Is a US attack on Syria now inevitable?

US warships in the Middle East file picture 2008 US warships are in the Middle East, but no orders for deployment have been given

The tone of the White House changed over the weekend.

It is now much harsher towards the Syrian government - more certain that the deaths last week were caused by a chemical weapons attack and that it was carried out by President Bashar al-Assad's government.

A statement derided the idea of the inspectors being allowed in now, suggesting shelling had already destroyed the evidence.

Doubtless, there will be similarly pointed words about the shooting at the inspectors as they attempted to begin an investigation.

US President Barack Obama was given a range of military options and spoke to the leaders of his key military allies, Britain and France.

Three US warships are in the region and another is heading there. Many in Congress are calling for them to carry out a limited cruise missile strike.

It all seems to point in one direction.

Repeating Iraq mistakes?

The British newspapers are suggesting there will be a strike this week.

I cannot help remembering a brilliant, defunct comedy series The Day Today, which showed a TV studio being transformed into a "war desk" with alarms screaming, red lights flashing, machinery rapidly swinging into place and lights dimming dramatically.

It captured exactly the way some in my business get over-excited by the possibility of conflict.

Chemical weapons claims

  • Khan al-Assal, 19 March 2013 - Syrian state media accuse rebels of killing 31 people with rockets containing "chemical materials". Rebels blame the army for the attack.
  • Al-Otaybeh, 19 March 2013 - Opposition activists allege an attack in which six people are reported dead, apparently in reprisal for gains made by rebel forces.
  • Adra, 24 March 2013 - The LCC activist network say two people are killed in an attack.
  • Sheikh Maqsoud, Aleppo, 13 April 2013 - At least three people are killed in an attack; internet footage of the victims shows symptoms consistent with exposure to nerve gas.
  • Saraqeb, 29 April 2013 - Eyewitnesses say canisters containing a poisonous gas are dropped from a helicopter above the town. Eight people are injured, one of whom later dies.
  • Ghouta, 21 August 2013 - By far the most serious alleged incident, with hundreds reported dead in attacks on the outskirts of Damascus

I have been stressing President Obama's caution and reluctance to take action. But now it does seems difficult for him to back down without losing face. Unless something changes.

One thing has long puzzled me.

While a government using chemical weapons against its own people is an affront that may demand international action, it seems obvious that a far greater horror from the US point of view is those weapons being used against its own people or allies.

The great fear since the 9/11 attacks has been such weapons falling into the hands of those the West regards as terrorists.

Given that one of the main opposition groups in Syria has formally declared allegiance to al-Qaeda, that must be a real possibility.

It would seem to me to be a core US interest to secure those weapons and put them beyond use. But I have seen very little discussion of such an option.

Remember, too, that American and Russian diplomats are heading for the Netherlands to plan peace talks. What might not enhance their chances of success is a US attack. But threats might.

While President Obama may not take much notice of Russian warnings, their central sentiment may strike a chord - the Russians say if the US goes to war it will be repeating the mistakes of former President George W Bush in Iraq.

That danger surely looms large in President Obama's mind.

The American military has consistently warned Syria is a hard nut to crack. It is not Libya, and its sophisticated air defences would take a lot of effort and commitment to overcome.

It would be surprising if President Obama took action without trying to obtain the maximum possible international backing, and that probably means giving the UN route more time.

I may be wrong: the red lights could soon be flashing and the war desk swinging into action. But while the rattling may be loud, the sabre has not yet been drawn.

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'Chemical attack': What we know
Map showing the areas where the alleged chemical attacks took place in Syria
  • 01:15: 21 August (10:15 GMT 20 Aug): Facebook pages of Syrian opposition report heavy fighting in rebel-held districts of Ghouta, the agricultural belt in eastern Damascus
  • 02:45: Opposition posts Facebook report of "chemical shelling" in Ein Tarma area of Ghouta
  • 02:47: Second opposition report says chemical weapons used in Zamalka area of Ghouta
  • Unverified video footage shows people being treated on pavements in the dark and in a makeshift hospital
  • Reports say chemical weapons were used in Ghouta towns of Irbin, Jobar, Zamalka and Ein Tarma as well as in Muadhamiya to the west, but this is not confirmed
  • Syrian government acknowledges military offensive in the Ghouta area but denies chemical weapons use
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Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 912.

    Shhh... Don't tell anyone, the war starts 01:00 on Friday. But you already knew that didn't you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 911.

    The conflict in Syria is one of many raging about the globe the nexus of which is Islamic sectarianism. If it is not the Shia murdering Sunnis and vice versa it is the fundamentalist who by the bullet intend to enforce Sharia law not only on Africa but on the whole world.Firing a few hundred tomahawks won't stop these thugs it will be the women who will not bow to the Islamic chauvinists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 910.

    909----Indeed, "Lest We Forget"
    Let us never forget Neville Chamberlain, the Death Camps, Pol Pot, Bosnian ethnic cleansing atrocities,et al.
    And we have a responsibility, as a more "evolved" country/political bloc/ "interfere" just as we did in WWII, in Afghan to rid it of terror training camps, as we did in Kosovo, etc etc.
    Civilised peoples have much responsibility.It's not easy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 909.

    905.Recall Tian Square

    Civilisation is allowing other nations to evolve naturally including abhorant violence/death in their quest for freedoms, rights & democracy against oppression & dictate & refereeing fair play of violence. Chemical weapons (WMD) are not fair play.
    The violent price of evolutionary freedoms are the mainstay of value of those freedoms, lest we forget

  • rate this

    Comment number 908.

    906-nice to see a fan club LOL.
    But,honestly, there are no bad manners involved in this case as far as I'm concerned. You get these sort of people on every Blog and you just have to shrug and get on with keeping up the proper standards, even though I'm a teen in a bed-sit :)
    Thx for your remarks;ure very kind but no probs.
    I just carry on and remember what Dad taught me about right and wrong:)


Comments 5 of 912



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