05/01/13: The Atlantic has this piece arguing that one of the principal goals in President Obama’s discussion yesterday of the use of chemical weapons in Syria was to remind the American people of the dangers inherent in a rush to war, symbolized by the colossal intelligence failure leading up to the Iraq War. For all the talk of ‘red lines,’ Obama’s remarks served as a reminder that the former Senator from Illinois was one of the staunchest opponents of military action in Iraq and was elected 2008 partially on the platform that that war, launched based on faulty intelligence, was a mistake. Obama was against a rush to war in Iraq 2002 and 2003, and he’s taking a similarly cautious approach in the complex environment of the Syrian conflict. A poll released Tuesday found that majorities are across party lines decidedly opposed to American intervention in Syria right now, with 62 percent of the public agreeing that “the United States has no responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria between government forces and antigovernment groups.”
05/01/13: The Hill reports President Obama further blurred the “red line” he has imposed against Syria over chemical weapons on Tuesday, declining to lay out specific consequences if the line is crossed but reiterated that it would be a “game changer” for the entire international community. Asked about possible US military action if it’s confirmed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons, Obama said only that the administration would “rethink the range of options” available. As the President sounded a cautious tone, however, there were reports Tuesday afternoon that he might be planning to take new steps, including that Obama is now ready to provide arms to the opposition, although he had not made a final decision. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to confirm or deny that report. Obama also spoke by phone Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a strong supporter of Assad, about the chemical weapons allegations.
05/01/13: The New York Times reports Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah edged closer on Tuesday to acknowledging that the powerful Lebanese Shi‘ite organization’s fighters were battling rebels in neighboring Syria, threatening to drag Lebanon deeper into that conflict. Nasrallah warned in a televised speech that Hezbollah could become more deeply involved in the future, and warned that Syria had “real friends” who would not allow it “to fall into the hands” of America or Israel. As President Obama faces questions about whether the Syrian government has crossed what his administration has called the “red line” of using chemical weapons in the conflict, Nasrallah sketched some red lines of his own. He warned of “very serious repercussions” if rebels destroyed or damaged the shrine of Sayida Zeinab, a revered pilgrimage site for many Muslims near Damascus.
04/28/13: The Miami Herald reports an Israeli Cabinet minister has called on the US to intervene in the Syrian civil war after intelligence reports of chemical weapons use there. The US has warned such weapons cross a ‘red line’ and last week said the weapons were probably used. Israel says they were used. Environment Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday action should have been taken long ago due to the high civilian death toll. “We expect whoever defines red lines will also do what is needed, first and foremost the US and of course the entire international community,” he said. His remarks do not reflect Israeli policy. The White House says it is still trying to pin down definitive proof of the use of chemical weapons.
04/28/13: The Space War blog reports President Obama on Friday promised a “vigorous investigation” into reports Syrian forces fired chemical weapons and renewed his warning that proof of their use would be a “game-changer.” Obama delivered the warning during talks at the White House with King Abdullah II of Jordan, as he faced rising political pressure for a military intervention in the vicious Syrian civil war. He told reporters that US authorities had “some evidence that chemical weapons have been used on the population in Syria, these are preliminary assessments, they’re based on our intelligence-gathering.” The President said Washington would pursue a “very vigorous investigation and would work with its partners towards a definitive answer on the chemical weapons issues as soon as possible.
04/01/13: The blog Space War reports Iraq will step up searches of Iranian flights over its airspace to Syria, days after US Secretary of State John Kerry publicly criticized Baghdad for turning a blind eye to them. But while Prime Minister Nuri al-Malik’s spokesman spoke of newly tightened restrictions, the head of Iraq’s civil aviation authority acknowledged that no planes had been searched since October. “Because of a lot of information which referred to transportation of weapons, we have increased the activity of inspections,” Maliki spokesman Ali Mussawi said Saturday. “We will carry out more random searches, to be assured that there is no weapons transfer.” Kerry said in Baghdad that he “made very clear to [Maliki] that the overflights from Iran are in fact helping to sustain [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad and his regime.”
03/29/13: The New York Times reports a former American soldier was charged Thursday with fighting alongside a terrorist group that is battling the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, whose ouster the United States has sought for nearly two years. The soldier, Eric Harroun, 30, of Phoenix, who served in the United States Army from 2000 to 2003, is accused of entering Syria in January and participating in attacks on Assad forces led by the Al Nusra Front, which American officials say is part of Al Qaeda in Iraq, a designated terrorist group. Mr. Harroun, who posted reports about his time in Syria on Facebook and YouTube, was charged in Alexandria, Va., with “conspiring to use a destructive device outside the United States,” a crime that can carry a life sentence. He was arrested Wednesday after arriving at Dulles International Airport and made an initial appearance in Federal District Court on Thursday. According to an affidavit filed in the case, Mr. Harroun told an FBI agent, Paul Higginbotham, that he was part of an “RPGteam,” firing rocket-propelled grenades, which qualify as a “destructive device” under the law. The charge does not have any connection to terrorism, though more charges could be filed later.
03/29/13: The New York Times reports the global effort to regulate the sale of conventional weapons suffered a significant but not fatal setback on Thursday after Iran, Syria and North Korea opposed the draft Arms Trade Treaty, blocking the consensus needed for passage after years of arduous negotiations. Achieving consensus among all 193 member states of the United Nations is considered a monumental task, but it was hoped that it would be possible in this case because so many countries supported the idea of trying to regulate the $70 billion annual industry at the root of much death and destruction. The treaty would require states exporting conventional weapons to develop criteria that would link exports to avoiding human rights abuses, terrorism and organized crime. It would also ban shipments if they were deemed harmful to women and children. After Iran and North Korea voted against the draft treaty, Peter Woolcott, the Australian ambassador who was the president of the treaty conference, suspended the meeting. When it resumed, Syria voted against the treaty as well. In the absence of consensus, it was expected that the treaty would be sent to the General Assembly as early as next week for approval. That is considered a weaker, but no less binding, manner of getting it passed. After General Assembly passage, the treaty would still require ratification by 50 member states before it could take effect.