It’s difficult to find a single sentence in Secretary of State John Kerry’s forceful and at points emotional press conference on Syria that did not sound like a direct case for imminent U.S. military action against Syria. It was, from the first paragraph to the 15th,a war speech.
That doesn’t mean that full-on war is coming; the Obama administration appears poised for a limited campaign of offshore strikes, probably cruise missiles and possible aircraft strikes. President Obama has long signaled that he has no interest in a full, open-ended or ground-based intervention, and there’s no reason to believe his calculus has changed. But Kerry’s language and tone were unmistakable. He was making the case for, and signaling that the United States planned to pursue, military action against another country. As my colleagues Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan wrote, “Kerry left little doubt that the decision for the United States is not whether to take military action, but when.”
Kerry made the moral case for attacking Syria. He described what’s happening in Syria as “the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons,” which he called “a moral obscenity” and “inexcusable.”
Kerry made the international norms case for striking Syria. “All peoples and all nations who believe in the cause of our common humanity must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again,” he said. The argument here is that punishing Assad’s use of chemical weapons matters “beyond the conflict in Syria itself,” because the world wants to deter future military actors from using chemical weapons.Kerry hinted at international coalition-building, saying that he’d spoken “with foreign ministers from around the world.” He later said that “information [about the attack] is being compiled and reviewed together with our partners.”
The United States is not going to win approval from the United Nations Security Council, where Russia has consistently opposed even milquetoast resolutions condemning Assad. But Kerry still made a point of gesturing toward the institution it’s about to bypass, saying, “At every turn, the Syrian regime has failed to cooperate with the U.N. investigation, using it only to stall and to stymie the important effort to bring to light what happened in Damascus in the dead of night.” He accused Assad of blocking U.N. inspectors and “systemically destroying evidence.”
Kerry was mindful that the hyped up case for war against Iraq and the results of previous US engagement in countries like Egypt, Libya an Afghanistan have not been good. Yet, Kerry made it clear that the US was ready to take some kind of action today.
BREAKING NEWS: Secretary of State John F. Kerry says the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made preparations three days before last week’s chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus and fired the rockets from regime-controlled areas. This story will be updated shortly.
LONDON – French President Francois Hollande said Friday that his country is prepared to act in Syria despite Britain’s surprise rejection of military action, potentially making a nation that turned its back on Washington during the war in Iraq the primary U.S. ally in a possible strike against Syrian forces.
The Guardian characterizes the speech as “polarizing for world leaders.”
As the US moves towards military intervention in the Syrian conflict, world leaders have issued a string of belicose statements, with Iran and Russiastanding alongside the Assad regime against a western alliance led by the US, UK, France and Australia.
In their toughest terms to date, David Cameron and US secretary of state, John Kerry, spoke of the undeniable and “asbolutely abhorrent” and use of chemical weapons in Syria. In response, the Assad regime and Iran warned that foreign military intervention in Syria would result in a conflict that would engulf the region.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Araqchi, intimated that Tehran would respond, should the west strike.
“We want to strongly warn against any military attack in Syria. There will definitely be perilous consequences for the region,” Araqchi told a news conference. “These complications and consequences will not be restricted to Syria. It will engulf the whole region.”
Walid al-Moallem, Syria’s foreign minister, also vowed that the regime would defend itself using all means available in the event of a US-led assault.
“I challenge those who accuse our forces of using these weapons to come forward with the evidence,” he told reporters at a press conference in Damascus. “We have the means to defend ourselves, and we will surprise everyone.”
Shia Iran is Syria’s closest ally and has accused an alliance of militant Sunni Islamists, Israel and western powers of trying to use the conflict to take over the region.
The rhetoric from the Shia camp came a day after Kerry gave the strongest indication to date that the US intends to take military action against the Assad regime. On Monday, Kerry said President Bashar al-Assad‘s forces had committed a moral obscenity against his own people.
“Make no mistake,” Kerry said. “President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapon against the world’s most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious, and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny.”
President Obama will ensure that the United States of America makes our own decisions on our own timelines, based on our values and our interests. Now, we know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am, too.
But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about. And history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency, these things we do know.
We also know that we have a president that does what he says that he will do. And he has said, very clearly, that whatever decision he makes in Syria it will bear no resemblance to Afghanistan, Iraq or even Libya. It will not involve any boots on the ground. It will not be open ended. And it will not assume responsibility for a civil war that is already well underway.
The president has been clear: Any action that he might decide to take will be limited and (sic) tailored response to ensure that, a despots brutal and flagrant use of chemical weapons is held accountable. And ultimately, ultimately we are committed — we remain committed, we believe it’s — the primary objective is (sic) to have a diplomatic process that can resolve this through negotiation, because we know there is no ultimate military solution.
It has to be political.
It has to happen at the negotiating table.
And we are deeply committed to getting there.
So that is what we know. That is what the leaders of Congress now know. And that’s what the American people need to know. And that is, at the core of the decisions that must now be made for the security of our country, and for the promise of a planet, where the world’s most heinous weapons must never again be used against the world’s most vulnerable people.
What do you think?
US President Barack Obama is preparing for a press conference and statement following Egyptian President’s Hosni Mubarak’s earlier TV appearance on Nile Television. No questions for Mubarak. How about Obama?
markknoller Mark Knoller
Pres. Obama willl be making his statement with the famous portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the wall behind him.
Other US reactions:
Crude oil prices spiked Friday as anti-government protests in Egypt sparked concerns over regional stability.
Prices settled just shy of $90 a barrel, for an increase of more than 4%.
The Obama administration is ramping up pressure on President Hosni Mubarak to address the grievances of the Egyptian people and said the government’s response to protests may affect U.S. aid.
“The people of Egypt are watching the government’s actions, they have for quite some time, and their grievances have reached a boiling point and they have to be addressed,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters in Washington. The U.S. will be looking at its “assistance posture” toward Egypt, Gibbs said.
Starting with an early afternoon statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. today toughened its criticism of Mubarak’s methods in suppressing protests that pose the biggest challenge to his 30-year rule over the Arab world’s most populous country.
“For the U.S., any effort on our part to provide support for Mubarak is going to be read in Egypt as support for a crackdown and support for an undemocratic regime,” said Steven Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “We need to be forward looking for this.”
More than 80 percent of U.S. aid to Egypt, or $1.3 billion, is in the form of military assistance, according to data supplied by the U.S. State Department. With President Barack Obama in power, military aid has stayed unchanged and economic assistance has been cut to $250 million from $411 million in 2008 with the phasing out of democracy-linked programs.
The amount of money Egypt receives from the U.S. is exceeded only by Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, based on the State Department’s budget request for the current fiscal year.
Senator John Kerry is talking on AJ right now. He’s encouraging Mubarak to make changes. He’s also saying it’s not constructive right now to focus on negatives but positives. He’s saying Mubarak has opportunities. Wonder if this will be what Obama says …
ON NOW … 6:31 EST. It’s on CNN, etc.
AJ has a front row seat to this via a bureau there. BTW, take a look at how many silly Americans are leaving best wishes comments to Egyptians on this media outlet that is headquartered in Doha, Qatar and run/owned by folks from there. Such a geography #FAIL. On top of that, Egypt can’t get access to the internet right now. (Palm meet forehead!)