1830 GMT: SNAP ANALYSIS
President Obama has the ability to conduct up to 60 days of armed conflict if he believes that the United States’ national security is threatened. Obama is also making the case that US allies are threatened – Israel, Jordan, Turkey – all of which could be used as grounds to engage Syria. That was the argument Obama made during Libya, where he assisted the NATO no-fly zone mission without Congressional approval.
So why isn’t he striking?
The first reason is clearly political – recent polls suggest that the vast majority of Americans want Obama to get Congressional approval before engaging Syria. Even though US opinion polls are rapidly moving towards favoring intervention, that kind of polling would scare any politician. The unknown question is whether or not Obama knows how Congress is already leaning in this debate.
Then there is another possibility – that Obama expects the UN to reveal evidence that the Assad regime did this crime. First we have to briefly ask, what IS the evidence that the United States already has?
The first category of evidence is somewhat circumstantial. What would it take to conduct an attack of this scale? What kind of coordination would be required? What areas were hit, and where could the attacks have been launched from? In short, if we analyze the logistics needed to launch this attack, who is the most likely suspect? The size and scope of the attacks, and the areas affected, indicate that the regime likely carried out this attack, and the opposition was the victim. That’s not a smoking gun, though.
The first category is classified intelligence that the United States has collected. The White House has specifically mentioned that it monitored significant chatter from Assad officials about the chemical weapons being prepped, being used, and then being covered up. The US also says that they witnessed significant activity at the sites of the chemical weapons stockpiles, as well as at the launch sites. The third clue is that the US says it tracked the launch of these weapons, as well as the landing points. This information will likely remain classified. The White House, however, will be sharing this information with Congress.
Some of this was news, but some of this evidence also matches quote well with evidence that has independently been collected by journalists. A group of over a dozen rockets have been documented near the sites of the chemical weapons attacks. Those weapons are unique in design, and appear to contain elements of an Iranian rocket tail, the Iranian Falaq-2. That weapon has also been seen being loaded into a rocket launcher manned by Syrian Republican Guard troops. The team I’ve worked with has also established, both from analyzing the ballistic evidence and through interviewing witnesses in Syria, that the weapons came from Assad-occupied bases near Damascus.
It is clear that the regime launched these weapons. But these weapons are only suspects in the chemical weapon attack. There’s no way to tell without taking samples whether these weapons carried chemical munitions. In other words, it’s strong evidence, but it’s still circumstantial. The UN, however, has taken samples of these weapons. A delay by the White House could give the UN time to release an initial report. While the UN mission was not mandated to point the finger at a specific party, if the UN concludes that these weapons were the carriers of chemical weapons, then the United States, and really anyone who has analyzed the evidence, can be certain, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the Assad regime conducted the August 21st chemical weapons attack.
1804 GMT: Some clarification on the President’s statement – it does not seem that Obama will wait for the UN Security Council to pass a binding resolution. THAT will never happen. Obama has also made it clear that he does not need the blessings of the UN, or the UNSC, to act against Syria. However, it is clear that Obama is unsettled by the thought that the United States would engage Syria alone:
@MillerMENA seems he would bypass the UNSC as I heard it but still invokes "the international community" unspecified
— CatherineFitzpatrick (@catfitz) August 31, 2013
Then there is the politics of this. Congress is out of session until September 9th, one week from Monday:
Good point from @yeselson. The decision to go to war in Syria is apparently not important enough to ask Congress to cut short its vacation.
— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) August 31, 2013
1800 GMT: Some great early analysis – Obama is clearly unwilling to go it alone, both in domestic politics and in foreign policy. What I mean by that is that not only will he not act against Syria without Congressional approval, something he does not technically need thanks to the War Powers Act, but he also wants international support. England initially voted intervention down. France does not have resources in place yet. And the UN has not agreed to act.
Obama seems to want the UN findings in first. This could theoretically allow another UK vote for intervention.
— michaeldweiss (@michaeldweiss) August 31, 2013
1757 GMT: So the bottom line is that this speech is not a speech announcing impending war against Syria. Rather, it is a speech to make the case for intervention, not only to Congress but also to the American people.
1755 GMT: Now here’s the bombshell – Obama goes on to state that intervention will be viable today, tomorrow, or at any time. He will therefore seek permission from Congress to conduct an intervention. The debate will start when Congress comes back into session.
1750 GMT: President Obama: He starts his remarks by recalling the horror of the August 21st attack, then mentions that the US has clear intelligence that it has presented to the American people. That intel includes information before, during, and after the attack, as well as the open-source intel collected by journalists like myself.
Obama goes on to say that this is a national security threat. It mocks the prohibition of chemical weapons and endangers Syria’s allies. It could lead to more attacks.
The United States SHOULD take military action. The attack will be limited in duration and scope.
1746 GMT: Two minute warning – there is a lot of speculation, but we’ll wait to hear what Obama has to say.
1740 GMT: Welcome to today’s Syria liveblog. US President BArack Obama is expected to begin speaking at any moment now. Live video is at the top of the screen, and updates will be below.