9 Sep 2013

Syria debate: a dangerous moment in history

Waking up in Washington DC I flip the TV on. “Call Congress” screams the ‘Move On’ anti-war ad. “Say no to War on Syria”.

The ad rapidly adds the gruesome statistics – 7,000 US soldiers killed in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and $2 trillion spent on the effort. No mention of gas, or red lines.

The mood in America, as senators start to debate attacking Assad’s sector of Syria is that ‘We the People’ are none too keen on any further Middle East military adventures.

None of us who covered Barack Obama’s extraordinary runs for the presidency can have thought that his remarkable powers of persuasion would end up in a passionate enterprise of going to war against yet another Muslim entity in the Middle East.


In truth, Obama has demonstrated himself more than reluctant to get involved with Syria for the two years since the civil war began.

He’s been under enormous pressure to attack before. It has been that way this time too – military, political, and industrial.

The vast defence element of America’s industrial base sees orders beginning to dry up in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Iraq and amid the draw down in Afghanistan. But on the other side of the equation are US stocks. The stock market hates the uncertainty of war. Financial reports airing this morning here speak of investors pulling out of riskier stocks in favour of Treasury bonds.

All this before a single word has been uttered on the floor of the Senate. Most politicians admit their mailbags and calls are heavily weighted against more war. Some speak of the ‘higher calling’ of considering America’s ‘national security’.

‘Most dangerous’

I came here first as a correspondent thirty years ago this month. I cannot remember a more contentious debate, nor one in which the stakes have ever been higher. Senators know much more about war – thanks to the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan – than they did when they inaugurated those attacks.

For the third time in twelve years an American President wants to attack a predominantly Muslim country. But this time he runs the risk of strengthening al-Qaeda and the extreme jihadists who flock daily to the war zone ostensibly bidding to unseat President Assad.

The attack ads talk of ‘World War 3’. That may be an exaggeration, but most certainly this is a most dangerous moment in modern world history.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the issue in Obama’s mind – Assad’s alleged use of poison gas – is rarely touched upon in the wider debate in the country.

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8 reader comments

  1. Patrick says:

    I’m curious: if the US does attack and Assad lobs a few missiles in the direction of American forces as a result, would there really be any realistic possibility of the US not responding to that?

    Any action is only targeted or controlled in it’s initial phase. Anything after that is pretty much impossible to predict with any real degree of accuracy, so any assurance by the US government that things won’t get out of hand is meaningless.

    And what’s equally meaningless is this talk of a ‘vetted’ opposition. Vetted by who? And how? By what criteria?

    Even if people here can be certain that the ‘vetted’ opposition are in fact only fighting for their freedom rather than the interests of groups such as Al-Qaeda, how can anybody be certain that any aid given to the opposition won’t make it’s way into the hands of terrorists?

  2. Robin Jellicoe says:

    John Kerry and John McCain fort in Nam. Will someone please ask why they are complaining about chemical weapons? The ones the USA used then are still causing so much suffering. Why aren’t the US compensating Vietnam victims before bombing Syria? BBC News – London surgeons help ‘children of Agent Orange’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-23632245

  3. Ray Turner says:

    “The most dangerous moment in modern history”

    I should say so.

    Some people have become complacent over the last decade or two, thinking that military might can solve every problem. It can’t. No matter how well thought out, it always causes more problems than it solves…

    As for WWIII, I’ve predicted it too. Honestly, it wouldn’t take much to trigger complete chaos in the world. If the US launch a missile from a submarine and the Russians detect & sink that sub, in their ‘support’ of long-standing ally Syria, what next…? And then there is Israel…

    We need the Senators to follow Westminster’s lead, giving Pres. Obama an exit strategy once he’s lectured the world this evening, about how chemical weapons should never be used again.

    Then the diplomats should take over…

    1. tomasz. says:

      “*a* most dangerous moment”, rather than “the”

  4. Philip Edwards says:


    Those who are pressing for an attack on Syria……

    Is this the gospel according to Operation Northwoods, Operation Phoenix, the Gulf of Tonkin, Agent Orange, Falujah, drone attacks on innocent Afghani civilians, Iraq/Libya/Afghanistan lies?

    World War 3 might (MIGHT) not beckon, but you can guarantee there will be many more dead Syrian innocent men, women and children after the Yanks and French have finished.

    That being the case, will Obama, Hollande and the other blood soaked war metronomes Cameron and Hague undertake to go personally to the homes of the victims and explain to their parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and cousins why it was necessary to kill them to save them? And while they are at it present ALL the evidence they say they have to prove it was a Syrian government order and NOT A FALSE FLAG ATTACK?

    Answers on a postcard……….

  5. Lorensu says:

    One side: USA, ISRAEL, other Side: Iran , russia

  6. James says:

    I find it very ironic that the US can spend so much diplomatic effort to make the case for air strikes against a sovereign country. If only they’d spent half as much energy on trying to get the two sides to talk and had been more honest brokers (i.e. not insisting that Assad left from the off), the crisis would probably be over by now. To those advocating US led air strikes, I would say that it is very easy to do this from miles away, when none of your own family is at risk of being killed or having their limbs blown off. I am no fan of the Assad regime, but I fear that as with Libya, what would follow the regime’s removal by force would be much worse than is the case currently. The opposition are definitely not angels and the Syrian crisis is not a clear case of good versus evil as Channel 4 and the other TV channels would have us believe.

    Yes chemical weapons use is horrible, but why is the “West” (or the “International community” as they like to call themselves) always only outraged enough to act against regimes they don’t like (or don’t cow-tow to them)? When 900+ civilians were killed in Egypt by the country’s military regime only recently, there was no call by the US or UK governments for air strikes or for any punitive actions whatsoever. To this day they have refused to even acknowledge that a military coup took place in Egypt.

    In spite of Channel 4’s and the British TV media being so obviously one-sided about the Syrian crisis, the vast majority of the world (apart from a few of the few usual suspects) is against US led against air strikes, feeling it is hypocritical and will only make matters worse.

  7. Patrick says:

    Now we hear that they might put any action on hold if the chemical weapons are surrendered.

    I don’t think anybody can claim with a straight face that the Assad regime doesn’t have chemical weapons, nor that they have been used. What remains to be proven however is that it was the Assad regime that used them, and not the opposition that has been put into an increasingly desperate position.

    I can easily imagine that any weapons inspection program will morph into an excuse to invade. All it would take is the opposition to launch some form of attack and for everybody else to blame the government. Assad after all would in all likelihood be unable to prove it wasn’t him that ordered it (how on earth could he ever prove such a negative?) so the likes of Obama and Hollande would have the excuse that they are looking for.

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