Assuming Congressional Approval, The US Military Must Deliver A Truly Powerful Blow Against Assad The world, including friends and foes, has to be convinced that America means business. Flagrant violations of international law do have consequences

By Paolo von Schirach

September 4, 2013

WASHINGTON – Regarding Syria and the US appropriate US response to its flagrant violation of every convention banning the use of chemical weapons, The Economist cover says it all: on top of a picture of President Assad the title is “Hit Him Hard“. I fully concur.

Washington hesitation

There is no point reiterating here the rather sorry history of American timidity regarding the Syrian conflict. Many experts believe that Washington missed a golden opportunity to make a difference by providing real military support (without any direct engagement) to the secular pro-Western rebels about a year ago.

Now it is all much more complicated. The anti-Assad front is divided and disorganized. Assad is more confident, counting on the continuing support coming from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. The rebels appear weak. Moreover, on the side of the rebels there is now a growing and therefore alarming presence of Islamic radicals, some of them with ties to al Qaeda, many of them foreign fighters.

Action in retaliation of the use of banned chemical weapons

Be that as it may, right now the premise for a US military action is ostensibly new and different. America will not intervene in the conflict on the side of the rebels. America will intervene to punish Assad not because he killed untold numbers of Syrians during this conflict but because this time, on August 21, he used banned chemical weapons to murder them.

And what’s the difference? Well the difference is that America will not tolerate the flagrant violation of a century old prohibition. Indeed, if America would let this open violation go unpunished, there would be consequences, mostly bad. Other rogue states, from Iran to North Korea, would read America’s inaction as some kind of green light to go ahead and develop and possibly at a later date use their own weapons of mass destruction. (Yes we are back to discussing WMDs).

Therefore, an American strong reaction to the flagrant use of WMDs by Assad should be viewed by the world as a demonstration of Washington’s resolve to uphold international law and as a warning, (not just to the Damascus government, but to all others who may harbor similar intentions), that additional violations will not be tolerated.

Slowly gearing up

In its (unfortunately) now customary messy fashion, Washington is gearing up to “delivering this message” via missile attacks against Syria. Now Obama has added another major step by requesting congressional approval. There is legitimate concern that such an endorsement of the action proposed by the Obama administration may not be forthcoming. Plenty of people in Congress who are against yet another US military engagement. Still, the indications so far are reasonably reassuring. The House Republicans who on balance are inclined to vote “No” on anything this president sends to them, this time will support Obama. Not all of them, but most of them. John Boehner, the House Speaker, and Eric Cantor, the Majority Leader (both Republicans) came out in support of the President. This is a very good sign.

“Hit Him Hard”

That said, even assuming congressional approval, the real test will be the size and scope of the US military action. This will be the real test of our resolve. America’s credibility is clearly at stake. Indeed, if this is going to be just a symbolic action, a mere “shot across the bow”, then it is a waste of time, possibly an additional embarrassment. Whereas, if this action will result in a truly mighty blow that will truly degrade Assad’s military and place him on the defensive in the ongoing civil war, then the message will have had its intended effect. Assad, the Iranians, Hezbollah, and North Korea will see that we mean business.

As The Economist said: ” Hit Him Hard“. Really, really hard, I might add.

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