Great to be back on ODN. Hope everyone is doing fine.
The purpose of this thread is to spur a thoughtful debate on the imminent U.S. military strike planned against military assets of the Assad government in Syria. I would like for us to discuss the legitimate basis of any military strike, including the major U.S. national security interests involved, if any, the usefulness of said action and the potential repercussions.
President Obama first suggested last August that any use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict would cross a red line, possibly promoting U.S. intervention (though a no-fly zone and boots on the ground were generally ruled out as viable military options). Now that the UN has confirmed that chemical agents were used in the August 21 attack in Ghouta, there is increased pressure for Obama to respond, as per his previous suggestion that the use of chemical weapons could prompt U.S. action.
My understanding is that (1) once we accept that a chemical weapons attack took place in Ghouta, we cannot yet be entirely sure who the perpetrators were. While Assad had the means to perpetrate such an attack, the rebels also have the means (albeit on a much smaller scale) and motive (i.e. to evoke internaitonal military action). Even a leading member of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Carle Del Ponte, indicated the same. For the attack to be legitimate, Obama must lay out the case that the Assad government was, without doubt, responsible for the attack;
(2) for the attack to be legal under international law, the Obama Administration has to state under which protocol, convention or provision (within the UN Charter) that the attack is based upon. While the Responsibility to Protect doctrine has been emerging as a norm of customary international law, it is usually preceded by a unified international coalition, which is currently not present with respect to Syria;
(3) I have come to conclude that chemical weapons are not the Obama Administration's real red line. On May 19, 2013, several sources indicated that a chemical weapons attack took place; Assad blamed the rebels while the rebel opposition blamed Assad. For the most part, the Obama Administration kept quiet as it seemed disinterested in committing direct U.S. military assets in the conflict. The real fear in Washington is that the balance of power will be disrupted by the Assad government, whether through the use of chemical weapons or not. As in the Libyan conflict, when the U.S. (under NATO command) stepped in just as the rebels were suffering major strategic losses, the raison d'etre of any military strike against Syria will be to ensure that the Assad government does not break the stalemate. Shifting the 'red line' would make Washington appear weak and uncommitted. So there is increased pressure for a U.S. response, even if the Obama Administration lacks an appetite for direct military action, especially considering the British House of Commons voted against involvement in a U.S. military strike, meaning the U.S. could use military force unilaterally.
I would be interested in hearing what others on ODN have to say about this matter.