August 29, 2013

U.S. readies possible solo action against Syria

Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., says the administration is in the process of declassifying evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday prepared for the possibility of launching unilateral American military action against Syria within days as Britain opted out in a stunning vote by Parliament. Facing skepticism at home, too, the administration shared intelligence with lawmakers aimed at convincing them the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people and must be punished.

Protesters against U.S. military intervention in Syria are pictured as they set up a cardboard cutout of U.S. President Obama, during a rally outside the White House in Washington
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Protesters against U.S. military intervention in Syria stand beside a cutout of President Obama at a rally Thursday outside the White House. Skeptics want solid evidence linking the Assad regime to the use of chemical weapons.

Reuters

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Israeli soldiers drive a tank at a staging area in the Golan Heights, near the border between the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. United Nations experts are investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria as the United States and allies prepare for the possibility of a punitive strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, blamed by the Syrian opposition for the attack. The international aid group Doctors Without Borders says at least 355 people were killed in the Aug. 21 attack. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

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Five UN powers end Syria meeting with no progress

UNITED NATIONS — A meeting of the U.N. Security Council's permanent members ended quickly Thursday with no sign of progress on an agreement over Syria's crisis.

The meeting Thursday afternoon started breaking up after less than an hour, with the ambassadors of China, France, Britain, Russia and the United States steadily walking out.

It was the second time in two days that the five Security Council powers came out of a meeting on Syria with no progress. On Wednesday, the five countries met to discuss a resolution proposed by Britain to authorize the use of military force against Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds near Damascus.

Russia remains firmly opposed to such action, saying there is no evidence the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack, as the U.S. and its allies contend.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant looked grim as he walk past reporters Thursday, saying "no comment." The other ambassadors also did not speak to reporters.

A Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were private, said Russia called Thursday's meeting. Russia's U.N. mission refused to comment.

– The Associated Press

Despite roadblocks in forming an international coalition, Obama appeared undeterred and advisers said he would be willing to retaliate against Syria on his own.

"The president of the United States is elected with the duty to protect the national security interests in the United States of America," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Even before the vote in London, the U.S. was preparing to act without formal authorization from the United Nations, where Russia has blocked efforts to seek a resolution authorizing the use of force, or from Capitol Hill. But the U.S. had expected Britain, a major ally, to join in the effort.

Top U.S. officials spoke with certain lawmakers for more than 90 minutes in a teleconference Thursday evening to explain why they believe Bashar Assad's government was the culprit in a suspected chemical attack last week. Lawmakers from both parties have been pressing Obama to provide a legal rationale for military action and specify objectives, as well as to lay out a firm case linking Assad to the attack.

A number of lawmakers raised questions in the briefing about how the administration would finance a military operation as the Pentagon is grappling with automatic spending cuts and reduced budgets.

Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee and a participant on the call, said in a statement that the administration presented a "broad range of options" for dealing with Syria but failed to offer a single plan, timeline, strategy or explanation of how it would pay for any military operation.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a call participant, told reporters that administration officials are in the process of declassifying the evidence they have of the Syrian government using chemical weapons.

"When they do that, we'll understand. But it's up to the president of the United States to present his case, to sell this to the American public. They're very war weary. We've been at war now for over 10 years," McKeon told reporters at a post-call news conference at his office in Valencia, Calif.

It remained to be seen whether any skeptics were swayed by the call, given the expectation in advance that officials would hold back classified information to protect intelligence sources and methods.

"The main thing was that they have no doubt that Assad's forces used chemical weapons," New York Rep. Eliot Engel, top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a supporter of Obama's course, said after the briefing.

But he said the officials did not provide much new evidence of that.

"They said they have (intercepted) some discussions and some indications from a high-level official," he said, and that they possess intelligence showing material being moved in advance of the attack.

He called the tone "respectful. There was no shouting. No one was accusing the administration of doing anything wrong."

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the briefing "reaffirmed for me that a decisive and consequential U.S. response is justified and warranted to protect Syrians, as well as to send a global message that chemical weapons attacks in violation of international law will not stand."

(Continued on page 2)

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Members of the Syrian community in Allentown, Pa. rally for the second day in a row Wednesday against the United States' involvement in Syria.

The Associated Press

  


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