GLOBALPOST LIVE BLOG: THE BEAT OF WAR?
UPDATE: 8/30/13 4:20 PM ET
As we close this live blog, we leave you with a summary of events:
- President Obama called for "limited, narrow" action in Syria.
- Secretary of State Kerry said fatigue with war would not absolve the US of its responsibility.
- The UN team investigating the chemical weapons attack is due to leave Syria on Saturday, but a final report could take days.
- Kerry gave new figures for the alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21: 1,429 Syrians killed, including 426 children.
- The US released an intelligence assessment on the alleged chemical weapons attack.
- The US has lost an important coalition partner in the UK, but France said it was ready to act on Syria.
- British Prime Minister Cameron said he would still like to see a strong response to the alleged attack, despite parliament rejecting the UK playing a part in military intervention.
- And this poignant report from Foreign Policy:
"Activist Razan Zaitouneh, who runs the Violations Documentation Center in Syria, tells FP that her team sped to the Damascus suburb of Zamalka immediately after a chemical weapons attack was reported there on Aug. 21. The media staff of Zamalka's local coordination committee, which is responsible for filming videos in the area and uploading them to the world, also sped to the scene. According to Zaitouneh, all but one of them paid with their lives," wrote Foreign Policy.
UPDATE: 8/30/13 2:45 PM ET
Pool report on Obama's remarks
UPDATE: 8/30/13 2:31 PM ET
Obama has not made a final decision on Syria
Reuters reports: Obama says Syrian chemical weapons attack is a challenge to the world and threatens U.S. allies such as Israel and Jordan. Obama adds that he has not made a final decision on response to Syria chemical weapons use, and he is looking at limited action, not an open-ended commitment. Obama says that chemical weapons use in Syria threatens U.S. national security interests.
UPDATE: 8/30/13 2:30 PM ET
US and France: Just the two of us
LONDON, UK — As the United States moves toward armed military intervention in Syria, President Barack Obama may find himself working with some unexpected partners in Europe.
With Britain having bowed out of participating in direct action following a surprise vote in parliament and Germany confirming that is it “not considering” military action, France has tentatively stepped forward as America’s lead European partner on military intervention.
President Francois Hollande has said that France is ready to act, even without Security Council approval.
“If the Security Council is prevented from acting, a coalition will be formed. It must be as broad as possible,” he said in an interview in Le Monde.
It’s not clear how solid Hollande’s support is, however. Although 55 percent of French people support military action in Syria, only 45 percent believe France should be part of it, according to a poll cited in the Times.
Read the full report: "US and France: It's just the two of us"
UPDATE: 8/30/13 2:15 PM ET
Obama to speak on Syria
President Barack Obama will speak at 2:15, but his remarks will not be carried live. He's expected to talk briefly before meeting with leaders of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, according to Reuters.
UPDATE: 8/30/13 2:05 PM ET
Russia on Syria: Putin the pushover?
Senior Russian officials are continuing to call against a potential Western military strike on Syria, blasting the United Statesfor what they say would be a haughty and unpopular incursion that would further destabilize the Middle East.
But when it comes time to respond, Russian observers say Moscow’s tough talk will remain largely rhetoric.
“We don’t really have the capability to do anything militarily of any significance, and going ballistic, of course, is not really an option anyone is considering in any kind of way,” says military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer.
That logic has been obscured by a barrage of official Russian criticism of an apparently impending air strike that would respond to allegations President Bashar al-Assad’s government used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of civilians.
Read the full report: "Russia on Syria: Putin the pushover?"
UPDATE: 8/30/13 1:45 PM ET
White House map of alleged chemical attacks
The White House released this map that reportedly shows areas impacted by chemical weapons:
UPDATE: 8/30/13 1:35 PM ET
UPDATE: 8/30/13 1:30 PM ET
Kerry on Syria: Fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility
US Secretary of State John Kerry made the case of acting against Assad's regime, saying that though the American public was tired of war, "fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility."
Speaking on Friday, Kerry said the findings of the United States intelligence community were "clear" and "compelling."
Kerry outlined all the facts the US knows:
"Well, we know that the Assad regime has the largest chemical weapons programs in the entire Middle East. We know that the regime has used those weapons multiple times this year, and has used them on a smaller scale but still it has used them against its own people, including not very far from where last Wednesday’s attack happened.
"We know that the regime was specifically determined to rid the Damascus suburbs of the opposition, and it was frustrated that it hadn’t succeeded in doing so.
"We know that for three days before the attack, the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area, making preparations.
"And we know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons.
"We know that these were specific instructions.
"We know where the rockets were launched from, and at what time. We know where they landed, and when. We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas and went only to opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods.
"And we know, as does the world, that just 90 minutes later all hell broke loose in the social media. With our own eyes we have seen the thousands of reports from 11 separate sites in the Damascus suburbs. All of them show and report victims with breathing difficulties, people twitching with spasms, coughing, rapid heartbeats, foaming at the mouth, unconsciousness, and death. And we know it was ordinary Syrian citizens who reported all of these horrors.
"And just as important, we know what the doctors and the nurses who treated them didn’t report -- not a scratch, not a shrapnel wound, not a cut, not a gunshot sound. We saw rows of dead lined up in burial shrouds, the white linen unstained by a single drop of blood.
The Washington Post has a full transcript of Kerry's speech.
Kerry gave the most definitive figures yet of a death toll from the alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21, saying 1,429 Syrians, including 426 children, were killed.
Kerry then moved on to explain why taking action was in the United States' national interests, saying it was important for its role in the world and its credibility.
"It matters because if we choose to live in the world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity" there would be no end to the dangers, Kerry said.
UPDATE: 8/30/13 1:00 PM ET
UN gives update on investigation of chemical attacks
The UN team investigating the alleged Aug. 21 chemical weapons attacks in Syria has concluded their evidence collection, a spokesman said Friday. The team visited field hospitals and a military hospital in Damascus, as well as various "affected areas" where they interviewed witnesses and collected environmental samples, the UN said.
Evidence will now be transferred to the Hague, where it will be sent to European labs for analysis. Results will then be shared with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
A UN team will return to Syria at a later date to investigate three earlier incidents suspected to have involved chemical weapons.
The people who left Syria today were interpreters, not UN experts, the spokesman added. The expert team departs Syria tomorrow.
UPDATE: 8/30/13 12:00 PM ET
What will the intel tell us?
As Reuters reported earlier, the US plans to release intelligence on the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria on Friday.
Reuters wrote, "The report may give Americans more insight into why President Barack Obama has said that his officials have concluded that the Bashar al-Assad government is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb."
The Associated Press talked to experts who said it's a really bad idea to bomb chemical weapons sites.
"You simply can't safely bomb a chemical weapon storehouse into oblivion, experts say. That's why they say the United States is probably targeting something other than Syria's nerve agents.
"But now there is concern that bombing other sites could accidentally release dangerous chemical weapons that the U.S. military didn't know were there because they've lost track of some of the suspected nerve agents.
"Bombing stockpiles of chemical weapons — purposely or accidentally — would likely kill nearby civilians in an accidental nerve agent release, create a long-lasting environmental catastrophe or both, five experts told The Associated Press."
UPDATE: 8/30/13 11:45 AM ET
The view from Canada
As the options for a broad international coalition acting on Syria shrink, with both the UK and Germany dropping out, here is the view from Canada:
Joining naysayers Britain and Germany, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday Canada won’t take part in military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, even if Western powers blame them for the Aug. 21 deadly chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb.
France is the only remaining ally, as of Friday morning, on board for a strike.
Yet prominent Canadian diplomats who helped make the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) a United Nations doctrine say getting more countries on board could give a US military operation in Syria a greater sense of legitimacy.
Read the full report from Montreal: "Does world's 'responsibility to protect' civilians justify a Syria strike?"
UPDATE: 8/30/13 11:40 AM ET
Poll: 80 percent of Americans want Congressional approval on Syria
An NBC poll published Friday shows that nearly 80 percent of Americans think Obama should obtain Congressional approval before taking any military action in Syria.
The same poll found that 50 percent of those polled believe the United States should not intervene at all.
"The public is more supportive of military action when it's limited to launching cruise missiles from U.S. naval ships - 50 percent favor that kind of intervention, while 44 percent oppose it."
Only 21 percent of those polled think acting on Syria would be in the national interest of the United States.
The full poll is available here.
UPDATE: 8/30/13 11:15 AM ET
There are horrors besides chemical weapons in Syria
The BBC reported Thursday on an incendiary bomb attack in Syria, which reportedly took place on Monday.
The BBC's Ian Pannell posted this disturbing image of one of the victims:
The BBC wrote:
A BBC team inside Syria filming for Panorama has witnessed the aftermath of a fresh horrific incident - an incendiary bomb dropped on to a school playground in the north of the country - which has left scores of children with napalm-like burns over their bodies.
Eyewitnesses describe a fighter jet dropping the device, a low explosion, followed by columns of fire and smoke.
Watch the report at BBC.
The charity Save the Children responded to the BBC report Friday:
"The BBC’s shocking report on the alleged napalm attack on children in a school in Northern Syria, shows how schools – which should be places of safety for children – have become targets in this bitter conflict. In Syria, nearly 4,000 schools have been destroyed, damaged or occupied since the start of the conflict; in many places, children are either too frightened to go to school, or there are no longer any schools to go to."
UPDATE: 8/30/13 11:00 AM ET
Meetings at the UN and White House
UPDATE: 8/30/13 10:50 AM ET
White House intel on Syria
The White House is expected to release intelligence on the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Assad's forces on Friday.
Bloomberg reported on Obama's decision-making process and advisers on Syria:
"White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, previously Obama’s deputy national security adviser, and current national security adviser Susan Rice are influential voices, say four former administration officials familiar with the discussions, as Obama weighs an attack amid conflicting pressures, including last night’s rejection of participation by the U.K. parliament."
"Restraint was the prevailing view -- and Obama’s -- until this month. Then the Aug. 21 chemical attack, more than internal discussions or external political pressures from U.S. allies and Congress, that forced Obama, 52, and his advisers to move toward a limited military strike, said Barry Pavel, a former senior director for defense policy and strategy on the National Security Council under Obama and George W. Bush."
Read the full report at Bloomberg.
UPDATE: 8/30/13 10:40 AM ET
Last day for UN chemical weapons inspectors
The UN team of chemical weapons inspectors were expected to leave Syria on Saturday, a day earlier than originally planned, raising suspicions of an impending strike.
The Guardian noted there are unconfirmed reports that the team has crossed into Beirut.
"They were expected to leave Syria tomorrow. Their departure, whenever it happens, could signal the point at which the US launches military action," said the Guardian.
UPDATE: 8/30/13 10:30 AM ET
Secretary of State John Kerry to make statement
Reuters reports that Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to make a statement at 12:30 p.m. EST on Syria.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is in New York, is planning to meet with the permanent members of the UN Security Council at noon on Friday.
Meanwhile, Germany, which was vocal earlier in the week about a response to the Syrian regime's alleged use of chemical weapons, said it is not considering joining any military action, according to the Associated Press.
"There has been no request to us for a military commitment, and a German military commitment has never been considered by the government," said Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert.
On Germany participating in military action, Seibert said, "We have not considered it and we are not considering it."
Earlier in the week, the German government put out a statement saying, "The Syrian regime must not hope to be able to continue this warfare that violates international law ... Therefore an international reaction is inevitable in the view of the chancellor and the prime minister."
UPDATE: 8/30/13 10:20 AM ET
The moment of Cameron's defeat in parliament
As British parliament voted on military action in Syria, this was the scene in the House of Commons:
UPDATE: 8/30/13 9:30 AM ET
Obama's decision on Syria will be based on "best interests" for US
Despite British parliament late Thursday rejecting military action in Syria, the White House said the US was ready to go it alone in Syria.
"We have seen the result of the Parliament vote in the UK tonight," Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said Thursday.
"As we've said, President Obama's decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States," she said. "He believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable."
Cameron said Thursday, "It is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly."
French President Hollande on Friday reaffirmed plans to strike Syria, saying, "The chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished."
In an interview with newspaper Le Monde, Hollande said France still wanted "proportional and firm action." When asked for details on what a response would look like, Hollande said "all options are on the table."
UPDATE: 8/29/13 5:40 PM ET
As we wind up this live blog, we leave you with this:
And some dark, dark humor:
UPDATE: 8/29/13 5:35 PM ET
Cameron loses parliament's support on Syria
On the motion of authorization for military intervention in Syria, the government lost the vote by a margin of 285 votes to 272.
Cameron said he would respect their decision and not order an attack, according to the Guardian.
UPDATE: 8/29/13 5:15 PM ET
White House to brief Congressional leaders
Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will brief top Congressional leaders at 6 p.m. EST, according to NBC News.
President Obama will brief House Speaker John Boehner, while his team will talk to leaders of both parties in the House and Senate, as well as ranking chairmen of congressional committees.
Meanwhile, the debate in British parliament heated up, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg defending the UK's plan for military action. Clegg said any action would be taken solely to relieve "humanitarian suffering" and not for the purpose of regime change or invasion.
"Unequivocally there will be no military intervention on the part of the UK without a separate vote," he said, according to the BBC.
The MPs defeated the Labour amendment, which calls for "compelling evidence that the Syrian regime was responsible" for the use of chemical weapons, by a vote of 332 votes to 220.
For a blow-by-blow account of the "parliamentary revolt" in the UK, read the Guardian's 12-hour coverage on the debate.
UPDATE: 8/29/13 4:40 PM ET
America, jealous of Britain's parliamentary democracy?
The BBC's live blog quoted Conservative MP Peter Bone saying, "Thank goodness we have a British parliamentary democracy, where we can come as MPs and influence the decisions of the executive."
In case it isn't clear what he's alluding to, he went on to clarify: "In the US, you have 100 congressmen begging the president to let them debate the issue. We are so much better off in this House."
UPDATE: 8/29/13 3:55 PM ET
UN Security Council big 5 meeting over
The UN Security Council meeting of the US, UK, France, Russia and China is now over, according to the BBC and the Guardian.
What did they discuss and decide? We don't yet know.
The Guardian wrote, "All the delegations - US, France, Russia and China - other than the British have slunk out through a back exit, avoiding having to face the assembled media of the world. Not exactly a confidence-building display of global accountability."
The New York Times summarized the political theater which took place in Britain:
"The British government also laid out legal reasoning arguing that striking Syria would be justified on humanitarian grounds, with or without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council."
"Prime Minister David Cameron, facing dissent among lawmakers, has signaled that Britain would await the inspectors’ findings, though their U.N. mandate is to establish whether and what chemical weapons were used, not to determine who had used them."
Read the full report at The Times.
And UK-based magazine The Economist leaves little doubt of its opinion on the matter:
UPDATE: 8/29/13 3:45 PM ET
Syrian army moves missiles to avoid strikes
Reuters has this exclusive report:
President Bashar al-Assad's forces have removed several Scud missiles and dozens of launchers from a base north of Damascus, possibly to protect the weapons from a Western attack, opposition sources said on Thursday.
The move from the position in the foothills of the Qalamoun mountains, one of Syria's most heavily militarized districts, appears part of a precautionary but limited redeployment of armaments in areas of central Syria still held by Assad's forces, diplomats based in the Middle East told Reuters.
They said rebel raids and fighting near key roads had blocked a wider evacuation of the hundreds of security and army bases that dot the country of 22 million, where Assad's late father imposed his autocratic dynasty four decades ago.
Read the full report at Reuters.
UPDATE: 8/29/13 3:40 PM ET
Why some Syrian rebels don't support Obama's plan to hit Assad
BEIRUT, Lebanon — A potential military strike against the Syrian government by international actors like the United States and Britain could hit valuable regime targets that Syria’s ill-equipped rebels can only dream of capturing or destroying.
Many Free Syrian Army fighters have called for foreign intervention since the conflict started more than two years ago. But today, some rebels are questioning the motives behind the Western push for a strike — and whether or not it will even be effective.
“It’s good and not good, because the strike would not be lethal to the Syrian regime,” said Captain Fadi, an FSA officer with the Jabhat al-Umma al-Islamiya Brigade, an Islamist rebel unit operating in and around Aleppo. Like other rebels interviewed, he declined to give his full name because of security concerns.
Read the full report from Josh Wood in Lebanon.
UPDATE: 8/29/13 3:20 PM ET
Will strikes make right in Syria?
Jean MacKenzie weighs in on the response from Washington:
Without apparent legal justification, the US is seeking legitimacy through like-minded allies; some of these, such as Britain, were initially committed but have since gone a bit wobbly.
Furthermore, critics say, the US lacks a clearly defined endgame and a well thought-out strategy. A purely punitive strike has little chance of changing the balance of power on the ground. It carries risks of civilian casualties and the possibility dragging Western powers into a prolonged and bloody conflict.
On the other hand, the world has seen the pictures of dead children. Doing nothing feels very wrong.
President Barack Obama also has his own credibility, as well as the power and prestige of the US, riding on his notorious “red line” on Syria.
Read her full analysis: "Will strikes make right in Syria?"
UPDATE: 8/29/13 3:00 PM ET
Big five of UN Security Council meet
The Thursday meeting was called by Russia. The Guardian noted that it was not clear why Russia called the meeting, since Russia and China are expected to give "consistent opposition" to any military action proposed by the remaining three members, the United States, the UK and France.
UPDATE: 8/29/13 2:50 PM ET
NSA posts could listen to senior Syrian officials
The Washington Post published a lengthy report on the United States spy agencies' successes, failures and "black budget" on Thursday.
In the report, The Post wrote:
"In Syria, NSA listening posts were able to monitor unencrypted communications among senior military officials at the outset of the civil war there, a vulnerability that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces apparently later recognized."
Read the full report at The Post.
UPDATE: 8/29/13 2:35 PM ET
Samples from Syria will have UN escorts
Some of the chemical weapons inspectors who were in Syria will accompany the samples they collected to labs in Europe after leaving Damascus, the Associated Press reported.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq said a final report from the team would depend on the results from testing and could take "more than days."
UN chief Ban expects an initial report from the team of experts much sooner, the AP said.
UPDATE: 8/29/13 2:30 PM ET
State Department: This is not going to be another Iraq
"We are not going to repeat the mistakes of the Iraq war," State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said on Thursday. "Nobody is talking about a large-scale military intervention."
UPDATE: 8/29/13 2:15 PM ET
In Israel, a tension in the air
From Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz's live blog:
8:15 P.M. Air France modifies the timing of one of its two daily return flights between Paris and Beirut. (Reuters)
8:11 P.M. Cyprus Airways cancels its evening flight from Larnaca to the Lebanese capital Beirut, citing the situation in Syria. (Reuters)
Meanwhile, Noga Tarnopolsky reports from Israel:
"With what the daily newspaper Ha'aretz described as a "double-edged strategy," the Israeli army has been urging Israelis to stay calm but simultaneously to prepare for "the unlikely possibility" that Assad would seek reprisals against Israel."
Read more: "Brawls erupt as nervous Israelis rush to find gas masks"
UPDATE: 8/29/13 1:50 PM ET
Thursday’s White House mantra: Protect the international norm
The international norm that does not abide the use of chemical weapons, that is. “Protection of that is a priority for the president” and for the international community, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said during a press conference Thursday.
“We cannot allow a totalitarian dictator to use weapons of mass destruction like that with impunity,” he said of Bashar al-Assad.
Reporters pressed Earnest on how the president will be making a final decision about intervention in Syria — and how it won’t end up like Iraq. The spokesman responded that evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria — unlike in Iraq in 2003 — has been widely documented in reports, and that US engagement wouldn’t be open-ended or aim for regime change.
“I thoroughly reject the suggestion that [Iraq and Syria] are somehow similar,” the spokesman said.
Earnest stressed that the options the US was considering would be "very discreet and limited."
UPDATE: 8/29/13 1:30 PM ET
White House to release intelligence report on Syria this week
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, "There is a preponderance of publicly available evidence," when asked if the Obama administration had more than circumstantial evidence, according to Reuters.
Earnest also said senior officials would hold a conference call with members of Congress on Thursday afternoon on Syria.
UPDATE: 8/29/13 1:10 PM ET
UN Security Council to meet again
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council will meet again Thursday after failing to agree on action regarding Syria.
Russia objected to a draft resolution proposed by the UK on Wednesday, and British Prime Minister Cameron told parliament on Thursday, "It would be unthinkable to proceed if there was overwhelming opposition in the UN Security Council."
Speaking to lawmakers he had recalled from summer break, Cameron said, "Put simply, is it in Britain's national interest in maintaining an international taboo against the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield. I would say yes it is."
A report was released by the British Joint Intelligence Organization:
"A chemical attack occurred in Damascus on the morning of 21 August, resulting in at least 350 fatalities. It is not possible for the opposition to have carried out a CW attack on this scale. The regime has used CW on a smaller scale on at least 14 occasions in the past. There is some intelligence to suggest regime culpability in this attack. These factors make it highly likely that the Syrian regime was responsible."
UPDATE: 8/29/13 12:45 PM ET
What do the Syrians think?
BEIRUT, Lebanon — It’s not about saving Syrian lives. It’s about Obama saving face.
This is how one Syrian, Abdullah Omar, describes the US proposal to carry out limited strikes against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the wake of a suspected chemical weapons attack against civilians last week.
Omar lives in a rebel-held town nearTurkey, where he and his family assist refugees turned away from the Turkish border.
“The majority of people here support US airstrikes,” Omar said. “They think it will give the rebels an advantage over the regime. But in my opinion, it won’t. The Syrian people will keep suffering either from the regime or the extremists.”
Read more of Tracey Shelton's report from Lebanon: "What do Syrians think of potential US strikes on their country?"
UPDATE: 8/29/13 12:30 PM ET
Does silence mean consent?
The New York Times wrote about Russian President Vladimir's noticeable silence in the latest diplomatic squabbles over Syria.
While Russian diplomats and lawmakers have vehemently opposed any international military intervention in Syria and objected to the draft resolution proposed by the UK which would authorize the necessary means to protect civilian lives, Putin has remained silent on the alleged chemical weapons attack.
The Times wrote:
"Mr. Putin’s public reticence, though, reflects a calculation that Russia can do little to stop a military intervention if the United States and other countries move ahead without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council — and that he has little to lose at home, at least, if they do."
Meanwhile, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Russia made demands Thursday that the UN team currently in Syria visit more sites of alleged chemical weapons attacks.
"Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich says that apart from the site of last week's attack outside Damascus the inspectors should visit three others, including Khan al-Asal near Aleppo, where at least 25 people died in March. If this requires more time, the inspectors should stay in Syria longer, he says."
This, as the Guardian reported that the UN team would be leaving a day earlier than scheduled.
"The move is reminiscent of similar hasty departures of UN weapons inspectors from Iraq over a decade ago, after receiving a tip-off from western intelligence agencies that US air strikes against Saddam Hussein's regime were imminent."
UPDATE: 8/29/13 12:15 PM ET
The case for strikes in Syria
GlobalPost's senior foreign affairs columnist and former US diplomat Nicholas Burns weighed in on the case for a military strike in Syria:
"The risks of action are outweighed by the risks of inaction. Senator John McCain makes a convincing case that America's credibility and international standing are at stake. Our "credibility" is a meaningful, tangible, irreplaceable American asset in the world. As we are still the world's most powerful leader and, in essence, the power broker in the Middle East, we will be judged harshly if we do nothing in the wake of a chemical weapons attack by a disreputable regime. Strong action by the US and UK may well prevent the future use of such weapons in the Middle East and in other parts of the world."
Read more: "The case for strikes in Syria: 3 Questions with Ambassador Nicholas Burns"
UPDATE: 8/29/13 12:00 PM ET
Syrian lawmakers warn of "cataclysm"
Syrian lawmakers warned their British counterparts that a military strike would "plunge secular Syria, and indeed the whole region, into a cataclysm of sectarian mass murder," according to the New York Times.
The lawmakers sent an open letter to British parliament, to be read out loud during a session on Thursday.
The Times wrote:
"The writers invoked the 1914 assassination that set off World War I and of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, declaring, 'Local tragedies become regional wars that explode into global conflict because of breakdowns in communication.'"
Iran's Revolutionary Guards chief also issued a warning with a historical allusion, saying military strikes against Syria would lead to a "second Vietnam" for the United States and the destruction of Israel.
In an interview Wednesday, Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted by Iranian media as saying, "Syria will turn into a more dangerous and deadly battlefield than the Vietnam War, and in fact, Syria will become the second Vietnam for the United States."
UPDATE: 8/29/13 11:30 AM ET
Syria intelligence is "no slam dunk"
As the United States and UK debated for military action in Syria, US intelligence officials told the Associated Press that intelligence linking Assad or his top officials to the alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 was "no slam dunk."
On Wednesday evening, Obama said in an interview, "We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out."
Also on Wednesday, a State Department spokesperson said the US still held Assad culpable, even if he did not directly order the attack.
Spokesperson Marie Harf said, "The commander-in-chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership, even if ... he's not the one that pushes the button or said, 'Go,' on this."
The AP noted, "The White House ideally wants intelligence that links the attack directly to Assad or someone in his inner circle, to rule out the possibility that a rogue element of the military decided to use chemical weapons without Assad’s authorization."
The scepter of US intervention in Iraq hangs over the current situation in Syria, and Donald Rumsfeld, a major player during the Iraq war, said Wednesday that the Obama administration had not made the case yet for acting in Syria.
"There really hasn't been any indication from the administration as to what our national interest is with respect to this particular situation," Rumsfeld told Fox News.
UPDATE: 8/29/13 11:10 AM ET
UN inspectors to return to New York by Saturday
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that his team of chemical weapons inspectors would be back by the end of the week to report on Syria.
Western allies have held back on a military strike, which seemed imminent earlier in the week, to await the results of the UN inspection team tasked with visiting the sites of alleged chemical weapons attacks near Damascus.
"Diplomacy should be given a chance ... peace (should) be given a chance," said Ban. "The use of chemical weapons by anyone, for any reason, under any circumstances, is a crime against humanity and that must be held accountable for."
UPDATE: 8/29/13 10:30 AM ET
Assad says his country will be "victorious"
Syrian President Assad was quoted in a Lebanese daily vowing that his country would be "victorious."
"Since the start of the crisis, as you know, we have waited for our true enemy to reveal itself," Assad was quoted as telling Syrian officials in Al-Akhbar newspaper.
"I know that your morale is good and that you are ready to face any attack and to save the homeland," he continued. "It's a historic confrontation from which we will emerge victorious."
State television also quoted Assad Thursday, saying, "The threats of direct aggression against Syria will only increase our commitment to our deep-rooted principles and the independent will of our people. Syria will defend itself in the face of any aggression."
UPDATE: 8/29/13 9:30 AM ET
Obama says US action would be "shot across the bow"
Speaking to PBS NewsHour late Wednesday, President Obama said any military strike the US undertook in Syria would be a "shot across the bow" meant to send a "strong signal," not an action that pulled America into an "open-ended conflict."
Obama said he had not yet made a decision on how to respond, but that taking clear and decisive action would "have a positive impact on our national security over the long term."
"We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences," Obama said, dismissing allegations that rebels may have been responsible for the alleged chemical attack that hit the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21, reportedly killing hundreds of civilians, including women and children.
"I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable," Obama said.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 5:15 PM ET
Mr. President, please make the case for military action
More internal politics crept into the response to Syria Wednesday afternoon, as House Speaker John Boehner sent President Barack Obama a letter demanding a clear explanation of the US mission in Syria.
The Wall Street Journal reported:
"Separately, 114 House lawmakers — some 97 Republicans and 17 Democrats — have signed a letter calling on Mr. Obama to seek congressional authorization before embarking on military action in Syria."
Reuters published an excerpt from the letter:
"I respectfully request that you, as our country’s commander-in-chief, personally make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests, preserve America’s credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our broader policy and strategy."
Meanwhile, Israel is already preparing its defenses. Earlier, the AP reported that some reservists would be called up. Now, Reuters is reporting that mobilization of air defenses has been authorized.
"Following a security assessment held today, there is no reason for a change to normal routines," Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said. "We are, in parallel, preparing for any scenario."
UPDATE: 8/28/13 4:55 PM ET
US and European allies agree something must be done... but what?
The UK's Cameron spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and both agreed that the Syrian government should not go unpunished for what both feel is a sufficiently proven chemical weapons attack.
"The Syrian regime must not hope to be able to continue this warfare that violates international law ... Therefore an international reaction is inevitable in the view of the chancellor and the prime minister," said a statement from the German government.
However, internal British politics may have thrown a monkey wrench into any planned response before it goes into motion, as the Guardian reported.
Citing Whitehall sources, the Guardian said plans to launch strikes may be delayed so that Cameron can defuse a parliamentary revolt.
"With as many as 70 Tory MPs threatening to rebel, Ed Miliband announced just after 5 p.m. that he would instruct his MPs to vote against the government motion if a separate Labour amendment – calling for any action to be delayed – was defeated," the Guardian reported.
"I think any action... must be legal, must have a proper, sound legal base in international law," Labour party leader Ed Miliband said.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 4:30 PM ET
The US State Department blamed Russian "intransigence" for the failure to reach an agreement on the UN Security Council resolution on Syria.
"We see no avenue forward, given continued Russian opposition to any meaningful Council action on Syria," spokesperson Marie Harf said on Wednesday.
"We cannot be held up in responding by Russia's continued intransigence at the United Nations, and quite frankly the situation is so serious that it demands a response," Harf continued, hinting that Washington would proceed with its plans regardless of the Security Council's outcome.
"Syria cannot hide behind Russian intransigence at the Security Council. It is unacceptable," she said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his British counterpart William Hague that it was necessary "to wait for the results" of the UN chemical weapons team's results.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Arab League ministers plan to pass a resolution blaming Assad's regime for the alleged chemical weapons attack that took place on Aug. 21, citing League officials.
"The states' permanent representatives at the League had already explicitly blamed Assad on Tuesday for the attack, which killed hundreds of civilians, in a step that provided regional political cover for a possible U.S.-led military strike on Syria," Reuters said.
"The higher-level endorsement by the Arab foreign ministers at their meeting on Sept. 2-3 is being pushed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which both back anti-Assad rebels in Syria's civil war, as well as Qatar, a non-Gulf official at the League said."
Read the full report at Reuters.
Here are just some of the factors at play in (and around) Syria:
UPDATE: 8/28/13 3:50 PM ET
"Syrians feel that everyone benefits from their pain"
ISTANBUL, Turkey — As the potential for Western military strikes in Syria grows, residents of the Syrian capital Damascus are fearful, angry and with little hope for the future.
Few in the embattled capital see immediate benefits in a short-term air campaign against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — one US administration officials say would be limited in scope and seek to punish the regime rather than topple it.
But even the talk of military action from Washington, London and Brussels has had its effects. The Syrian pound lost 10-20 percent of its value against the dollar Tuesday in the Damascus black market, a Syrian banker said.
Food prices rose sharply Wednesday, according to residents. And employees are wondering if it’s still necessary to turn up for work.
“Syrians have spoken a lot, but no one listens,” said a Damascene woman who works in the art scene. GlobalPost interviewed her by phone, and she did not want to give her name for security reasons. “Syrians feel that everyone benefits from their pain.”
Read Stephen Starr's full report: "The mood in Damascus: weary of war but wary of the West"
UPDATE: 8/28/13 3:40 PM ET
Western response is "not even about the Syria conflict"
As much as the death toll is staggering (more than 100,000 in the conflict so far), the Western rhetoric insisting that something must be done isn't really about Syria. It's about the violation of international norms that prohibit the use of chemical weapons.
The European Council on Foreign Relations released a memo about current developments, warning that, "Military action risks worsening the conflict by further undermining diplomatic options, encouraging mission creep, and accelerating the flow of refugees to and instability in neighbouring countries already under severe strain."
ECFR pointed out that UK Prime Minister Cameron said, "this is not even about the Syria conflict. It is about the use of chemical weapons." Intervention on this note would not address the fact that approximately 99 percent of casualties in Syria have not been as a result of chemical weapons.
On the question of legality, ECFR said, "The legality of military strikes against Syria in the absence of authorisation by the UN Security Council is at best questionable."
"There does not appear to be any basis to claim that military action is being undertaken in self-defence. While the use of chemical weapons undoubtedly violates international law, this does not mean that a coalition of countries has the right to take punitive action without UNSC authorisation."
And worst of all, ECFR said, though it may be hard to imagine, things could potentially get worse for Syrians following Western air strikes, destabilizing the entire region.
ECFR said the solution lies in diplomacy: "An attempt to rethink the region should therefore focus on a strategy, the centre point of which is regional de-escalation, requiring more, not less, diplomacy with those with whom we disagree both in the region and beyond, notably Iran and Russia."
The full ECFR memo is available here.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 3:12 PM ET
UN fails to agree on action
The meeting of the UN Security Council to consider a proposal put forward by Britain to intervene militarily in Syria ended without agreement on Wednesday afternoon.
AFP reports that Chinese and Russian delegates to the council, who oppose intervention, left the meeting after 75 minutes.
The resolution would authorize "necessary measures" in response to what the governments of the US and UK are labeling a chemical weapons attack.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 2:25 PM ET
The strikes you don't hear about
Not every US bombing is as publicized as the one that might come to Syria. Other countries the US bombed in just the past month include Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Learn more about those incidents here.
As dozens of foreign groups and countries duke it out over Syria, regular civilians are caught in the middle. Whether the west strikes or not, these are the people trying to live amid the chaos.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 2:00 PM ET
State Department: Syria should not hide behind Russia
UPDATE: 8/28/13 1:40 PM ET
Russia objects to UN draft resolution
In an unsurprising development, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council did not reach an agreement on the draft resolution put forward by the UK, which would authorize military force against Syria.
A Western diplomat said Russia had reiterated its objections to military intervention, according to the Associated Press.
While the US and UK governments are now calling the Aug. 21 incident a chemical weapons attack, they have not presented concrete proof. The UN has also not backed the assertions, while its team of chemical weapons inspectors continue to investigate sites of alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 1:30 PM ET
All this talk of strikes...
The Wall Street Journal noted that European stock markets have been spooked by the rhetoric surrounding Syria, dropping for a third consecutive day.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index lost 0.4% to close at 297.89, building on losses seen on Tuesday, when the benchmark posted its biggest one-day decline since late June.
“By and large, the market is driven by Syria and you can see that by the effect in oil and gold prices and everything else is selling off,” said Guy Foster, head of portfolio strategy at Brewin Dolphin.
Global equity markets have been hit hard in recent days as fears of a U.S.-led military intervention in the country heightened...
CNN reported that "the so-called Middle East risk premium" has also been affecting oil prices. CNN wrote, "at this juncture, the likelihood of military intervention in Syria, daily bombings and killings in Iraq, and uncertainty about the flow of crude through Egypt's Suez Canal are far outweighing concerns about the developing world's waning thirst for energy."
UPDATE: 8/28/13 1:10 PM ET
Here a leak, there a leak
As the Guardian pointed out, US officials have been continuously leaking information about US plans in Syria anonymously.
A senior American official told NBC News Wednesday afternoon that "we’re past the point of no return" on Syria, and that air strikes were expected soon.
Agence France-Presse cited anonymous officials who said the US would not act unilaterally, while The New York Times cited officials describing "limited" strikes to "deter and degrade" the Assad regime's capability to deploy chemical weapons.
As things stand, however, military action has been hinted at, but not confirmed. The UN Security Council has not yet made a statement on its decision regarding the UK's draft proposal to take "necessary measures" in Syria.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 12:45 PM ET
Possible Syria targets and retaliation
ProPublica tweeted this graphic of possible targets that the United States may hit in strikes:
US officials anonymously told NBC News that four destroyers were ready to strike in the region: the USS Barry, the USS Mahan, the USS Ramage and the USS Gravely.
The United States and its allies have not officially confirmed what their military action will be, but reports suggest it's not a question of if but when strikes hit Syria.
The BBC reported that it's very likely any military strike undertaken by the US, UK and possibly France will involve "Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles fired from warships or submarines" and "fixed-wing aircrafts."
The integrity of Syria's Russian- and Chinese-supplied air defenses may have been compromised by rebel take-overs, the BBC noted, but Syria's air defenses "remain credible."
Syria also has a few choices to retaliate, including attacking rebel forces, widening the conflict into neighboring countries in the region (such as Turkey) or initiating a proxy war with the help of groups like Lebanon's militant Shia organization Hezbollah.
Read the full report at the BBC.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 12:35 PM ET
Syria's UN envoy blames "terrorists"
Syria's UN envoy spoke after the Security Council meeting, saying the country was in a state of war, preparing for the worst scenario.
Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said he asked UN Secretary General Ban "to mandate immediately the investigation team present now in Damascus to investigate three heinous incidents that took place in the countryside of Damascus on the 22nd, 24th and 25th where members of the Syrian army inhaled poisonous gas," according to Reuters.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 12:30 PM ET
UN Security Council reacts
The UN Security Council's reactions, live:
UPDATE: 8/28/13 12:10 PM ET
UN Security Council meets
The UN Security Council met on Wednesday morning in New York to discuss the draft resolution put forward by the UK, according to NBC News. The resolution would authorize "necessary measures" in response to what the governments of the US and UK are labeling a chemical weapons attack.
"We've always said we want the UN Security Council to live up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today they have an opportunity to do that," UK Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked that the UN team of chemical weapons inspectors in Syria be given more time — at least four days — to establish whether poison gas was used in the attack on Aug. 21.
A senior US administration official told reporters Wednesday that the United States would not act unilaterally.
"Any military action would not be unilateral. It would include international partners," the official said, adding that any action might stretch over several days. "The options are not limited just to one day."
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Syrians have begun hoarding food and taking shelter in Damascus.
At grocery stores, shoppers loaded up on bread, dried goods and canned foods, fearing they may face shortages if a strike hits the city. The items most in demand were batteries and water.
Nearby, a nurse idled in a clinic - empty as nearly no one showed up for their appointments on Wednesday - and raised the question on the mind of so many locals.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 11:40 AM ET
The Syria skeptics
While the UK, US, France and Germany have been vocal in the past few days that something must be done about Syria, other key regional and international players are not convinced (or are entirely opposed):
RUSSIA - Part of the UN Security Council's permanent members, Russia has warned of "catastrophic consequences" if the West were to take military action.
On Tuesday, a foreign ministry spokesman said, "Attempts to bypass the Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday told the UN special envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi that a diplomatic settlement is the only way to resolve the conflict in Syria, Russian media reported. He said any attempt to force a solution would only destabilize the situation.
IRAQ - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Wednesday, "the military solution is a dead end that has nothing in it but the destruction of Syria."
Speaking on state television, he said, "Nothing is obvious on the horizon other than destruction, catastrophe and a civil war that has no winner."
Maliki also added that Iraq is in a high state of alert.
IRAN - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said military action in Syria would be "a disaster for the region."
Iranian state media quoted Khamenei as saying, "The intervention of America will be a disaster for the region. The region is like a gunpowder store and the future cannot be predicted."
LEBANON - On Monday, Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said he did not support air strikes against Syria.
Talking to Lebanese radio, Mansour said, "I don't think this action would serve peace, stability and security in the region."
BELGIUM - "I am not yet convinced. What we want is to receive information showing the use of these arms," Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said Wednesday.
Speaking to a state broadcaster, Reynders condemned the attack that reportedly killed more than a 1,000 Syrians but expressed skepticism about military action. "What would be the consequences in Syria and in the region? What would be the consequences of acting without the consent of the UN Security Council?"
VENEZUELA - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro tweeted this on Wednesday: "In Venezuela we join the voices of the world that reject the plans for imperial military intervention against the people of Syria!!"
UPDATE: 8/28/13 11:05 AM ET
Cameron tweeting diplomacy
The UK National Security Council said the "world should not stand by" after the "unacceptable" (alleged) use of chemical weapons by Assad's regime.
We know this because Prime Minister David Cameron has been tweeting the developments on Syria throughout the morning.
As the UK put forward a resolution for the UN Security Council to consider, Cameron tweeted some of the main points.
He then tweeted the NSC's decision:
UPDATE: 8/28/13 10:55 AM ET
Syria evacuating military buildings: Reports
Residents and opposition sources said Syria's army and security buildings in Damascus appear to have been evacuated ahead of a planned Western military strike.
Army units stationed near the capital have confiscated several trailer trucks, apparently to transport heavy weaponry to alternative locations, though no significant movement of military hardware has been reported, possibly due to heavy fighting near major highways, one of the sources added.
Among the buildings that have been partially evacuated are the General Staff Command Building on Umayyad Square, the nearby airforce command and the security compounds in the Western Kfar Souseh districts, residents of the area and a Free Syrian Army rebel source said.
Read the full report at Reuters.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 10:40 AM ET
Rebels escort UN convoy
The AP verified this video of rebels escorting the UN team of chemical weapons inspectors in Syria:
The caption reads: "Activists say UN chemical weapons experts toured through Arbeen, a suburb of Syrian capital Damascus allegedly struck by a chemical attack."
UPDATE: 8/28/13 10:20 AM ET
NATO says Syria attack was 'unacceptable'
NATO Secretary General AndersFogh Rasmussen made a statement Wednesday, condemning the "outrageous attacks" in Syria. He said NATO supported the UN's investigation efforts and called the alleged attack a "clear breach" of international norms. Any use of chemical weapons is "unacceptable and cannot go unanswered," Rasmussen said.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 9:30 AM ET
Israel calling up reservists
An Israeli official told the Associated Press that a "limited" number of reserve troops have been called up by the government ahead of an anticipated attack.
"The official says the mobilization will include civil-defense units and reservists in air and rocket-defense units," the AP reported.
Senior US officials told NBC News Tuesday that the US could hit Syria with missile strikes as early as Thursday.
UPDATE: 8/28/13 9:00 AM ET
Britain seeks UN Security Council authorization
Britain is ready to introduce a resolution in front of the United Nations Security Council that will authorize "necessary measures to protect civilians" in Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron said in a tweet on Wednesday.
Russia and China will likely veto any act that proposes international military intervention in the war-town nation, despite a growing chorus of diplomats and political leaders declaring that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against civilians.
Still, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the five permanent members of the Security Council — France, China, Russia, Britain and the United States — to work together.
"The body interested with maintaining international peace and security cannot be 'missing in action'," Ban said. "The council must at last find the unity to act. It must use its authority for peace," he added.
Ban's call to diplomatic action came as joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi commented on the alleged Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus.
"It does seem clear that some kind of substance was used... that killed a lot of people" Brahimi told reporters.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that it was "undeniable" that chemical weapons were used in the alleged attack on Aug. 21. While a UN team of chemical weapons inspectors was finally able to access the site of the attack on Monday, testimony from local doctors and video footage has served as the main body of evidence so far.
On Wednesday, Foreign Policy reported that hours after the Aug. 21 attack, US intelligence heard a conversation between the Syrian Ministry of Defense and the head of a chemical weapons squad about the attack that reportedly killed more than 1,000 people.
"And that is the major reason why American officials now say they're certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime," Foreign Policy said.
Foreign Policy said the report only raises more questions: "Was the attack on Aug. 21 the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds? Or was the strike explicitly directed by senior members of the Assad regime?"
The team of UN investigators is still in Syria, where they met survivors of the attack and collected samples from sites of alleged chemical weapons use. The UN team will only determine whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them.
While Turkey, Britain, the United States, France and Germany have all said to varying degrees that some sort of international action is required, it's unclear exactly what that action will be.
Cameron said late Tuesday that his country could "not stand idly by," while French President Francois Hollande said his country was "ready to punish" those responsible for the alleged attacks.
Not much is known about the specifics of Britain's proposed resolution, but Cameron's office and the Prime Minister himself have been tweeting about it.
Cameron wasn't the only world leader to take to Twitter before the Security Council meeting in New York. Newly elected Iranian leader, President Hassan Rouhani, called on the international community to "observe international law" during the Syrian crisis. Iran supports Assad, and on Monday the state's foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Araqchi, said Tehran would defend its ally.
"We want to strongly warn against any military attack in Syria. There will definitely be perilous consequences for the region," Araqchi said. "These complications and consequences will not be restricted to Syria. It will engulf the whole region."