Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack And U.S. Response
International relations expert Yvonne Davis breaks down what we can expect in terms of a response from the United States to Syria using chemical weapons against its civilians.
Here’s the latest on the crisis from CNN:
By Josh Levs and Holly Yan
(CNN) — NATO said Monday it wants a “firm international response” to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Rebels fighting the Syrian regime want action fast. So do some U.S. lawmakers.
But NATO itself won’t take military action. And Syria’s allies in the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China, are sure to block any U.N. effort. And Britain, after pushing for military action, also said it wouldn’t take any at the urging of its Parliament.
France has said it won’t act without the United States as a partner.
The world is looking at the United States, waiting to see whether it will act. And following President Barack Obama’s last-minute decision to hold off until Congress weighs in, no such action is expected until after lawmakers reconvene from recess on September 9.
Lawmakers themselves are split, concerned about whether military strikes could worsen the situation.
Syria continues to insist it was not responsible for any chemical attack. A U.S. attack, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime says, would be illegal aggression.
The conflicting concerns leave Washington in the middle of a tug-of-war, even as the Obama administration says evidence from the attack last month shows signatures of sarin gas and makes an “overwhelming” case that the government was behind the brutality.
“I think there is agreement that we need a firm international response in order to avoid that chemical attacks take place in the future,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday. “It would send a very, I would say, dangerous signal to dictators all over the world if we stand idly by and don’t react.”
NATO is prepared to protect Turkey, a NATO member, if Syria attacks it, he said. The alliance has deployed Patriot missiles to the country, he said.
But, he said, “I don’t foresee any further NATO role in Turkey. It is for individual nations to decide how to react to what has happened in Syria.”
‘Overwhelming case,’ U.S. says
U.N. evidence that could show whether chemical weapons were used in Syria will head to a lab Monday.
But it won’t show who was responsible.
And for the United States, the results could be merely a formality.
Blood and hair samples obtained from first responders through an “appropriate chain of custody” have “tested positive for signatures of sarin” gas, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday.
It’s unclear exactly how the U.S. obtained the material independently of the United Nations.
The August 21 attack killed more than 1,000 people — perhaps more than 1,400, according to U.S. officials.
“We know that the regime ordered this attack, we know they prepared for it,” Kerry told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“We know where the rockets came from. We know where they landed. We know the damage that was done afterwards. We’ve seen the horrific scenes all over the social media, and we have evidence of it in other ways, and we know that the regime tried to cover up afterwards, so the case is really an overwhelming case.”
Russia: ‘There are no such facts’
Russia rejected the claim. “We absolutely were not convinced by that (evidence) that our American partners, as well as the British and the French, showed us,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.
“There are no facts, there’s only talk about what we know for certain. When we ask for more detailed evidence, they say, ‘You know, it’s all secret, so we can’t show you.’ That means that there are no such facts.”
China spoke out as well.
“We are gravely concerned that some country may take unilateral military actions,” Chinese foreign affairs spokesman Hong Lei said Monday.
“We believe that any action taken by the international community should abide by the purposes and principles of the U.N. charter … so to as to avoid complicating the Syrian issue and bringing more disasters to the Middle East region.”
The United Nations charter generally doesn’t allow countries to attack other nations unless in self-defense or with approval from the U.N. Security Council.
Under U.S. law, Obama doesn’t have to get Congress’ approval to launch military action. Under the 1973 War Powers Resolution, a president can initiate an attack as long as he notifies Congress within 48 hours. But internationally, a U.S. strike against Syria could be deemed illegal.
Al-Assad’s regime Monday asked U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “to shoulder his responsibilities for preventing any aggression on Syria,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
Meanwhile, five U.S. Navy ships are being positioned in the Red Sea, a U.S. official said Monday.
A second official said the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is not expected to participate in combat operations over Syria, but that the ship is there for a greater U.S. military presence in the region — even as the possibility of a U.S. missile strike appears to be delayed.
U.S. Marines site hacked
The pro-Assad Syrian Electronic Army appears to have hacked the U.S. Marines recruitment website, marines.com, and posted a letter urging Marines not to attack Syria.
“Dear US Marines, This is a message written by your brothers in the Syrian Army, who have been fighting Al Qaeda for the last 3 years,” the message states. “… Obama is a traitor who wants to put your lives in danger to rescue Al Qaeda insurgents.”
The message ends by saying, “You’re more than welcome to fight alongside our army rather than against it. Your brothers, the Syrian army soldiers. A message delivered by the SEA.”
Al Qaeda-linked militants, including the al-Nusra Front, are among the opposition groups in Syria. Analysts fear a U.S. strike on the Syrian regime could help bolster al Qaeda.
Reports: Sarin’s been used in Syria before
World leaders have said previously that sarin has been used in the Syrian civil war.
In April, the United States said it had evidence sarin was used in Syria on a small scale.
In May, a U.N. official said there were strong suspicions that rebel forces used the deadly nerve agent.
In June, France said sarin had been used several times in the war, including at least once by the Syrian regime.
But the August attack was by far the deadliest. “This is such a blatant example, we can’t pretend not to see it,” says Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official now with the American Enterprise Institute
No end to the bloodshed
While world leaders grapple with what to do about Syria, the reports of carnage on the ground keep rising.
At least 118 people were killed across Syria on Sunday, including 13 children, the opposition group Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.
The United Nations has said more than 100,000 people — including many civilians — have been killed since a popular uprising spiraled into a civil war two years ago.
CNN’s Ashley Killough, Evan Perez, Sarah Chiplin, Barbara Starr, Dana Bash, David McKenzie, Khushbu Shah and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.