NEW YORK, August 29, 2013 — The White House is confident in its intelligence which claims that Syrian President Bashir al-Assad is responsible for the chemical strike near Damascus last week. “There are important pieces of intelligence that can be provided that will substantiate” the claims, said Josh Earnest, Principal Deputy Press Secretary.
United Nations inspectors in Syria have yet to produce their report and have not announced that Assad is to blame. Earnest implied that the White House is not waiting for the UN report as it considers next steps about the Assad government.
“The entire international community acknowledges that chemical weapons were used. The Syrian regime has even acknowledge that chemical weapons were used. It is not within the mandate of those UN inspectors to access the responsibility for the use of those weapons,” said Earnest. He explained that the UN mandate is to only access if they were used.
U.S. intelligence officials view the evidence differently. Some of them anonymously reported to the Associated Press that blaming Assad for the use of chemical weapons is “not a slam dunk.”
In 2002, CIA Director George Tenet said that the intelligence claiming that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk.” That intelligence proved to be incorrect.
The White House argues that there is no comparison between Iraq and Syria, but the Deputy Press Secretary could not say that the Obama administration is absolutely certain that the Assad regime used chemical weapons.
“What we have seen tragically is a ponderance of evidence available in the public domain that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against innocent civilians” he said.
By the end of the week the White House expects to release an unclassified intelligence report to the public related to the chemical attack.
Obama has not committed to military force against Assad. Therefore, regardless of the debate about the creditability of the evidence, the White House says that its approach differs from the tactics used in determining the 2003 Iraq invasion.
“What we saw in that circumstance that an administration was searching high and low to produce evidence to justify a military invasion, an open-ended military invasion of another country, with the final goal being regime change,” Earnest told reporters.
Regime change in Syria is not Obama’s priority, but the White House plans to have discussions with Congress and the global community on response options.
The Hill reported that 140 Democrat and Republican lawmakers signed a letter Thursday demanding that Congress be a part of the decision making process on military intervention in Syria. Lawmakers have yet to send the letter to the White House.
Even with Congressional approval, support from the United Nations is unlikely. Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, will probably block any resolution to use force. Syria and Russia are known allies. Since the civil war began in 2011, the Kremlin has used its veto power three times to stop resolutions condemning Assad and calling him to relinquish power. China also used its veto power to support Assad.
The White House has not claimed or denied if it plans to take military action without UN consent, but Earnest stated “we’re invested in the UN process”. He also said, “the president’s chief accountability is to the American people that he was elected to protect.”
The use of chemical weapons has been labeled as an U.S. national security interest by the administration, which leaves Obama flexibility in case that America would use force in Syria void of Security Council approval. Such a scenario would still mirror Iraq in 2003 when Bush used military intervention against Saddam Hussein after failing to gain UN consent.
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