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Syria seeks deal as U.S. president keeps option for war on the table

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Sep 10, 2013 - 3:41:59 PM

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Kerbie Joseph yells and pumps her fist as she marches with protesters against U.S. military action in Syria through Washington to Capitol Hill from the White House, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. After Syria accepted a deal to have chemical weapons monitored, it appeared congressional action on military strikes would be delayed.

WASHINGTON ( - President Barack Obama’s plans for a military attack against Syria, for allegedly using banned chemical weapons against a rebel-held area in that country's two-year-old civil war have unfolded rapidly since Mr. Obama announced his intention to get congressional authorization before launching any strike.

The core of the disconnect, overwhelmingly among the general public, and increasingly among senators and members of the House of Representatives—both Democrats and Republicans—is because of fatigue from fruitless wars against Muslim countries, often based on false propaganda: propaganda not unlike the unproven charges that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on Aug. 21.

At Final Call presstime Sept. 9, there was a new scramble after the U.S. secretary of state said turning over all chemical weapons could avert an attack. His words were quickly translated into a proposal by Russia and quickly accepted by Syria. “I state that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the Syrian leadership’s concern for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country, and also motivated by our confidence in the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is attempting to prevent American aggression against our people,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said in response to the proposal by Russian official Sergey Lavrov. The two officials met in Moscow.

The Obama administration expressed doubt that the Syrian regime would act and could act as promised. President Obama in an interview with CNN host Wolf Blitzer was skeptical and pushed his stance that without military threats nothing would have happened. The pressure must be kept on, said the U.S. president. His language also shifted from use of force to terms like “threats of force.” The president said Syrian compliance could avert military strikes.  Still it was clear that the military option was not taken off the table.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Charlie Rose, who reports for both the Public Broadcasting System and for CBS News, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned that Americans should brace themselves for “every action” from a variety of possible sources in retaliation for an attack by the U.S.

“You should expect everything. Not necessarily from the government,” Pres. Assad told Charlie Rose on Sept. 7. It was the first television interview that Mr. Assad has given since President Barack Obama sought congressional authorization for military action in Syria.

Speaking in English, Mr. Assad said that Syria is “not the only player in this region. You have different parties, you have different factions, you have different ideology. You have everything in this region now.”

Mr. Assad said what many in this country have been thinking about the Obama administration’s run-up to this war. It reminded him of “the big lie” that Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction: weapons that were never found after the U.S. overran the country and toppled the Iraqi government.

As more and more ordinarily reliable Democratic members of Congress announced their opposition to Mr. Obama’s plan, the principal ally still pushing for the attack appeared to be the so-called “Israel lobby,” according to a former congressional staff member and former editor of publications for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

“I think (AIPAC support) is the only hope the administration has to win is the pressure AIPAC can bring on members of Congress,” M.J. Rosenberg, a special correspondent to The Washington Spectator and to The Huffington Post, who previously served as the director of policy analysis for the Israel Policy Forum, and was an editor of Near East Report, AIPAC’s bi-weekly publication on Middle East policy told Ian Masters Sept. 7, on “Background Briefing” heard on KPFK-FM in Los Angeles.

“I don’t think it’s going to work. I think that the proposal is going to fail in the House. Many of AIPAC’s own supporters in the House are going to vote no. I notice that Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) of Florida, who is about as AIPAC as you can get, is heading up the effort to get a no vote on this,” Mr. Rosenberg said.

Protestors take to streets in America demanding no military action against Syria. Photo: Haroon Rajaee

Mr. Grayson, who raised serious doubts during House Foreign Affairs Committee questioning of both Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry about the administration’s weak evidence that the Aug. 21 attack was carried out by government forces, even set up a website ( to rally support against the strike.

“Secretary Hagel, there’s been a report in the media that the administration has mischaracterized post-attack Syrian military communications and that these communications actually express surprise about the attack,” Mr. Grayson asked the Defense Secretary Sept. 4. “This is a very serious charge. Can you please release the original transcripts so that the American people can make their own judgment about that important issue?” Secretary Hagel replied that he was unaware of the reports and that any such transcript would probably be classified, preventing its public disclosure.

Another House Democrat—Freshman Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)—herself an Iraq war veteran announced that she will vote against the resolution to authorize military action in Syria, even after several classified briefings with Obama administration officials. “I am sickened and outraged by the carnage and loss of lives caused by the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” Rep. Gabbard said in a statement.

“It is with gravity that I have carefully considered all the facts, arguments, and evidence and soberly weighed concerns regarding our national security and moral responsibility. As a result, I have come to the conclusion that a U.S. military strike against Syria would be a serious mistake. I will therefore vote against a resolution that authorizes the use of military force in Syria. I will also strongly urge my colleagues to do the same.”

Public opinion is also strongly against U.S. military action against Syria. A CNN/ORC International poll released Sept. 9 shows that even though 8 in 10 Americans believe that Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible for the attack, a strong majority doesn’t want Congress to pass a resolution authorizing a military strike against Syria. More than 7 in 10 say such a strike would not achieve significant goals for the United States and a similar number says it’s not in the national interest for the country to get involved in Syria’s civil war.

The massive public opposition to any U.S. attack on Syria may in fact trump the influence of the Israel Lobby. “Any organization, like AIPAC or otherwise, cannot operate effectively in the environment that we’re in, where the public is speaking and speaking very loudly,” Mr. Grayson told Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!”

In addition to the moral questions about intervening in another civil war in yet another Arab country, the American public is interested in the war’s financial costs as well, according to Mr. Grayson. “That’s a billion dollars that could be spent, at least in part, on humanitarian aid to help the almost two million refugees who are now in Jordan and Turkey. It’s also a billion dollars that could be used for domestic needs,” he said.

“We’re living in a time where we’ve actually cut food stamps. We’ve cut home heating oil support for people in the winter. We’ve cut the budget for the FAA to keep planes from falling out of the sky. And we’ve cut all sorts of security budgets, justice budgets and so on. And it seems to me that this is the wrong time to be spending more on our so-called defense, when this is a matter that doesn’t even involve our so-called defense. I will tell you that in the hearing yesterday I specifically asked, ‘Will you be coming back to the Congress for more money after this attack comes, more money for the Defense Department in the budget?’ And the answer was maybe.”

President Obama had staked his foreign policy reputation on winning congressional authorization for the proposed military strike against Syria, yet he has not conveyed the urgency of potentially leading the country into war. After his surprise announcement on Aug. 31 that he would seek congressional approval, Mr. Obama made no effort to call Congress back into session ahead of the scheduled end of the summer recess 10 days later. Then, he even postponed his all-important address to the nation for an extra day after Congress did return, so as not to interfere with the season premiere of television’s “Monday Night Football.”

But the mistrust of the government runs deep. “Based on America’s history of ‘false flag’ operations, great doubt exists as to the truth of whether the Syrian government is in fact responsible for the use of chemical weapons,” the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan warned Aug. 31 in his weekly address: “The Time and What Must Be Done: America’s Errant Foreign Policy. “Or, is it that America is responsible through the use of her proxies (nations that America uses as an agent; as an authority to act on her behalf)?”

“False flag” describes covert military or paramilitary operations designed to deceive so that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by other groups or nations than those who actually planned and executed them.

“And, in fact, as far as I can tell, not a single member of Congress has actually seen the underlying document,” which proves, not that an atrocity took place on Aug. 21, but that the Syrian government was in fact responsible for it, Mr. Grayson said. “What’s been provided to us so far is a four-page unclassified document and, if we bother to go down to the bowels of the congressional facility here, a 12-page classified document.

“But that classified document cites 300 underlying intelligence reports, none of which have been released to any member of Congress, despite the fact that we all have classified clearance. And I indicated that if there is some possibility that the administration is misleading the public regarding any of those 300 documents, then that has to be dispelled. We can’t go to war by mistake again,” he continued.

Up until now, the U.S. has shown only the pictures of the suffering victims of the attack, with no evidence as to who perpetrated the attack. In his interview with Mr. Rose, Pres. Assad denied that his forces were even in the area. Other analysts have raised serious doubts as to what the Syrians would gain from an attack that would surely draw an American military response, and most particularly why would the government launch an attack on the very day it welcomed United Nations weapons inspectors into the country to investigate its claims that rebel forces had used chemical weapons on government troops.

In the CBS interview, President Assad said his forces were not in the area of the chemical weapons attack Aug. 21, saying “our soldiers in another area were attacked chemically ... But in the area where they said the government used chemical weapons, we only had video and we only have pictures and allegations. We’re not there.”

It is ironic that the U.S. has raised the charge of chemical weapons use against another country. “The United States has no business teaching anyone about chemical weapons or biological weapons, as we are the largest stockpiler in the world of both those weapons,” Tighe Barry a member of the peace activist organization CODEPINK told this reporter in an interview on WPFW-FM radio’s “Morning Brew.”

“We’ve distributed those weapons around the world. As a matter of fact, every single night if you look on YouTube, you will see the use of chemical weapons in Bahrain that are killing women and children every night in Bahrain, where people are peacefully, non-violently protesting. They use these as weapons. They are called ‘Weaponized CS Gas,’ and it’s sold by the United States to the dictator of Bahrain.

“Now we also know the United States used depleted uranium, white phosphorous as well as chemical weapons in Fallujah, in Iraq, and that we’ve allowed Israel to use these weapons against Gaza,” Mr. Barry continued. “And we know throughout history the United States used chemical weapons—Agent Orange—that is still affecting people. There are thousands birth defects and thousands of children that are stillborn in Vietnam, from the cause of our Agent Orange and Napalm use.”

Meanwhile, President Obama insists that he was not coaxed into describing the use of chemical weapons as a “red line,” the crossing of which would provoke a U.S. response. During a news conference in St. Petersburg, Russia during the G-20 economic summit, Mr. Obama urged the international community to respond to the chemical attack in Syria. “My credibility is not on the line,” Mr. Obama said. “The international community’s credibility is on the line, and America and Congress’s credibility is on the line, because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.”

Rep. Grayson, like so many U.S. citizens, observers around the world, and members of the House and Senate remains unconvinced by the president. “Well, let’s talk about what our responsibilities are not,” Mr. Grayson said. “Our responsibilities are not to ignore the United Nations. Our responsibilities are not to ignore NATO or the Arab League. Our responsibility is not to ignore the international court of The Hague.

“Our responsibility is not to make vague remarks about red lines and to follow them up with equally vague remarks about violating international norms, which is a cover for saying that they have—that the Syrians have not violated international laws.

“I will point out to you that there’s more people who died last year in the Mexican drug war than died in Syria. But leaving that aside, there are conflicts like this all over the world. When I speak to my constituents in Orlando, I don’t think they care, and I understand why they don’t care: It has nothing to do with their lives. We have to concentrate on solving our problems. We have to concentrate on doing the things that are needed to meet our own human needs,” said Rep. Grayson.