Syrian MapToday the President announced that he is seeking Congressional approval whether or not the US should strike Syria. A link to the article is found here.  I want to focus instead on the questions that Congress should be asking. Without much ado, here goes:

1. Where did the chemical weapons come from? On the surface, it may sound like a dumb question. But it is not. With the use of chemical weapons in Syria, there is a distinct possibility that the chemical weapons came from Iraq and were moved to Syria prior to the Second Gulf War. In the article there is the following quote:

“In a more recent paper published in 2006 in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, An Antithesis on the Fate of Iraq’s Chemical and Biological Weapons, Dr Shoham wrote that the two official reports – Duelfer and Carnegie in 2004 – that supposedly exonerated Saddam of still having WMD by the outbreak of war ignored much information that indicated the smuggling of chemical and biological weapons from Iraq into Syria. Although the most knowledgeable and experienced individuals tracking Iraq’s WMD were members of UNSCOM, they were largely excluded by the US intelligence community. Ill-trained soldiers would go to a site, find something suspicious, return 48 hours later and find it had disappeared.”

The rest of the article is found here.  If  the answer is Iraq, then Congress and the President would need to reconsider the Bush Doctrine.  For President Obama, that would mean an even more open admission that his predecessor’s approach was correct, something that he campaigned against back in 2008.

2. Who used the chemical gas? This is a question that requires extreme discernment. We literally need a smoking gun before assessing fault. Why is this important? If the Assad regime did in fact use chemical weapons on civilians as his father did in the past, then we need to proceed to the next questions carefully. If the rebel factions did it, then the U.S. has a bigger question.

3. Who controls the chemical weapons? If it is not controlled by the Assad government, then who controls the weapons? If the rebels have the chemical weapons, then we must begin to assume that it will be a matter of when a chemical attack will take place in the US based on their alliances.  As explained later, the rebels are supported by Al-Qaeda.

4. Who are the “players” in this situation? Bashir Assad comes from the Alawite clan. The Alawite practice a distinct form of Islam. The Assad regime is supported by Iran. The two work together hand in hand. The regime is also supported by Hezbollah in Lebanon as well. Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah alliance forms a Shia-Alawite alliance in the region. Why is this important? Consider the fact that the rest of the Middle East is Sunni Muslim. There has been a rivalry since the beginning of Islam between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims as to who is the legitimate heir to the Prophet Mohammed.

Now add the following factor in the equation. The rebels against Assad are Sunni supported. They have worked with Al-Qaeda in conducting terrorist activities. What is going on in Syria is an extension of this rivalry between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. Why would the US want to get involved in such a quagmire? Which leads to the final question.

5. What do we seek to accomplish? Why would the US seek to assist the rebels? The alternatives or the status quo does not help advance US interest in the Middle East. Both sides of this civil war has a history of being a thorn to the US in the Middle East. Assad’s father supported Hezbollah in their takeover of Lebanon during the Reagan administration.  Assad’s father supported those who bombed the Marine barracks. Syria also allowed insurgents to cross into Iraq during the Second Gulf War. The rebel factions have worked with Al-Qaeda on prior terrorist missions as well.

The US goal with military strikes needs to be fleshed out and discussed and deliberated. If there is no clear objective, we cannot put our troops, and our civilians in the event of retaliation in harm’s way in the name of a vague concept of international law.

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One Response to Five Questions To Think About Regarding Syria

  1. Great post Arthur. I’m interested as well in the timing of all this. This is not the first time chemical weapons have been used in Syria. Congress is about to return from the summer recess and it has a lot of issues on its legislative agenda that require more attention than this Syria matter. Can’t help but wonder the political equation that was considered by the Obama Administration before it made these recent announcements including immigration, sequester, and a few other hot-button issues. There will be horse trading.

    For all the reasons your set forth, and then some, the United States needs to stay out of the Syrian civil war. If U.S. vital national security interests were threatened, the President could have acted on his own without seeking Congressional approval. The only reason he needs Congressional review is because he wants to use our military to advance internationalism. I hope we have a few level-headed Republicans and Democrats that will oppose this.

    Keeping chemical weapons out of the hands of non-state actors should be our primary and only concern. How do we do this without invading Syria? Lobbing million dollar bombs from U.S. warships will not effectuate regime change, occupying Syria will. The President has already said he is not willing to put “boots on the ground.” The United States, indeed the world, knew for some time that Assad had chemical weapons. Deterrence, albeit anemic, failed.

    Regional powers have a lot of tough questions to ask in the weeks and days ahead for the real issue here is not Syria, but Iran and it network of proxies. Any US action will impact allies such as Jordan and Israel, not to mention asymmetrical problems for allies and US.

Your comments welcome!

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