Osburn: Crisis in Syria: Decision time for Obama and CongressWritten by Ben Osburn | | email@example.com
This week, Congress is back in session after its summer break to decide what action to take in the Syrian civil war. With the international community watching, Congress is presented with the unique challenge of authorizing the use of force for a conflict that some in the United States, as well as its allies, does not merit foreign intervention.
The request for authorization came from President Barack Obama on Aug. 31, 10 days after an attack in Damascus, the Syrian capital, left 1,400 Syrians dead. For the past year, the Obama administration has been mistrustful of Bashir Al-Assad, the Syrian president, who they believe is responsible for the attacks. In a press conference last August, when asked about what the reaction would be to the movement of chemical weapons in Syria, Obama established a proverbial red line, one in which crossing would merit potential U.S. military involvement.
U.S. intelligence officials, most notably Secretary of State John Kerry, now say that they have evidence proving that sarin gas has been used on civilians in Syria. Though United Nations security forces have not officially released any information, Kerry has stated that the U.S. is in possession of blood and hair samples contaminated with sarin gas taken from first responders in East Damascus. That development has caused both Kerry and Obama to point that the use of such weapons is banned by international law, and may be solved by the use of force.
The international community however, has been reluctant to throw their full support behind the United States’ efforts. In an blow to the U.S. last week the British Parliament voted down the use of force in Syria. The vote came at a time when the United Nations was torn on the issue, and currently still is. Russian Prime minister Vladimir Putin has been the most outspoken skeptic of Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons. A long time trade partner and ally of the Syrian government, Putin has said that the notion that Assad called for chemical weapons use against civilians is “ludicrous.” His administration points to the Syrians rebels as the culprits of the attack. Though the dichotomy between rebel groups like the Free Syrian Army and extremist groups like Al-Qaeda is murky, estimates state that up to 75 percent of the rebels are moderate, as arming the rebels still continues to be a topic of debate in Congress.
President Obama is set to meet with Putin in next week at the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg. While Putin has not excluded the call for action against Syria, he has stated that whatever action that is taken must come with a U.N. resolution. Russia has the power to veto any resolution it deems fit: no doubt an obstacle for the U.S. as it seeks allies to join the cause. The U.S, and allies like Great Britain and France have a legal argument for intervention in Syria under the U.N. doctrine of humanitarian invention, but Great Britain and France will not advance until U.N. Security Inspectors report back to the Security Council from Syria. In the meantime, the Russian government has sent components of the air missile defense systems to Al-Assad in case of a U.S. unilateral strike.
The case for invention abroad is proving to be as difficult at home. The American public is war weary. According to the latest ABC news poll, 59 percent of the American public opposes intervention. Earlier this week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to approve a resolution that calls for limited military force in the country. Under the resolution, hostilities would be limited to 60 to 90 days, and no ground troops would be involved. The bill will now go to the Senate floor, where it faces opposition from both parties. Though Speaker of the House John Boehner has expressed support for a resolution, it will be a tough sell even to those in his own party, as skepticism remains about whether a strike is in the nation’s interest is. Representatives Bob Latta and Marcy Kaptur are currently undecided on the issue.