece from last December. The AP reported just a few days ago that MANPADS, a.k.a. shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, are likely now in Al Qaeda’s hands in Mali thanks to the western-enabled chaos in Libya after Qaddafi was overthrown. Imagine what’ll come out of Syria.
Update: McCain and Graham are naturally ecstatic, but troubled by the thought that Obama might do something incremental militarily instead of something extravagant and bold and just plain awesome:
“A decision to provide lethal assistance, especially ammunition and heavy weapons, to opposition forces in Syria is long overdue, and we hope the President will take this urgently needed step. But providing arms alone is not sufficient. That alone is not enough to change the military balance of power on the ground against Assad. The President must rally an international coalition to take military actions to degrade Assad’s ability to use airpower and ballistic missiles and to move and resupply his forces around the battlefield by air. This can be done, as we have said many times, using stand-off weapons such as cruise missiles.
“We cannot afford to delay any longer. Assad is on the offensive with every weapon in his arsenal and with the complete support of his foreign allies. We must take more decisive actions now to turn the tide of the conflict in Syria.”
Show of hands at the UN: Who wants to join the new coalition of the willing to help Sunni fanatics like this purge Syria’s Shiites before the opposite can happen?
Update: Another contributing factor to O’s decision is our Sunni “allies” like Saudi Arabia and Qatar more or less blackmailing us by threatening to arm the Sunni in Syria if we don’t. Would you rather have the Saudis shipping weapons directly to fundamentalist lunatics like Jabhat al-Nusra, or would you rather have the steady hand of the United State shipping weapons that’ll end up in Nusra’s hands indirectly after “our” rebels inevitably sell them, are killed for them, or defect to Nusra themselves?
Update: Lot of this on Twitter right now, per Scandalmania:
Time to wag the dog.
— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) June 13, 2013