President Obama has blamed the Assad regime for the last chemical attack in Syria. Assad, Putin, and some rebels reject that assertion. Obama’s decision for Congress to debate an attack on Syria has bought him time to better understand the Syrian conflict.
A chemical attack on civilians occurred in late August near Damascus, Syria. At the time, it was unclear who was responsible for the attack since allegations of chemical warfare had been made against the Syrian government as well as rebel forces. Since then, the attack, which killed more than 1,400, has been attributed to President Assad's regime.
While Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have blamed Assad for the attack, there has been no direct link to the Syrian president. U.S. intelligence has been “incomplete” and does not link Assad and the attack. The U.S. has asserted, however, that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical attack.
Assad, on the other hand, has denied he or his forces had any role in the attack. Russian President Putin supports Assad’s claim and stated that the chemical attack was from “those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict." The claims that that Syrian rebel forces were responsible for the chemical attack near Damascus may have validity.
According to one report, Syrian rebels admitted to an Associated Press correspondent that they mishandled a chemical weapon provided by Saudi Arabia. Another report includes YouTube videos that identify U.S.-Syrian allies as having chemical weapons and training to use them. Also, Syrian Kurdish opposition leader Salih Muslim stated that Assad would not be “stupid” to use chemical weapons while the UN was in Syria. At the time, the UN was investigating use of chemical weapons.
While Obama had promised a “red line” against Syria, he recently decided that Congress should debate whether or not to attack the Assad regime. The decision may be due to Obama receiving conflicting intelligence information or not trusting the available intelligence. Another factor for the decision may be the lack of support from Britain leaving the U.S. and France to act against Syria.
The decision to force a Congressional debate indicates that Obama has not developed a definitive foreign policy toward Syria. He may have relied on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help him mold one. Unfortunately, Clinton once regarded Assad as a reformer, and then later decided to support his overthrow.
Obama’s decision to involve Congress has bought time for his administration and himself. The time will be used to get better clarity of the Syrian conflict and the gas attack. It will also remind Americans that a “speak, think, assess” strategy doesn’t work in foreign or economic policy.