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Friday, August 23, 2013

U.S. Weighing Syria Options

A Syrian woman who lives in Beirut holds a candle and placard during a vigil against the alleged chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of Damascus, in front the United Nations headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (Hussein Malla/AP)

A Syrian woman who lives in Beirut holds a candle and placard during a vigil against the alleged chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of Damascus, in front the United Nations headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (Hussein Malla/AP)

The Pentagon is updating target lists as the White House considers a military response in Syria, after an attack in which U.S. officials say they saw “strong indications” of chemical weapons use.

U.S. officials are saying that there are “strong indications” that chemical weapons were used in this week’s attack in Syria which left more than 1,000 people dead.

While experts are still sifting through the evidence, President Barack Obama, speaking on CNN today, said, “what we’ve seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern.”

The president has been criticized for not acting after earlier reports that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad Obama had used nerve agents as it battled to retain power in the face of wide spread opposition and violence.

Those reports came after President Obama had warned Syria that the use of chemical weapons would mean crossing a “red line.”

Guest

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

We're getting more details about Washington's response to alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria. President Obama addressed it today in an interview, saying it demands U.S. attention. And The Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon is updating target lists in Syria as the White House weighs its options. Joshua Landis is director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, and he joins us now. Josh, take us through the basic options for the U.S. starting with sanctions. We've already got strong economic sanctions against Syria. What are those doing, and should we be doing more on that front?

JOSHUA LANDIS: Sanctions is the least satisfactory response here. We've got very tough sanctions on. The Syrian economy has collapsed by half. There's widespread starvation and - not starvation, but there's depravation. And one third of the Syrian nation has either fled the country or has been displaced internally. This is, you know, you don't want to squeeze the country anymore. It will just create more misery.

HOBSON: What about military options for the U.S., and I don't say that lightly, but let's start at least with a no-fly zone. There are some Pentagon officials who have said that is not easy, but others are suggesting that it's a good idea.

LANDIS: Well, it is sort of a halfway house. You can limit the amount of planes, but here we see with the chemical weapons, they were sent, you know, allegedly used by artillery shells. You take away the planes, you're going to get more of this kind of action. The Syrian society is locked in a terrible civil war. Both sides still think they can win.

HOBSON: What about targeted airstrikes on government and military facilities? Would that be effective?

LANDIS: Well, a lot of people are calling for those today, particularly at places where we know chemical weapons are stored as a sign. The trouble is once you start punishing Assad for infractions of human rights, where do you stop? Why not go all the way and just destroy the regime?

HOBSON: And there are a lot of questions about who would come in without Assad there, and the opposition who exactly it is we would be supporting or are supporting already, parts of the opposition have ties to radical groups, apparently including al-Qaida.

LANDIS: Well, that's the problem. There's well over 1,000 militias, and many of those militias - the strongest militias are militias that America finds very distasteful, either because they're Salafists or because they are linked to these foreign jihadists and al-Qaida. And the most recent spectacular success of the foreign - of the opposition was a joint effort between the Free Syrian Army, which is backed by the United States, and that which we - but they used as a spearhead for their attack on this big air base outside of Aleppo in the north of the country the al-Qaida-linked foreign jihadists who set off car bombs, giant car bombs and drove a suicide car bomb into the head of this base.

And so they're sharing arms. They're working hand and glove. And America doesn't want to become the ally of al-Qaida in supporting the Syrian opposition. So this is why Dempsey, chief of staff, has said we really don't have an opposition that's ready to take over the country and that is pro-American.

HOBSON: Joshua Landis is director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Joshua, thanks.

LANDIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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