In a statement released Thursday evening, the Obama administration is claiming to have proof that Syrian president Bashir al-Assad has been using chemical weapons—crossing Obama's "red line" established to justify U.S. military action.
In the statement, the White House said the President is weighing his options in the coming weeks, which include direct U.S. military support to groups within the Syrian opposition:
"...the President has augmented the provision of non-lethal assistance to the civilian opposition, and also authorized the expansion of our assistance to the Supreme Military Council (SMC), and we will be consulting with Congress on these matters in the coming weeks. This effort is aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the SMC, and helping to coordinate the provision of assistance by the United States and other partners and allies. Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have led us to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the SMC. These efforts will increase going forward.
The United States and the international community have a number of other legal, financial, diplomatic, and military responses available. [emphasis added by Common Dreams] We are prepared for all contingencies, and we will make decisions on our own timeline. Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives, which include achieving a negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability and administer state institutions; protecting the rights of all Syrians; securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons; and countering terrorist activity.
The deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said: "The president has made a decision about providing more support for the opposition and will be providing further support to the SMC (Supreme Military Council) and that includes providing military support. I can't detail what types of support yet."
He added: "We have not made any decision about a no-fly zone … The best thing we can do is help the opposition on the ground."
On cue, Senator John McCain beat the drums a little louder.
"I applaud the president's decision and I appreciate it," he stated.
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"But the president of the United States had better understand that just supplying weapons is not going to change the equation on the ground [or] the balance of power. These people – the Free Syrian Army – need weapons, heavy weapons to counter tanks and aircraft, they need a no-fly zone..."
According to an "exclusive" report by The Daily Beast last month, the Obama administration has asked the Pentagon to give further review to a series of US military plans that could be used in Syria, including the implementation of a "no fly zone" over the country.
As Common Dreams staff writer Jon Queally wrote at the time, "A famous and innocuous-sounding euphemism in military circles, a 'no fly zone' demands overt military action which would necessitate a massive bombing campaign focused on wiping out anti-aircraft capabilities, radar installations, and the opposition's own air forces. The fact that creating a 'no fly zone' requires such an intense, offensive bombing campaign is often left out of mainstream media reporting in the US."
According to Common Dreams contributor and foreign policy analyst Shamus Cook:
"One country cannot enforce a no fly zone inside another country without first destroying the enemy Air Force, not to mention its surface to air missiles."
"We saw in Libya that a no fly zone quickly evolved into a full scale invasion, which would happen again in Syria," he continued. The main difference, argues Cook, is "that Syria has a more powerful army with more sophisticated weaponry, not to mention powerful allies — Iran and Russia."
"How many civilians would die in that bombardment," asks Phyllis Bennis, foreign policy expert and senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, "given the widespread presence of anti-aircraft facilities across the country, including in populated areas?"
The White House said it was still preparing a "credible, evidentiary case to share with the international community and the public," and provided no solid evidence in its statement.