[Marxism] White House Holds Firm on Cautious Path in Syria Crisis

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue May 7 06:55:53 MDT 2013

(None of this will matter to those who are convinced that Obama is about 
to launch an Iraq-type intervention.)

NY Times May 7, 2013
White House Holds Firm on Cautious Path in Syria Crisis

WASHINGTON — The White House insisted Monday that it would not be thrown 
off its cautious approach to Syria, despite Israeli military strikes 
near Damascus and new questions about the use of chemical weapons in the 
civil war there.

The administration cast doubt on an assertion by a United Nations 
official that the Syrian rebels, not the government of President Bashar 
al-Assad, had used the nerve agent sarin. And it backed Israel’s right 
to strike Syrian targets to disrupt shipments of weapons from Iran to 
the Islamic militant group Hezbollah.

For President Obama, both developments muddied a crisis that is already 
rife with complexity. But there was little evidence that they did 
anything to affect what his aides say is a deep reluctance to be drawn 
further into a conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people.

Despite that reluctance, the White House is weighing more robust action, 
including supplying arms to the rebels — in part because of its 
conclusion that there was a strong likelihood that the Assad government 
has used chemical weapons on its citizens. The rationale for that 
response could be undermined, however, if there was proof that the 
rebels themselves — some of whom are radical Islamists — had also used 
such weapons.

Meanwhile, as part of the administration’s latest attempt to engineer 
the departure of Mr. Assad, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived 
Tuesday in Moscow, where he will meet with President Vladimir V. Putin 
to try to persuade Russia, Syria’s main patron, to withdraw its support 
for Mr. Assad.

The assertion that there is evidence suggesting the rebels have used 
sarin was made by Carla Del Ponte, a former chief prosecutor for 
international criminal tribunals that investigated Rwanda and the former 
Yugoslavia who is now serving on a commission looking into human rights 
abuses in Syria.

But that commission later issued a statement clarifying that it had not 
reached a conclusion about which side used the gas, and the White House 
press secretary, Jay Carney, added the administration’s doubts.

“We are highly skeptical of the suggestion that the opposition could 
have or did use chemical weapons,” Mr. Carney said. “We find it highly 
likely that any chemical weapon use that has taken place in Syria was 
done by the Assad regime. And that remains our position.”

A senior State Department official told reporters that the United States 
took Ms. Del Ponte’s allegations seriously, but said of the rebels, “We 
have no information that they have either the capability or the intent 
to deploy or use such weapons.”

Another senior official noted that Ms. Del Ponte, was not a member of 
another United Nations panel that is investigating chemical weapons.

As for the recent missile attacks by Israel, which the White House 
declined to confirm, Mr. Carney said Israel had a legitimate concern 
about “the transfer of sophisticated weapons to terrorist organizations 
like Hezbollah, and they have a right to act in their own sovereign 

Some lawmakers seized on the strike, and the lack of Syrian resistance, 
as evidence that the country’s air defenses are not as lethal as some in 
the administration had claimed.

But current and former American air commanders discounted arguments made 
by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and others, who have said 
that enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria would be easier and less risky 
than the administration has portrayed.

“There’s a huge difference between taking out a handful of targets and 
establishing a no-fly zone over all or parts of a country for a certain 
period of time,” said Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, the Air Force’s former 
top intelligence official who planned the American air campaigns in 2001 
in Afghanistan and in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

General Deptula said he did not have details about the airstrikes over 
the weekend, but said it was likely they were carried out by so-called 
stand-off weapons that allowed Israeli warplanes to fire at targets 
inside Syria without crossing into Syrian airspace.

He also distinguished the goal of the Israeli attacks from whatever 
no-fly zone the United States and its allies might establish. If the 
targets of the Israeli strikes were long-range missiles capable of 
reaching Israeli cities, as American officials said over the weekend, 
then Israeli officials would be responding to a direct threat to 
national security, General Deptula said. A no-fly zone established to 
protect Syrian civilians would almost certainly be a much more ambitious 
and riskier mission.

Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and 
International Studies, said in a report that Israel’s success indicated 
the “purely military risks in enforcing some form of no-fly or no-move 
zone are now more limited than when the fighting in Syria began.”

But Mr. Cordesman said Syria’s air defenses were still far more 
formidable than those in Libya, noting, “It would take a massive U.S. 
air and cruise missile attack to suppress it quickly and would be 
difficult for even two carrier groups to carry out and sustain.”

Israel, a senior American official said, has long voiced concern to the 
United States about the transfer of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah 
through Syria, so its action was not a big surprise. The official said 
it would not affect other American calculations, like whether to arm the 

Steven Simon, a former senior official on Mr. Obama’s National Security 
Council, said he believed the decision whether to arm the Syrian 
opposition would not be linked to the Israeli airstrikes.

“The U.S. and Israel have overlapping but not identical interests at 
stake in the conflict,” said Mr. Simon, who is now head of the 
Washington office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“On chemical weapons, assuming that the regime did use them, the U.S. is 
looking for options to deter further use that don’t undercut — or, in 
the best case — don’t foreclose a political resolution,” he said. “It’s 
not clear that arming the opposition meets either objective.”

For Mr. Obama, the bigger complication of the Israeli attack may be 
political. The president has been trying to coordinate the response to 
the Syrian conflict among several players, including Europeans, Turkey 
and Arab states from Jordan to Saudi Arabia.

“The Israelis’ being assertive, while Obama is not, doesn’t play in his 
favor,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington 
Institute for Near Eastern Policy. “You need to have the Arabs onside.”

Mr. Tabler said Ms. Del Ponte’s charge that the rebels might have used 
chemical weapons raised questions about the unity of the United Nations 
in dealing with Syria. “It struck me as political,” he said. “They’re 
trying to blur the situation to stave off some kind of intervention.”

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Washington, and Alan Cowell 
from London.

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