/ 25 August 2013

Obama moves towards war in Syria, raising echoes of Bush

Former US president George W Bush with Barack Obama.
Former US president George W Bush with Barack Obama. (AFP)

Obama is moving the United States closer to an "illegitimate" war in Syria, a prominent Russian lawmaker said Sunday. "Inescapably, Obama is moving towards war in Syria just like Bush was towards war in Iraq," Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian lower house of Parliament's international committee, said on Twitter.

"Just like in Iraq, this war will not be legitimate and Obama will become a Bush clone."

Earlier on Sunday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the country's military was ready to take action against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad's regime if ordered.

The US and its allies are assessing intelligence on allegations that Assad's forces unleashed chemical weapons against his own people last week.

Russia, which has supported Assad through the two-and-a half-year conflict in Syria, branded as "unacceptable" calls for Western nations to consider using force against the regime.

Nerve gas
Moscow also questioned Western and Syrian opposition claims that the Damascus regime might have used nerve gas.

In 2003, US troops invaded Iraq following accusations by then US president George W Bush's administration that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Those claims later proved false. The eight years of war in Iraq killed nearly 4 500 US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Meanwhile, Syria sought to avert blame by saying its soldiers had found chemical weapons in rebel tunnels. US Secretary of State John Kerry called his Syrian counterpart on Thursday to chide the government for not allowing UN inspectors access to the site.

Obama has been reluctant to intervene in Syria's civil war, but reports of the killings near Damascus have put pressure on the White House to make good on the president's comment a year ago that chemical weapons would be a "red line" for the United States.

The United States is repositioning naval forces in the Mediterranean to give Obama the option for an armed strike.

The White House declined to list what options were discussed on Saturday and said Washington was still gathering details about the attack.

"In coordination with international partners and mindful of the dozens of contemporaneous witness accounts and record of the symptoms of those killed, the US intelligence community continues to gather facts to ascertain what occurred," it said in a statement at the time.

Syrian government culpability
American and European security sources have said US and allied intelligence agencies made a preliminary assessment that chemical weapons were used by Syrian forces in the attack. The United Nations has requested access to the site.

Obama spoke to Cameron after the White House meeting. A spokesperson for the British prime minister said the two men noted increasing signs of Syrian government culpability.

"They are both gravely concerned by the attack that took place in Damascus on Wednesday and the increasing signs that this was a significant chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime against its own people," the spokesperson said.

Cameron also spoke to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper spoke to French President François Hollande.

Obama said in a CNN interview broadcast on Friday that chemical weapon use on a large scale would start "getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region".

But Americans strongly oppose US intervention in Syria's civil war and believe Washington should stay out of the conflict even if reports that Syria's government used deadly chemicals to attack civilians are confirmed, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll. – AFP; Reuters