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Archive for the ‘Syria’ Category

Yes, there must be consequences for those who ordered the chemical weapons massacre in Syria, but this is not an argument for military strikes. Robust options are available for mobilizing international pressure against the Assad regime and seeking an end to the killing. The United States should:

Provide the evidence

  • Give a detailed report to the UN Security Council and the world media of the evidence it claims to possess identifying the Syrian political and military leaders responsible for the chemical attacks; clarify the inconsistencies in the information that has been presented to date,
  • Support continued and more thorough investigation by UN inspectors to develop further evidence of precisely what happened and who was responsible for the massacre.

Apply international pressure

  • Seek approval of resolutions at the UN Security Council, the Arab League and other international bodies condemning the chemical massacre as a war crime and a crime against humanity,
  • Urge the UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions against those who are found to be responsible for the massacre,
  • Urge the Security Council to refer the Syrian chemical attacks to the International Criminal Court with an expedited mandate for gaining further criminal evidence and issuing indictments against those responsible,
  • Apply additional U.S. sanctions against the Assad regime, cancelling all business dealings and barring from U.S. markets any governments or firms that enable or finance Syrian government atrocities,
  • Work with European governments and other countries to urge the imposition of similar sanctions.

Pursue diplomatic options

  • Engage with Russia and Iran to seek their support in a coordinated strategy to take international legal action against those responsible for the chemical massacre and to encourage a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war,
  • Renew and intensify pressure on the Syrian government and rebel forces to participate in the proposed Geneva II peace negotiations, toward the goal of reaching a ceasefire and agreement for dividing power in Syria,
  • Increase humanitarian aid to provide support for the growing number of refugees from Syria.

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The Egyptian revolution is being crushed and I grieve for what is being lost. That glorious unarmed uprising that so inspired the world is now being gunned down by the armed forces. I grieve especially for the people of Egypt and the dangers that lie ahead unless something is to done to save the day.

The army’s massacre of dozens of people on July 28 was an unspeakable crime, equivalent to the horrors of the Mubarak era. It will go down in Egypt’s history as a day of infamy. I fear it could be one of those cruel turning points in history, when a gathering tide of lawlessness and instability burst into violence. The sense of foreboding is palpable.

The military’s brutality and lies are a grave menace to Egypt’s future. They make the incompetence and authoritarianism of the Morsi government seem mild by comparison. The Muslim Brothers are the main target of attack now, but all of free Egypt is in jeopardy.

Mohammed El Baradei and other liberals have finally criticized the military, but they must go further. I can imagine what Gandhi would say to them. Resign your posts. No one should continue to serve the military regime or follow any of their directives. Mass civil disobedience is the only solution in this emergency, not only in the streets but in pervasive refusal to accept military authority.

The military has gone beyond acceptable moral and legal bounds and must be forced to yield power. The Obama administration should work with the Arab League through the United Nations to support the creation of a broadly representative independent civilian authority in Egypt that guarantees the participation of all social forces, including the Brotherhood. Secular and liberal forces must work with the Brothers and the Salafists to establish an interim government and decide a road map to the future.

The international community should provide help to get such a political process started and must insist that the military turn over authority as soon as it is established. If the army refuses to yield power all U.S. and international assistance for the generals should cease.

Those who say the Muslim Brothers are not prepared or inclined for war do not understand the rage boiling over from the army’s repression. The deadly descending spiral of violence-begetting-violence is beginning, and may soon get out of hand as it did in Syria. Until now the Brothers have been very reluctant to use force, but there is likely a limit to their endurance, as for all people. Arms and materials for making bombs are readily available in the region.

The time to act is now, before it is too late.

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On the Precipice in Syria?

Syria has crossed Obama’s ‘red line’ in using chemical weapons, and the U.S. government is headed across the Rubicon of deeper military involvement.

There seems little doubt from the accumulating evidence, collected primarily by French and British investigators, that some chemical weapons have been used in Syria’s increasingly savage civil war. Syrian government forces control these weapons and are probably responsible for using them, but hard evidence is still lacking. A background analysis in Monday’s New York Times examines the continuing cloud of uncertainty about who used these weapons.

Thursday’s White House statement bases its conclusions primarily on “reporting.” It states that only “small-scale” use has occurred and acknowledges the absence of forensic evidence. Especially significant is this statement: the evidence “does not tell us how or where individuals were exposed or who was responsible for the dissemination.” That’s an extraordinary admission of the lack of firm evidence. Hardly the basis for becoming militarily involved.

The White House statement says that the U.S. will expand assistance to the Supreme Military Council, but it does not mention sending weapons. Administration spokespersons have said the administration will begin supplying small arms and ammunition, but no timetable has been given. The delivery of heavier weapons would require the presence of U.S. military personnel and contractors, which the White House remains reluctant to consider.

The White House says it will present its evidence to the international community. That’s the right step to take. The administration should bring whatever evidence it has to the Security Council and gain international support for taking appropriate action against those responsible.

The arguments against arming the rebels remain strong, as I write in my recent op ed in the Christian Science Monitor. Sending more weapons will intensify the war and increase the risk of the U.S. being dragged into another Middle East war. The administration should focus on pursuing a ceasefire and negotiated peace settlement. Rather than delivering weapons the United States should send more urgently needed humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people.

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At an extraordinary hearing on Capitol Hill last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee debated whether the policy of open-ended U.S. military operations around the world known popularly as the ‘war on terror’ should come to an end, or should continue indefinitely.

The focus of the hearing was the innocuously named Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). The AUMF was the Congressional resolution adopted immediately after 9/11 authorizing “all necessary military means” against those who planned or aided the terror attacks, later amended to allow strikes against Al Qaeda and “associated forces.” The AUMF language is used by the Obama administration to justify its policy of drone warfare, which has killed more than 3,000 people in Pakistan and Yemen in recent years. It is also the basis for a major expansion of U.S. covert military operations over the past 12 years.

During last week’s hearing Michael Sheehan, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for special operations, said that military operations against alleged terrorists would likely continue for “at least 10 to 20 years.” Robert Taylor, the acting general counsel of the Pentagon, said the AUMF allows military action against any group seeking to harm the U.S. or its coalition partners. When asked if this would allow “boots on the ground” in places like Yemen or the Congo, Taylor said yes. Does this mean the battlefield is everywhere, Senators asked? “Yes sir,” said Sheridan, “from Boston to FATA [Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas].”

Even hawkish Senators seemed nonplussed at these extraordinary claims. “The authority … has grown out of proportion and is no longer applicable to the conditions that prevailed” after 9/11, said John McCain. He found it “disturbing” that the Pentagon wants to continue this authority but said he understands “because basically you have carte blanche” to do anything around the world.

Newly elected Senators seemed genuinely shocked. Angus King of Maine said that the administration’s theory has “essentially rewritten the Constitution here today.” The Pentagon’s interpretation makes the war power of Congress “a nullity.” This gives “unbelievable powers to the president” making it “a very dangerous thing,” said King.

Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana asked if the AUMF allowed intervention in Syria. He pointed out that Al Nusra, one of the rebel groups, is affiliated with Al Qaeda. Could the executive branch use lethal force against the Front, he asked. Sheridan dodged the question. Senator Tim Kaine found the suggestion that the AUMF could justify action in Syria especially disturbing and said he did not want anyone to get the idea that this would be acceptable to Congress.

It was an extraordinary show of Pentagon arrogance, combined with a refreshing expression of Senatorial skepticism.

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I appreciate the good comments readers have made on my thoughts about the Syrian crisis. Here are further reflections on the latest developments:

If the disclosure on Sunday by Carla Del Ponte of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria is confirmed that Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons, this is a real game changer. It blows a big hole in the Obama administration’s story about the Assad regime crossing the President’s faux red line. It shows how little the government really knows about what’s going on in this complex and bloody civil war. It should make us extremely cautious about becoming involved militarily and reluctant about providing military support for the Syrian rebels.

Speaking of red lines, what about the apparent Israeli air strike against Syrian military facilities early Sunday morning? Several powerful explosions destroyed critical military installations near the presidential palace in Damascus, killing a number of elite Syrian troops. Israel has not confirmed the strikes, but the scale and precision of the attacks were unmistakably of Israeli origin. Sunday’s attack followed another apparent Israeli strike on Friday near the Damascus airport. U.S. officials say that Israel is acting to prevent the transfer of missiles from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Israeli attacks against Syria are a blatant violation of international law. They increase the risk of the conflict spreading further in the region and should make us even more hesitant about becoming involved militarily. As the New York Times reports today, however, they seem to be stoking debate in Washington about ratcheting up military pressure on the Assad regime. Republican Senator John McCain has reiterated his call for a no-fly zone in Syria. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said over the weekend that the United States will probably soon begin providing arms for the rebels.

Arming the Syrian rebels would increase the intensity of a war that has already taken more than 70,000 lives. Providing weapons to the rebels means giving military support to insurgent forces that include substantial Al Qaida-related factions. If the jihadist groups in Syria are indeed the toughest fighters, as reports suggest, they are likely to gain control of any weapons we send. The U.S. would end up arming Al Qaida.

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