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'We Have a Broader Strategy': New White House Syria Plan to Go Beyond 'Punitive Strike'

Obama says 'we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition, allow Syria ultimately to free itself'

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

President Barack Obama meets with his National Security Staff to discuss the situation in Syria, in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 30, 2013. (Photo: White House/Pete Souza)

As the Obama administration continues its "flood the zone" campaign to win congressional support for military force against Syria, a statement by the president Tuesday indicates its plan is to go beyond punitive strikes against Assad and to pursue a "broader strategy." 

Although, as McClatchy reports, the administration's case to use force against Syria "is riddled with inconsistencies and hinges mainly on circumstantial evidence," Obama signaled he was confident his request for authorization to use force would win votes from Congress next week.

Speaking to congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday, President Obama outlined the broader strategy, saying:

As I've said last week, as Secretary Kerry made clear in his presentation last week, we have high confidence that Syria used, in an indiscriminate fashion, chemical weapons that killed thousands of people, including over 400 children, and in direct violation of the international norm against using chemical weapons.  That poses a serious national security threat to the United States and to the region, and as a consequence, Assad and Syria needs to be held accountable. [...]

This is a limited, proportional step that will send a clear message not only to the Assad regime, but also to other countries that may be interested in testing some of these international norms, that there are consequences.  It gives us the ability to degrade Assad’s capabilities when it comes to chemical weapons.  It also fits into a broader strategy that we have to make sure that we can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic and economic and political pressure required so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability not only to Syria but to the region. 

But I want to emphasize once again:  What we are envisioning is something limited.  It is something proportional.  It will degrade Assad’s capabilities.  At the same time, we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition, allow Syria ultimately to free itself from the kinds of terrible civil wars and death and activity that we’ve been seeing on the ground.

Republican Senators John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who have pushed for an aggressive attack on Syria, left a Labor Day meeting with Obama "encouraged the administration appeared to be developing a plan for Syria that would degrade the military capabilities of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime while improving the capabilities of rebel forces," The Hill reports

And on Tuesday, "the House leadership on both sides has publicly positioned itself behind the president," the Guardian notes in its Syria live blog.  House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi was among those offering support for this "broader strategy," though she also said that congressional support wasn't really necessary:

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and speaker John Boehner, a Republican, have both just delivered statements outside the White House calling for support for military strikes in Syria.

House majority leader Eric Cantor subsequently released a statement of support.

Speaking in separate appearances after a meeting with the president, Pelosi and Boehner said they would urge their caucuses to support Obama.


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"The use of these weapons have to be responded to, and only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop Assad," Boehner said.

Pelosi said the case for taking action is strong.

"I feel pretty confident... that we have a good conversation to have with our members," she said.

Pelosi said did not think congressional authorization "is necessary" for the president to use force in Syria, citing the 1999 Nato bombing of Serbian forces in Kosovo.

However, whether or not Obama gets this congressional authorization, if he goes forward without approval from the United Nations, it would be a war crime, Noam Chomsky told the Huffington Post.

Further, the implications of the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) could be far-reaching, as Jim White writes at emptywheel:

It is not lost on Iran that the AUMF for action in Syria is written broadly enough that US military action could spill over into Iran. A Fars News article dated yesterday cites the Jack Goldsmith analysis of the draft AUMF that foresees US action in Iran:

"Goldsmith asked whether the proposed AUMF authorizes the President to use force against Iran or Lebanon’s Hezbollah, in Iran or Lebanon? Again, yes, if the President accuses Iran or Hezbollah of having a (mere) connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war, and the use of force against Iran or Hezbollah would prevent or deter the use or proliferation of WMD within, or to and from, Syria, or protect the US or its allies (e.g. Israel) against the (mere) threat posed by those weapons. Again, it is very easy to imagine."

The article continues, noting (as Marcy [Wheeler] has many times) how the 9/11 AUMF has been interpreted broadly:

"It brings to mind the AUMF passed in the aftermath of September 11. While that resolution directly concerned Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, it was later broadened to justify drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia–even on targets that were clearly not part of Al-Qaeda."

Amidst the sound of the drums for war, the U.N. stated on Tuesday that ongoing violence has created two million Syrian refugees and over four million internally displaced people, and warned there was no end in sight to the “humanitarian calamity.”


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