Licence to war


US President Barack Obama's decision to seek Congressional approval before taking military action against Syria for its purported use of chemical...

US President Barack Obama's decision to seek Congressional approval before taking military action against Syria for its purported use of chemical weapons in the ongoing civil unrest signals hesitation. Until Saturday, when Obama announced his surprise decision, the world had been awaiting a quick response from Washington soon after the chemical attack details came to light. His announcement is a sort of denouement to the Pentagon build-up in the Eastern Mediterranean and its battle plans to destroy Syrian targets with cruise missiles. Obama’s assertion that he would seek US Congress approval before giving green signal to American forces to launch ‘a limited war’ means that until September 9 when the House reassembles after the recess, the Syrian government can breathe easy.

But the 10-day reprieve Damascus has got unwittingly can be used by the Assad regime to move the deadly weapons to safer places and frustrate American plans. More important is the kind of image Obama has projected about his leadership and the US as a global cop in matters of international security. The Syrian government has already seen it as the "start of the historic American retreat." According to State-run newspaper Al-Thawra, “Obama's reluctance to take military action stems from his sense of implicit defeat and the disappearance of his allies."

The front-page editorial may be self-assuring to the Assad regime and its supporters but it should not lull them into complacency. In Obama’s own words, the strikes could be “in a day, or a week or a month.” By buying time and seeking Congress approval, Obama is trying to play safe and doesn’t want to go the way his staunch ally British Prime Minister David Cameroon had gone recently when his proposal to attack Syria, along with the US and France, was defeated in the House of Commons.
If Obama is trying to avert such a fate to his proposal in Congress, it will be a Herculean task since most of the Republicans are out to frustrate his moves and even in the Democratic-controlled Senate, many of his own party men don’t see Syria as a security threat to the country, a sentiment Americans share with Britons. The French too have their own reservations about dragging their country into another Middle East conflict, however limited it is. President Francois Hollande too is under immense pressure to seek Parliament approval before launching strikes against Syria, which means an element of uncertainty is hanging in the air.
Obama could have gone ahead with his military strike plan without Congress authorization like two of his predecessors, notably the father and son duo Bush, had done. Both, as Presidents, attacked Iraq for, what they said, producing weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, an accusation Syria is facing now. But the scenario is different now as Russia, China and Iran are opposing any outside interference in Syria. Moreover, they are demanding conclusive proof that the chemical weapons were used by Syrian forces, not by rebels to drag the West into the conflict. The UN team which has returned after inspecting the assault sites is yet to submit its report and the world body says it will take about two weeks to draw conclusions from the preliminary assessment. In other words, even if Obama decides on unilateral action, he has to wait at least two weeks before giving his green signal. The delay will be seen as vacillation that will only embolden the Syrian authoritative regime.
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