The US president has finally spoken, so what does it all mean. In a nutshell, not a lot.
I’ve read through the transcript of the speech several times to understand the language that was being used and it raises some interesting points as to what was said as well as what was not said.
Obama said that the US should take military action against Syrian regime targets. (italics are mine) He didn’t say that the US must or will take action, only that they should. This is clever political wording that leaves the door open for doing nothing whatsoever.
The responsibility for any decision is now apparently in the hands of congress which also gives another nice get out clause if need be. There is no guarantee that congress will give its approval for action but if it does then it will come with strict conditions. To be honest I think congress representatives have already been polled and decisions made before Obama gave his speech yesterday. He would not have made a promise like that unless he already knew what the decision would be. That is how politics works.
So we go through the charade of congress mulling over whether it should support the President or not. What will the result be?
First we need to consider what wasn’t said in the speech. Nothing was said about trying to overthrow Assad or help the FSA. In fact absolutely nothing was said about helping the normal Syrian civilians. All that was said is that the ability to carry out CW attacks should be degraded. From this, I am assuming that congress will come back with a very limited mandate for Obama to attack missile sites that are used to launch CW attacks as well as some CW storage and production facilities. Beyond this there will be nothing.
Back in April in a week long operation, over 500 civilians were killed in Damascus, among them many women and children by Syrian, Hezbollah and Iranian forces. There was no international outcry over this and no promise by the international community that action must be taken against the Syrian government. So what is different this time around? Not much.
When the Syrian revolution became an armed conflict, with Iran and Hezbollah being involved from the start, the USA saw an opportunity to weaken Iran and Hezbollah, to make them bleed in Syria. Since the start, the USA has helped the Free Syria Army in a limited way. Not enough help to enable the FSA defeat the Syrian government but enough to hold them and continue to commit resources. As it is Iran that is now running the war in Syria, it is Iran that is having to put ever more resources into this conflict. Iran is also using the war in Syria as a laboratory to experiment with different types of weapons, including CW and warfare techniques.
The US sees that Iran is getting the upper hand in this war and in order to rebalance things and keep this war going for as long as possible, the CW attack will be used as an excuse for any future action. However, any future action becomes ever more risky as Syrian air defenses become stronger and stronger with the ability to strike down missiles, this capability being supplied by the Russian S-300 air defense system. Iran has been preparing for this confrontation for quite some time now and Russia is fully backing them as a way of giving a black eye to the USA. In the end,any action taken by the USA will not be taken with the ordinary Syrian people in mind. Hence the irony of using their deaths as a justification for pushing forward various political agendas.