Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

How Obama’s Lawyers Gave John Bolton the Keys to Armageddon

April 19, 2018

Obama’s lawyers never thought Trump would be the next White House incumbent, or that it would be Bolton whispering in his ear. If they had, maybe they wouldn’t have corroded the U.S.’s commitment to following international law before launching military strikes abroad

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In this Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 file photo, Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill
John Bolton, now U.S. National Security Adviser and former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Feb. 24, 2017AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File

There has been too little discussion in the U.S. about the legality, under international law, of President Donald Trump’s decision to fire Tomahawk and 19 JASSM cruise missiles at suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities last weekend.

Only the UK offered a clear and explicit legal justification for its actions – even if most international lawyers think it is “significantly flawed.” The U.S. and France appeared to argue that Syria’s violations of international law, through the repeated use of chemical weapons, were so self-evidently wrong that it ipso facto gave these countries a right to use force against Syria.

In the opinion of U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, the U.S. had to hold “the Syrian regime responsible for its atrocities against humanity.”

Lawyers will search in vain for references to the UN Charter in the arguments advanced by the US, the UK, and France in justifying their strikes in Syria.

As expected, the UK invoked the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” under customary international law, as it did in 2013, before Parliament blocked military action. Customary international law is habitually invoked by international lawyers when they know that they do not have a legal argument to make under the UN Charter.

Although one of the purposes of the UN is to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the Charter does not give states a right to use force to ensure respect for these rights without authorisation from the UN Security Council.

The lack of reference to the UN Charter is not that surprising. Government lawyers in the U.S., the UK, and France, have been repeatedly side-lining the Charter to justify their military interventions since the end of the Cold War.

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017.
U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017. Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout

The danger this time around is that these states may have corroded the UN Charter beyond repair. Only Russia and China referred to the UN Charter in their categorical condemnations of the strikes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Russia Today that the strikes were not only carried out “in violation of the UN Charter and principles of international law.” He also warned that the current escalation of the Syrian crisis was having “a devastating impact on the whole system of international relations.”

For international lawyers this is a very sorry state of affairs. It is as though references to the UN Charter have become the refuge of tyrants.

The view that the UN Charter and whole system of international relations is under threat from repeated unlawful uses of force is not new. Thomas Franck made the argument over 40 years ago. He repeated it after the Iraq fiasco. But I think his argument may have been precipitate.

For example, lawyers argued ad nauseamabout the legality of the invasion of Iraq, as the hundreds of pages of the UK’s Chilcot Inquiry attest. Then government lawyers acted as handmaidens to power when they fixed law around policy and made grandiose claims in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America (2002) in the lead up to the invasion.

Syrian children and adults receive treatment for a suspected chemical attack at a makeshift clinic in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus late on February 25, 2018.
Syrian children and adults receive treatment for a suspected chemical attack at a makeshift clinic in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus late on February 25, 2018.HAMZA AL-AJWEH/AFP

But they did not try to rewrite the rules. That came later.

After the invasion of Iraq, and in view of all of the criticisms levelled at the U.S. and the UK, in respect of the legal advicethat was advanced justifying the invasion, it was felt that a more concerted effort was needed to make international law more relevant for the modern world.

Three events had contributed to the view that international law needed reform. The first was the Rwandan genocide. The second was Srebrenica. The third was 9/11.

With regard to the massive human rights violations in Rwanda and Bosnia it was felt that the UN had done too little to stop these atrocities. After the 9/11 attacks, it was thought that politicians were not taking international lawyers seriously when they insisted that a proper reading of the UN Charter required states to take a hit before they could take action in self-defense.

The UN Charter had been drafted for a very different world, when the domestic jurisdiction clause in Article 2 (7) of the Charter was added to prevent criticisms of colonialism and the racial policies of South Africa and the U.S.

But times have changed, and today the UN Charter is being used as a shield by authoritarian regimes to commit massive human rights violations against their own citizens, and by those states that provide sanctuary to violent nonstate actors committed to carrying out terrorist attacks against the West.

Things got out of hand in Iraq when dubious claims were advanced in order to justify regime change in that country – a flagrant violation of international law.

U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah's Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez, Mosul, Iraq, November 7, 2008.
U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah’s Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez, Mosul, Iraq, November 7, 2008.AP

Ironically, the lesson from Iraq was not “never again.” Rather, government lawyers set about establishing new rules that would allow states to take into account the threats from weapons of mass destruction in their assessments of when they could take measures in self-defense.

The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (2001) had also made new arguments about when states could take measures in response to massive human rights violations when the states responsible for these violations were unable or unwilling to put a stop to them – although the Commission did not go as far as British lawyers in calling for action without authorisation from the Security Council when they justified the NATO intervention in Kosovo.

“Flexibility” became the buzz word. The aim was to make law “policy relevant.”

But the danger was that by making law policy relevant, the lawyers may have inadvertently made themselves irrelevant, as politicians – many of whom are also lawyers – began replacing legal advisers as the ultimate arbiters of what is lawful, and not only what is wise or just or strategic.

Consider President Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor: uber-hawk John Bolton – who is also an attorney who has written widely on international law and international affairs. Bolton has repeatedly argued that Iran and North Korea pose imminent threats to global security that necessitate the preventive use of military force.

In the case of Iran, Bolton’s argument is based on the same rationale that led the U.S. to strike Syria’s chemical weapons facilities. In his article in The New York Times, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran,” published in 2015, Bolton called on the U.S. to render inoperable the Natanz and Fordow uranium-enrichment installations, the Arak heavy-water production facility, and the uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan in a preemptive strike. He wrote that an attack need not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, just set it back a few years.

UNGA 2015
UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon addresses the 70th session of the general assembly. September 28, 2015AP

He did not mention the UN Charter or offer a legal rationale to support his argument, but he did cite as “precedents,” Israel’s preventive strike on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor in 1981, and Israel’s preventive strike on Bashar Assad’s “top-secret” nuclear reactor in 2007.

All the U.S. has done in Trump’s recent missile strike is to replace the target. Instead of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, it struck Syria’s chemical weapons facilities.

The message to the Ayatollahs could not be clearer: the strikes on Syria are a dress rehearsal for future strikes on Iran.

In other words, the latest strikes on Syria were not about the appalling human rights violations in that country, whatever British Prime Minister Teresa May said in Parliament: it was a rap on the knuckles that sent a warning to Iran and North Korea (and also in May’s case to Russia in response to the attempt to kill former KGB agent Sergei Skripal with a deadly nerve agent in Salisbury).

Even more concerning, perhaps, was Bolton’s justification for an imminent strike on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, when he cited the same legal authority that Bush administration lawyers had cited to justify the invasion of Iraq. In an article he wrote earlier this year for The Wall Street Journal, Bolton cited the nineteenth century Caroline “case” that most people will have never heard of (outside the community of international lawyers).

Again, Bolton made no reference to the UN Charter.

The failure of Bolton to mention the UN Charter and his decision to cite the same legal authority that justified the invasion of Iraq, one of the most disastrous foreign policy blunders of the twenty-first century, should be a cause of concern. How did it come to this?

During the Obama administration lawyers came up with increasingly strained readings of the UN Charter by drafting their own rules to provide “authoritative” guidance for when states could employ force in preemptive self-defence. The development of new technologies such as weaponised UAVs or ‘drones’ was one reason they felt new rules were necessary.

Stealth
A picture downloaded from the US Air Force website showing a B2 Stealth bomber at a base in Missouri in May 2012.AFP

It was thought new rules developed by those states that were leading the development of these advanced weapons systems, including unmanned fighter aircraft, would give them a head start over their rivals and, in time, provide a global legal standard.

Controversially, the lawyers that drafted these rules decided to revisit and resurrect the Bush doctrine even though it had been widely criticized in the UN Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change in 2004.

Although they admitted that mistakes had been made in Iraq, they did not take the UN’s criticisms seriously. They still believed that the legal rationale behind the Bush doctrine was solid.

And this was a view that was held by both Bush and Obama administration lawyers. As John Bellinger III, the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council at the White House (2001-2005), and the Legal Adviser to the State Department (2005-2009), wrotein The New York Times in 2010, there was going to be “more continuity than change” in the Obama administration.

Government lawyers in both the Bush and Obama administration continued to press for employing new language that would redefine the meaning of an imminent threat in a way that did not focus on the temporality of an incipient or incoming attack but reflected the wider circumstances of the threat.

The threats were never defined, but were understood to include threats from nonstate actors, from states with weapons of mass destruction, and from cyber-attacks. It was argued that an imminent threat of these sorts would provide a plausible legal argument for states to take military action without authorization from the Security Council and without having to suffer an armed attack – as the language of Article 51 of the Charter appeared to suggest.

In other words, never mind the UN Charter. Come what may the U.S. and the UK could strike first so long as the threat of an attack was “imminent.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands former President Barack Obama during the 58th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017.
U.S. President Trump, left, with former President Obama at the inauguration in Washington in January. Visceral as opposed to rational approaches to the peace process.Carlos Barria / Reuters

The authors of these “rules” did not consult lawyers who disagreed with them. They did not, heaven forbid, consult Russia or China. Nor did they consult the nations of Africa or Asia that almost always oppose the claims of the U.S., the UK, and France to act as the moral wardens of the international liberal order.

In 2017, the U.S. and the UK were joined by Australia in calling for a new definition of an imminent threat, when George Brandis, the Attorney General, announced that Australia would take action in self-defense in response to imminent threats of attack.

While Australia and the UK have been careful to condition their definition of an imminent threat to credible and concrete information of an imminent attack, it is not clear whether this view is shared by Bolton who, judging from his writings, would appear to be willing to employ force against threatsthat are more remote.

The intention to draft new guidelines was noble. Greater clarity about rules is a good thing. But the strategy may have backfired, as the proliferation of guidelines and rules has sowed confusion.

We now have a situation where the permanent members of the Security Council can no longer agree on the basic rules of international law within the Council’s core field of activity concerning the maintenance of international peace and security.

The danger is not when lawyers argue about law or even when the lawyers are ignored by politicians; at least there is a standard by which these politicians can be judged, and perhaps even held to account, when the dust has settled. The danger is when nobody can agree on what the law is.

Perhaps the lawyers back in the Obama days did not want to be left out of the decision-making process. They may have thought it would be safer to have a lawyer present in the Situation Room with the President, the National Security Advisor, and the Chiefs of Staff. Perhaps they thought they were just doing what good lawyers always do, which is to please their clients.

Of course they could never have imagined in the “halcyon days” of President Obama that one day Donald Trump would become their client and their commander in chief. Nor could they have imagined that John Bolton would be ensconced in the West Wing whispering in his ear.

Victor Kattan is Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and an Associate Fellow at NUS Law. Twitter: @VictorKattan  

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Putin’s Bluff Is Finally Being Called and Russia Is Running Out of Options in Syria

April 18, 2018

After proving powerless to prevent the airstrikes on the Assad regime, how can Putin restore deterrence?

Russian President Vladimir Putin crosses himself as he attends the Easter service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, early Sunday, April 8, 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin crosses himself as he attends the Easter service in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, early Sunday, April 8, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Saturday morning’s combined attack by the United States, Great Britain and France on the Assad regime’s chemical warfare bases in Syria may have been, as U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis described it, “a one-time shot,” but it also proved an important point.

Russia does not have the military capabilities necessary to prevent the U.S. and its allies from destroying targets that are ostensibly under its protection in Syria.

This should not come as a surprise. The United States Armed Forces – and, to a much smaller extent, those of Britain and France – have long been built to work on a global scale, with the capability to quickly deploy land, sea and air battle forces, backed up by electronic warfare aircraft and aerial tankers.

Russia’s army is still built around defensive-minded Soviet doctrines and is designed to protect the homeland, at the most fighting small local battles on its borders. The Russian force currently based in Syria consists of a couple of dozen bombers and attack helicopters, which can pulverize civilians in rebel-held enclaves but lack the sufficient equipment, or experience, to fight an adversary with cutting-edge capabilities.

Russian and Syrian sources boasted that 70 percent of the missiles fired at regime targets had been shot down by the air defense systems Russia supplied to the regime. Just as they made a similar claim the previous week after the attack on the T4 air base, attributed to Israel. The Pentagon denied these claims and the Syrians have produced no evidence to back them up. They are unlikely to be true.

A satellite image showing the Barzah Research and Development Center after being struck by U.S. and coalition operations in Damascus, Syria, April 14, 2018
A satellite image showing the Barzah Research and Development Center after being struck by U.S. and coalition operations in Damascus, Syria, April 14, 2018.\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

Russia, of course, remains a formidable military power, but that is largely when it is fighting on its own borders. This was the second time in just over two months that its limitations in fighting abroad were exposed. In February, at least 200 Russian “mercenaries” were reported killed in U.S. airstrikes, called in when the Russian force took part in an attack on the U.S.-backed, mainly Kurdish, Syrian Democratic Forces.

That may have been a one-time shot as well, since U.S. President Donald Trump intends to end the U.S. presence in northeast Syria in support of the SDF soon. But the fact that his forces, and those of his Syrian and Iranian allies, are exposed will not have been lost on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Until now, Putin has had one major advantage in Syria: His was the only country, besides Iran, that was prepared to deploy its own significant contingent. In the vacuum left by then-President Barack Obama’s decision not to get involved in the Syrian war, beyond a belated air campaign against the Islamic State, Russia’s intervention was decisive.

But now the bubble in which Russia has been operating has been punctured again and again. When it was only Israel doing so, in pinpoint attacks on Hezbollah and Iranian targets (according to foreign sources), it was one thing. Israel rarely acknowledges its attacks and has an efficient “deconfliction” process with the Russian headquarters at the Khmeimim air base.

Russia’s appearance of omnipotence in the Syrian arena has been shattered. Appearances of power count for a lot in this region.

For now at least, the U.S.-led alliance doesn’t seem to be planning any further attacks on the regime beyond that one-off retaliation to the April 7 Douma chemical weapons attack – Trump after all tweeted “Mission Accomplished!” on Saturday. But Putin will feel he needs to somehow restore Russia’s deterrence.

His options are limited. Russia doesn’t have a military option to restore its deterrence in Syria. Its forces there are insufficient to take on any of the other nations who have operated, and may operate again, in Syria. Working together – and probably also individually – the United States, Britain and France, as well as Israel and Turkey, can all deploy larger and more capable forces to the region much faster than Russia can.

Another option already being exercised is the cyber one. Even the most casual Twitter user following foreign affairs will have noticed the “bots” out in force in recent days, simultaneously claiming that there was no chemical attack in Douma and a chemical attack had been carried out by Western-supported rebels. The Pentagon assessed “a 2,000-percent increase in Russian trolls” within 24 hours.

But after all we’ve learned in the last two years, the effectiveness of trolls – whether fake ones manufactured in Russia, or real far-left and far-right mouthpieces who can be relied upon to parrot the Kremlin’s line – is no longer as devastating as it was during the U.S. presidential election.

A more ominous cyberthreat was contained in the warning issued Monday by the U.S. and British governments of a concerted campaign by Russian hackers to take control of internet routersused by government and critical infrastructure networks. If successful, such a hacking operation could have devastating results, but if linked to Russia – and the warning spoke of “high confidence” that it is – that could lead to a serious escalation of tensions between the West and Russia. But would it make future Western intervention in Syria less likely?

Another possibility is a concerted military push inside Syria against the rebel-held areas near the Turkish border, perhaps with some form of coordination with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the aim of provoking another major flow of refugees through Turkey into Europe. Russian Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov warned last week of such an outcome to the West’s “adventures.”

While this wouldn’t directly threaten the United States, Britain or France, a similar exodus of Syrian refugees through Turkey, and across the Aegean into Greece, to the million refugees who arrived in Europe in 2016 would seriously test the European Union’s members and have wider shock waves. But would Erdogan, who supported Friday’s airstrikes, partner Putin in such a move? The EU has so far succeeded in buying him off and keeping the Aegean floodgates closed. What can Putin offer him to break the deal to keep the Syrian refugees out of Europe?

Two and a half years after Russia deployed its aircraft to Syria, Putin has yet to achieve the sort of leverage he was hoping for. His control of Syria and ostensible partnership with the West in fighting ISIS there hasn’t translated into concessions on sanctions or carte blanche to act in Ukraine. The opposite has happened, with enhanced sanctions.

Another attempt by Russia to exert pressure on the West, by singling out Britain for an assassination attempt on former spy Sergei Skripal using a nerve agent, resulted in a united Western response: the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats. And now the United States, Britain and France have got together to attack the Assad regime.

Putin’s bluff is finally being called. After years of inaction under Obama and despite Trump’s obvious reluctance, the United States and its allies are now challenging him and he’s running out of options.

Former Syrian General Says Assad Retained 700 Tons of Chemical Weapons — Stockpile allegedly held back and hidden during Russia-Syria-U.S. deal to remove chemical weapons from Syria

April 16, 2018

According to a fugitive Syrian General, the Syrian government had hidden hundreds of tons of chemical weapons from the OPCW.

Fugitive Syrian General Says Assad's Government Retained 700 Tons of Chemical Weapons

Fugitive Syrian Brigadier-General Zaher al-Sakat (L) (Photo: Telegraph / Zaher al-Sakat / AP)

The Telegraph newspaper has published information about chemical weapons of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, provided by fugitive Syrian Brigadier General Zaher al-Sakat, who allegedly had been commanding a subdivision of chemical troops of the 5th Division of the Syrian Army until 2013.

According to al-Sakat, in 2013, the Syrian authorities hid from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) hundreds of tons of chemical weapons. As the fugitive officer claimed, the Assad’s regime had at least 2,000 tons of combat chemical agents, but the Syrian government recognized the presence of only 1,300 tons of such substances.

Al-Sakat said that at least 700 tons of sarin and other poisonous substance, as well as precursors (substances, used in chemical reactions in order to get a target substance), remained at secret warehouses in Syria after the country’s ‘clearing’ of chemical weapons. He noted that these stocks were secretly exported to fortified warehouses in the mountains near Homs and to the coastal city of Jableh, located near the port of Tartus. According to al-Sakat, the Syrian Army still has aerial bombs, capable of carrying chemical charges, and missiles of the Scud class with warheads for chemical charges.

Damascus and Moscow said that accusations of the presence of chemical weapons and means for its usage in the Syrian Army are unfounded. At the same time, the Syrian and Russian authorities have repeatedly claimed that militants of terrorist groups, operating in Syria, have such weapons.

Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow is puzzled why the fugitive Syrian General hid the information about the remaining chemical weapons in Syria for such a long time.

“I have seen reports on the statements of the fugitive Syrian General. They indicate that he fled in 2013. In the same year, the Russian-American agreement on chemical disarmament of Syria in accordance with its accession to the convention on the prohibition of chemical weapons, which was supported in The Hague and New York, was reached,” Lavrov said.

According to the Russian Foreign Minister, “on the basis of this agreement, as early as in 2014, the OPCW received by the Syrian government data on its stockpiles of chemical weapons and verified them in the same 2014.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov in Geneva (14 September 2013)Image copyrightAFP
John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov reached an agreement after three days of talks

Lavrov noted that “the total amount of chemical substances that should have been disposed was 1,300 tons, while the general said yesterday that there were 2,000 tons of chemical weapons.”

“As the figure of 1,300 tons was announced openly, I have a question why the General, if he knew about the 2,000 tons, was silent for three years. Seven hundreds of tons are not a small figure, you cannot hide it in a test tube from under white powder,” the diplomat said.

Lavrov noted that “any person of sound mind understands that this general has been stimulated either with a carrot or with sticks.”

Will remind, on April 4, about 90 people, including up to 30 children, were killed, and some 560 others were hospitalized with poisoning, injuries and wounds, as the result of an airstrike and subsequent chemical contamination of the area in Khan Shaykhun town in Idlib province. The US accused the Syrian government of the chemical attack. The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that the Syrian Air Force bombed a warehouse, where terrorists stored their chemical weapons, and this led to the contamination of the area. Later, Moscow declared that it was necessary to thoroughly investigate what happened before setting out any versions and charges.

On the night of April 7, US Navy destroyers fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, targeting the Shayrat airbase, located about 30 kilometers of the city of Homs. The Shayrat airbase was chosen as a target of the missile strikes, as the US authorities believe that the Syrian Air Force departed from there to carry out its airstrikes in Idlib province.

https://southfront.org/fugitive-syrian-general-says-assads-government-retained-700-tons-of-chemical-weapons/

See also:

Syria chemical weapons disarmament deal

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-23876085

U.S. Congress to Sidestep Debate Over Syria Military Strikes

April 11, 2018

Congress isn’t planning vote to authorize military force even as Senate committee prepares to debate rewriting 16-year-old law that underpins war on terrorism

President Donald J. Trump speaking with the media before a meeting with his cabinet in the White House on Monday.
President Donald J. Trump speaking with the media before a meeting with his cabinet in the White House on Monday. PHOTO: JIM LOSCALZO/ZUMA PRESS

WASHINGTON—Top lawmakers on Capitol Hill said they won’t vote on authorizing retaliatory U.S. military strikes against Syria over a purported chemical-weapons attack, sidestepping a longstanding and messy debate about what role Congress should play in foreign policy.

A number of members in both parties said President Donald Trump possesses the authority to conduct limited, surgical strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to the Saturday attack that killed dozens of civilians.

“I think for a surgical strike, they easily have the authority to do it,” said Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire agreed. “To initiate the kinds of missile strike he did last year? I think he has the authority to do that,” she said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said he intends to push his effort to rewrite two laws authorizing the use of military force.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said he intends to push his effort to rewrite two laws authorizing the use of military force. PHOTO: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The lack of congressional interest in a debate on Syria strikes comes as Congress is about to reopen a long-simmering debate on the 16-year-old law that underpins the war on terrorism.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee this month will begin debating a rewrite of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists—a law that has provided the legal backbone for military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

In avoiding a congressional debate, Mr. Trump won’t face the same political headwinds in pursuing strikes against Syria as President Barack Obama did in 2013 when he sought congressional approval.

Then, as now, Mr. Assad’s regime stood accused of using chemical weapons against civilians. Mr. Obama asked Congress for authorization to retaliate—a difficult vote for members of Congress facing war-weary voters.

The Senate committee passed an authorization for the use of military force against Syria by a narrow 10-7 vote, but it was never considered by the full House or Senate. Ultimately, the Obama administration reached an agreement with the Assad regime for the removal of its chemical weapons and decided not to carry out military strikes.

President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes against Syria last year. A photo shows the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducting strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea in April 2017.
President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes against Syria last year. A photo shows the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducting strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea in April 2017. PHOTO: SEAMAN FORD WILLIAMS / HANDOUT/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Mr. Trump ordered Tomahawk missile strikes against Syria last year over another chemical attack, and didn’t seek congressional authorization. The Justice Department has revealed, as part of a transparency lawsuit brought by the watchdog group Protect Democracy, that it wrote a seven-page legal memo justifying those strikes. That memo hasn’t been released, despite several requests by members of Congress as well as a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Under the Constitution, Congress alone has the authority to declare war, through either a formal declaration of war or another legislative tool called an authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF. In recent years, however, presidents in both parties have insisted that they possess authority under existing law to take action.

“I think colleagues in both parties have shirked their responsibilities for a long time on this,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who has been pushing for a renewal of the war authorities and supports a vote on Syria strikes. “President Trump needs to finally lay out a Syria strategy and come to Congress for approval if he wants to initiate military action. He’s a president, not a king, and Congress needs to quit giving him a blank check to wage war against anyone, anywhere. If he strikes Syria without our approval, what will stop him from bombing North Korea or Iran?”

The AUMF passed shortly after the Sept. 11th attacks in New York, and Washington aimed at combating terrorists. A year later, Congress authorized the war in Iraq in a separate AUMF. Both remain in effect.

Together, the two laws have provided the legal basis for nearly every sustained military action the U.S. has taken in recent years. But since the 9/11 attacks, the nature of the war on terror has evolved. Islamic State, for example, didn’t exist when the 2001 AUMF was passed.

The White House has objected to rewriting the authorization laws, but Mr. Corker has said he intends to proceed regardless. He and Mr. Kaine have written a new draft of the AUMF authority, which they expect to be released this week.

The aim of the law is to make sure that “the administration has the freedoms that are necessary to be successful but at the same time to ensure that Congress has an ongoing role,” Mr. Corker said this week.

Lawmakers Sidestep Debate Over Syria Military Strikes

https://www.wsj.com/articles/lawmakers-sidestep-debate-over-syria-military-strikes-1523439001

Iran Threatens to Restart Nuke Enrichment Program in Matter of Days

April 9, 2018

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei / Reuters

BY: 

Iranian leaders are threatening to restart the country’s contested nuclear enrichment program in just a matter of days as the Trump administration and European allies scramble to address a range of flaws in the landmark nuclear accord ahead of a May deadline that could see the United States walk away from the accord, according to regional reports and administration insiders.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization disclosed on Sunday that the Islamic Republic has maintained the ability to restart the full-scale enrichment of uranium—the key component in a nuclear weapon that was supposed to be removed from Iran as part of the nuclear agreement—in just four days.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s atomic work, claimed Iran could enrich uranium to 20 percent, which is more than enough to quickly reach the threshold to power a nuclear weapon, in just four days if the word is given by Iran’s hardline ruling regime.

The disclosure has roiled Trump administration insiders and nuclear experts who have been warning for months that Iran never fully disclosed the nature of its nuclear weapons work and progress as international leaders struggle to fix the deal by May, according to those who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon about the situation.

 Image may contain: outdoor

The Trump administration is pushing European allies to agree to a range of new strictures that would constrain Iran’s ongoing nuclear research, as well as its ballistic missile program, which has continued to progress unimpeded since the nuclear deal was locked in place.

“If senior Islamic Republic officials issue an order to resume the 20% enrichment, we can do it in [the] Fordo [nuclear facility] within 4 days,” Salehi was quoted as telling reporters on Sunday in Iran’s state-controlled press.

The comments are meant serve “as a warning” to the United States and other global powers, which Iran has accused of violating the accord by not implementing a series of economic concessions that would give Iran access billions in cash resources and business deals.

“Iran can even show more extensive progress in other parts of its nuclear activities to go beyond the previous levels,” Iran’s state-controlled Fars News Agency reported Salehi as warning.

Iranian leaders have also claimed that it can take its nuclear enrichment activities even further than it did before the agreement restricted such activity.

“We don’t have any problems technically,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, another Iranian atomic official was quoted as saying last year. “We were moving normally in the past but if we want to soar up, we can ascend to go up the ladder and develop 100,000 SWUs [of enrichment capacity] in one and a half years.”

This would include revamping the Arak heavy water facility, which would provide Iran with a second, plutonium-based pathway to a nuclear weapon.

Mark Dubowitz, a nuclear expert who has advised the White House and Congress on the Iran issue, told the Free Beacon that Iran’s latest enrichment threats expose critical flaws in the Iran deal that the Trump administration is seeking to address.

Iran’s “threats confirm that the Iranian regime never gave up on its atomic weapon ambitions,” said Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think-tank.

The nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, “merely hit the pause button temporarily on those aspects of Iran’s nuclear program that it had already perfected — and, as [Salehi’s] threats underscore, could be easily restarted—while leaving Tehran with the time and space to develop technologies that it hadn’t perfected such as advanced centrifuges and missiles,” Dubowitz said. “His threats reveal what many deal skeptics have long argued: unless the JCPOA is fixed, Iran has pathways to dozens of nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking U.S. forces, U.S. allies, and eventually the U.S. homeland.”

Trump administration insiders who spoke to the Free Beacon about the matter warned that Iran’s threats can be backed up with action should the Islamic Republic decide to abandon the deal and buck Trump.

“This is exactly what President Trump means when he says the Iran deal is the worst agreement ever negotiated,” said one Republican foreign policy adviser who is close to the White House.

“The Obama administration gave away the store, literally sending Iran billions and billions of dollars, but the deal left Iran with the ability to reverse their concessions in a couple of days,” the source said. “We gave away too much for too little, and every day the deal stays in place Iran gets more and more benefits from sanctions relief. No wonder the president is leaning toward getting us out.”

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on rogue regimes, noted that while international inspectors have had access to some of Iran’s nuclear sites, it has not been permitted to inspect secret sites, including underground facilities that could have continued to serve as a nuclear research hub for Iran since the deal was implemented.

“This is just one more statement to show what a mirage the JCPOA was,” Rubin said. “Iran built an underground facility under the nose of the IAEA, and Obama allowed them to keep it. The more we see the Iran nuclear deal, the more it seems about as effective as the deal to end Syria’s chemical weapons.”

http://freebeacon.com/national-security/iran-threatens-restart-nuke-enrichment-program-matter-days/

Syrian Attack Sends Toxic Cloud Over Trump-Putin Ties — “Now do you believe he’s a rat?” (China’s Xi isn’t your pal either…)

April 9, 2018

Efforts by the U.S. president to maintain a cordial relationship come under increased strain

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump in July 2017 on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump in July 2017 on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Can you have a good relationship with the leader of Russia at the same time you have a bad relationship with the country of Russia?

The quest to do exactly that has been at the heart of President Donald Trump’s global strategy. He has tried hard to separate his leader-to-leader relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin (friendly, free from personal criticism) from the considerable problems in the broader U.S.-Russia relationship (increasingly tense, marked by Russian defiance and American sanctions).

Now that strategy is being put sorely to the test. In fact, it may have died in a mist of chemicals raining down on civilians in Syria over the weekend.

In launching a chemical-weapons attack inside his own country, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad —Russia’s friend and recipient of all manner of Russian help—stuck a finger in the world’s eye. The attack came just days after Mr. Trump had said he wanted U.S. troops out of Syria and away from its civil war, a declaration that may have emboldened the Syrians.

In any case, the president responded with a rare public rebuke of Mr. Putin, in essence charging he was complicit in the chemical attack. That marked a significant departure.

Mr. Trump, moreover, has essentially promised a response. He has a range of options. He could order the kind of limited reprisal strike at Syrian targets that he launched under similar circumstances almost exactly a year ago, simply to make a point. He could launch broader U.S. attacks on Syrian military sites, which would have the added effect of indirectly helping the Syrian opposition forces the U.S. continues to aid in the country.

Alternatively, Mr. Trump could try to lead a broader international response. The Russians will use their veto to block meaningful action at the United Nations Security Council, but the U.S. likely could get cooperation from France and the U.K. if Mr. Trump seeks it. The president likes to act unilaterally; this may be the occasion to think multilaterally.

Victims of an Alleged Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria

Footage released by Douma Revolution show patients being treated at a hospital in Syria after an alleged chemical weapons attack. Viewer discretion is advised. PHOTO: SYRIA CIVIL DEFENCE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

More broadly, the chemical attack may prompt Mr. Trump to rethink his impulse to withdraw the small contingent of American forces on the ground in Syria, where their ostensible goal is to help mop up the remnants of Islamic State fighters. Mr. Trump’s urge, stated explicitly last week, is to get out and let Mr. Assad and his Russian and Iranian friends and the Turks next door sort out the future.

But in the wake of the weekend attack, a withdrawal would make it appear the U.S. is willing to turn the fate of Syria over to the same people who use chemical weapons against the local populace. At a minimum, Mr. Trump, having again just criticized his predecessor, Barack Obama, for not taking more decisive action in Syria, now can’t so easily walk away.

In short, Mr. Trump, like other presidents before him, would prefer to extract himself from the messes of the Middle East; like them, he now may conclude that isn’t easy, and may not even be possible.

Mr. Putin isn’t the kind of leader to sit passively if Russian interests in Syria come under attack by the U.S. The prospect of tit-for-tat escalation of U.S.-Russian tensions in Syria—piled on top of growing worries over Russian interference in American politics, the apparent Russian poisoning of a former spy in Britain and a sham Russian presidential election—is now very real. And the idea that the personal Trump-Putin relationship can somehow be insulated from those broader tensions is under increasing strain.

Mr. Trump is, of course, hardly the first president to try to keep cordial relations with a fellow world leader even as their countries clash in the trenches below. Nor is he the first to be hammered for doing so. Notably, former President George H.W. Bush tried to maintain ties to China’s leaders even amid the 1989 crackdown on democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. He was widely criticized for not being more outspoken, but his approach preserved his ability to get Chinese cooperation when Iraq invaded Kuwait the next year.

Mr. Trump seems to have a particularly strong belief in the power of his personal ability to woo, cajole and manipulate other leaders. In separate conversations, several of his advisers said that belief is rooted in his New York business experience.

Mr. Trump has tried a similar approach with Chinese President Xi Jinping, seeking to cultivate a personal connection that can be walled off from the eruption of trade tensions.

But maintaining that approach with Mr. Putin, already a strain because of the investigationinto alleged Russian efforts to help Mr. Trump win the presidency in the first place, has become increasingly difficult. Mr. Putin has proved to be not just antidemocratic, but determined to make a mockery of democracy with his interference in an American election. The weekend tragedy in Syria simply makes the strain more extreme.

Write to Gerald F. Seib at jerry.seib@wsj.com

Assad’s Chemical Attack in Syria May Encourge Donald Trump To Keet US Forces on the Ground Longer

April 9, 2018

April 8, 2018

President Trump is butting heads with his military advisers as he attempts to pull back U.S. forces in Syria.

Trump’s instinct is to withdraw entirely, fulfilling his campaign promise to end nation-building and foreign entanglements.

Syrian government forces backed by Russia and Iran have nearly retaken Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb where a chemical attack was reported on Saturday.Credit Abdulmonam Eassa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


But Pentagon officials and top generals have issued dire warnings about the possibility that terrorist groups will surge back in Syria if the United States leaves the country.

A similar debate played out for months over Afghanistan, until Trump agreed to stay the course there indefinitely.

In Syria, Trump has agreed to leave U.S. troops there for now, but gave the military a six-month deadline to finish the nebulously defined job of defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“One useful place to start is the different conceptions of war that Trump and his generals have,” said Stephen Biddle, adjunct senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Trump thinks wars should look like World War II. He’s looking for some sort of big dramatic blitzkrieg.


“He thinks that you win a war with some sort of sudden decisive violence, the enemy cries ‘uncle’ and then you have a big victory parade. That hasn’t been the way wars have worked for a long time. That’s kind of a cartoon idea of war.

“Trump’s generals at this point have lived through a generation of very hard experiments that has run this conception out of most of the American military. They think of wars as long, grinding, slow, often-indecisive struggles.”

The United States has about 2,000 troops in Syria. Pentagon officials say ISIS has lost about 90 percent of the territory it once held in Syria, but that it still needs to be routed from pockets along the Middle Euphrates River Valley and along the Syria-Iraq border.

Pentagon officials have also said that efforts to retake the last 10 percent of ISIS-held territory have stalled as the United States’s Kurdish partners have left the fight against ISIS to fight a Turkish incursion elsewhere in Syria.

Last week, Trump stunned an audience in a speech about infrastructure with a seemingly off-the-cuff remark that the United States will “be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.”

On Tuesday, he reiterated, “I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home.”

Later on Tuesday, Trump met with his national security team. By Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that “the United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated.”

Still, Sanders said the military mission “is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed.”

The Pentagon on Thursday asserted that plans for Syria haven’t changed, denying that Trump set a six-month timeline during the meeting with his national security team.

“The president has actually been very good in not giving us a specific timeline, so that’s a tool that we can use to our effect as we move forward,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, said during a briefing. “We’ve always thought that as we reach finality against ISIS in Syria, we’re going to adjust the level of our presence there. So in that sense, nothing actually has changed.”

But before Trump’s proclamation, military and diplomatic officials had spoken for months about the need for a long-term military commitment in Syria.

At virtually the same time Trump was speaking Tuesday, his top commander in the Middle East and his top diplomat overseeing the international anti-ISIS coalition were across town delivering a different message.

“A lot of very good military progress has been made over the last couple of years, but the hard part, I think, is in front of us,” U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel said at a United States Institute of Peace event. “And that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes, addressing the long-term issues of reconstruction and other things that have to be done.”

Before he was fired, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered a speech, reportedly approved by Trump, that argued for a long-term military presence to ensure ISIS does not re-emerge, counter Iranian influence and keep the territory stable until a diplomatic process leads to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s removal.

“I think he’s bumping up against reality,” Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said of Trump. “I understand Donald Trump, like Barack Obama, wants to leave Syria. But under the circumstance that he has described, he can’t leave Syria. Any person who understands how counterterrorism works understands that.”

Trump’s dilemma has shades of former President Obama’s inability to end the United States’s wars.

Obama came into office pledging to end the Iraq War. When ISIS emerged, Obama pledged not to put boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria. He eventually left office with 500 ground troops in Syria and 5,000 in Iraq.

After an initial surge in Afghanistan, Obama also pledged to bring U.S. troops home from there. But on the advice of the generals, he left office with about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan.

“The reasons are very different, but the pattern is very similar,” Biddle said of the parallels between Obama and Trump, adding Obama was driven by a “psychodrama” between not wanting to wage war and following his advisers’ advice, while Trump is driven by “narcissistic, impulsive lashing out.”

Robert Ford, who was a U.S. ambassador to Syria in the Obama administration, said he thinks Obama and Trump are closer in thinking on Syria.

“Obama always viewed Syria as a kind of Shia-Sunni longtime battle in which America really didn’t have a dog in fight,” Ford said. “Obama just wanted to go pound ISIS and then leave. That’s not very different from Donald Trump.”

Trump’s advisers were able to change his mind about Afghanistan, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll successfully change his mind on Syria in the next six months.

As the deadline approaches, Trump and the military could be forced to grapple with the ill-defined nature of what it actually means to defeat ISIS.

“This is one of the problems that the national security team has had, and it predates Trump,” Ford said. “What is their definition of victory? What does defeating ISIS look like? Does it mean local security forces are able to contain ISIS? Is the definition that ISIS is so small that it can’t regenerate? If it’s local forces being able to contain them, which forces?”

The Hill

http://thehill.com/policy/defense/382032-trump-clashes-with-military-in-syria-pullout-push

See also:

As Trump Seeks Way Out of Syria, New Attack Pulls Him Back In

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/08/world/middleeast/syria-trump-assad.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Related:

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Trump’s response to Syria attack is ‘defining moment is his presidency’: Lindsey Graham

April 9, 2018

The Preventable War Crime: How the West Failed to Prevent One Syrian Chemical Attack After Another

April 8, 2018

In the history of war, no war crime has been so well documented and so predictable to those who had it in their power to prevent it from recurring

.A child receiving oxygen following an alleged chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, Syria, April 8, 2018.
A child receiving oxygen following an alleged chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, Syria, April 8, 2018./AP

What we know at this point is that late last night (April 7) in Douma, dozens of people — the numbers are unclear but estimates range from 40 to 150 — were killed by what was almost certainly a nerve agent or another form of chemical weapon.

We know that Douma was one of the last remaining pockets of rebel resistance in Eastern Ghouta, the region near Damascus that has held out against the Assad regime for five years. And that, even though the enclave has been drastically shrinking, following pounding by Syrian and Russian airstrikes, the regime has targeted Eastern Ghouta chemical weapons before.

We also know that April 7 is the anniversary of last year’s American cruise-missile attack on a Syrian airbase, the only time during the last seven years in which the United States has directly attacked a regime target, and the lone example of the regime being made to pay for using such weapons. Apparently, it didn’t have much of a deterrent effect.

Trump Just Did It: he drew the line against butcher Assad that Obama never did | Opinion

Syrian President Bashar Assad talking with troops in Eastern Ghouta, March 18, 2018.

Syrian President Bashar Assad talking with troops in Eastern Ghouta, March 18, 2018.HO/AFP

What we also know is that while Syrian civilian organizations are scrambling to get out evidence and samples from Douma for analysis abroad, Western intelligence agencies that have devoted considerable efforts over the last seven years to tracking the movements and use of Syrian chemical weapons already know a great deal.

They won’t be saying what they know, however, because admitting knowledge means having to explain why they’re not doing anything about it. Because they have known all along.

>>One day, we Israelis will ask why we did nothing | Opinion

In the early months of the Syrian revolution, as the Assad regime seemed on the brink of collapse and senior officers defected to the Free Syrian Army, then at the vanguard of the rebellion, the FSA prepared plans to secure Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons.

The massive stockpiles had been manufactured and prepared as a way to try and counter the military advantage held by Syria’s neighbor and enemy, Israel. In 2011, even as the regime’s forces were firing at protesters and killing thousands, the use of the chemical weapons, by the Syrian army, against Syrian civilians, still seemed a step too far.

>> The West’s Leftist Male ‘Intellectuals’ Who Traffic in Genocide Denial, From Srebrenica to Syria | Opinion

Even for Bashar Assad. The main concern, among both the FSA and Western governments, was of losing track of the chemical weapons, having them fall into the hands of Islamist groups. The FSA claimed to know where the main storage facilities were situated, and said that with the downfall of the regime, their teams would be on hand to secure them.

They weren’t the only ones who knew these details. The Syrian chemical-warfare program had been in place long enough for Western intelligence agencies and presumably Israel too to also have a pretty accurate picture of what it entailed.

>>Can Syrian carnage be compared with the Shoah? U.S. Holocaust Museum insists it must

In late 2012, when the first reports emerged of isolated cases of the use of such weapons against rebel-held areas, those intelligence services were hardly surprised. President Barack Obama had already issued his “red line” warning in August 2012, based on the fact that the U.S. and its allies already had credible intelligence on preparations by the foundering regime, and a willingness by it to use, those weapons. He warned that any such use would change “my calculus.” But there were reports of additional use of chemical weapons, including the Khan al-Assal attack in March 2013 when Syrian soldiers and civilians were killed by a missile carrying sarin, which was almost certainly fired by the regime, and missed its intended target.

The fact that it was not until August 21, 2013, when the worst attack to date, at Ghouta, was carried out, that the West was finally on the brink of attacking the regime, had nothing to do with failures of intelligence. Rather, it was the sheer scale of the hundreds of dead, the footage of children being carried lifeless from their homes, and the fact that finally, more than two years after the fighting began, that an atrocity of the Syrian war had finally become headline news around the world.

Nothing had changed — Obama and his allies had already known that the regime was prepared to use these weapons on its civilians. They just didn’t realize how brazenly he was willing to do so. But Assad had their measure. Ultimately, Obama dithered, Britain’s David Cameron carelessly held a vote in parliament over whether to respond militarily, and lost, and France’s Francois Hollande waited for either Britain or the U.S. to join it before it would retaliate.

And nothing happened. Assad agreed to join the international treaty on the prohibition of chemical weapons, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons teams did dismantle a large part of the Syrian chemical arsenal, perhaps more than 90 percent of it, but it had been built to fight a full-out war with Israel, and more than enough remained in the regime’s hands to be used occasionally to break the will of civilians holding in the remaining rebel enclaves.

The type of weapons used, the convoys transporting them from depots, deployment of the artillery batteries firing the rockets and the flight-patterns of fighter-bombers dropping the bombs – all of these have been tracked and monitored in real time. There was no need for too much analysis, as it was clear within hours what had happened and who the perpetrators were.

If Assad and his partners are ever put on trial, the evidence has already been assembled, and it will point to the fact that the leaders of the West, and of Israel, knew and did nothing about it. Which is probably why that evidence will not be revealed for decades.

A number of other chemical attacks by Assad have barely even been reported in the West, because they were carried out against areas held by ISIS, and no one cares about them. When dozens died in the chemical bombing of Khan Shaikhoun on April 4, 2017, by which time it was Donald Trump calling the shots in the White House, the U.S. had no trouble finding the airbase from which the Syrian air-force Sukhois had taken off and targeting it with cruise missiles in a very short three days It wasn’t some intelligence breakthrough or an asset that the U.S. had suddenly acquired.

It was just a president making an isolated gesture to show he was not his predecessor. But Trump changed nothing. Beyond that one-off missile strike, he has stuck to Obama’s policy of ignoring the regime’s chemical attacks. One more chemical attack does not change the interests of any of the players in Syria. Russia and Iran are still both invested in keeping the Assad regime afloat. The United States — and as far as Syria is concerned, there is absolutely no difference between the policies of the Obama and Trump administrations — is steadfast about not getting involved in Syria beyond fighting ISIS, which is now largely a sideshow.

The same goes for other Western nations, which are still suffering along with America from a collective trauma over costly and disastrous interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. And the interests of Syria’s two most powerful neighbors, Israel and Turkey, won’t have changed, despite this weekend’s atrocity.

Turkey is focused on its immediate corner of Syria, where it is engaged in a punishment campaign against the Kurds in Efrin. Israel is targeting only Iranian and Hezbollah assets in Syria, and trying to make sure they don’t go near the Golan border. Both countries now look to Russia to help them maintain those interests and won’t do anything to anger the Kremlin.

At any point during the last seven years, Israel or Turkey could have carried out air strikes to take out the main storage bases of chemical weapons, and the artillery units and air bases from which they are launched. Both countries have large air-forces sufficiently equipped with stand-off missiles (which can be fired at a distance without exposing the attacking aircraft excessively), to carry out such missions, and they know which targets to hit.

The same is equally true of the U.S. and its British and French partners, which have even more land, sea and air-based missiles for such a task.The excuse everyone now has, that since September 2015, Russia has deployed forces to Syria, and attacking those targets would be provoking a global showdown, didn’t exist in the first four years of the Syrian war. It didn’t prevent the single attack by the U.S. last April after Khan Shaikhoun. And from a military perspective at least, it doesn’t hold water now, as the handful of fighter jets Russia has deployed to Syria, and its air defense system there could not hold off an attack carried out by long-range missiles and stand-off munitions fired from afar.

In the history of war, no war crime has been so well documented and so predictable to those who had it in their power to prevent it from recurring. They haven’t prevented these attacks to date, and they won’t do so in the future, because it is not in their interests to do so.

‘Big price to pay,’ after ‘mindless’ Syria attack — Trump calls Assad an “Animal” — Seems to Threaten Action — Reminds World of Obama’s Chemical Weapons “Red Line”

April 8, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | An image grab taken from a video released by the Syrian civil defence in Douma shows an unidentified volunteer holding an oxygen mask over a child’s face at a hospital following a reported chemical attack on the rebel-held town on April 8, 2018

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump on Sunday said there will be a “big price to pay” after what he called a “mindless CHEMICAL attack” in Syria, allegedly involving chlorine gas.Trump also called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad an “animal.”

“President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay,” Trump said in a pair of tweets which began with a discussion of the attack in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, where rescue workers alleged that regime loyalists had used chlorine gas.

“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world,” the president said.

At least 80 civilians have been killed since Friday after the regime launched fresh air raids on rebel-held areas of Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.

Syrian state media and the regime’s ally Russia denounced claims of chemical use as “fabrications.”

“Open area immediately for medical help and verification,” Trump said. “Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”

The latest alleged attack came a year after the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikun in northwestern Syria was hit by an air strike. A UN-commissioned report said many residents of the town suffered the symptoms of an attack from an illegal nerve agent and more than 80 or them died, convulsed in agony.

Trump responded to that attack three days later, when US warships in the Mediterranean fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

Assad denied ordering that attack and Russia has continued to give him diplomatic cover at the United Nations.

Trump on Sunday criticized his predecessor Barack Obama for not striking after warning that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a “red line.”

“If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line in The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!” Trump said.