Secretary of state John Kerry gave a very forceful speech to the nation on Friday regarding potential US military action in Syria.
Kerry said there is unclassified information that can now be shared with the American public, but there are also classified reports made available only to Congress. He laid out what the president and Congress does “know” with certainty about the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad on innocent people in Damascus on August 21.
In fact, intelligence reports said Assad’s security forces near Damascus were warned of the attack and ordered to wear gas masks.
Kerry referenced US friends in the Arab world like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon; nations that are just a “stiff wind” away from Syria.
“The American intelligence community has high confidence – high confidence [that Assad gassed his people],” Kerry said as quoted in The Hill. “This is common sense. This is evidence. These are facts. So the primary question is really no longer what do we know? The question is what are we – we collectively in the world – going to do about it?”
Kerry directly called a high-level Syrian official and asked for “unfettered access” by United Nations investigators to show they had nothing to hide.
Instead, they denied the attacks and refused to let UN officials into the area for 4 days, while they escalated bombing the area trying to destroy evidence the regime fatally gassed 1,429 people, including 426 children.
Kerry described social media videos that “exploded” onto the world stage documenting the “horror” about 90 minutes after Assad ordered strikes carrying chemical weapons. They showed agonizing pictures of victims writhing with convulsions, foaming at the mouth and many of the dead lined up on the ground wrapped in white linens.
“We know the Syrian regime has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the entire Middle East,” said Kerry in his live address. “We know the regime has used them multiple times this year on a smaller scale.”
Kerry said he knew that Americans were tired of war, “I am, too” he said, “but fatigue doesn’t absolve us from our responsibility. Just longing for peace doesn’t necessarily bring it about.”
“Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed, and re-reviewed, information regarding this attack. And I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience,” Kerry said. “We will not repeat that moment.”
But Kerry indicated it would be a mistake to let chemical weapons to be used by our enemies with impunity.
The American people have a right to know the reasoning behind what President Barack Obama is considering, explained Kerry, which “does not include boots on the ground”, and would not be open-ended.
“It matters deeply to the credibility and the future interests of America and our allies,” Kerry said. “It matters because a lot of other countries whose policies challenge these international norms are watching.”
The world should prevent any regime from using the “most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people,” said Kerry as part of his conclusion, referring to Assad as a “thug and murderer” whose actions are a “crime against conscience.”
The tone of Kerry’s address indicated the administration is prepared to launch a limited strike against Syria without UN approval. He saw no advantage to waiting for a UN report telling them what they already know.
President Obama spoke briefly on Syria a short time later. He basically reiterated highlights from Kerry’s earlier comments. “We can’t accept a world where innocent women and children are gassed on a large scale.”
Critics say that talk of limited strikes by the White House only gives Syria a chance to move things around and protect their assets, so what’s the point?
Nonetheless, President Obama said Friday that he’s not willing to give regimes that use chemical weapons a free pass to keep doing it, because the use of weapons of mass destruction is prohibited by international norms even during war.
Obama said he would prefer multi-lateral action whenever possible, but the incapacity of the Security Council to approve a move against Syria shouldn’t keep the US, as a leader of the world, from its obligation.
“Everyone thinks something should be done, but nobody wants to do it”, said Obama. The War Powers Act has been used many times in the past for unilateral action.
Meanwhile, the same Republicans, who criticized Obama for not taking too long to take action on Syria are now demanding a Congressional vote, although they are on vacation and it would take days to get them back to Capitol Hill for a conversation, which would delay actions even longer.
There are currently 5 US warships in the Eastern Mediterranean, which can deliver missiles with pinpoint accuracy onto Assad’s chemical delivery systems from a thousand miles away.
Obama said they continue to consult with allies, but he concluded, “I have not made a final decision on various actions that we might take.”
Analyst’s Translation: he will take action against Syria, but hasn’t made a final decision on what that action will be.