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The Folks Who Brought You the Iraq Debacle Now Want to Bomb Syria

A familiar cast of neoconservative characters are calling on the Obama administration to consider directly striking the Assad regime in Syria.
 
 
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A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on August 26, 2013 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad giving an interview with Russian newspaper Izvestia in Damascus.
Photo Credit: AFP

 
 
 
 

In an echo of the tactics they used to promote U.S. intervention in the Balkans, Iraq and Libya, a familiar clutch of neo-conservatives published a letter Tuesday urging President Barack Obama to go far beyond limited military strikes against Syria in retaliation for its government’s alleged use last week of chemical weapons that reportedly killed hundreds of people.

Signed by 66 former government officials and “foreign policy experts” – almost all of them strongly pro-Israel neo-conservatives – the letter, which was released by the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), called for Washington “and other willing nations [to] consider direct military strikes against the pillars of the Assad regime” as part of more ambitious strategy to support “moderate” Syrian rebels and dissuade Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Any military action should aim to ensure that the government of President Bashar al-Assad will be unable to use chemical weapons and should deter or destroy its “airpower and other conventional military means of committing atrocities against civilian non-combatants,” according to the letter.

The letter’s most prominent signatories included several senior officials of the George W. Bush administration, such as his top Middle East aide, Elliott Abrams, former Undersecretary of Defence Eric Edelman and former Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser, John Hannah, and was given a bipartisan gloss with the inclusion of former Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman and several liberal interventionist commentators identified with the Democratic party who signed previous statements by the FPI and its predecessor, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC).

The letter also called on Obama to “accelerate efforts to vet, train, and arm moderate elements of Syria’s armed opposition” to help them prevail against both Assad and growing Al Qaeda-affiliated or extremist factions. It was released amidst growing indications that the Obama administration, which Monday called the alleged attack a “moral obscenity”, is determined to take limited military action – most likely through cruise-missile strikes launched from naval vessels based in the eastern Mediterranean – against selected targets in Syria for up to three days, possibly as early as this weekend.

It is expected that Britain and France and possibly Turkey will also take part in operations under a NATO mandate and with the support of the Arab League which, meeting in Cairo Tuesday, blamed Syria for the attack and called for its perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Despite the fact that U.N. inspectors, who on Monday visited the site of the alleged attack outside Damascus and took blood and tissue samples from some victims, have not yet submitted their findings, administration officials said they had concluded that the attack did take place and that government forces were responsible.

At the White House Tuesday, spokesman Jay Carney said the administration will release a report detailing the basis for its conclusions later this week and that Obama was currently considering various options prepared by the Pentagon, although he also insisted that any action taken by the United States will not be intended to achieve “regime change” in Damascus.

That assurance will no doubt frustrate neo-conservatives, many of whom have long held the Assad dynasty in their sights and who  had hoped that the 2003 invasion of Iraq – which they promoted through organisations like PNAC, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Foundation for Defence of Democracy (FDD) – would lay the foundations for Assad’s ouster, too.

Indeed, a number of neo-conservatives, including signatories of the FPI letter, are insisting that U.S. action aim to end Assad’s regime.

One, Eliot Cohen, argued in a Washington Post op-ed Monday that “a bout of therapeutic bombing is an even more feckless course of action than a principled refusal to act altogether,” a point echoed on the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page – a favourite neo-conservative forum – Tuesday.

 
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