National Security Advisor Makes Case for Action in Syria
By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2013 National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice today explained the objectives of punitive military strikes under consideration in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Bashar Assad regime against Syrian civilians.
In a speech at the New America Foundation, Rice said President Barack Obama’s administration has collaborated with the United Nations, Congress and other allies to isolate the Assad regime, deny its resources, bolster civilian and military opposition and secure diplomatic agreement with other key countries.
“We can and we will stand up for certain principals in this pivotal region,” Rice said. “We seek a Middle East where citizens can enjoy their universal rights, live in dignity, freedom and prosperity, choose their own leaders and determine their own future, free from fear, violence and intimidation.”
The military action, Rice said, is by no means the sum total of the U.S. policy toward Syria. “Our overarching goal is to end the underlying conflict through a negotiated political transition in which Assad leaves power,” she added.
But to this end, the national security advisor said, all parties must be willing to negotiate to avoid more direct action in the region.
“Only after pursuing a wide range of nonmilitary measures to prevent and halt chemical weapons use did President Obama conclude that a limited military strike is the right way to deter Assad from continuing to employ chemical weapons like any conventional weapon of war,” she said.
Rice said the lack of a response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons would present several risks.
“Failing to respond means more and more Syrians will die from Assad’s poisonous stockpiles,” she said. “Failing to respond makes our allies and partners in the region tempting targets of Assad’s future attacks.”
Risks also include opening the door to other weapons of mass destruction and emboldening those would use them, she said.
“We cannot allow terrorists bent on destruction, or a nuclear North Korea, or an aspiring nuclear Iran to believe for one minute that we are shying away from our determination to back up our long-standing warnings,” Rice said. “Failing to respond to this brazen attack could indicate that the United States is not prepared to use the full range of tools necessary to keep our nation secure.”
Rice also said inaction could undermine the United States’ ability to rally coalitions and lead internationally. “Any president, Republican or Democrat, must have recourse to all elements of American power to design and implement our national security policy, whether diplomatic, economic or military,” she said.
The sarin gas used in the Syrian regime’s Aug. 21 chemical attack is an odorless and colorless poison undetectable to its victims until it’s too late, Rice said, and which targets the body’s central nervous system, making every breath a struggle and causing nausea and uncontrollable convulsions.
“The death of any innocent in Syria or around the world is a tragedy, whether by bullet or landmine or poisonous gas,” the national security advisor said. “But chemical weapons are different -- they are wholly indiscriminate. Gas plumes shift and spread without warning.”
Chemical weapons kill on a scope and scale that is entirely different from conventional weapons, Rice said, adding that their effect is immense and the torturous death they bring is unconscionable.
The Syrian regime has one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world, and Assad, Rice said, has been struggling to clear neighborhoods in Damascus and drive out the opposition amid an ever-waning conventional arsenal.
“Assad is lowering his threshold for use while increasing exponentially the lethality of his attacks,” Rice said.
Unaddressed, she said, the unrest creates even greater refugee flows and raises the risk that deadly chemicals would spill across borders into neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, as well as the closest U.S. ally, Israel.
“Every time chemicals weapons are moved, unloaded and used on the battlefield, it raises the likelihood that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorists active in Syria, including Assad’s ally Hezbollah and al-Qaida affiliates,” Rice said. “That prospect puts Americans at risk of chemical attacks, targeted at our soldiers and diplomats in the region and even potentially our citizens at home.”
Every attack also serves to unravel the long-established commitment of nations to renounce chemical weapons use, Rice said, specifically 189 countries representing 98 percent of the world’s population, which now prohibit development, acquisition or use of these weapons.