OPPOSITION to the “dumb war” in Iraq helped win Barack Obama the White House and secured him a Nobel peace prize without trying. The president is now learning the loneliness of the war leader, as he prepares a reluctant America for military strikes on Syria, with—or, he hinted—without formal backing from Congress.
Mr Obama triggered rancorous debate in Washington after making a surprise announcement on August 31st that he wanted congressional approval for strikes against Bashar Assad’s regime, in response to nerve-agent attacks that left more than 1,000 dead. Though congressional support is far from guaranteed, and opinion polls show that Americans oppose air strikes on Syria (see chart), Mr Obama declared that action to prevent future uses of chemical weapons was necessary.
“I do think that we have to act,” the president said during a brief visit to Sweden on his way to a G20 summit in St Petersburg. If resolutions and condemnations were the only response to Mr Assad’s use of chemical weapons, he suggested, it would signal that international norms could be flouted “with impunity”.
It was a week of ironies. Mr Obama has been a reluctant warrior over Syria, insisting that American intervention risked doing more harm than good. He went to Congress to make his opponents take shared responsibility for any decision to strike in the Middle East, or to leave the Assad regime unpunished.
Israel and Palestinian militants in the besieged Gaza Strip are veering dangerously close to getting locked into a cycle of retaliation and revenge that could run for weeks.
Though many are wondering why both sides don’t simply stand down now to avoid further loss of innocent life (since, after all, it’s fairly clear that a major shift in the status quo will be the outcome of the bombardments that are now in their third day), the grim logic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is convincing men on both sides that more death is what’s needed now to secure their own interests.
For Hamas, the Islamist militant group and political party that has governed Gaza separately from the West Bank based Palestinian Authority since 2007,the pressure comes in weighing its reputation of resistance and endurance against the mounting human cost to civilians. Standing down completely, capitulation, would look weak to many of its supporters, perhaps opening a door for other militant groups in the Gaza Strip, like Islamic Jihad, to accrue more power for themselves.
For Israel, the costs in life to its own side are lighter than for its much weaker foe, but still serious enough. Three Israeli civilians died when a rocket hit their apartment building in Kiryat Malachi in southern Israel on Thursday morning. (See the Monitor’s report from Kiryat Malachi Thursday.) Meanwhile, 19 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli mortar and air strikes, the balance of them civilians, since the war began on Wednesday
Syria’s regime unleashed tank fire and air strikes on rebels on Wednesday as it slammed France for recognising an opposition bloc formed in Qatar that it said amounted to a “declaration of war”.
Tanks shelled two Palestinian refugee camps in the opposition bastion of southern Damascus, while fighter jets bombed Maaret al-Numan, a town near Turkey that rebels captured last month, a watchdog said.
But rebels killed at least 18 soldiers as they overran a military post near Ras al-Ain, a town also on the Turkish border that the armed opposition seized Friday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A day after France became the first Western nation to recognise the newly united opposition, Damascus hit out at the decision and said the Qatar meeting at which the dissident factions united on Sunday amounted to a war declaration.
“The Doha meeting was a declaration of war. These people (the opposition) don’t want to solve the issue peacefully through the mechanisms of the UN,” Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Muqdad, told AFP.
“We read the Doha document and they reject any dialogue with the government.”
Reacting to the French move, Muqdad said: “Allow me to use the word, this is an immoral position. They are supporting killers, terrorists and they are encouraging the destruction of Syria.”
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, a strong Damascus ally, also criticised countries siding with the opposition and insisted Moscow was staying neutral.
“We don’t support anybody in this conflict, neither President (Bashar al-) Assad nor the rebels… but unfortunately, the point of view of some states is more one-sided,” Medvedev told Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.
If I were President Obama, or any other president regardless of party, I would have done exactly the same thing and snubbed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations this week because Netanyahu clearly crossed the line. Foreign leaders are not supposed to meddle in the political affairs of sovereign nations, and Netanyahu meddled bigtime in U.S. politics with his recent remarks heavily implying criticism of Obama for weakness on Iran.
Netanyahu timed his remarks to coincide with equally critical remarks leveled by Mitt Romney against Obama. There was an odd similarity in what both conservative politicians had to say: Iran is too close to having a nuclear bomb capability. The time is now for action. The Obama administration keeps talking about letting a stiff new regime of international sanctions take effect. Time’s a wastin’, Netanyahu and Romney said. We must take action now.
That’s fine, except for three problems: First, Romney and Netanyahu are close friends and closer political allies. Netanyahu has a political ax to grind against Obama that exceeds his differences, as prime minister of Israel, with standing U.S. policy across multiple administrations. Second, neither Romney nor Netanyahu have spelled out the next steps. Do they actually think Obama should order air strikes or some other kind of attack, or unquestioningly support Israel if it attacks unilaterally? If so, they need to be very specific about the many enormous consequences of such an action, and how they would deal with the aftermath. The entire region would be thrown into a level of turmoil that would make the past decade of war in Iraq seem like child’s play by comparison.
The strikes come a day after clashes between rebels and government troops in the town in which 14 people died.
Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi took control there on Wednesday morning but were forced out by opposition fighters later in the day.
Col Gaddafi has lost control of the eastern half of Libya during two weeks of unrest but has vowed to fight on.
In a televised speech on Wednesday, Col Gaddafi also said that thousands of Libyans would die if Western forces intervened.