John Kerry’s declaration on Monday that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is “undeniable” essentially removed any doubt that U.S. military intervention in Syria is a question of “when,” not “if.” Now details are beginning to emerge on what form the strike will take, and how President Obama will justify the move to the international community and an American public that’s extremely wary of getting involved in another Middle East conflict. CBS News reports that the administration has what it “now believes is a near air-tight circumstantial case” against the Assad regime, and a declassified report focusing on “alleged violations of the Geneva Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention” is set to be made public in the next day or two as a precursor to an attack.
With the U.N. Security Council likely to remain split on Syria, the Obama administration is said to be examining its options under international law. “We’re actively looking at the various legal angles that would inform a decision,” one U.S. official told the Washington Post. Four U.S. Navy warships are already positioned in the Mediterranean, and could launch cruise missiles within hours of President Obama ordering a strike.
The Post reports that the U.S. attack is expected to last no more than two days and the targets won’t be directly related to Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. The option of a limited strike has been on the table for some time, and in June Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said “Potential targets include high-value regime air defense, air, ground, missile, and naval forces as well as the supporting military facilities and command nodes.” Chemical weapons storage facilities aren’t likely to be targeted, as the paper reports they’re “numerous and widely dispersed.”
The point of such an attack would be to punish Syria and deter the further use of chemical agents, not to turn the tide against the Assad regime. Even a limited intervention that avoids deeper U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war is unlikely to go over well with the American public. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted last week found only 9 percent of Americans think Obama should take action against Syria, and 46 percent said they’d oppose intervention even if Assad used chemical weapons against civilians.