Secretary of State John Kerry made an impassionate appeal before reporters on Friday at the State Department, claiming that the United States and the international community must hold the Syrian government accountable for the chemical weapons attacks that occurred nearly two weeks ago in the suburbs outside of Damascus.
Quoting from a newly released de-classified U.S intelligence report, Kerry said the United States government knows at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in the attack on August 21st, including 426 children.
Those figures are higher than the initial figures circulated in the media earlier in the week from a reliable source in the international aid community Doctors Without Borders who reported 355 Syrians were known to be killed in the chemical weapons attack on August 21st from counting that was done in their hospitals.
On Friday de-classified U.S. intelligence records suggest a variety of sources were used to show that Syria’s government carried out large scale chemical missile attack on a mostly civilian Syrian population across neighborhoods that supported anti-government sentiment.
The U.S. sources include human intelligence, satellite tracking of rockets, communication intercepts, and orders to Syrian troops.
“We know that a senior regime official who knew about the attack, confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime, reviewed the impact, and actually was afraid that they would be discovered” Kerry said.
According to the U.S. government’s assessment, “in addition to U.S. intelligence information, there are accounts from international and Syrian media personnel; videos; witness accounts; thousands of social media reports from at least 12 different locations in the Damascus area; journalist accounts; and reports from highly credible nongovernment organizations.”
Kerry described Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as “a thug and a murderer” while calling the killing of thousands of Syrians in the chemical attacks, a “crime against conscience and humanity” and a “crime against the most fundamental principles of international community.”
President Obama also spoke to reporters on Friday from Washington where he called on the international community to take action and stand up to Syria rather than being paralyzed.
“Part of the challenge we end up here is a lot of people think something should be done but no one wants to do it” Obama said.
“My strong preference is for multi-lateral action whenever possible. But it is not in the national security interests of the United States to ignore clear violations of these kinds of international norms” he added.
President Obama explained that he does not want any long term commitment or a major operation in Syria which comes at a time when the United States is withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq, tired of coming to the defense of countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East while receiving little respect after having spent over a trillion of dollars to defend freedom.
President Obama became popular during the first presidential election in part because he resonated with the feelings of disenchantment and frustration that many Americans had felt after the costly invasion of Iraq, led by his predecessor President George Bush, who relied on faulty intelligence reports and forced a regime change while the U.S. government later failed to uncover any enriched uranium or weapons of mass destruction within Iraq’s borders and lost credibility on the world stage.
After acknowledging that the world is war-weary and United States has been through over a decade of war, Obama said on Friday to reporters, “I assure you nobody ends up being more war-weary than me.”
Since the level of intelligence that was obtained from the August 21st chemical weapons missile attack outside of Damascus is easier to validate compared to the early intelligence that was inaccurately gathered in Iraq under President George Bush and resulted in thousands of U.S. boots on the ground, it is unfair to draw parallels from these two countries and put them in the same category.
President Obama has recently taken criticism from some Republican hawks for being too soft on Syria’s neighbor, Iran, as the country moves ever closer to enriching uranium and developing nuclear weapons which is a larger risk to the national security of the United States and its allies.
A future limited U.S. missile attack on Syria may prove to be effective in hitting symbolic targets inside Syria and sending a clear message to the al-Assad regime about its use of chemical weapons, but it could also lead to a host of unforeseen developments such as a growing military escalation with neighboring Iran or even Russia, another ally of Syria, that recently decided to send some navy ships to the Mediterranean.