As the Congressional summer recess comes to close — with the Senate and the House potentially set to vote on Syrian strikes as soon as next week — the White House push to gain support for military intervention is at its strongest, even as doubts continue to circulate.
Late Saturday, NBC News released the videos of the Damascus gas attack that the Obama administration had shown to senators earlier in the week, videos that supposedly convinced many of the legislators that military intervention was the way to go. The footage shows what seems to be the aftermath of the chemical attack on August 21, with victims displaying symptoms that would be consistent with Sarin gas exposure.
The videos were reportedly shot by opposition supporters in Syria, and thirteen of them have been authenticated by the CIA. But the fact that a chemical attack took place isn't under dispute. Rather, the question has been whether
it was undoubtedly Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime that was behind the assault — a question that the videos fail to answer.
And skepticism continues to grow. According to a letter issued by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) — a group of current and former U.S. intelligence officials, including ex-NSA Executive Thomas Drake — "the incident was not the result of an attack by the Syrian Army using military-grade chemical weapons from its arsenal. That is the most salient fact, according to CIA officers working on the Syria issue [...] Senior opposition commanders who came from Istanbul pre-briefed the regional commanders on an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development,” which, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria."Even abroad, critics remain unconvinced.
"We can't get our heads around this — why would any commander agree to rocketing a suburb of Damascus with chemical weapons for only a very short-term tactical gain for what is a long-term disaster," a former British military officer told the AP.But Secretary of State John Kerry continued to push for international support during a a visit to Paris Saturday, where he met with his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius.
"We in the United States know, and our French partners know, that this is not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter," Kerry said. "This is the time to pursue a targeted and limited but clear and effective response that holds dictators like Bashar Assad responsible for the atrocities which they commit."
"There are a number of countries, in the double digits, who are prepared to take military action," he added.
"There's a dictator who did it and is ready to start again," Fabius echoed. "This concerns us, too. You can't say that globalization is everywhere except for terrorism and chemical weapons."
Meanwhile, Syrian activists said Sunday that opposition forces, led by the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, have taken over Maaloula (a Christian village northeast of the capital Damascus), following clashes with the military late Saturday. The news highlights the disparity between the different opposition groups in Syria, one of the main issues being raised over any U.S.-led military action.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough is due to appear on Sunday morning talk shows to continue to make the case for punitive action in Syria, with the President scheduled to do the news rounds on Monday.