Washington, Aug 31: As President Barack Obama hinted at an imminent US military strike to punish Syria for its alleged use of banned chemical weapons, analysts took note of the administration’s increasing isolation over the issue.
First the Secretary of State John Kerry Friday released a declassified US intelligence report expressing “high confidence” that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons in an Aug 21 attack on rebel controlled areas that killed 1400 people. Then Obama told reporters he had yet to make a final decision, but said that even “war-weary” as he was, he was determined to hold Syria accountable for using banned chemical weapons.
“It is not in the national security interests of the United States to ignore clear violations” of what he called an “international norm” banning the use of chemical weapons, Obama said at a meeting with visiting heads of Baltic nations, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
He called the Syrian attack a “challenge to the world” that threatens US allies Israel, Turkey and Jordan while increasing the risk of such weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. “So, I have said before, and I meant what I said that, the world has an obligation to make sure that we maintain the norm against the use of chemical weapons,” Obama said. “My preference would have been that the international community already would have acted,” he said, citing “the inability of the Security Council to move in the face of a clear violation of international norms.”
He expressed frustration with the lack of international support, saying that “a lot of people think something should be done, but nobody seems willing to do it.”
CNN citing sources and experts said that a military strike hinted at Obama would entail cruise missiles fired from US Navy ships at Syrian command targets — but not at any chemical weapons stockpiles.
The influential New York Times took the administration’s actions Friday as “an aggressive and coordinated push to justify a military intervention on the grounds that American credibility was at stake” in the face of “faltering support in foreign capitals and Congress for a strike against Syria”
Calling Obama “the lonely president”, Politico, an influential Washington news site noted he “had hoped for a quick, convincing strike on Syria, but growing opposition and Great Britain’s stunning rejection of the attack has thrust him into the uncomfortable position of go-it-alone hawk.”
Writing in the Washington Post, Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations warned that “In trying to help Syria, an intervention would destroy it.”
There were few takers for the limited strike option hinted at by Obama as home too.
More than 160 legislators, including 63 of Obama’s fellow Democrats, signed letters calling for either a vote or at least a “full debate” before any US action.
Two former presidents- George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter – offered conflicting views on Obama’s impending decision on military strikes.
Obama has a “touch choice to make” Bush told Fox News. But “If he decides to use our military, he’ll have the greatest military ever backing him up.”
Carter, a known proponent of political solutions through dialogue and reconciliation, on the other hand, said taking unilateral action against Syria “would be a grave mistake.
“It will only harden existing positions and postpone a sorely needed political process to put an end to the catastrophic violence,” he stated.
An NBC News poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday found 50 percent of the public against US military action with 42 percent saying military action would be appropriate.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at email@example.com)