The international community is waiting to see whether the French government will indeed enact punitive measures against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime. France released intelligence on Monday pointing to chemical weapon usage in Syria, corroborating similar findings by the United States.
In response, Assad has warned that any attack on his nation would inevitably add fuel to the fire of civil war, further spreading “chaos and extremism.” Assad also reminded listeners of his powerful Russian allies, who have long since rejected Western accusations of chemical warfare.
The rebuttal came as both sides attempt to curry international favor, following President Obama’s statement to Congress asking permission to authorize strikes against Assad’s regime. Obama explained that he was not in favor of putting boots on the ground, but rather would make use of the “positioned assets” the United States military has in the region. He also chastised what he views as a “completely paralyzed” UN Security Council that is “unwilling to hold Assad accountable.”
While acknowledging that he believed the office of the chief executive has the power to initiate such a strike, Obama took the unusual step of requesting Congress debate the issue, and then vote on whether the strikes would commence. Assad derided Obama’s decision to put the issue before Congress as “weak.”
“If the Americans, the French, or the British had a shred of proof, they would have shown it beginning on the first day,” he said in an exclusive interview with French newspaper Le Figaro. “Everyone will lose control of the situation…The risk of a regional war exists.”
Assad went on to clarify that while he does not consider France an enemy, he believes the French state to be so. “Whoever contributes to the terrorist’s financial or military strength is the enemy of the Syrian people. The French people is not our enemy, but the policy of its state is hostile to the Syrian people….this [French] state will be [Syria’s] enemy.”
Sean Sutton, chair of the Political Science department at the Rochester Institute of Technology, believes Obama has the power to act, stating “Presidents do need congressional approval” for this sort of intervention. At the same time, he acknowledged that Obama’s stance appears “muddled and confusing” to the public at large.
Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande has — alongside Obama — proven the most outspoken world leader pressing for military action against Assad’s regime. Last week, Hollande had called for a meeting of the Security Council following a conference with the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), deeming it necessary to “punish” the Syrian leader for the chemical attacks around Damascus.
According to Hollande, “Everything should be done to reach a political solution,” but should that fail, “an alternative with the necessary force” will be planned and exercised. Many ask if Hollande is not attempting to cement “his own Lybia,” following his predecessor Sarkozy’s success in assisting the dismantling Qaddafi’s regime during the 2011 Arab Spring.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has confirmed that there is “no question of sending ground troops” to aid the rebels.
SNC leader George Sabra had called for support against the Assad regime, railing against the Syrian president as having “massacred our people” in the August 21 attacks. “He must not escape the punishment he deserves,” Sabra added.
While the global debate rages on, however, Syrians themselves are facing enormous upheaval, with entire communities uprooted in efforts to flee the violence. Refugees have been faced with hostility from neighbors at home, and now many face harassment from the population in areas where the seek asylum.
In Russia, leaders of the G20 nations have made Syria the primary topic of conversation, overshadowing the economic issues that are traditionally the Group’s main concern. At a heated roundtable on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin pressed leaders of the Western democracies on intervention, and declared that any individual action – outside of that undertaken by UN – would be rash.
China and EU leaders have favored further dialogue, and generally opposed the type of intervention that France and the US are considering. Recent reports from the US have indicated Congress may be unwilling to sanction military action, and it remains to be seen whether France would be willing to act alone.