President Barack Obama’s address to the nation on the Syrian crisis focused on making the case for United States involvement, even with strikes he characterized as ‘limited’. For a quick blog post tonight we’ll list some review points on the Syrian crisis and why he proposed the use of military strikes in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Below are the bullet points summarizing the president’s assertionss. Our analysis follows below the summary of the President’s statements. President’s claims:
-Purpose of the strikes stated to be punitive in order to respond to a grave violation of international conventions banning the use of weapons of mass destruction that cannot discern between civilian and soldier. The enforcement of the convention is vital to the future of limited warfare.
-Stated that multiple intelligence communities (France, Britain, US) conclude that the Assad regime ordered and launched the attack.
-Attack stated to be launched from a regime-controlled area; the delivery systems (rockets) landed in opposition stronghold neighborhoods of Damascus.
– Regime change and intervention into the civil war are not the purpose of the strikes. Strikes are purely punitive, intended to reinforce and keep valid international conventions banning chemical weapons; the strikes are to deter the Assad regime from further use of the weapons (degradation of capability)
-Threats to US security: spread of weapons to unstable regimes and terrorist groups, weakening of international regimes/conventions banning chemical weapons.
-President sought to strengthen Congressional role in war-making apparatus and reverse the ‘sidelining of peoples representatives from the process’ of deciding when to go to war.
-President was mindful of war weariness.
-Pledged to strenuously avoid open-ended action; the strikes are targeted for clear objective: deterring Assad from further attack and degrading his abilities.
-‘US military does not do pinpricks’. Even limited strike by US military would be damaging to Assad.
-Danger of retaliation: Assad lacks capability to retaliate directly. Asymmetric means would escalate the conflict and ensure Assad’s demise. This is not in Assad’s interests.
-Al-Qaeda draws strength from a chaotic Syria.
-Why not leave the action to reinforce the convention to ‘other countries’? Warnings were not observed by the Assad regime.
-Credible threat of US military action inspired Russian cooperation to push Assad regime to give up chemical weapons. Assad now pledges to join the convention banning chemical weapons.
-Asked Congress to delay vote on authorization of force until diplomatic meetings with Russia are complete.
-‘Burdens of US world leadership are heavy but the world is better when the US leads it.’
-Addressed left wing failure to embrace cause of human rights in Syria in the wake of the attack.
-Asked Americans to view videos of attack and then reflect on a world where we look the other way while dictators gas civilians.
The speech relied heavily on language designed to appeal to both Realists and Liberals.
Realism: the president addressed threats to US security as well as how the spread of weapons of mass destruction to non-state actors threatens the interests of the US. Liberalism: the president noted the humanitarian crises and the violation of international conventions banning the use of chemical weapons.
In Realism, one is primarily concerned with security of the state. The idealistic notion of intervention on the basis of humanitarianism is admirable but misguided; the outcome of a humanitarian intervention is more often than not costly both financially and militarily to the state. President Obama did cloak the conflict in Realist terms: the future security interests of the United States, the proliferation of weapons, the breaking of the chemical weapons taboo and the precedent of use in warfare, and the relative power of those that threaten our interests. He also engaged (and challenged) IR Liberals by appealing to humanitarian motivations. As a Realist, one is wary of idealistic notions for intervention but remains supportive of intervention in instances where US interests are directly affected.
Our analysis: Remain opposed to strikes and military intervention.
Takeaways: Strikes would ineffectively degrade Assad’s ability to conduct further chemical weapons attacks and would do little to deter him in future attacks; the second point speaks to the strikes weakening Assad, providing initiative to the opposition, further inspiring a desperate Assad to use the weapons again in a self-preservation effort. Further, the strikes would inadvertently provide initiative to the opposition which is infested with al-Qaeda elements. In this, the recent violence in Iraq (800+ killed in August by a resurgent al-Qaeda) would be compounded and possibly lead to failed states in Syria in Iraq in the wake of a power vacuum. This would strengthen al-Qaeda strategically and provide vital haven for future recruitment and key operational planning. In combination, this would further destabilize the entire region, upset markets, affect energy resources, degrade the relationship of the US with Russia, and inspire further conflict in a vital area of the world.
President Obama’s speech is certainly an effective reinforcement of the argument for punitive US military action in order to enforce international conventions banning use of chemical weapons. There were certainly some very good points made for military action, even unilaterally by the United States. I remain opposed to the strikes for strategic reasons involving long-term US interests and regional stability.
Editor-in-Chief and Senior Analyst
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