World View: U.S. Escalates Syria Crisis with Confirmation of Chemical Weapons

World View: U.S. Escalates Syria Crisis with Confirmation of Chemical Weapons

This morning’s key headlines from

  • U.S. escalates Syria crisis with confirmation of chemical weapons
  • Bill Clinton slams Barack Obama for Syria leadership failures
  • Qusair battle turns Sunni Arab people and nations against Hezbollah
  • Congressmen whine because Obamacare applies to them

U.S. escalates Syria crisis with confirmation of chemical weapons

Funeral for Hashem Salman, 28, who was who was shot and killed at a rally outside Beirut's Iranian Embassy Sunday while protesting Hezbollah's involvement in the Syrian conflict. (Daily Star)
Funeral for Hashem Salman, 28, who was who was shot and killed at a rally outside Beirut’s Iranian Embassy Sunday while protesting Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. (Daily Star)

The White House issued a statement late on Thursday confirming thatthe regime of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad has crossed a “redline” with the use of chemical weapons on its own people, causing some150 deaths:

“Following a deliberative review, our intelligencecommunity assesses that the Assad regime has used chemicalweapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale againstthe opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligencecommunity has high confidence in that assessment given multiple,independent streams of information. The intelligence communityestimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemicalweapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likelyincomplete. While the lethality of these attacks make up only asmall portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria, which nowstands at more than 90,000 deaths, the use of chemical weaponsviolates international norms and crosses clear red lines that haveexisted within the international community for decades. We believethat the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons. We haveno reliable, corroborated reporting to indicate that theopposition in Syria has acquired or used chemicalweapons. …

The President has been clear that the use of chemical weapons – orthe transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups – is a redline for the United States, as there has long been an establishednorm within the international community against the use ofchemical weapons. Our intelligence community now has a highconfidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on asmall scale by the Assad regime in Syria. The President has saidthat the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and ithas. …

Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have ledus to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provideto the opposition, including direct support to the SMC. Theseefforts will increase going forward.

The United States and the international community have a number ofother legal, financial, diplomatic, and military responsesavailable. We are prepared for all contingencies, and we will makedecisions on our own timeline.”

However, while this statement escalates the rhetoric, it avoidstalking about any specific action, presumably for the same reasons asbefore — that any aid given to the rebel groups could fall into thehands of Jabhat al-Nusra or other al-Qaeda linked groups. The problemis that President Obama has repeatedly used highly threateningrhetoric, sometimes specifying “red lines,” but has taken no actionwhen a red line is crossed except to move the red line. This hassubjected him to some ridicule in the Mideast. Now it appears to behappening again, although Obama has promised to evaluate all options.Guardian

Bill Clinton slams Barack Obama for Syria leadership failures

The harshest critic of president Barack Obama on lack of leadership inSyria has been Senator John McCain. But now, former president BillClinton has said that he agrees with McCain. At a pressevent on Tuesday held jointly with McCain, Clinton criticizedObama for allowing his decisions to be too strongly guidedby opinion polls:

think that’s a big mistake. I agree with you [McCain] about this.Sometimes it’s just best to get caught trying, as long as youdon’t overcommit — like, as long as you don’t make an improvidentcommitment.

Nobody is asking for American soldiers in Syria. The onlyquestion is now that the Russians, the Iranians and the Hezbollahare in there head over heels, 90 miles to nothing, should we tryto do something to try to slow their gains and rebalance the powerso that these rebel groups have a decent chance, if they’resupported by a majority of the people, to prevail? …

[If you blame a lack of action because] there was a poll in themorning paper that said 80 percent of you were against it… you’d look like a total wuss. And you would be.”

Suggesting that president Obama might look like a “total wuss” ispretty strong language. Politico

Qusair battle turns Sunni Arab people and nations against Hezbollah

The White House justified its statement Thursday threatening action inSyria because of chemical weapons, but that’s really old news. It’sfar more likely that the White House was pressured by last week’s newsof the stunning victory by the al-Assad regime in Qusair, aided byHezbollah fighters from Lebanon. Analysts that I’ve heardhave expressed little doubt that Assad could not have wonthat battle without help from Hezbollah’s fighters, who havebeen trained in street fighting by Iran.

Hezbollah’s popularity surged among Sunni Muslim Arabs in the wake ofthe 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, at a time whenSunni and Shia Muslims were largely united over the American militaryin Iraq. However, all of that changed very rapidly in the last fewweeks, since Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gave a fieryspeech promising to defeat Sunni Muslims in Syria, and then followedup by supporting al-Assad’s Shia-Alawite army in Qusair.

According one Saudi writer, the attitude of the Sunni Arab public hasbecome vitriolic:

“They have exposed a malicious racist spirit thatplaces its pains above all others’ pain. They are moved by thedesire of blind vengeance. They know no mercy, tolerance orjustice. They consider that the ones responsible for all thesepains are everyone who belongs to the sect of the tyrant. This ishow crimes were attributed to people who have nothing to do withthe fighting in the Syria. They were only attributed to thembecause they happen to belong to the same sect. …

At first, I thought they were bats of darkness on Twitter. Ithought they were masked people who enjoy insulting, criticizingand accusing others of infidelity on Twitter because they know noone can pursue them or hold them accountable. But I later realizedthat the situation is far more dangerous and expanded than that. Auniversity scholar who teaches in a prominent university in ourcountry wrote ‘we must remind our children that the infidel Shiiteand Alawites are the ones who [committed crimes] against ourpeople in Qusair. I will spit in the face of whoever preaches tome about tolerance.’ A Saudi reminded him of humanitarian,cultural, national and religious references that unite people anddescribed the former’s stance as reactionary and primitive. Theuniversity teacher responded saying: ‘Welcome to reactionism andprimitiveness that will purge our country of yourimpurity.'”

The Sunni Arab Muslim vitriol at Hezbollah is being translatedinto threats by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of SunniArab nations.

“The GCC strongly condemns Hezbollah’s blatantintervention in the crisis in Syria which caused the death ofcivilians. …

Hezbollah’s illegal intervention and the horrific practices of itsmilitias in the region will harm its interests in GCC countries.The GCC council decided to take measures against Hezbollahloyalists’ residencies as well as their financial and tradetransactions.”

The exact sanctions were not described, but this kind of statementdirected against Hezbollah would have been unthinkable a fewweeks ago.

For years I’ve been writing that the Mideast is heading to a new warbetween Sunni and Shia Muslims, between Israelis and Arabs, refightingthe genocidal 1948 war that followed the partitioning of Palestine andthe creation of the state of Israel. It’s now a possibility that thiswar will be an expansion of the war in Syria, triggered by theinvasion of Hezbollah militias into Syria. Daily Star (Beirut) and Al Arabiya (Dubai)

Congressmen whine because Obamacare applies to them

This is really hilarious. Republicans and Democrats in Congress, andtheir aides, have suddenly discovered that the Obamacare law, whichnobody read before it was passed, actually applies to them. They’rewhining and panicking because their health insurance costs willskyrocket, and the resulting policies won’t be as good. It couldn’thappen to a nicer bunch of people. Politico

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