Should the Use of Chemical Weapons Prompt a US Attack in Syria?

If it is Determined that the Assad Regime Used Chemical Weapons Against Civilians, Should the United States and its Allies Attack Syria?


In answer to this question, Joshua Landis and Syria Comment provide the following statement:


The US must respond to the use of chemical weapons in a forceful manner, but should not launch a broader intervention in Syria.

Preserving the widely respected international norm banning the use of chemical weapons is a clear interest of the US and international community.

The US, however, should avoid getting sucked into the Syrian Civil War. Thus, it should punish Assad with enough force to deter future use of chemical weapons, but without using so much force that it gets drawn into an open-ended conflict.

The reasons why the US should avoid a wider intervention is that it has no partner within Syria or the international community to help shoulder the burden of nation-building.  All the countries of the region want Washington to solve their Syria problem, but none want to send in troops.

The Syrian opposition is dysfunctional and composed of over 1,000 militias, the strongest of which are radically pro-Islamist and virulently anti-American. Most are not prepared to work with the US or provide responsible government for the country.

The barbarism of the Assad regime is horrifying, but the US cannot solve the bitter ethnic, sectarian, and factional rivalries in Syria. It should, however, attempt to dissuade Assad from using chemical weapons, and can employ force in this endeavor.

Syria Comment’s Position on the Conflict More Generally

Consistently arguing against intervention since the beginning of the conflict has elicited a degree of animosity and anger from those waiting expectantly for the Syrian regime to fall. This feeling is understandable as so much of the country has been destroyed.

We at Syrian Comment are not insulated from the suffering in Syria, but encounter it daily as our friends, family, and associates both in and outside the country relate their stories of anguish and loss. With close to one-third of Syrians displaced (two million having fled the country and close to five million internal refugees) the suffering is staggering. We regularly hear pleas from those we know for personal help and support, often beyond our means.

The argument against intervention, therefore, is a position we maintain while unceasingly observing and witnessing the heartbreaking bloodshed. Despite the tremendous outcry of pain and loss, we still believe that intervention in Syria is not a viable option for America for several important reasons.

Some of those reasons include:

1) Bombing is not a solution: Mere bombing will not provide a solution; in order to disarm militias and protect Syrians, the U.S. would have to put peace-keeping forces on the ground to end revenge killings and provide security, yet Washington has ruled out sending occupation troops into Syria.

2) The financial burden is too high: The U.S. lacks the resources or will to spend enough money to do the necessary nation-building in Syria. This is why having an international coalition willing to send troops into Syria is so important. Militias have to be disarmed and a new state has to be built. Suppressing competing militias and building new central governments in both Iraq and Afghanistan has cost in excess of one trillion dollars apiece.

3) The lack of desire on the part of Americans for another long-term Middle East entanglement without a foreseeable end.

4) The opposition is incapable of providing government services: Millions of Syrians still depend on the government for their livelihoods, basic services, and infrastructure. The government continues to supply hundreds of thousands of Syrians with salaries & retirement benefits. Destroying these state services with no capacity to replace them would plunge ever larger numbers of Syrians into even darker circumstances and increase the outflow of refugees beyond its already high level. Syria can get worse.

Most militias are drawn from the poorer, rural districts of Syria. Most wealth is concentrated in the city centers that remain integral (such as Damascus, Lattakia, Tartus, Baniyas, Hama, etc.), which have survived largely unscathed in this conflict, and have not opted to continue the struggle. If the militias take these cities, there will be widespread looting and lawlessness which will threaten many more civilians who have managed to escape the worst until now.

Many in these urban centers have managed to continue leading fairly stable lives up to the present; despite the tremendous level of destruction seen so far, many areas are still a long way from the bottom. It would be preferable to avoid a Somalia-like scenario in the remaining cities and provinces.

It’s not at all clear that U.S. intervention can improve the economic or security situation for Syrians.

5) Entering the conflict would mean America battling on multiple fronts, not only against the regime: The U.S. has declared itself at war with al-Qaida. If we were to intervene, we would have to enter a new front against the most powerful and effective Syrian opposition militias, in addition to the war against Assad. Our forces would be targeted by extremists and more radically-Islamist militias. We would be fighting a multi-front war.

6) The potential for ethnic cleansing and revenge killings is high: The different ethno-sectarian communities and socio-economic classes are renegotiating the dynamics of their relationship inside Syria. For the last 50 years, Alawites have monopolized the ramparts of power in Syria. They have allied themselves with other minorities and important segments of the Sunni majority, and the regime has preserved its power through a careful sectarian strategy. The rebellion, led primarily by Sunni Arabs of the countryside, aims to supplant the Alawite hold on power. The US cannot adjudicate the new balance of power that will emerge in Syria. It is not prudent to dramatically tip the balance of power in such a supercharged environment of sectarian hatred and class warfare.

Military Action at Present Should Target Chemical Weapons Only

[This heading was misunderstood by some to mean a strike on chemical weapons stockpiles themselves; the intended meaning was that a strike should be designed to deter chemical weapons use. Sorry for the vagueness.]

While the U.S. and the American people are no allies of the Syrian regime (and for good reason), pushing hard for a rebel win today is not in US interests and is unlikely to benefit Syria. Punitive measures taken against the regime following the use of chemical weapons should be conducted with the purpose of deterring the future use of chemical weapons—not to change the balance of power in favor of the rebels.

This is said with full recognition of the terrible atrocities and killing taking place within Syria, including the many crimes of the regime. The Assad regime is not an entity to be protected or defended, but destroying it today may throw the country into greater chaos and suffering and pull the U.S. into a morass that lacks any visible solution.

Long Term Goal of a Power-Sharing Agreement

The US should strive to persuade all parties to reach a power-sharing agreement to end the war. This can only happen with the cooperation of Russia and other players, such as Iran. It is not likely to happen soon, but such a Geneva-style agreement would provide an important framework for a peace process down the road. If Syria is to be kept together as a unified state, a power-sharing agreement must be hammered out, with or without Assad.

Comments (1,127)

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1101. Syrialover said:

This is good. ALAN’s not the first. I remember VISITOR here used to hiss and warn me like that whenever I criticized Al Nusrah.

It seems I have a talent for putting down the cheese and getting them to rush into a trap that reveals what they really are.

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August 31st, 2013, 8:55 pm


1102. Syrialover said:

A moving and insightful article by Amal Hanano:

“Any unknown future would be better than Syria’s agony”

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August 31st, 2013, 9:01 pm


1103. revenire said:

Hanano calls for murdering Syrian babies. Just check ‘its’ TL. This is your ‘moving’ hero? Pathetic.

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August 31st, 2013, 9:20 pm


1104. don said:


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August 31st, 2013, 9:22 pm


1105. omen said:

1085. Ali said:
“Men die standing!”
……. love to bend down instead.

ali, stop fantasizing about gay porn.

there are other forums better suited for that than here.

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August 31st, 2013, 10:05 pm


1106. don said:

Military Force Is a Blunt Instrument, Mr. President

WASHINGTON, Aug 30 (IPS) – Now that we have heard Secretary of State John Kerry’s emotional plea for us to believe the still rather ambiguous intelligence on chemical weapons use in Syria, there are far more substantive answers to be sought from the Obama administration.

Putting aside the remaining ambiguities as well as all the experience those of us over 60 years old have with any administration’s unequivocal assurances preceding its use of military force, the basic context surrounding that use against Syria still requires intense analysis.

Forget about those prematurely-born babies stripped from their cradles in the maternity wards in Kuwait, later demonstrated as a figment of war advocates’ vivid imaginations; forget about the utter certainty with which every principal in the G. W. Bush administration assured Americans of Saddam Hussein’s WMD; and forget about for a moment John Kerry’s overly emotional remarks about Syria. Just examine some pertinent facts.

First, tens of thousands of North Koreans have died from hunger imposed by at least two of the latest DPRK dictators. Is dying of hunger somehow better than dying of chemicals? Or might it be that the DPRK has no oil and no Israel? Of course, there are other examples of dastardly dictators and dying thousands; so where does one draw the line of death in future?

Second, how does one surgically strike Syria, as the Obama administration asserts it wishes to do? That is, to use military force without becoming a participant in the ongoing conflict, simply to send a signal that chemical weapons use will not be tolerated?

Kosovo is a lousy example – where the promised three-days-of-bombing-and-the-dictator-will-cave turned into 78 long days and a credible threat of ground forces before he actually did cave. Not to mention all the death and destruction wrought by Serbia while much the same was being hurled at it.

Libya is a lousy example because Libya is now a haven for al-Qaeda and next-door-neighbour Mali is destabilised because of it. Libya itself is hardly stable – except in the eyes of those who no longer want to look at it. Of course the light sweet crude seems to be getting out and to the right people…

Egypt is dissolving; Iraq is returning to civil war; Lebanon is becoming destabilised by the refugees pouring into it from Syria; Jordan is looking dicey having absorbed countless Iraqis from that country’s war-caused diaspora and now taking on Syrians.

How are cruise missiles and bombs and whatever else we choose to send to Syria short of ground forces, going to ameliorate this mess?

Moreover, what do we do when President Bashar al-Assad ignores our missiles and bombs and continues right on with his war? Even, perhaps, uses chemical weapons to do so? Hit him again? Remember, we are not going to become participants in the civil war, we are not going to own Syria.

The man or woman who believes that he or she can be surgical with military force is an utter fool. No plan survives first contact with the enemy. No use of military force is surgical. It is blunt, unforgiving, tending to produce results and effects never dreamt of by the user. In for a penny, in for a trillion.

Go ahead, President Obama. Strike that Syrian tarbaby. If your hands, feet, and head are not eventually stuck in its brutal embrace – if you stop, reconsider, back out and are allowed to get away with it – what have you accomplished? Preserving your credibility?

U.S. credibility in this part of the world is shot to hell already – largely by the catastrophic invasion of Iraq (not Obama’s fault, to be sure; but just as surely, America’s fault – foreigners do not differentiate presidents.) Credibility has been further shredded by continued drone strikes, by a failure to take any actions against the flow of arms from Saudi Arabia into Syria; by tacit support of the Saudi reinforcement of the dictatorship in Bahrain; and most powerfully by the failure to remain balanced – and therefore of some use – in the issue of Israel and Palestine.

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August 31st, 2013, 10:10 pm


1107. majedkhaldoun said:

Sept 11 is coming, it will be more fun to attack Assad on his birthday,

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August 31st, 2013, 10:10 pm


1108. omen said:

983. majedkhaldoun: obama may change his plan so the strike is elevated to oust Assad after congress debate.

congress is being asked to vote for a proposal that’ll support an opposition which is tarred via guilt by association with alqaeda near the date of 9/11.

no way in hell congress is going to vote yes.

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August 31st, 2013, 10:19 pm


1109. omen said:

how did we get to 1104. already? this thread just opened!

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August 31st, 2013, 10:26 pm


1110. revenire said:

On September 11th the US Congress is going to vote to aid Al-Qaeda in Syria?


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August 31st, 2013, 10:27 pm


1111. zoo said:

1023. Syrialover

Besides being our SC psychologist, you are now keeping SC statistics up to date.
That’s a good way of venting your frustration. I can only encourage you to continue if that keeps you sane.

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August 31st, 2013, 10:41 pm


1112. Heads-up said:

Just so you may know, our well informed and highly reliable sources authorized the release of the following heads up.

Our highly placed sponsors have been working around the clock and behind the scenes to effect a revision of the ill-defined objectives of a perceived much needed military operation against Obscene Head, A.K.A. B. Al-Assad.

We are pleased to announce that our efforts have beed crowned with remarkable success, resulting in the executive decision being made to utilize upcoming holidays to conduct additional debates and studies for the express purpose of implanting much needed teeth to an operation that would have otherwise been a futile exercise of lobbing bombs and missiles, a complete waste of time, energy and resources.

We are further authorized to reveal that the newly completely revamped military operation will have well-defined objective that will surgically severe Obscene Head with utmost precision.

It is further revealed that the past few days developments were not in vain. The continued revelations of prospective military targets were effective in confusing Obscene Head and in sowing chaos and dissention within Obscene Ranks, a process which will continue until Operation Obscene Skies accomplishes its objective.

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August 31st, 2013, 10:54 pm


1113. zoo said:

The last time the Congress has officially declared war against another country is… World War II.

By passing the decision to the Congress, Obama has done the most intelligent thing in his political career: He got out of a conspiracy that was forcing him to go to war and regained the admiration of the American people as a president who respect the democracy principles.
Now the ball in with the congress and the probability it will give the greenlight in a situation as confused and dangerous as Syria is rather low.
We may soon hear the growing sound of Geneva II and of the eternal lamentation of the opposition that they have been let down again.

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August 31st, 2013, 10:59 pm


1114. majedkhaldoun said:

The senate will approve,as they are more democrat than republican, and there are several republican senators who support to strike Assad,
the problem is in the house,
split decision is in favor of a strike,since the president favor it

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August 31st, 2013, 11:18 pm


1115. Ziad said:

باسم يوسف | CBC
انا بتاسف على الشتيمة اللى هقولها …

بس ميتين ام امريكا على ميتين ام اوباما على ميتين ام اخوان سوريا على ميتين ام القرضاوى على ميتين ام قطر وتحيا سوريا يا ولاد الكلب !!!


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August 31st, 2013, 11:22 pm


1116. Sami said:

Military action ≠ Declaration of War

Vietnam War, Korean War, both Gulf Wars were approved by congress yet are not a declaration of War…

Your historical analysis is on par with your political analysis.

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August 31st, 2013, 11:48 pm


1117. Ziad said:

هل خفضت واشنطن سقف أهدافها بعد رفض إيران لعروض خليجية وأممية؟

في وقت توقفت فيه الدبلوماسية الشرقية عند التبدلات الاخيرة في المواقف الغربية التي تدرجت من حدة لافتة إلى ليونة نسبية مترافقة مع خفض لمنسوب التهديدات بقصف سوريا، نقل دبلوماسي شرقي عن خارجية بلاده معلومات تشير إلى إمكانية نجاح الاتصالات السرية بين واشنطن من جهة وموسكو من جهة ثانية في طيّ صفحة الحلول العسكرية بعد أن أبلغت روسيا الخارجية الأميركية أنّها قد تقف عاجزة عن فرملة الردود السورية والايرانية على أيّ اعتداء يطاول الاراضي السورية، خصوصا أنّ سوريا لم تعد تملك ما تخسره بعد حرب مدمرة شنت عليها بمشاركة عشرات الدول الغربية والاقليمية والعربية، وبالتالي فإنها لا تمانع ممارسة سياسة الرقص على حافة الهاوية، وهي لعبة يتقنها النظام السوري ويلجأ اليها منذ عقود طويلة حتى تحول إلى واحد من مؤسسي هذه المدرسة السياسية المعروفة، في حين أنّ إيران التي دخلت نادي الدول النووية غير راغبة بالرضوخ الى سياسات حلفاء واشنطن في الخليج حتى لو كلفها ذلك الكثير، لاسيما بعد أن نجحت في استثمار الانسحاب الاميركي من العراق إلى أبعد الحدود وفرضت سيطرة سياسية وعسكرية على مضيق هرمز الذي يشكل الممر الالزامي لحاملات النفط الاميركية والغربية.

ولعلّ ما يعزز هذا الاعتقاد هو ما كشفه الدبلوماسي عينه عن اتصالات وعروض حملها كل من سلطان عمان قابوس بن سعيد، والمبعوث الاممي جيفري فيلتمان إلى القيادة الايرانية لم تأخذ بها الاخيرة باعتبارها مفخخة وغير صالحة للبحث. وتشير المعلومات في هذا السياق إلى أنّ سلطان عمان نقل إلى إيران عرضا ممهورا بختم السعودية وموافقة ضمنية اميركية عنوانه الابرز تخلي طهران عن دعم سوريا في مقابل تنازلات تقدمها المملكة في البحرين وتتضمن اصلاحات سياسية تعطي المعارضين بعضا من المطالب القابلة للبحث، غير ان القيادة الايرانية تصرفت مع السلطان المعتدل بحسب وصف الدبلوماسي بدبلوماسية فهم من خلالها ان العرض مرفوض من اساسه وان التخلي عن سوريا ليس في وارد البحث وبالتالي فان المحادثات الرسمية اقتصرت على البحث في العلاقات بين الدولتين من دون نتائج ملموسة. أما فيلتمان، فقد نقل إلى إيران وفق هذه المعلومات عرضا ثانيا يحمل عنوان طيّ الملف النووي والتوافق على دور ايراني في الخليج العربي لقاء غض النظر عن قصف اميركي لبعض الاهداف التي لا تؤسس الى اسقاط النظام بل تقليم اظافره ودفعه الى القبول بالحل السياسي من خلال الجلوس الى طاولة جنيف 2 على ان تعقد بين شهري تشرين الاول وتشرين الثاني من العام الجاري على ابعد حدود. غير أنّ الرد الايراني، وفقا للمصادر، لم يكن أقل حدة من الرد الروسي على العرض السعودي، اي رفض الحلول المجتزأة والاستعاضة عنها بسلة واحدة تشمل مستقبل الخليج ودور الولايات المتحدة وروسيا وايران لاسقاط أحادية القرار الاميركي في ادارة العالم والتي لم تجلب للعالمين العربي والاسلامي سوى الدمار الممتد من العراق الى ليبيا وتونس وافغانستان فضلا عن ضمانات لعبور آمن للغاز الروسي والنفط الايراني في مقابل عبور آمن لحاملات النفط الغربية، وذلك في اشارة واضحة الى ضرورة الاخذ بالحسبان الوضع الذي يمكن ان ينشأ في مضيق هرمز.

ويبدو بحسب الدبلوماسي أنّ هذه العوامل الميدانية والواقعية دفعت بحلفاء الولايات المتحدة الى التراجع من خلال اعتماد سياسة الانسحاب التكتيكي، كما دفعت بالرئيس باراك اوباما الى خفض سقف الاهداف المعلنة والمضمرة على حد سواء وذلك بانتظار انقشاع الرؤية في ظل موازين بدأت تتعادل اي خفض لهجة الغرب في مقابل استمرار التصعيد من قبل دول المحور المقابل.

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September 1st, 2013, 12:01 am


1118. revenire said:

There’s sufficient opposition to Obama’s war drive to stop him in the Congress. Thing is – he said he’d attack even if voted against. This is the so-called American democracy.

Be that as it may I expect within a week, or so, more opposition to surface against Obama. He won’t have an easy go of it.

For now, he’s been humiliated on the world stage. Most people in the world know the character of the opposition (cannibals, beheaders, terrorists, Al-Qaeda, Nusra, ISIS, and so on).

Putin put it right:

QUESTION: Mr President how likely do you think it is that the Americans will strike? And what will Russia do if they deliver such a blow?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: How do I know? You have to ask them. I can tell you why this is happening and why it is being discussed.

You see, it is elementary for people who have been following the course of events. The Syrian government’s army is on the offensive. The so-called rebels are in a difficult position. They do not have the weapons that government forces do: they have no air force, no missile technology, no modern artillery or missile systems.

What can those sponsoring the so-called rebels and those behind these sponsors do? Provide them with military support. How? Fill in the missing link in their capabilities. You cannot simply give them airplanes and missile systems – it is impossible to teach them. There is only one way, and that is to strike yourself. If this happens, it will be very sad.

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September 1st, 2013, 12:32 am


1119. Syrian said:

It looks like the daily taking points news letter dose not include political analysis, and it is being left to ZOO’s own effort.

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September 1st, 2013, 12:51 am


1120. Syrialover said:

New thread started, but shhhhh, don’t tell Team Assad. Let them stay here and play among themselves, frantically churning out posts to meet their quotas.

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September 1st, 2013, 1:48 am


1121. Karen Leonard said:

No war. The US has given Israel nuclear weapons. “Gratuitous harm” doctrines dominated US intervention in the Middle East in the ’70s. The hypocracy is too much. No war. No intervention.

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September 1st, 2013, 2:35 pm


1122. Anthony Zeccs said:

Thank you for the depth, clarity and honesty. Much appreciated during this agenda-driven politico time.

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September 3rd, 2013, 11:51 am


1123. Joe said:

As missiles fell upon the royal palace and calculated drone strikes disabled chemical warhead launching facilities…,president Obama,” As I speak actions are being taken in response to international war crimes. We have gathered enough information to strike against the perpetrators of these atrocities. Let this this be clear, the United States has no intention to enter a civil war in Syria. However, if chemical weapons are used again we will act, with or without an international coalition, and those who use them will suffer the same fate”. I voted for Romney but I think Barack could say it better.

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September 4th, 2013, 11:17 pm


1124. Joe said:

The US doesn’t have to pick a side, just respond to international law. Somebody has to, I’m glad Obama is persuiing this somebody has to.

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September 4th, 2013, 11:31 pm


1125. Joe said:

Wow! The US is a force for good, not evil you figure it out, it’s not hard

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September 4th, 2013, 11:47 pm


1126. Joe said:

Good for them. I hope they see clearly.

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September 5th, 2013, 12:11 am


1127. Joe said:

ADAM ZOO do not underestimate American resolve, Japan will teach you a history lesson

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September 5th, 2013, 12:31 am


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