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Top US officials to push for Syria action before Senate

© US Department of Defense

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-09-04

Top US diplomat John Kerry, defence chief Chuck Hagel (left) and top US military commander General Martin Dempsey (right) will argue the case for action in Syria before a Senate panel Tuesday as analysts warn that inaction threatens US credibility.

US defence and foreign policy chiefs will make the case for launching a military intervention in Syria before a Senate panel Tuesday as analysts warn that a failure to act could undermine US credibility in the region for a long time to come.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel will be joined by the top US military commander, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, when they go before the influential Senate Foreign Relations committee.

Kerry will warn that a failure to act in Syria undermines “the deterrent impact of the international norm against chemical weapons use", a senior State Department official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that Western inaction “risks emboldening [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad and his key allies, Hezbollah and Iran”.

The Senate panel convenes a day after French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault presented a new round of intelligence to lawmakers on Monday that he said proves the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in an August 21 attack outside Damascus.

US credibility on the line

Some analysts say that President Barack Obama’s surprise decision to seek congressional approval for any future military action in Syria has already undermined US credibility in the Middle East, drawing criticism from friends and foes alike.

After days of bellicose rhetoric threatening punitive strikes against the Assad regime for a suspected chemical weapons attack in which the US says more than 1,400 people were killed, Obama announced Saturday that he would not take action until Congress votes on the issue sometime after it reconvenes on September 9.

The US move comes after British Prime Minister David Cameron suffered a shock defeat in parliament last week when he put his own plans for an intervention in Syria to a vote.

“The idea of strikes is to show that the West is not so weak and when it comes to chemical weapons -- it can act," said Karim Bitar, who heads the Middle East research division at France’s Institute for International and Strategic Relations.

Bitar told AFP that equivocation over what to do in Syria was making Western powers seem "amateurish".

"One has the feeling that we are improvising, and that policies are being made day by day," he said.

US Government map of areas reportedly affected by Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack

A commentary in “The Times” of London noted that the US administration seemed to backtrack, saying the White House “lurched from blood-curdling war-like rhetoric to procedural bureaucracy within 24 hours".

"America makes the world a safer place not only through power but through dynamism and conviction,” the paper said in an editorial. “Today it and its president look lacking in both."

Britain's right-leaning “Daily Telegraph” said Syria’s main allies, Russia and Iran, have shown that they can be more effective than the West on the international stage.

"Whether it comes to weapons, cash or boots on the ground, either Russia or Iran will actually deliver,” the paper wrote. “And they do not need to worry about parliamentary votes, Congressional support, or indeed public opinion.”

France's “Le Parisien” newspaper reports that Obama is being called a "coward" on several Israeli social media sites while the German daily “Sueddeutsche Zeitung” said bluntly, "Don't show your Colt if you don't plan to shoot."

Inaction would be ‘catastrophic’

Some US politicians already seem acutely aware that inaction over Syria could have lasting consequences for US foreign policy and its global influence.

Following an hour of talks with Obama on Monday, influential Republican Senator John McCain said that a failure by Congress to authorise military action would be "catastrophic" for the United States.

"If the Congress were to reject a resolution like this after the president of the United States has already committed to action, the consequences would be catastrophic," McCain told reporters.

"It would undermine the credibility of the United States of America and the president of the United States. None of us want that," he said.

McCain has urged debate on a broader range of military options and has warned against taking any action in Syria that could be seen as merely “symbolic”.

“A weak response is almost as bad as doing nothing,” he said.

McCain said that he expects Obama’s Syria plans will win approval from lawmakers when they are put to a vote, likely next week.

Bitar agreed that Obama is likely to secure the necessary support, noting that Congress has not refused military plans proposed by a US president since 1973.

"If we cancel any military strike, that could be seen as a sign of weakness," he said, adding that "things have gone too far" for the West to back down.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)



Date created : 2013-09-03


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