US Capitol building in Washington DC 390.
(photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
WASHINGTON – Less than a week after the White House announced findings of
chemical weapons use in Syria and the initiation of a policy that would allow
the CIA to provide Syrian rebels with light weaponry and ammunition, President
Barack Obama is answering critics who say that small arms are no longer enough
to turn the direction of the war.
In a letter from leading senators on
foreign policy, Democrats Carl Levin (Michigan) and Robert Menendez (New Jersey)
and Republican John McCain (Arizona) warned that President Bashar Assad is
winning the war, and that his victories directly threaten the national security
interests of the United States.
“It could further radicalize the Syrian
opposition and enhance the growing influence of al-Qaida-affiliated groups
inside Syria,” the team of senators wrote in their letter to Obama. “It could
push the Middle East, especially Iraq and Lebanon, deeper toward the prospect of
sectarian conflict. It would be a major victory for the Iranian regime and its
proxy forces that would expand their extremist influence in the
The US must therefore provide moderate rebel forces with heavy
arms, the senators argued, including antiaircraft and anti-tank weaponry – and
should strike regime-held air bases.
“We must also degrade Assad’s
ability to use air power and ballistic missiles against civilian populations and
opposition forces in Syria,” the letter continued.
“Such actions could
include the targeting of regime airfields, runways, and aircraft on the ground,
which would also limit Assad’s ability to transport and resupply his ground
forces and those of his allies by air.”
The letter comes as details of
White House deliberations over a new policy last week have begun to leak to
American journalists. Jeffrey Goldberg reported in Bloomberg that Secretary of
State John Kerry made a forceful push for air strikes on Syrian air bases,
arguing that they were the sites from which chemical weapons attacks were
launched and that doing so would severely hamper Russian and Iranian weapons
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of
Staff, shot down that idea, aggressively pushing back at Kerry to envision all
possible consequences, the report asserts.
Obama explained to PBS
interviewer Charlie Rose on Monday, “If you haven’t been in the Situation Room
poring through intelligence and meeting directly with our military folks and
asking what are all our options and examining what are all the consequences, and
understanding that, for example, if you set up a no-fly zone that you may not be
actually solving the problem on the ground or if you set up a humanitarian
corridor are you, in fact, committed not only to stopping aircraft from going
over that corridor but also missiles? “And if so,” the president continued,
“does that mean that you then have to take out the armaments in Damascus? And
are you prepared then to bomb Damascus?” The Pentagon estimates it would take
700 sorties just to bomb Syrian anti-aircraft batteries, before striking
A Pentagon official confirmed with The Jerusalem Post widely
held skepticism in military circles at the prospect of a no-fly zone, which,
they say, would effectively require acts of war.
Russian Foreign Ministry
spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Monday that his government
“fundamentally will not allow this scenario” of a no-fly zone, anyway, as world
leaders converged on the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. Syrian humanitarian aid
was on the agenda; a no-fly zone was not.
The leaders agreed to pledge
$1.5 billion in new aid to refugees, and to renew efforts to bring both sides of
the civil war to peace talks in Geneva.
Secretary-General Ban Kimoon
praised the G8 communique, which also called on the Assad government to allow UN
investigators to enter the country finally to examine allegations of chemical
weapons use – an investigation originally requested by the Assad
“The reports submitted to him by [UN] member states, including by
the Syrian government, are serious and warrant full and impartial
investigation,” Ban’s spokesman said.
Rebel forces fighting Assad have
submitted requests to the White House for weapons that could stop tanks,
helicopters and fighter jets.