Obama prepares to go it alone in Syria strike

10:42 AM, Aug 31, 2013   |    comments
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Courtesy Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS -- President Barack Obama said Friday he's still considering a limited tactical missile strike against Syrian government targets in response to a chemical attack that claimed the lives of 1,400 civilians.

The president said there is strong evidence linking the Syrian government to the chemical weapons that were dispersed on Aug. 21 in a Damascus suburb.  Syrian president Bashar al Assad has denied using chemical agents, which would be violation of international law.

Obama conceded Friday that the Americans have become "war weary" in the 12 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, which prompted U.S. military incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq.  And, as of Friday, France was the only ally willing to endorse the idea of missile attacks.

But he asserted some sort of response is required to punish the Assad regime because the use of those caustic chemicals under any circumstances can't be tolerated.

Expert's take

Eric Schwartz, the dean of the Humphrey School of Public Policy at the University of Minnesota, said it's clear to him that Obama will move ahead with some type of military strike.

"Just because we can't do everything doesn't mean we should do nothing," Schwartz told KARE.

"If we don't respond, five years from now, 10 years from now, people will look back and say that the international community and the United States made a mistake by not responding."

Schwartz, a former assistant secretary of state and White House staff member, said he doubts the actions being contemplated by the Obama inner circle would cause the civil war in Syria to escalate into a regional conflict.

"I think the administration is taking pains to say it is not a declaration of war against Syria, but rather a limited and circumscribed response to the use of chemical weapons."

Russian Factor

Obama has already abandoned the idea of convincing the United Nations Security Council to take punitive action against Syria.

That's in large part because Russia, a permanent Security Council member, remains a backer and ally of the Assad regime. The Russians have a very small military presence in Syria, but are supplying Assad with weapons and other goods.

"They would indeed be inclined to say 'Hands off on our last remaining friend in the Mediterranean world.' It stands to reason they would talk like that," Peter Weisensel of Macalester College told KARE Friday.

"Nobody in the Russian press is saying it's OK for Assad to use poison gas against his own people. They're kind of avoiding that question."

Weisensel, who has researched and taught Russian history for four decades, said Russian President Vladimir Putin sees Syria as the last remnant of what was once a large Soviet presence in the Arab world.

"He's committed to Syria less for any kind of material benefit or any geopolitical benefit, but for prestige purposes. I think that's really important for Americans to understand."

He said while the Russian media supports Putin's stance on Syria and opposes any military action by the U.S. there, there's a limit to how far the Kremlin would push back against a missile strike.

Weisensel said a retired Russian Major General Vladimir Dworkin wrote in a Moscow publication this week that the Putin government would have a measured response.

"General Dworkin said there are going to be 'statements of intermediate intensity of disapproval' on the part of the Kremlin, but they're not going to do anything!"

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