According to a new intelligence assessment shared with both Congress and key U.S. allies around the world, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical gas on his own people, killing as many as 150 Syrians. Since then, the White House has been quietly ramping up support for the Syrian opposition. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
The United States and its allies have concluded that the government of Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons in Syria's protracted civil war, leading President Barack Obama to broaden aid — including military support — to opposition groups.
The intelligence community concluded with "high confidence" that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons — including the nerve agent sarin — "on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year."
"The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete," said Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes.
The use of chemical weapons crosses the so-called "red line" first established by Obama last year, which he said would prompt the administration to alter its posture. The administration said on Thursday that Obama had decided to broaden support to the Supreme Military Council, a principal opposition group in Syria, and Rhodes said that assistance "will include military support."
Rhodes declined to specify what kind of military support the United States would provide to the SMC, but noted that Obama had not decided to establish a no-fly zone, as some Republicans have demanded.
Rhodes cited the "great and open-ended cost" associated with establishing a partial or complete no-fly zone over Syria, seeming to suggest that the prospect of such action, for now, was unlikely.
He added: "We're looking at a wide range of types of support we can provide both to the political opposition and to the SMC on the ground. I'm not going to be able to detail every single type of support that we are providing, but it's suffice to say it's important to note that it is both the political and the military opposition that will be -- that is and will be receiving U.S. assistance."
Reuters reported that Obama administration officials have said that any arming of the rebels would likely be limited to small arms and ammunition rather than anti-aircraft weapons.
Obama first laid out his "red line" in August.
"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized," Obama told reporters at that time. "That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."
The president noted earlier this year that there had been preliminary indications of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. But he resisted taking action until he said the intelligence community could conclude with certainty that such weapons had actually been used by Assad.
To that end, Rhodes said that the United States and its allies had begun acting in April to assist the SMC by providing increased support in response to Assad crossing a "red line."
But Rhodes also noted that the United States had prepared for "multiple contingencies" — military, diplomatic, or economic — to help put pressure on the Assad government.
Conflict between Sunni and Shia communities in Syria has now moved beyond its borders, polarizing countries across the Middle East. Channel 4 Europe's Lindsay Hilsum reports.
"We're going to make decisions about further actions on our own timeline," he said, later adding: "We're looking at a wide range of types of support we could provide."
The topic of Syria is sure to loom large next week as the leaders of the world's largest economies gather for the G8 conference in Ireland.
The Obama administration had come under pressure from hawkish Republicans in Congress to take a more active role in ousting the Assad regime, either by directly arming rebels, or by enforcing a partial or complete no-fly zone in Syria.
“I applaud the president’s decision and I appreciate it," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one such hawk, said Thursday on the Senate floor.
"But the president of the United States had better understand that just supplying weapons is not going to change the equation on the ground [or] the balance of power. These people – the Free Syrian Army – need weapons, heavy weapons to counter tanks and aircraft, they need a no-fly zone, and Bashar Assad’s air assets have to be taken out and neutralized. We can do that without risking a single American airplane."
Said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio: "It is long past time to bring the Assad regime's bloodshed in Syria to an end. As President Obama examines his options, it is our hope he will properly consult with Congress before taking any action."
It’s not just Republicans who have directly or indirectly put pressure on the president for more action. Former President Bill Clinton reportedly told McCain in a closed-press event Wednesday that he agreed with the Arizona senator about the need for Obama to act more forcefully to support Syrian rebels, saying Americans expect their presidents to be able to “see down the road” and set aside public opinion.
Slideshow: The lives of Syrian rebels
People resisting the army of President Bashar al-Assad in northern Syria cope with loss and prepare for fighting.
But there are delicate considerations involved in the administration's decision to become more involved. Namely, the U.S. is worried about navigating a thorny relationship with Russia, which has been resistant to apply much pressure to the Assad regime.
Some U.S. officials have also expressed concern that arms supplied to rebels could fall into the hands of fighters who could eventually pivot to use those very arms against U.S. interests or allies.
And then there is the issue of scarce political appetite among most Americans for increased military involvement in Syria following more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Just 15 percent of Americans said in June's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that they favor U.S. military action in Syria; only 11 percent want to provide arms to the opposition. A plurality of respondents -- 42 percent -- prefer to provide only humanitarian assistance, and 24 percent believe the U.S. shouldn't take any action.
We have been offering non lethal and humanitarian aid for some time now, something the media has not spent much time on. And to the tune of 515 million dollars at a time when we are having sequesters over here I might add.
I understand the pres has had a strategy in place for a while now but the red line crossing changes that strategy. We are hearing the drums of war being pounded by types like McCain but we must remember he is NOT the president and holds very little weight or accuracy either about what is and is not being done.
I think we need to stay out of a civil war altogether unless chemical or similar is being done which we now know it has happened, so a cautious approach is in order and a limited one as well I think.
I look at it like this. Take our country as divided as it is and say we entered a civil war. Imagine one side or the other gaining ground and as a result of that, a third party steps in to help the losing party. Is that really fair? Russia is helping The Assaud government, Iran has training facilities set up, then we have Hezballah and various other factions involved as well. Then we get involved too and this has an excellent chance of blowing big and leaving us in a war with either Russia or Iran, probably Iran sooner than would have otherwise happened?
With only 100-150 people being exposed to chemical weapons out of 93 thousand deaths since the beginning of this it almost looks like a plant of some sort to get us involved. (I know! my own conspiracy theory! lol)
I guess I should say that I trust the pres to advance with our best interest in mind. This is why I voted for him.
There comes a time when you just have to turn and walk away. The Rebels are just as bad as the Government. Syria is a lost cause and there is nothing we can do to change it. Let the other nations carry the burden if they want to get involved. They can't afford it? Neither can we! If we supply any arms, even small ones, we open Pandora's Box. They can say what they want but sooner our later, our boots will be on the ground. This could turn into far worse than Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the Syrian rebels pledge loyalty to al-Qaeda.
Or what could be even more Cynical is Russia supplies Syria, The US supplies the Rebels, neither Russia or the US physically get involved, and the whole thing ends up being a Human Chess Game between Russia and The US.
Or what could be even more Cynical is Russia supplies Syria, The US supplies the Rebels, neither Russia or the US physically get involved, and the whole thing ends up being a Human Chess Game between Russia and The US--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Very scary idea.
So, were done in Iraq and supposedly pulling out of Afghanistan.... so we can inject ourselves in this? Ridiculous... How about no wars? I just can't wait for people to try to justify this war while making anything else we've ever been involved in illegitimate.
I love seeing the right calling for peace. I am sincere when I say that and I realize too, it is due to our own economic crisis.
I hope and pray we can come up with viable alternatives.
I suspect we are all pretty much on the same page with this issue, though I may occasionally play devils advocate one way or another just to hear the arguments and to try to come to some sort of stand on the issues.
For us, since we have no power, it is all about the learning, at least for me it is.
Okay, here it is.
I am not saying that this is any more than my imagination but humor me and pretend that it could be or is even a likely scenario.
Let's say Iran is a tremendously powerful nation with a great following and supported by big bucks (Saudi, China, you name it) They are religious extremists and their purpose is Jihad but they must ally themselves with infidels in order to further their mission. We know for certain they are allied with N. Korea, others are less outwardly antagonistic to the West, specifically to the U.S. but they all share the desire to bring down the U.S.
Syria is the perfect set up. If we do not involve ourselves they take it and they bind whatever Moslem nations left in the region to their cause. They are spreading to Indonesia and to Europe and to the Americas. They will destroy Israel (Except sadly for the world, it does not stop there...anyone who destroys Israel has committed suicide and taken down any nearby friends, but let us leave that for now)
Now the U.S and her allies are facing a worldwide threat supported by at least one superpower. How do we avoid that?
Let's say we intervene and they do not get Syria.Syria is still supported by extremists but there is some moderation. Egypt who is also in the same situation is relieved from having to subject itself to Iran. Some moderation there still to work with. Jordan and Turkey are safe. Iraq is safe. They will still have their battles with extremism but there will be enough moderates to keep a precarious balance.
I am throwing it out. Go ahead and tear it down but do bring your own scenarios to the table. I want to think about it and discuss it with you all.
No need to tear anything down, as far as I'm concerned here. Simply, after watching our country supply arms to other factions, and then later have to go back to that region and take out a leader that we formerly were friendly with... I mean, we've done it a dozen times. There really is nothing in it for us. We are fostering more hate and discontent. Even the people we try to help don't understand our ideals and sooner or later, we find ourselves at war with people we armed in another time.....
I don't see this as any different than the Bin Laden thing, what we recently did in Libya, what we did in Iraq or Afghanistan. To me, this is just a set up for another conflict in the future. We don't seem to learn from these things. I'm sure there are groups out there that we armed and not had to go after later, but at the moment I cannot come up with them.
No war means no war. If we are not personally threatened in an immediate manner, there is no use for us to be involved. There is much more to lose, if you ask me. But, we are the worlds watch dog.....
" Simply, after watching our country supply arms to other factions, and then later have to go back to that region and take out a leader that we formerly were friendly with... I mean, we've done it a dozen times."
I agree with you on that. We do seem to keep repeating the same mistakes.
What worries me though is that Iran is a greater threat and by allying with Assad the balance of power will have a snowball effect in the region and beyond.
However, the recent elections in Iran have shown the people are standing up to that regime. Bless them.
I saw a group of pictures not so long ago that showed places like Libya about 30 years ago. You would be hard pressed to tell the difference between them and us. But, a dictator gets elected and its 'join the team" or "become extinct".
So many of those good people want change, but they have no voice. What just happened in Iran is beautiful... I just hope it sticks. I hope these people stand strong at all costs. It is worth fighting for.
It’s a No Win situation for us to get involved unless we totally Occupy and take complete control of Syria (we all know, that’s not going to happen). Even sending Small Arms and Ammunition is a Joke. I was watching the News early this morning and it was said, “control over Syria could become a Mid-Eastern World War (that’s just what we need to be involved in). It was also noted, Small Arms and Ammunition will be futile against Tanks, Armored Vehicles, Surface-to-Surface Missiles, and Air Strikes. What they need is more Heavy Artillery such as Surface to Surface Missiles, and Anti Aircraft.” I find it hard to believe our Commander and Chief actually thinks sending Small Arms and Ammunition will serve any purpose. I’m hoping he is just “Throwing a Bone” to Clinton and McCain to shut them up.
“Some U.S. officials have also expressed concern that arms supplied to rebels could fall into the hands of fighters who could eventually pivot to use those very arms against U.S. interests or allies.
And then there is the issue of scarce political appetite among most Americans for increased military involvement in Syria following more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Just 15 percent of Americans said in June's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that they favor U.S. military action in Syria; only 11 percent want to provide arms to the opposition. A plurality of respondents -- 42 percent -- prefer to provide only humanitarian assistance, and 24 percent believe the U.S. shouldn't take any action.”
SO HERE WE GO!
I say if it starts a Mid-Eastern World War, Uncap our Oil Reserves, and let the Games began. Tell The United Nations and our Allies, do what you want to do but we are sitting this one out. That should keep the Mid East busy while we work on getting our Economy back on track.
On another note, I’ve been noticing in the last couple of days, the Media is trying to spin it as “The Rebels trying to Over Throw The Evil Empire” it’s far more complex than that and don’t buy into it. We don’t even know how many Rebel Groups there are, let alone who are the good or bad ones. There is no way the “Free Syrian Army” will be able to fend off and defeat all of these Enemies without the Occupation of The U.S. and Allies. When it all comes down to it, once again, we will be left holding the bag. It’s time for the rest of the world to step up to the plate (They can raise their debt ceiling and bury their thousands of dead, just as easy as we can), because we are sitting this one out
Yes! Now I can leave and go on about my day.
I was waiting for your response.:)
On the plus side..this is *non* partisan! Yes, you snarl at McCain and Clinton in one breath.
Okay you clearly didn't take my scenario seriously but with the elections in Iran and the beautiful ppl of that country standing tall, I give less credence to my imagination as well and will try to stay hopeful.
In that previous scenario I didn't see how in the end, we would be unaffected. But there are many possibilities and I do understand your reluctance to be involved.
"It’s time for the rest of the world to step up to the plate (They can raise their debt ceiling and bury their thousands of dead, just as easy as we can)"
I agree but no one moves without the U.S., unless they are our enemies.
Have a wonderful Fathers day and think happy thoughts for this day.
I am off to visit a 96 year old granddad. (Not mine, but I love him like he is mine),
It’s time for the rest of the world to step up to the plate (They can raise their debt ceiling and bury their thousands of dead, just as easy as we can),
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled about what’s going on in Iran and it is a Giant step in the right direction. But The Iranian President does not have as much control as one would think. But he does have influence. Hopefully he will survive the Extremist and influence Democracy in Iran.
"Have a wonderful Fathers day and think happy thoughts for this day.
I am off to visit a 96 year old granddad. (Not mine, but I love him like he is mine)," Thank You and I know you will make his day.
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