Barack Obama held a press conference this morning from the G20 summit in Russia. As expected, the main topic of discussion was the showdown in Syria.
As usual, Obama did a lot of talking but we really didn't learn anything new. The biggest headline was the fact that Obama will do MORE talking next Tuesday when he plans to address the American people. But when asked about potential action in Syria, here's where we seem to stand. While unnamed officials claim that Obama does not have any intention of launching an attack without Congressional approval, Obama refused to say whether or not that was the case. When asked about his decision to go to Congress, Obama explained: I could not honestly claim that the threat posed an imminent direct threat to the United States; I couldn't say it would have an immediate, direct threat to our allies. Obama also wouldn't detail or name any of the countries he supposedly has convinced to join him in a strike. Obama said that he would love to work through the United Nations, but that will not happen – a major sticking point with many other countries who want to see something happen, but only through the United Nations. But Obama insisted that something has to be done in response to the use of chemical weapon as this was a inexcusable breach of international norms that could not be ignored. Obama said that we cannot sit idly by and not respond because this will threaten long-term peace, stability and security. One standout line from Obama was, “I was elected to end wars, not start them.” But at this point, that is exactly where we stand: Obama is desperately trying to make the case for a strike. Yet after speaking for almost one hour today, I'm still not any more convinced that we need to act. In fact, I feel more leery than ever, as Obama seemed unfocused and evasive.
Meanwhile we have an interview with Vladimir Putin now saying that Russia “could send Syria and its neighbors in the region the components of a missile shield if the U.S. Attacks,” according to Fox News. So much for that Russian re-set. It's clear, based on Obama's comments this morning, that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is indisputable but WHO used them remains a point of contention with Russia.
Last night the Wall Street Journal reported, “The U.S. has intercepted an order from Iran to militants in Iraq to attack the U.S. Embassy and other American interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike on Syria, officials said, amid an expanding array of reprisal threats across the region.” The United States is also ordering diplomats to leave Lebanon.
We've been talking about this action in Syria for days now, and I remain convinced that a pinprick, check-the-box, limited strike in Syria is the wrong approach. I've yet to hear a compelling argument for why that is the best course of action, what happens if there is retaliation against Israel, what happens if it causes the Assad regime to topple and WMDs fall into the hands of al Qaeda rebels? These are important questions that need to be answered. If we are going to do this, we at least need to do it right. Looking at the bigger picture, I'm not convinced that getting involved in Syria at all is pertinent to the end-game which everyone believes is a showdown with Iran. Yes, the use of chemical weapons is deplorable but they were used months ago and Obama and the world stood by and did nothing. They also cannot prove definitively who even used these weapons. If credibility is the issue, we've lost that long ago and a limited strike will not restore it. If humanitarian aid is the issue, then let's figure out how to help the refugees who have fled. What a mess.
Here are more of the latest headlines related to Syria: