Blog Archives

An Unconstitutional Military Strike

Wednesday, August 28, 2013
By Alan Caruba

I don’t know why the White House doesn’t just send Syria’s Bashar al-Assad a map of where it intends to attack with Tomahawk and other missiles. The bottom line, however, is that this much heralded military adventure is unconstitutional. The President has no authority to initiate the use of the military against Syria.

This has not stopped presidents from engaging the nation in wars, but the last declaration of war, as specified in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11, occurred on December 11, 1941 against Germany as a response to its formal declaration of war against the United States. Three days earlier Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor initiating a state of war.

As the Tenth Amendment Center points out, “Unless fending off a physical invasion or attack, the president is required to get a Congressional declaration of war before engaging in military hostilities in another country.”

Let us be clear about this. Syria has not declared war on the United States and, while the use of gas goes against an international convention against it, the Assad regime has already killed 100,000 Syrians in a civil war. Nor is Syria the only nation in the Middle East known to have used gas. Saddam Hussein gassed several thousand Kurds in Halabja, Iraq in 1988 and used it in his eight-year war against Iran. The West’s response was to do nothing except to condemn it.

As Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, points out, “Warfare is a very serious business whose first imperative is to deploy forces to win—rather than to punish, make a statement, establish a symbolic point, or preen about one’s morality.”

President Obama’s first mode of governance is to make a speech and then to assume the problem is solved. From his very first speech in Cairo in 2009, those in charge in the Middle East interpreted his policies as weakness.

When President Clinton lobbed a few missiles by way of retaliation for al Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, Osama bin Laden concluded the U.S. was weak and set about planning the two attacks on the Twin Towers.

Dr. Pipes warns that “Bashar al-Assad’s notorious incompetence means his response cannot be anticipated. Western strikes could, among other possibilities, inadvertently lead to increased regime attacks on civilians, violence against Israel, an activation of sleeper cells in Western countries, or heightened dependence on Tehran. Surviving the strikes also permits Assad to boast that he defeated the United States.”

The Wall Street Journal opined that “there is no good outcome in Syria until Assad and his regime are gone. Military strikes that advance that goal—either by targeting Assad directly or crippling his army’s ability to fight—deserve the support of the American people and our international partners. That’s not what the Administration has in mind.”

What Obama has in mind is a symbolic attack in much the same way killing bin Laden was both necessary and symbolic. In making the announcement Obama declared “Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort.  There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us.  We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad,” adding that ”As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam.”

Islam, however, is at war with the United States and the West. That is the declared aim of both al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The war in Syria is a civil war. There is no good outcome no matter whether the Assad regime wins or is overthrown. There is no strategic or tactical victory to be achieved by the United States in either case. Simply punishing the regime for using gas achieves nothing except to expend several million dollars’ worth of missiles.

The Tenth Amendment Center points out that “As they did in the war against Libya, those violating these strict constitutional limitations will like refer to an attack on Syria as something other than ‘war.’ But, changing the words they use to describe their actions doesn’t change the constitutional ramifications. Under the Constitution, a war is a war whether you call it a war or something else.”

The time is long past when America must address whether our military interventions in the Middle East have demonstrated any success. To date, they have not. The majority of Americans are opposed to an attack on Syria and both the Constitution and the collected wisdom of the public argue strongly against it.

We are, however, too far down the road thanks to the administration’s declared intention to do so. War it has been said is to be an extension of politics. We will witness a political gesture and one that is intended to demonstrate Obama is a leader internationally and domestically. He is neither.

It will be an attack on the constitutional powers of Congress as much as an attack on Syria.

Source: © Alan Caruba, 2013

Evidence: Syrian Rebels used Chemical Weapons (not Assad)

Saudi Chemicals in hands of Syrian Rebels

August 27, 2013
By  

By Walid Shoebat and Ben Barrack

Recent news of a chemical weapons attack in Syria smacks of desperation. The question comes down to who is most desperate right now, the Assad regime or the Muslim Brotherhood rebels? Consider that since June, Assad’s forces have been winning. According to a CBS News report from last month, victories for the rebels had become “increasingly rare” and that the Muslim Brotherhood-backed opposition fighters were sustaining “some of their heaviest losses” near Damascus.

The New York Times echoed this sentiment, even saying that before gaining the upper hand, concerns were that Assad would use chemical weapons; he did not.

In fact, even before Assad’s forces gained the momentum, a UN official reportedly found evidence of rebels using chemical weapons but no evidence Assad’s regime did. This, from a Washington Times article by Shaun Waterman dated May 6, 2013:

Testimony from victims strongly suggests it was the rebels, not the Syrian government, that used Sarin nerve gas during a recent incident in the revolution-wracked nation, a senior U.N. diplomat said Monday.

Carla del Ponte, a member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told Swiss TV there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof,” that rebels seeking to oust Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad had used the nerve agent.

But she said her panel had not yet seen any evidence of Syrian government forces using chemical weapons, according to the BBC, but she added that more investigation was needed. {emphasis ours}

Today, while the rebels are more desperate than they were at the time of that article, evidence of rebels using chemical weapons is available; evidence Assad’s regime has used them is not.

Waterman wrote…

Rebel Free Syrian Army spokesman Louay Almokdad denied that rebels had use chemical weapons.

That doesn’t square with a video uploaded on August 23, 2013, in which Free Syrian operatives threatened to launch chemical weapons:

Read More & Video: Evidence: Syrian Rebels used Chemical Weapons (not Assad) | Walid ShoebatWalid Shoebat.

Why is Obama in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood?

Dr. Essam Abdallah, an Egyptian liberal intellectual, in an article published last October in the leading liberal pan-Arab journal Elaph, refers to certain reports coming out of Washington:

These reports reveal the depth of the below-the-surface coordination between the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya and Jordan. This bloc of regimes and organizations is now becoming the greatest Islamist radical lobby ever to penetrate and infiltrate the White House, Congress, the State Department and the main decision making centers of the US government. All of this is happening at a time when the US government is going through its most strategically dangerous period in modern times because of its need to confront the Iranian Mullahs regime, which is expanding in the Middle East, as well as penetrating the United States, via powerful and influential allies.

Abdallah alleged that “the popular revolts in the Arab world — and the Obama Administration’s position towards them — were determined by political battles between various pressure groups in Washington.”

He followed up with another article this month in which he asks:

[W]hy isn’t the West in general and the United States Administration in particular clearly and forcefully supporting our civil societies and particularly the secular democrats of the region? Why were the bureaucracies in Washington and in Brussels partnering with Islamists in the region and not with their natural allies the democracy promoting political forces?

Steve Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism said of this article: “This is one of the most important articles I have read in years.”  He then made allegations of his own:

It was just revealed two days ago that FBI Director Mueller secretly met on February 8 at FBI headquarters with a coalition of groups including various Islamist and militant Arabic groups who in the past have defended Hamas and Hizballah and have also issued blatantly anti-Semitic statements. At this meeting, the FBI revealed that it had removed more than 1000 presentations and curricula on Islam from FBI offices around the country that was deemed “offensive.” The FBI did not reveal what criteria was used to determine why material was considered “offensive” but knowledgeable law enforcement sources have told the IPT that it was these radical groups who made that determination. Moreover, numerous FBI agents have confirmed that from now on, FBI headquarters has banned all FBI offices from inviting any counter-terrorist specialists who are considered “anti-Islam” by Muslim Brotherhood front groups.

This comes as no surprise to me.  In August of 2011, after making the case, I wrote, “To my mind, the alliance between the Obama administration and the Muslim Brotherhood is the cornerstone of Obama’s New Middle East policy.”

The most damning bit of evidence was reported by Herb London in his article, “U.S. Betrays Syria’s Opposition“:

In an effort to understand and placate Syrian opposition groups, Secretary Clinton invited them to a meeting in Washington. Most of those invited, however, have links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Missing from the invitations are Kurdish leaders, Sunni liberals, Assyrians and Christian spokesmen. According to various reports the State Department made a deal with Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood representatives either to share power with Assad to stabilize the government, or replace him if this effort fails. One organization, the Syrian Democracy Council (SDC), an opposition group composed of diverse ethnic and religious organizations, including Alawis, Aramaic Christians, Druze and Assyrians was conspicuously — and no coincidentally — omitted from the invitation list.

Caroline Glick wrote in August of last year:

What these observers fail to recognize is that Erdogan’s interests in a post-Assad Syria have little in common with US interests. Erdogan will seek to ensure the continued disenfranchisement of Syria’s Kurdish minority. And he will work towards the Islamification of Syria through the Muslim Brotherhood.

This week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a private meeting with these brave democrats. Why didn’t she hold a public meeting? Why hasn’t Obama welcomed them to the White House?”

Today there is a coalition of Syrian opposition figures that include all ethnic groups in Syria. Their representatives have been banging the doors of the corridors of power in Washington and beyond. Yet the same Western leaders who were so eager to recognize the Libyan opposition despite the presence of al Qaeda terrorists in the opposition tent have refused to publicly embrace Syrian regime opponents that seek a democratic, federal Syria that will live at peace with Israel and embrace liberal policies.

By refusing to embrace liberal, multi-ethnic regime opponents, the administration is all but ensuring the success of the Turkish bid to install the Muslim Brotherhood in power if Assad is overthrown.

The Syrian Democratic Coalition (SDC), above mentioned, is self-described thus:

The Syrian Democratic Coalition (SDC) is an emerging coalition of diverse Syrian organizations coming together to help bring an end to the Assad regime and promote the transformation of Syria into a secular democracy based in liberty. The coalition is founded upon a belief in the separation of religion from state and is dedicated to establishing a new constitution and transparent federal republic in Syria, based in reason that equally protects minority rights, promotes gender equality, and embraces the rights and liberties of every individual as enumerated in the United Nations Declaration for Human Rights. This growing coalition crosses all ethnic, religious and tribal lines to represent all Syrians. It currently includes members of Save Syria Now!, the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, the Union of Syrian Arab Tribes and the Syrian Christian Democratic Movement.

Sherkoh Abbas is secretary general of the Syria Democracy Council and president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria.  I first met him when he invited me to be a director of the American Kurdish Friendship League some five years ago.

Recently, he confided in me that in all his dealings with the State Department over the last two years, no interest was shown in his coalition, and instead, he was continually pressed to support the Syrian National Council (SNC), made up of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists and Arabists.  He believes that the U.S. is working with Salafi groups, and the Turkish government, to create an opposition in Syria that is strictly Islamist.  Such an opposition would serve Turkish economic interests in Syria and keep the Kurdish issue dormant in Turkey as well as in Syria.

For the last six months at least, Obama has been cultivating a relationship with PM Erdoğan of Turkey.  The budding relationship prompted Barry Rubin to ask, “Why Is an Anti-American Islamist, Obama’s Favorite ME Leader?

According to Sherkoh Abbas, one faction of the SDC had family connections in various Gulf States at the highest level and went to them for financial support.  They were turned down, as Obama had instructed them to give money only to the SNC.

Nevertheless, the SDC is gaining traction amongst the Kurds, Druze, Sunnis, Christians, and even the Alawites.  This is so because these various minorities are beginning to think of a post-Assad Syria, and they all want a region of their own.  They have expressed their willingness to be secular, democratic, and a friend of Israel and will be asked to commit to this in writing.  They don’t want Islamism or Arabism.  They prefer peace, freedom, and prosperity.  So why isn’t Obama embracing them?

The Obama administration is totally in sync with the Muslim Brotherhood.  At the renowned Herzlia Conference this year, I met Salman Shalkh, one of the speakers from Qatar.  We had a long conversation in which he kept pushing for the Saudi Plan to be embraced by Israel.  This is the plan that Obama is committed to — i.e., ’67 borders with mutually agreed-upon swaps.

Shalkh argued that Israel should talk to Hamas, and I countered, “What’s the point?  We have nothing to offer to them.”  Shalkh was also an apologist for the Muslim Brotherhood.  These arguments should be expected from someone from Qatar.  Unfortunately, the same arguments are being made by the White House.  It is instructive to note that Shalkh is director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, the Arab offshoot of the Brookings Institute that has so much influence with the State Department.  He told me that he was one of the people who drafted the Roadmap on behalf of the State Department.  I told him that it didn’t surprise me and suggested that he probably drafted the Saudi Peace Plan for them as well.

What is going on now in American foreign policy is not so much a product of the Islamist lobby fueled by both the Muslim Brotherhood and the gulf states as it is a product of a strategic alliance that has existed between the U.S. and the gulf states led by Saudi Arabia since before Israel declared her independence.  Unfortunately, President Obama, with his overt outreach to Islam, Muslims, and the Muslim Brotherhood, has taken it to another level.

It would appear that the ideas expressed by Mearsheimer and Walt in their book, The Israel Lobby, are being embraced by both the State Department and the White House.  These include the idea that the Israel lobby is too strong for America’s good and that Israel is a liability to America.

But the truth is otherwise, as John R. MacArthur pointed out in 2007, in “The Vast Power of the Saudi Lobby“:

Somehow, though, I can’t shake the idea that the Israel lobby, no matter how powerful, isn’t all it is cracked up to be, particularly where it concerns the Bush administrations past and present. Indeed, when I think of pernicious foreign lobbies with disproportionate sway over American politics, I can’t see past Saudi Arabia and its royal house, led by King Abdullah.

This article is a classic and should be read in full.

Obama has decidedly moved from an alliance with Israel to an alliance with the Islamists.

MK Aryeh Eldad, in a speech given in the fall in the U.S., when Israel was intending to act against Iran militarily, said word came down from the White House that “if you act alone, you will remain alone.”  Because Israel is so dependent on the U.S. for resupply of weapons and munitions in a prolonged war, this threat changed the calculus immediately.  It is true that when Mahmoud Abbas was threatening to go to the U.N. for recognition, the Obama administration lobbied around the world for negative votes.  But at the same time, Obama threatened Netanyahu that Obama would withhold his veto if Israel took punitive action against the PA by annexing some of the territories or by withholding funds.  Finally, he used the same threat to get Israel to instruct AIPAC to lobby Congress not to punish the PA by withholding U.S. funds.

Over the last six months, Israel has been warned by a succession of senior military and administration officials not to attack Iran, at this time, all in the name of giving sanctions a chance.  But who believes that sanctions will stop Iran?  And who believes that that the U.S. will in the end attack Iran to stop them?

So while Obama is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, he is keeping Israel under his thumb.

Isi Leibler takes exception to all this and reminds everyone:

[T]his organization [The Muslim Brotherhood]  represents one of the most fanatical and dangerous of the radical Islamist groups in the region, with a dark record of violence and terrorism imbedded in its DNA. It is rabidly anti-Western, anti-Christian, antisemitic, committed to imposing sharia law and a global Caliphate – and willing to employ any means to further its objectives.

Many would argue that Obama is also “anti-Western, anti-Christian[, and] antisemitic.”  Judging by his policies, they would be right.

Source

Iranian ships reach Syria, China warns of civil war

image

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Erika Solomon
AMMAN/BEIRUT | Mon Feb 20, 2012 6:16am EST

(Reuters) – China’s main newspaper accused Western countries of stirring civil war in Syria and two Iranian warships docked at a Syrian naval base, underscoring rising international tensions over the near year-long crisis.

Despite pursuing a sustained military crackdown on the opposition in cities across the country, President Bashar al-Assad forged ahead with plans to hold a referendum at the end of the week.

Activists in the western city of Hama said troops, police and militias had set up dozens of roadblocks, isolating neighborhoods from each other.

“Hama is cut off from the outside world. There is no landlines, no mobile phone network and no internet. House to house arrest take place daily and sometimes repeatedly in the same neighborhoods,” an opposition statement said.

Government troops extended their control on Hama after an offensive last week that concentrated on northern neighborhoods on the edge of farmland that have provided shelter for Free Syrian Army rebels.

The rebel fighters have been attacking militiamen, known as shabbiha, while avoiding open confrontations with armored forces that had amassed around Hama.

Government forces also maintained their siege of pro-opposition neighborhoods of Homs, south of Hama on the Damascus-Aleppo highway. Opposition activists reported sporadic morning shelling of Baba Amro district.

Security forces also mounted a campaign of arrests and raids in two suburbs of Deraa city and loud gunfire was heard, activists said. The reports could not be independently verified.

The Monday actions followed a weekend which saw one of the biggest demonstrations yet in the capital as the pro-democracy uprising against Assad’s 11 year-rule neared its first anniversary.

Security forces have killed at least 5,000 people, according to human rights groups, in a campaign to crush the revolt while the Assad government says it has lost more than 2,000 soldiers and security agents in what it describes as a struggle against foreign-backed terrorists,

The conflict has also pitted Western and Gulf-led Arab powers against Assad allies Russia, China and Iran.

The former have condemned Assad for the bloodshed and called for him to step down. Beijing and Moscow say all sides are to blame for the violence and the crisis should be resolved through talks, not foreign intervention.

China’s Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, in a front page commentary on Monday, said: “If Western countries continue to fully support Syria’s opposition, then in the end a large-scale civil war will erupt and there will be no way to thus avoid the possibility of foreign armed intervention.”

A Chinese envoy met Assad in Damascus on Saturday and backed his plan to hold a referendum this coming Sunday on a new constitution which would lead to multi-party parliamentary elections within 90 days.

Syria’s official SANA news agency said about 14,600,000 people throughout the country were eligible to take part in the referendum. The West and Syrian opposition figures have dismissed the plan as joke, saying it is impossible to have a valid election amid the continuing repression.

WESTERN FEARS

Assad has ruled Syria for 11 years after succeeding his father Hafez on his death. The Assad family belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, in a majority Sunni country, and there are fears the uprising could break down into a full sectarian conflict.

Meanwhile two Iranian naval ships docked at the Syrian port of Tartous on Saturday, Iran’s state-run Press TV reported. The ships were said to be providing training for Syrian naval forces under an agreement signed a year ago.

Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi, quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency, said: “Our ships passed through the Suez canal and it is Iran’s right to have a presence in international waters.”

With Shi’te-led Iran already at odds with the United States, Europe and Israel over its nuclear program, the deployment was

likely to add to Western concerns that the Syria crisis could boil over into a regional conflict if it not resolved soon.

Foreign ministers at a G20 industrialized and emerging nations meeting in Mexico were increasingly worried about whether a peaceful solution could be found.

“There is grave concern about the fact that existing structures of the United Nations have not delivered an outcome,”

Australia’s foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, told reporters in Los Cabos, Mexico.

The West has ruled out any Libya-style military intervention but the Arab League, led by Saudi Arabia, has indicated some of its member states were prepared to arm the opposition.

In Washington the senior U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said intervening in Syria would be “very difficult” because it was not like Libya.

Syria’s army is very capable, with a sophisticated, integrated air defense system and chemical and biological weapons, Dempsey said. It was also not clear who or what the fragmented opposition was exactly, he said.

A so-called “Friends of Syria” conference is scheduled to take place in Tunisia this Friday, bringing together Western and Arab powers.

Australia’s Rudd said the group aims “to place maximum pressure on president Assad to go, to end the butchery that we see day by day unfolding in Syria and to make sure we have a durable and peaceful political transition.”

(Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Parisa Hafezi in Tehran; Susan Cornwell in Washington; Krista Hughes in Los Cabos, Mexico; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Obama administration secretly preparing options for aiding the Syrian opposition

image

Posted By Josh Rogin

As the violence in Syria spirals out of control, top officials in President Barack Obama‘s administration are quietly preparing options for how to assist the Syrian opposition, including gaming out the unlikely option of setting up a no-fly zone in Syria and preparing for another major diplomatic initiative.

Critics on Capitol Hill accuse the Obama administration of being slow to react to the quickening deterioration of the security situation in Syria, where over 5,000 have died, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many lawmakers say the White House is once again “leading from behind,” while the Turks,  the French, and the Arab League — which sent an observer mission to Syria this week – take the initiative to pursue more aggressive strategies for pressuring the Assad regime. But U.S. officials said that they are moving cautiously in order to avoid destabilizing Syria further, and to make sure they know as much as possible about the country’s complex dynamics before getting more involved.

But the administration does see the status quo in Syria as unsustainable. The Bashar al Assad regime is a “dead man walking,” State Department official Fred Hof said this month. So the administration is now ramping up its policymaking machinery on the issue. After several weeks of having no top-level administration meetings to discuss the Syria crisis, the National Security Council (NSC) has begun an informal, quiet interagency process to create and collect options for aiding the Syrian opposition, two administration officials confirmed to The Cable.

The process, led by NSC Senior Director Steve Simon, involves only a few select officials from State, Defense, Treasury, and other relevant agencies. The group is unusually small, presumably to prevent media leaks, and the administration is not using the normal process of Interagency Policy Committee (IPC), Deputies Committee (DC), or Principals Committee (PC) meetings, the officials said. Another key official inside the discussions is Hof, who is leading the interactions with Syrian opposition leaders and U.S. allies.

The options that are under consideration include establishing a humanitarian corridor or safe zone for civilians in Syria along the Turkish border, extending humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels, providing medical aid to Syrian clinics, engaging more with the external and internal opposition, forming an international contact group, or appointing a special coordinator for working with the Syrian opposition (as was done in Libya), according to the two officials, both of whom are familiar with the discussions but not in attendance at the meetings.

“The interagency is now looking at options for Syria, but it’s still at the preliminary stage,” one official said. “There are many people in the administration that realize the status quo is unsustainable and there is an internal recognition that existing financial sanctions are not going to bring down the Syrian regime in the near future.”

After imposing several rounds of financial sanctions on Syrian regime leaders, the focus is now shifting to assisting the opposition directly. The interagency process is still ongoing and the NSC has tasked State and DOD to present options in the near future, but nothing has been decided, said the officials – one of whom told The Cable that the administration was being intentionally cautious out of concern about what comes next in Syria.

“Due to the incredible and far-reaching ramifications of the Syrian problem set, people are being very cautious,” the official said. “The criticism could be we’re not doing enough to change the status quo because we’re leading from behind. But the reason we are being so cautious is because when you look at the possible ramifications, it’s mindboggling.”

A power vacuum in the country, loose weapons of mass destruction, a refugee crisis, and unrest across the region are just a few of the problems that could attend the collapse of the Assad regime, the official said.

“This isn’t Libya. What happens in Libya stays in Libya, but that is not going to happen in Syria. The stakes are higher,” the official said. “Right now, we see the risks of moving too fast as higher than the risks of moving too slow.”

The option of establishing a humanitarian corridor is seen as extremely unlikely because it would require establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, which would likely involve large-scale attacks on the Syrian air defense and military command-and-control systems.

“That’s theoretically one of the options, but it’s so far out of the realm that no one is thinking about that seriously at the moment,” another administration official said.

Although the opposition is decidedly split on the issue, Burhan Ghalioun, the president of the Syrian National Council, earlier this month called on the international community to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria.

“Our main objective is finding mechanisms to protect civilians and stop the killing machine,” said Ghalioun. “We say it is imperative to use forceful measures to force the regime to respect human rights.”

Is the U.S. bark worse than its bite?

Rhetorically, the administration has been active in calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside and protecting the rights of Syrian protesters, despite the lack of clear policy to achieve that result. “The United States continues to believe that the only way to bring about the change that the Syrian people deserve is for Bashar al-Assad to leave power,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Dec. 21.

On Tuesday, Dec. 27, the administration hinted at stronger action if the Syrian government doesn’t let the Arab League monitors do their work. “If the Syrian regime continues to resist and disregard Arab League efforts, the international community will consider other means to protect Syrian civilians,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), the primary organization representing the opposition, has been very clear that it is seeking more than rhetorical support from the United States and the international community. An extensive policy paper titled, “Safe Area for Syria,” edited by SNC member Ausama Monajed, laid out the argument for armed intervention by the international community to aid Syrian civilians.

“The Syrian National Council (SNC) is entering a critical phase in the Syrian revolution whereby the hope of a continued campaign of passive resistance to an exceptionally brutal and unrestrained regime is becoming more and more akin to a suicide pact,” Monajed wrote.

But Washington is uncomfortable acting in concert with the SNC: Officials say there is a lack of confidence that the SNC, which is strongly influenced by expatriate Syrians, has the full support of the internal opposition. U.S. officials are also wary of supporting the Syria Free Army, made up of Syrian military defectors and armed locals, as they do not want to be seen as becoming militarily engaged against the regime — a story line they fear that Assad could use for his own propaganda, officials said.

There is also some internal bureaucratic wrangling at play. This summer, when the issue of sending emergency medical equipment into Syria came up in a formal interagency meeting, disputes over jurisdiction stalled progress on the discussion, officials told The Cable. No medical aid was sent.

So for now, the administration is content to let the Arab League monitoring mission play out and await its Jan. 20 report. The officials said that the administration hopes to use the report to begin a new diplomatic initiative in late January at the U.N. Security Council to condemn Assad and authorize direct assistance to the opposition.

The officials acknowledged that this new initiative could fail due to Russian support for the Assad regime. If that occurs, the administration would work with its allies such as France and Turkey to establish their own justification for non-military humanitarian intervention in Syria, based on evidence from the Arab League report and other independent reporting on Assad’s human rights abuses. This process could take weeks, however, meaning that material assistance from the United States to the Syrian opposition probably wouldn’t flow at least until late February or early March. Between now and then, hundreds or even thousands more could be killed.

There is also disagreement within the administration about whether the Arab League observer mission is credible and objective.

“This is an Arab issue right now, and the Arab League is really showing initiative for the first time in a long time,” said one administration official.

“[The Arab League monitoring mission] is all Kabuki theatre,” said another administration official who does not work directly on Syria. “We’re intentionally setting the bar too high [for intervention] as means of maintaining the status quo, which is to do nothing.”

Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the administration was caught off-guard by how the opposition became militarized so quickly. The administration’s message had been to urge the opposition to remain peaceful, but that ship has now sailed, he said.

“We have a pretty strong policy of not engaging the Syria Free Army directly, because earlier it was agreed that peaceful protesters had the moral high ground over the regime and were more able to encourage defections,” he said. “But there was no clear light at the end of that peaceful protest strategy. We assumed, incorrectly, that the civil resistance strategies used in Egypt and Tunisia were being adopted by the Syrian opposition, but that didn’t happen.”

Most experts in Washington have a deep skepticism toward the Arab League monitoring mission. For one thing, it is led by a Sudanese general who has been accused of founding the Arab militias that wreaked havoc in Darfur. Also, many doubt that 150 monitors that will eventually be in Syria can cover the vast number of protests and monitor such a large country.

The Assad regime has also been accused of subverting the monitoring mission by moving political prisoners to military sites that are off-limits to monitors, repositioning tanks away from cities only when monitors are present, and having soldiers pose as police to downplay the military’s role in cracking down on the protesters.

“It seems awfully risky for the U.S. to be putting its chips all in on that mission,” said Tony Badran, a research fellow with the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “There never was a serious mechanism for it to be a strong initiative.”

Badran said that the Arab League monitoring mission just gives the Assad regime time and space to maneuver, and provides Russia with another excuse to delay international action on Syria.

“Now you understand why the Russians pushed the Syrians to accept the monitors,” he said. “It allows the Syrians to delay the emergence of consensus.”

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the administration is trying to balance the value of protecting civilians with the interests of trying to ensure a measure of stability in Syria.

“The biggest thing is extensive consultation with as many international allies as possible. That’s another feature of this administration,” said Katulis. “And when change does come to Syria, the Syrians have to own it.”

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor did not respond to requests for comment.

Source

Shell Exits Syria amid Fresh Sanctions

Coat of arms of Syria -- the "Hawk of Qur...

 

LONDON (Dow Jones Newswires), Dec. 2, 2011

Shell said Friday it will pull out of Syria amid a wave of tighter sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime following his violent crackdown on protesters.

A spokesman for the Anglo-Dutch energy giant said: “Shell will cease its activities in Syria in compliance with sanctions. Our main priority is the safety of our employees of whom we are very proud. We hope the situation improves quickly for all Syrians.”

The European Union Friday expanded measures against Assad’s rule to include the Syrian oil and gas industry, including the state-owned General Petroleum Corp. and Syria Trading Oil, or Sytrol.

Shell has interests in three production licenses in Syria covering some 40 oil fields, with its share of production in 2010 approximately 20,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day. It also has exploration interests in the south of the country.

Payments from the government for oil produced in the country, to Shell and other companies, have been interrupted as Syria’s cash reserves continue to dwindle. According to Egbert Wesselink of Dutch charity IKV Pax Christi, Shell hasn’t been paid for the last week at least.

He said Shell’s decision to leave Syria was likely due to a combination of sanctions and reduced payments from Syria’s national oil company.

“Shell isn’t really operational there right now anyway. The effect of this will mean oil production will go right down,” said Wesselink, adding that storage facilities at the country’s export terminals are almost overflowing with crude as Syria runs out of markets to sell to.

Syria pumps about 370,000 barrels of oil a day, about 150,000 of it exported, according to the International Energy Agency. Those exports make up about one-third of Syria’s export income–and nearly all of it is sold to Europe.

“Now sanctions are working, the European boycott is effective,” he said. The country had even tried to switch to selling to Asian buyers instead, Wesselink said, but none of them were prepared to take it.

Shipbrokers who track the passage of oil globally said that exports from Syria have been virtually non-existent in the last two months, while Asian buyers spoken to by Dow Jones Newswires this week said they had no interest in lifting the country’s oil.

Copyright (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

by  Alexis Flynn

Dow Jones Newswires

Enhanced by Zemanta
%d bloggers like this: