One day after Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech confirming the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the world has turned to President Barack Obama and what his decision will be concerning military intervention in the civil-war-torn state.
The Washington Post called Kerry's address a "war speech," conditioning the American public to prepare for American military intervention. The Boston Globe suggests that the "only possible explanation is that it is meant to signal to America’s friends and foes alike that some military action is about to be taken."
According to senior U.S. officials, the attack could happen "as early as Thursday," reported CNBC.
But it isn't as simple as Obama just giving the green light. A big question is whether he has the right or ability to order an attack without Congressional approval. Opinions of lawmakers differ.
I believe, as commander in chief, he has the right to take this action. It's in his interest to consult with the leadership in the House and Senate, but I don't believe he has to.
Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan disagrees. After hearing the news that House Speaker John A. Boehner has been consulted by the Obama administration about the potential use of force against Syria, he expressed his opinion through Twitter:
— Justin Amash (@repjustinamash) August 27, 2013
— Justin Amash (@repjustinamash) August 27, 2013
Rep. Amash is one of 13 co-sponsors from the GOP who have created a bill to restrict funding for military action in Syria.
The mounting pressure on the president to take military action is partly due to the "red line" statement that he made in May. Obama called the use of chemical weapons a "game changer." He is being pushed into a corner to order an attack. Syrian intervention would put Obama's money where his mouth is, so to speak. If he doesn't initiate a strike, what sort of compliance can America expect from, say, Iran if they continue to develop a nuclear weapons program? An attack on Syria would reassure the weight of U.S. military threats in the region.
But an attack on Syria is likely to put Americans and their allies in harm's way. If the U.S. military follows through, it is likely to trigger terrorist attacks against American soldiers in the region. Israel would also experience a blowback. The Lebanese-based terror group, Hezbollah, who has already come out in support of Syrian President Assad, would likely ramp up what the Washington Times has called "Iran's shadow war" against Israel:
"These are groups that have long memories," said Matthew Levitt, who heads the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "I think that the type of asymmetric activities that we’ve been seeing already in the context of the shadow war over Iran’s nuclear program would continue with [an American military strike in Syria] serving as yet another factor motivating Hezbollah."
With today's order from President Obama to release a classified report justifying a strike on Syria, it's all but certain that it's going to happen. But by what means will the U.S. be taking action? According to NBC News, the United States has four destroyers near Syria in the eastern Mediterranean. A Fox News broadcast reported that no U.S. aircraft carriers have been mobilized to the region. What complicates the situation is that Syria has strong air defenses, which would complicate an aerial attack. Because of this, an American strike against Syria would most likely utilize cruise missiles (or TLAMs, Tomahawk land attack missiles) launched from destroyers or submarines positioned in the Mediterranean. The Guardian has also reported an increase in British forces in the region over the last 48 hours.
The discussion moves to where and what will be targeted. ForeignPolicy.com has posted a Google map created by the Nuclear Threat Initiative that shows 34 possible places where President Obama might consider targeting. They suggest that if his aim is to take out Syria's inventory, delivery mechanisms, and development facilities for the chemical weapons, he would have to strike almost every arms depot, airfield, armory, or military compound in the country. This creates a very complex strategic situation for what could be a historic moment for the President's administration.
View Syrian chemical sites and air bases in a larger map
The scope, severity, and longevity of an American military attack is currently unknown, but TheHill.com suggests that it "would likely last no more than two days and involve either sea-launched cruise missiles or long range bombers striking military targets within the country." This course of action would limit U.S. involvement in Syria's on-going civil war. The last thing President Obama wants is to become ensnarled into the conflict.
There's a chance that while a U.S. attack might satisfy our political interests, it won't actually change the trajectory of the war.
There's also the chance that if a U.S. military attack does not take out all of Assad's chemical stock, he might use the remainder of his inventory.
"If we start picking off chemical weapons targets in Syria, the logical response is if any weapons are left in the warehouses, he's going to start dispersing them among his forces if he hasn't already," said Chris Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.
But according to the NY Times, Obama might be eyeing Syrian military installations and infrastructure over chemical weapons storage sites. The Obama administration is worried that a strike on chemical sites risks an environmental and humanitarian disaster and could "open up the sites to raids by militants."