Have seen numerous assertions that Assad is clearly winning and had no incentive to use chemical agents. This group of questions has some basic information on these issues.
Key Questions on the Conflict in Syria
How did the conflict in Syria begin, who are the antagonists and why are they still fighting?
The conflict in Syria grew out of the 2011 Arab Spring protests, when Syrians peacefully demonstrated in towns across the country against Mr. Assad, who succeeded his father, Hafez al-Assad, as president; between the two, the family has held the presidency for four decades. Unlike some other countries facing democratic protests, the Syrian government responded with violence, killing many protesters and radicalizing the movement. Civilians began to take up arms, at first to defend their demonstrations and later to fight security forces in their cities and towns. This nascent armed movement was at first bolstered by army defectors who organized themselves, with Turkish help, under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army, but over time radical Islamists, including some allied with Al Qaeda, came to play a dominant role, defeating government forces on the battlefield in some towns in the north and east and imposing their rule there.
Where does the conflict currently stand?
Today, the Assad government remains the strongest single actor in the conflict, although it has lost a significant amount of territory in the north and east and faces a stalemate against rebels in important areas of the country, including Aleppo and the suburbs of Damascus. Nevertheless, it has a strong arsenal, including chemical weapons, and robust support from its main allies, Russia and Iran. The rebels remain divided among hundreds of small militias and brigades, the most powerful of which are radical Islamist groups. They control much of the countrys north and east, including its borders with Turkey and Iraq, and have begun to enforce Islamic law in some towns. The more secular rebels aligned with the Free Syrian Army are active in towns and suburbs in the south, including the areas of Damascus targeted by the suspected chemical attack, but they are generally weaker than their Islamist counterparts.
The conflict has been growing in intensity and scope for more than two years, with the United Nations estimating more than 100,000 dead and millions displaced, why would the government use chemical weapons now?
There are a number of theories about why the Syrian government might have chosen to use chemical weapons at this point, just days after United Nations weapons inspectors arrived to investigate earlier allegations of chemical weapons use. One theory proposed by a senior Israeli official is that the attack in the Damascus suburbs may have been a miscalculation: Syria may have been using chemical agents on a smaller scale for some time, and used an unintentionally large amount in last weeks attack. Maybe they were trying to hit one place or to get one effect and they got a much greater effect than they thought, said the official.
Another theory, argued by Juan Cole, a professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Michigan, is that a siege mentality may have contributed to the Assad governments decision to use chemical weapons. Faced with intractable Sunni rebels in the Damascus suburbs, the Alawite-led government may have decided to send them a message that the capital would be defended at all costs. It is the typical behavior of a weak regime facing superior demographic forces (the Alawites are far outnumbered by Sunnis) to deploy unconventional weaponry, Mr. Cole wrote in a blog post.
What do the United States and its allies hope to achieve through military intervention in the Syrian conflict, and what are the risks?
Pentagon officials have said that President Obama is considering limited military action to deter and degrade the Syrian governments ability to deploy chemical weapons. He is not considering a more ambitious air campaign like the one that helped oust Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya in 2011, nor is he considering any action that would lead to the deployment of American troops in Syria. Any strikes would target the military units that have deployed chemical weapons, said Pentagon officials, as well as their headquarters and rockets or artillery units that could be used to launch them. Any strikes would not target chemical weapons storage facilities, which could have environmental or humanitarian consequences or open up sensitive sites to looters.
Walmart, the nations largest private employer, will soon offer a full suite of benefits to its employees domestic partners, including those of the same sex.
The change will take effect in all 50 states, independent of each states definition of what marriage, domestic partnership or civil union entails.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant sent postcards to its staffers on Monday outlining changes to their health insurance policies for 2014, including news that full-time associates can cover any spouse or domestic partner, regardless of gender.
Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove stressed that offering healthcare to LGBT partners is one piece of the store chains updated benefits package, which includes a vision plan, 100% coverage for some surgeries including hip replacement and incentives to quit smoking.
Read more: http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2013/08/28/walmart-extends-benefits-to-lgbt-employees-same-sex-domestic-partners/
Only good for full time employees and most employees are part time, on purpose.
Yes, I know. It's Jonathan Chait.
Syria Isnt Iraq. Everything Isnt Iraq.
By Jonathan Chait
The generation that came of age during World War II famously and, in time, tragically came to apply the formative lessons to every foreign-policy event that followed it. The generation that came of age during the Vietnam War, and then, more recently, the Iraq War, was imprinted with the opposite lessons. Im not immune: My formative experience in college was the Gulf War and, soon after that, the eventual, successful interventions in the Balkans. (I have a cousin who is married to a Kosovar, whose husband was murdered by Serbian militants, and who was saved by the United States military.)
The merits of intervening in Syria strike me as both a closer call and a lower-stakes matter than what we think of as major wars. Attacking the Syrian regime wont stop all future massacres of civilians, or even all chemical attacks on civilians, but it does strike, on balance, as better than doing nothing at all.
Im continually struck by the ideological cleavage between myself and the Iraq Warvintage smart center-left writers, who generally agree with me on domestic policy but sharply diverge with me on foreign policy. Matthew Yglesias, for instance, regularly makes arguments against any kind of military intervention that impress other Iraq Warera neoliberals but strike me as insanely reductive. The arguments Yglesias poses today against a military strike against Syria eerily echo the arguments conservatives and libertarians make against any kind of domestic government intervention.
The argument for intervening in Libya was not that doing so would turn the country into a peaceful, Westernized democracy moving rapidly up the OECD rankings. It was that it would prevent an immediate, enormous massacre of civilians. Libya remains an ugly place; it would have been so regardless of whether NATO intervened. But the narrow, humanitarian goal that drove the U.S. to act was unambiguously accomplished without the larger dangers of mission creep that foes warned against. Its telling that, rather than arguing that the overall costs exceeded the benefits, opponents are resorting to listing any bad things that have happened since.
An even worse argument is that, if we want to prevent the deaths of people in Third World countries, we should use humanitarian aid for things like anti-malarial nets rather than military force against people who are massacring them.
snip As I said, it is not an easy call. But I continue to be amazed that some of my younger liberal friends find it so easy to dismiss any weighing of pros and cons by venturing arguments structurally identical to ones that, in a domestic context, they recognize as absurd.
White House Syria Deliberations: 'Do Less' Camp is Still Winning
BY JULIA IOFFE
That said, this is what we do know. As always, the administration is split on action in Syria, and on what, if anything, should be done. General Martin Dempsey is largely against intervention. Samantha Power, U.N. Ambassador and author of A Problem from Hell, a scathing attack on powers that sit by in the face of slaughter, wants to do something. Looking at the roster of the fifteen people at the President's meeting to discuss the Syria crisis, they split roughly in two: the do more camp, and the do less camp. "People have been pretty stable in their positions," said a source familiar with the situation. "I dont think anyone has changed their position."
The lone exception was Kerry, who had pushed for action on Libya, but has been hesitant on Syria: he has been gunning for that peace conference in Geneva. Today, he was likely trotted out to give the President some cover as the U.N. inspectors finish their workand get the hell out of Syria before the fireworks start.
By Monday evening, the policy was still very much up in the air, but the "do less" camp seemed to be winning, probably because of Obama's notorious reluctance on such things. The outlines of what the Obama administration is likely to do was starting to take shape: the U.S. would likely act, but it would act mostly to impose a sense of consequence, stopping short of doing something obviously designed to shift the balance inside Syria between Assad and the motley rebel crew. Envisioned thus, U.S. military action would probably target things like the headquarters of airforce intelligence or other targets associated with the distribution of chemical weapons, but would probably spare Assad's deadly air force. That is, it would do enough damage to show the world that Obama's word is bond, that a red linehowever accidentally drawn, however tardily noticedis a red line, but would stop short of weakening Assad enough to let some increasingly shady people topple him. Retaliating for chemical weapons use, says one administration official, "would not be because of a desire to intervene in Syria, but to prevent future chemical weapons use."
Ultimately, whatever the White House decidesand it will do so painstakingly, almost theatrically so, to demonstrate that, unlike its predecessors, it has not rushed heedless into another Mulsim warit is likely to be limited and surgically precise in its message to Assad: you can go on killing people in your murky civil war, just not with chemical weapons, well, not on a large scale.
Israel may have intercepted Syrian discussions about chemical attack
By Ken Dilanian
August 27, 2013, 2:25 p.m.
WASHINGTON -- An elite Israeli intelligence unit intercepted conversations among high ranking Syrian government officials discussing last weeks apparent chemical attack outside Damascus as it unfolded, a German news magazine has reported.
Citing an anonymous Israeli ex-intelligence official, Germanys Focus magazine said Saturday that Israels secretive signals intelligence agency, Unit 8200, eavesdropped on a conversation between senior Syrian officials about use of chemical agents.
On Friday, Israels Channel 2 reported that rockets containing chemical agents were fired by the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division, a division under the command of the Syrian presidents brother, Maher Assad.
The shells were reportedly fired from a military base in a mountain range west of Damascus, the news channel said, without disclosing its sources.
CNN cited U.S. officials Tuesday as saying that intercepted conversations would be included in a U.S. intelligence assessment that the White House will release to the public.
U.S. intelligence agencies long have relied on Israel to help provide intelligence about Syria. Israels spy services have many more Arabic-speakers than do the CIA and National Security Agency, and Israel is believed to have a network of spies within Syria.
Still, a former CIA officer with long Middle East experience advised skepticism of purported leaked intercepts. Israel would be reluctant to disclose that it could listen in on senior Syrian figures, he said.
Because once you do that, it goes away, he said, asking not to be quoted by name speaking about sensitive intelligence matters.
However, he acknowledged that Israel has superior intelligence coverage of Syria.
They only do a few things, and they do them very well, he said. They collect mainly on the countries that border them, and because they focus only on those targets, they are very effective. Their technical ability is on par with much larger nations.
I snipped out a bunch. Read rest at link. Yes, I know it's the Telegraph.
Saudi Arabia has secretly offered Russia a sweeping deal to control the global oil market and safeguard Russias gas contracts, if the Kremlin backs away from the Assad regime in Syria.
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard12:00PM BST 27 Aug 2013
We understand Russias great interest in the oil and gas in the Mediterranean from Israel to Cyprus. And we understand the importance of the Russian gas pipeline to Europe. We are not interested in competing with that. We can cooperate in this area, he said, purporting to speak with the full backing of the US.
The talks appear to offer an alliance between the OPEC cartel and Russia, which together produce over 40m barrels a day of oil, 45pc of global output. Such a move would alter the strategic landscape.
As-Safir said Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russias naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russias Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord. I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, he allegedly said.
Prince Bandar went on to say that Chechens operating in Syria were a pressure tool that could be switched on an off. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role in Syrias political future.
Saudi Arabia could help boost oil prices by restricting its own supply. This would be a shot in the arm for Russia, which is near recession and relies on an oil price near $100 to fund the budget.
But it would be a dangerous strategy for the Saudis if it pushed prices to levels that endangered the worlds fragile economic recovery. Crude oil stocks in the US have already fallen sharply this year. Goldman Sachs said the surplus cushion in global stocks built up since 2008 has been completely eliminated.
Mr Skrebowski said trouble is brewing in a string of key supply states. Libya is reverting to war lordism. Nigerian is drifting into a bandit state with steady loss of output. And Iraq is going back to the sort of Sunni-Shia civil war we saw in 2006-2007, he said.
The Putin-Bandar meeting was stormy, replete with warnings of a dramatic turn in Syria. Mr Putin was unmoved by the Saudi offer, though western pressure has escalated since then. Our stance on Assad will never change. We believe that the Syrian regime is the best speaker on behalf of the Syrian people, and not those liver eaters, he said, referring to footage showing a Jihadist rebel eating the heart and liver of a Syrian soldier.
Prince Bandar in turn warned that there can be no escape from the military option if Russia declines the olive branch. Events are unfolding exactly as he foretold.
Wes Clark Talks About Syria & Compares To Clinton Bombing Iraqi Intelligence Service (NPR-Today)
Last edited Tue Aug 27, 2013, 05:06 PM USA/ET - Edit history (5)
Clark told NPR's Melissa Block that the only similarity between what's going on in Syria, today, and what happened during the Allied intervention in Kosovo, is Russia's unwillingness to support a United Nations resolution supporting a strike.
"The Kosovo campaign, first of all, it wasn't just the bombing that drove the Serbs out. It was the fact that they were engaged with NATO that the Serbs knew that if they didn't accede to pull their forces out and let the Albanians return home that NATO had the capability and was starting to do the planning to put a ground invasion in," Clark said.
The Obama administration has said that regime change would not be the point of any mission in Syria.
Instead Clark points to attacks directed by President Clinton against the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service on June 27, 1993.
As Clinton explained at the time, the attack was a "firm and commensurate" response to an Iraqi plot to assassinate President George H.W. Bush. The attacks were swift. For about an hour, U.S. Navy ships launched 23 Tomahawk missiles.
Clark said if the mission in Syria is to prevent the Assad regime from using chemical weapons there are two ways to do it: One is destroying the weapons, which is risky because an explosion can spread toxic elements. The other is to punish the Assad regime by "taking something valuable" by hitting communications infrastructure, intelligence, air defenses or radars.
"When you start something like this you have to be prepared for an indeterminate length if you have a political objective," Clark said.
However, if the objective is punishment, it can be over quickly with a few missile strikes.
No trained Artillery would fire such a round
Last edited Mon Aug 26, 2013, 01:09 AM USA/ET - Edit history (1)
We go by what is marked on the shell to determine HOW to fire that Shell. When I was in, we were still using mechanical "computers" for our calculations (Computers were coming in as I left the field Artillery) but those mechanical Computers were dependent in knowing what you were firing (as are the computers being used today).
Furthermore, Chemical rounds, tend to be "Liquid", much like White Phosphorus (Which I did fire and handled). We had to be careful when hauling White Phosphorus, for it was liquid and thus had to be stored standing up. If you laid it down like a high Explosive round, the liquid would flow to one side and unbalance the round. The biggest problem would be the people firing the round could not know where the round would land and thus would NOT fire it. Could it be fired? Yes, but given no one would know where it would land, not worth firing.
Sorry, no one would fire a repainted round. Furthermore, given the special handling such liquid rounds require, it would be almost impossible NOT to know what you are firing.
ou can tell, for each batch has been known to be different
We like to say we have top notch quality control, but it is known that each BATCH of ammunition made can have different firing characteristics. Thus if you have to go from one batch to another batch, new firing tables come with the new batch. If re-painted that hides the lot number for the batch and thus, unless, disparate, artillerymen will not fire the repainted shells.
You also seem to miss the second reason I gave, such shells have to be handle differently then High Explosive shells. Chemical Shells, like White Phosphorus shells, must be stored and transported standing up, not on their side like High Explosive Shells. That difference in handling is the main reason such shells are marked as they are. Remember if these shells are mishandled, i,e, Chemical Shells handled like it was an High Explosive shell, the shell will no longer be balanced, instead would be heavy to one side. That difference is weight would make it impossible to fire such shells AND KNOW WHERE THEY WILL LAND. Some will be short, i.e. land on your own troops.
Sorry, one of the reason such shells are MARKED, is because any shell with Liquid inside (even if a semi solid liquid in White Phosphorus or chemical Shells) require special handling. Due to the need for such handling for the shell to be useful, you paint the whole shell an different color to make sure Fatigued soldiers quickly see that it is a different shell then what they had been firing.
P.S. Shells are color coded in addition to what they are marked. Thus you would have to repaint the whole shell AND then re label the round to make a Chemical round look like a High Explosive Round. That is just plan dangerous given shells are used in indirect fire missions most of the time (i.e. a fire mission is called in, and fire is given to the area where it is requested for). It is rare to have a direct fire opportunity in today's combat environment.
The Soviet Army seems to have a greater emphasis on direct fire opportunities then we in the west (this is probably due to that Russia is a huge FLAT terrain and thus such direct fire opportunity occurs more often then in the rolling hills and mountains of Central and Western Europe) but even is such situations, most artillerymen will want to use only one type of ammunition if at all possible. Mixing between batches will shift the impact area, let alone differences between type of shells being used.
Marwan Bishara discusses the implications for the international community of potential chemical weapons use in Syria.
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2013 17:55
Bishara discusses why Assad may or may not have used chemical weapons.
What explains the impotence of the international community to act on Syria?
Over the last half a century, the international community's will to act in such circumstances has been dependent on the power and will of the United States.
But the Obama administration has made it abundantly clear in the past that it was not going to intervene militarily in Syria despite the political noise from Congress and the Washington pundits.
The conventional wisdom being, the White House is preoccupied by its domestic agenda, and terribly reluctant to intervene militarily after the fiascos of Afghanistan and Iraq, especially when none of its vital interests are threatened.
Indeed, until recently, the opposite has been true. In other words, not intervening seemed to serve US interest regardless of the human cost to Syrians.
There was no harm in watching from the sidelines as Syria, long America's nemesis and Israel's foresworn enemy, is terribly weakened, while Iran and Hezbollah are humiliated and losing support in the Arab world.
However, sustained Russian and Iranian support to Assad has turned the tables on the opposition and on America's calculations.
If Obama was reluctant to intervene or provide support for the opposition that ends up in the hands of "extremist Jihadis", today, Washington has every strategic reason to save face.
But President Obama's administration is choosing his foreign battles carefully and prefers not to be drawn into a dirt fight with Assad, Putin, and Khamenei.
Source: Al Jazeera
Syrian rebel forces have taken control of a strategic town in northern Syria, cutting off government forces' only supply route out of the city of Aleppo, the Syrian Observator for Human Rights has said.
Meanwhile, residents in the central province of Homs said rebels also tried on Monday to retake the strategic town of Talkalakh, 4km from Lebanon's northern border. Its capture would allow rebels in the Homs countryside to replenish their supplies.
For weeks, Assad's forces had been on the offensive in Homs, a province they consider vital to securing their hold from Damascus to the president's coastal stronghold.
The coast is home to a large number of Assad's Alawite minority sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam, who are seen to be supportive of the president.
Sectarian violence has increasingly overtaken a conflict that began as peaceful protests against four decades of Assad family rule but has now become an all-out civil war.
The sectarian dimension of the conflict has drawn in foreign fighters from neighbouring countries. Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah has sent fighters to join Assad's forces, angering Sunni Muslims in Lebanon and the region.
Read more: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/08/2013826124946176888.html