Obama's big question mark on Syria

 
US President Barack Obama speaks before he gives the Medal of Honor to Army Staff Sergeant Ty M. Carter during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House in Washington 26 August 2013 If the US strikes, what then?

President Barack Obama says he has made no decision on military action. But he's pretty clear what it might be and what it won't be.

Speaking to PBS Newshour, he said any action would be "tailored", "limited" and intended to send a signal to the Syrian government to discourage them from using chemical weapons again.

But he also said he had decided against "direct military engagement", adding: "I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria" and spoke of "not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of Iraq".

There is no doubt that is not just Mr Obama's view - it is a heartfelt plea by a military involved in 10 years of war.

But it raises a lot of questions. What action sends a message to Bashar al-Assad, but does not loosen his grip on power?

A couple of cruise missiles? Three days of air attacks? The destruction of air bases?

The most obvious response, on the chemical weapons bases themselves, has apparently been ruled out by most experts because it would simply disperse the deadly agents far and wide.

It is obvious that when President George W Bush declared war on Afghanistan he didn't expect troops to still be there more than a decade later. Yet it happened. The slope to war is very slippery.

Of course in one sense it is relatively easy for Mr Obama not to get dragged in. He could order one attack and refuse to do any more. But that could leave him looking weak, his action a hollow symbol. There could be retaliation.

Mr Assad could be more determined than before. By declaring that he will avoid a long conflict Mr Obama could be unintentionally signalling to him that this is a one-off punishment, not a response that could escalate to match the regime's actions.

One source, deeply involved, told me an important part of the discussions was exactly that: "Something needs to be done, but what is the impact? What is a surgical strike for? If Assad does it again what do you do? What is the ultimate action?

"Big question mark."

It is indeed.

 
Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell Presenter, The World This Weekend

An ending - and a beginning

Mark Mardell says farewell to his years as North America editor, and introduces his new analysis blog.

Read full article

More on This Story

Syria conflict

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 90.

    I am getting tired of the US and UK saying they are sure that chemical weapons were fired by Assad and yet provide no evidence to back up these claims, the public of both countries have learned about the deceit of both governments with Iraq and rightly so wont back any intervention in Syria.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 89.

    @79.marieinaustin ,
    I agree.
    The BBC had an article earlier where a rebel supporter admitted to canabalizing an enemy combatant.I wouldn't trust either side.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 88.

    Obama's proof is not conclusive
    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/08/28/intercepted-call-reportedly-clinched-us-claim-on-syria-chemical-weapons-strike/

    US cannot go alone and must get UN approval

    He should take a lie detector test to add some credibility sex it up

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 87.

    #85 topo - Sounds like you want to argue . . . if so then you can argue with someone else. I was simply explaining the mechanics of the process - not justifying the process or decisions. Individuals who make and implement policy do not post on these forums. We're all spectators here, including me. If I did have confidential information, I certainly wouldn't post it here.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 86.

    The only action that can be taken that will serve US interests is to have a precision attack on the larger of the 100's of islamist/salafist/al qaeda units.
    The Russians are right. We need to support Assad. not as a good guy, but as guy who can keep most of the population from being slaughtered.
    Recognizing, he and his dad slaughtered quite a few.. It is the way it is.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 85.

    @82. bespokesman
    Justification of a strike against whom? If this is to be based on humanitarian grounds, and the basis of that is the use of chemical weapons, then part of proof is who used them. We are not considering attacking the rebels or Hezbollah are we? How is this not just a crass use of a tragic war to effect regime change?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 84.

    ref #79 and 77

    Killing Assad his inner circle Hezbollah including Nazrallah would be a good start

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 83.

    Do nothing is the best policy! 90% of us Yanks do not support this goofy position and action....At least, if we do do it (I hope not), we've told Syria what we are going aim at....

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 82.

    @77 topo - I agree - it IS important to know all of the 5 Ws of chemical/nerve agents use; especially in Syria. But 'proof' is only one component of justification for a strike. The proof threshold has apparently already been reached in the intelligence community, so now it's about creating justification using proof as a basis.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 81.

    "What balance of probabilities
    Courts would verify statistically
    50% probability Assad done it
    50% probability Rebels done it"

    Balance of probabilities is > 50% chance. Not >= 50%, nor == 50%. It means the case is proven in their eyes if it ever gets to court (there is no court with this stuff but whatever). It *is not* a coin toss. Coin tosses aren't 50:50 anyways, they just appear to be.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 80.

    Russian Fleet heading to the Med - and Russia still has fully functional submarines.

    Expect a big stand-off - until someone makes a tiny mistake - and all Hell breaks loose.

    We are governed by morons - or is it a case of UK & USA needing a war on which to blame the up-coming collapse of fiat money, the world's biggest Ponzi Scheme.

    There must be a motive behind this madness!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 79.

    77. topo gigo

    "What do you hope to accomplish by attacking Assad if they are all using chemical weapons?"

    Big question mark for Obama. I wish he could at least answer us that one.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 78.

    Even Obama's biggest supporters - New York Times readers - don't support military action:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/29/opinion/more-answers-needed-on-syria.html?ref=opinion

    But I do find it ironic that the Republicans are asking him the trenchant questions after shoving them under a bus in 2003.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 77.

    @74 bespokesman
    Some posters on this forum are still arguing about proof. Sorry, but that train has already left the station.
    ------------------------------------------------
    I disagree. It is important to know whether the use of chemical weapons was the government, the rebels, or Hezbollah, or all of them. What do you hope to accomplish by attacking Assad if they are all using chemical weapons?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 76.

    "If proof had been issue in 2003, US UK would never have invaded Iraq. Proof wasn’t fundamental issue then"
    =
    10 years later
    Not Legal precedence
    proof is the legal rubber stamp authorisation to justify killing
    that's why UK Government went to trouble of producing fraudulent proof
    US asked for it so they could claim innocence due misinformation
    circumventing law due process for war is war crime

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 75.

    "What balance of probabilities
    Courts would verify statistically
    50% probability Assad done it
    50% probability Rebels done it"

    So without intelligence the statement above is a coin toss exercise, not analysis.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 74.

    Some posters on this forum are still arguing about proof. Sorry, but that train has already left the station. The real issue is ‘justification’ - for a military strike. If proof had been the real issue in 2003, the U.S. & U.K. would never have invaded Iraq. Proof wasn’t the fundamental issue then, and it isn’t now. Don’t confuse proof with justification - politicians don’t.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 73.

    "I would suggest something like a civil law definition eg on a balance of probabilities"

    "The balance of probability has been made in the intelligence world"
    ==
    What balance of probabilities
    Courts would verify statistically
    50% probability Assad done it
    50% probability Rebels done it

    2-6 supermix
    Unless they want to dig deeper
    CIA/Israeli/Jordanian-trained Syrian Rebels crossed border 8/17/13

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 72.

    Obama cannot legally commit the use of the military without congressional approval unless the US, its territories or military are attacked or in imminent danger of attack. Libya was technically illegal. The senate passed an authorization, but the house chose to sling feces at the pres. It is the continued erosion of oversight of the use of the military that bothers me most.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 71.

    Personally I'd let Putin / Russia clear this chemical mess and delivery systems up. Did could send in 10 cargo planes and transport 1000T of CWs back to Russia for destruction. Might even find some of Saddam's WMD there. Failing that Putin could always invite Assad and pals for a tea party, perform his party trick and slip some polonium in with the sugar.

 

Page 11 of 15

 

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.