Late yesterday, the UN announced that it would accelerate the departure schedule for its inspection team on the ground in Damascus by three hours, from 7 am Saturday morning to 4 am. Most took this as a signal that American strikes on the Syrian army would shortly follow, and NBC News reports that US assets have already been positioned for military action. Even the missiles have their targets loaded in their guidance systems. All that’s needed now is the order:
According to CBS News, we could be waiting a while. Russia now wants the Obama administration to wait for next week’s G-20 meeting to discuss further what UN inspectors found:
The last of the U.N. weapons inspection team pulled out of Syria before dawn Saturday after four days of field work visiting the suburbs of Damascus hit by what appears to have been chemical strikes on Aug. 21, CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reported on “CBS This Morning: Saturday.
The samples they gathered from victims of the attack, as well as water, soil and shrapnel, will now be sent to European laboratories for analysis. The results, and the inspectors’ final report, could take as long as two weeks.
But international politics are moving faster than that. On Saturday, Syria’s international ally, Russia, weighed in. President Vladimir Putin asked the U.S. to refrain from carrying out any strikes on Syria and suggested that next week’s G20 meeting would be a good venue for international discussion on what to do.
Putin said that the idea that the Syrian government would use chemical weapons when it was already winning the war was utter nonsense.
It’s been more than 12 hours since the UN inspectors have left, but still a few hours before the sun sets. One would expect the strike to come in darkness, so the clock will really start ticking at sunset, which comes at 7:01 local time, or noon ET. With Congress coming back in just a few days, the longer Obama waits, the fewer excuses he has to reject Congressional engagement and authorization before striking. If the sun sets in Washington without a strike, it may be quite a while before anything significant happens in the Mediterranean.
What happens after the strike? CBS News interviews Michael O’Hanlon from the Brookings Institute, who believes that Assad will simply absorb the blow and learn his lesson about using chemical weapons. It’s not going to weaken him, however, and while O’Hanlon has a rather sunny view of the results of a one-off attack on the trajectory of the Middle East, he does allow that this might also touch off a regional war. That’s why, O’Hanlon insists, the US and the West need to engage more deeply in the Syrian civil war: