The Obama administration is constructing the legal and political justification for a limited military strike on Syria that would demonstrate international censure against chemical weapons, according to a U.S. official.
Any action taken by the U.S. would have a narrow scope and not be aimed at taking out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the official said, contrasting it to the allied offensive in Libya that targeted Muammar Qaddafi. A strike would concentrate on Syria's weapons capabilities.
President Barack Obama and his aides are consulting with U.S. lawmakers and allies such as the U.K. and France about possible military action. French President Francois Hollande said today that Syria's use of chemical arms must be punished. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has summoned Parliament back from its recess on Aug. 29 to discuss the country's response.
Any action by Obama to intervene in Syria will run up against U.S. public opinion that offers little support for new military commitments in the region. It also would consume political capital as Obama also seeks to get agreement from U.S. lawmakers on fiscal policy, the nation's debt limit and a new chairman of the Federal Reserve.
The introduction of troops isn't being considered, nor is imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria, according to the official, who asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Another official stressed that no decisions have been made on a U.S. response.
Even a limited military operation carries the risk that it could lead to an escalation of the Syrian conflict if Assad decides he has nothing to lose and expands his use of chemical or biological weapons.
"There is no assurance that a limited strike would not lead to retaliation by the regime and escalation," Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst and now a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in an e-mail
David Fuller's view As appalling as the chemical or biological weapons attacks in Syria are, I doubt that President Obama will find any public mandate within the USA for military strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Similarly, I doubt there would be any mandates within the UK, France, Canada or Australia, where President Obama has been in touch with government leaders since the poisonous attacks in Syria.
The role of self-appointed global cop has seldom been less popular, at home or abroad. Conflict in the Middle East is certainly not a global war, although it can too easily affect the price of crude oil. Meanwhile, none of the potential Western candidates for a strike against Syria's military are under direct threat from the country's civil war.
However, military action by a Western alliance, with or without additional support, could very easily increase tensions and not just in the Middle East. Russia's response to a possible Western strike against Bashar al-Assad's military has been bellicose because Syria provides its only military navel port in the Mediterranean. China might feel that it had been granted, by proxy, a green light for further territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.
Global stock markets were already entering a period of turbulence due to high valuations and talk of tapering quantitative easing (QE), as Fullermoney has cautioned for several months, before investors became concerned about conflicts in Egypt and especially Syria following the chemical / biological attacks earlier this month.
This has certainly checked momentum buying in Saudi Arabia's stock market this week, as you can see by the big downward dynamic. Kuwait has also fallen this week. Qatar's steep rally has at least paused near the psychological 10,000 level. Israel has also been affected.
Of far greater concern to the global economy will be the prices of crude oil in USD which is up over $3 today. WTI crude (daily & weekly) is close to breaking up out of its current range as investors buy long hedges. More importantly Brent crude (daily & weekly) has surged higher today. Talk of cruise missile strikes against Syria is currently creating an additional headwind for global stock markets. This will take on the appearance of a temporary crisis if we see Brent above $120 for more than a day or two. I do not think that such a rise would last for more than a few weeks at most, but it would certainly put additional downward pressure on global GDP and most stock markets. Vladimir Putin's government is providing some incendiary rhetoric: Russia Warns of 'Catastrophic Consequences' If US Meddles in Syria.
Here is a related article: France 'Ready to Punish' Syria Over Gas Attack (may require subscription registration).