Syrian government and the opposition accuse each other of using chemical weapons. The US considers this a “red line” – and two US senators are now urging Washington to declare war in response to alleged use of the weapons.
As the Assad government and the opposition throw out accusations over the use of chemical weapons and the US is assessing the situation, two US senators are urging the president to go to war. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a statement on Wednesday, urging President Obama to ‘take immediate action’ and consider deploying troops.
"President Obama has said that the use of weapons of mass destruction by Bashar Assad is a 'red line' for him that 'will have consequences,'" the statement reads. "If today's reports are substantiated, the President's red line has been crossed, and we would urge him to take immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised."
At a minimum, the senators want the US to provide arms to rebels, establish safe zones to protect civilians, and launch targeted strikes against the Assad regime’s aircraft and SCUD missile batteries. And Graham said that he would even urge the president to declare war, if that is what it would take to stop chemical weapons from being used.
"I don't care what it takes," Graham told Foreign Policy’s The Cable. "If the choice is to send in troops to secure the weapons sites versus allowing chemical weapons to get in the hands of some of the most violent people in the world, I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem."
US President Barack Obama has previously warned Syria that if chemical weapons were to be used in the conflict, the US would step in. But doing so would likely cost the US billions of dollars at a time when over a decade of foreign involvement has drained the economy. With a population three times the size of Libya, Syria would be a massive and unwelcome undertaking for the US and almost certainly lead to further bloodshed. But the president previously pledged to take action if Syria were to use chemical weapons – a pledge that is now causing a dilemma.
“The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable,” Obama said in a December speech at the National Defense University. He also said that he wants to clarify to “Assad and those under his command” that if they “make the tragic mistake of using those weapons,” there would be consequences.
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had also issued a similar warning, claiming that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be “a red line for the United States”.
The US military estimates that it would take 75,000 US ground troops to secure all of Syria’s chemical weapons facilities, since the country has one of the largest chemical weapons programs in the world. Syria has about 50 storage and production facilities, many of which are in populated areas. If the US were to seriously consider trying to control all of the facilities, the military would have to deploy tens of thousands of troops, sending the country into yet another large-scale war.
“The idea that Syria was anyone’s to win or lose, or that the United States could significantly shape the outcome there, is typical of the arrogant paternalism and flawed analysis that have gotten this country into heaps of trouble in the Middle East over the years,” Washington Post columnist Aaron David Miller wrote in January.
While President Obama failed to elaborate on the “consequences” he promised Syria if chemical weapons were used in its conflict, the US senators’ encouragement of war is alarming.
To ease the panic, US ambassador to Syria on Wednesday told lawmakers at the House of Representatives that there has been no evidence to back up the chemical weapons claim. But he reiterated that Syria’s government would face “consequences” if it did indeed use such weapons. Israel already alleges that the chemical weapons were used, and the Syrian state-run SANA news agency said that “a missile containing a chemical substance” was fired at a village by “terrorists”, killing 31 people.