“Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” The White House said in a June statement about the ongoing conflict in Syria.
The statement noted that between 100 and 150 people have been killed by chemical weapons in the country, a very small percentage of the more than 100,000 people killed in the conflict that has gone on for over two years. The statement also said that the data on the deaths due to chemical weapons was likely incomplete.
The statement, attributed to Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, went on to say that “the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades. We believe that the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons. We have no reliable, corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.”
“Following on the credible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the President has augmented the provision of non-lethal assistance to the civilian opposition,” the statement said, “These efforts will increase going forward.”
There is little concrete evidence of the chemical weapons, due in large part to Syria’s refusal to allow U.N. inspectors into the country, though Syrian and U.N. officials did meet this week in Damascus and both sides say the meetings were productive and led to “an agreement on the way forward.”
Speaking in Poland last week, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin E. Dempsey called the situation in Syria “a human tragedy.”
The remarks are the first public comment that Dempsey has made about the ongoing unrest in the country since learning of the use of chemical weapons and subsequently giving the Obama Administration multiple options for military action.
“My job as a military leader is to provide options and then to make sure that the men and women whom we may ask to do it are ready to do what we ask them to do,” Dempsey said. “That’s my focus at this point.”
The general also said that the situation in Syria is one of the most complex issues he’s dealt with in nearly 40 years of military service. Part of what makes the situation so complex is the involvement of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and influence from Iran and Russia that are supportive of the oppressive Assad regime.
On top of the dead, more than 1.5 million people have fled the country and millions more have fled their homes, but remain in Syria.
The question of how the Obama Administration would increase its efforts to aid Syrian rebels is a big one. While Rhodes said he would not “inventory” what exactly the administration was willing or going to do, other sources say that arming rebels is part of the plan.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) wants to provide anti-aircraft and anti-armor weapons. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) suggested a “safe zone” in the north of the country that could be protected by the Patriot anti-missile batteries currently deployed in neighboring Turkey.
Whatever the action, there is no doubt it is going to be expensive, and in the face of the financial problems the U.S. is already facing, some are wondering if the American people can afford any more.
This has led to the introduction of H.R. 2507: War Powers Protection Act of 2013, which would prohibit further U.S. involvement without congressional approval. However ,the bill has little chance of being passed.
One thing is certain, the American people overwhelmingly oppose military intervention in Syria. Just 15 percent of those questioned in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll favored military action in the troubled country.
Rep. Mo Brooks (AL-05) gave perhaps the most frank response to the question of U.S. involvement.
“America can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman,” he said, “particularly where our sacrifices of American lives and treasury are not properly appreciated.”