Obama Adviser: Syrian Transitional Body “˜Only Sustainable’ Way to End Bloodshed

Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire
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Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire
Sept. 9, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — U.S. Pres­id­ent Obama’s na­tion­al se­cur­ity ad­viser in­sisted in a Monday speech that the cre­ation of a post-As­sad trans­ition­al au­thor­ity in Syr­ia would be the “only” long-term means of end­ing blood­shed in the Middle East­ern na­tion’s on­go­ing civil war.

“Ul­ti­mately, the only sus­tain­able way to end the suf­fer­ing in Syr­ia is through a ne­go­ti­ated polit­ic­al solu­tion, start­ing with the cre­ation of a rep­res­ent­at­ive trans­ition­al au­thor­ity that or­gan­izes elec­tions and meets the needs of the Syr­i­an people,” said Susan Rice, who has served as the pres­id­ent’s top se­cur­ity aide since Ju­ly. “A cease-fire and a polit­ic­al solu­tion are also, as a prac­tic­al mat­ter, the only way to elim­in­ate com­pletely the Syr­i­an chem­ic­al weapons threat.”

Still, Rice re­it­er­ated ad­min­is­tra­tion state­ments that the pro­posed lim­ited U.S. mil­it­ary strikes against tar­gets re­lated to Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons would not seek to elim­in­ate Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad, who has led the na­tion since his fath­er’s death in 2000.

“These strikes would not aim to topple As­sad or by them­selves to ef­fect re­gime change,” she said, speak­ing be­fore an audi­ence at the New Amer­ica Found­a­tion think tank in Wash­ing­ton. “Do­ing so would re­quire a much lar­ger and sus­tained mil­it­ary cam­paign, put­ting Amer­ic­an forces in the cen­ter of this civil con­flict. And as Pres­id­ent Obama has made clear, it is neither wise nor ne­ces­sary to do so.”

Obama has called for a re­stric­ted at­tack by U.S. armed forces in re­sponse to an Aug. 21 gas at­tack in the Dam­as­cus sub­urb of Ghouta, which his ad­min­is­tra­tion says res­ul­ted in more than 1,400 ci­vil­ian deaths, in­clud­ing many chil­dren. Con­gress is de­bat­ing the pres­id­ent’s push for a bi­par­tis­an res­ol­u­tion au­thor­iz­ing the mil­it­ary ac­tion.

Rice on Monday aimed to bol­ster the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s do­mest­ic and in­ter­na­tion­al cam­paign to gen­er­ate sup­port for se­lec­ted mis­sile strikes aimed in­stead at pun­ish­ing the re­gime. At­tack ob­ject­ives would be to de­grade the Syr­i­an mil­it­ary’s ca­pa­city for ad­di­tion­al chem­ic­al at­tacks, and de­ter As­sad or oth­ers in the re­gion from any fur­ther use of weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

The White House ad­viser also overtly tied the pro­posed strikes to a de­sire to send a mes­sage to Ir­an not to de­vel­op a nuc­le­ar-weapon ca­pa­city.

“Coun­ter­ing Syr­ia’s use of chem­ic­al weapons … has im­plic­a­tions for our ef­forts to pre­vent a nuc­le­ar-armed Ir­an,” Rice said. “The policy of the United States is clear: We will not al­low Ir­an to ac­quire a nuc­le­ar weapon. With al­lies and part­ners, we con­tin­ue to pur­sue a com­pre­hens­ive strategy to pre­vent Ir­an from ob­tain­ing a nuc­le­ar weapon, in­clud­ing dip­lomacy, pres­sure and in­creas­ing sanc­tions.”

It also could send a mes­sage more broadly to the re­gion and the world, she said.

“Stand­ing up to Syr­ia’s use of chem­ic­al weapons ad­vances our broad­er goals in the Middle East,” Rice told the audi­ence. “Con­versely, by al­low­ing As­sad to act with im­pun­ity, everything else be­comes even harder, from coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism to de­fend­ing hu­man rights, from pro­mot­ing peace to en­sur­ing our en­ergy se­cur­ity, and pre­vent­ing the pro­lif­er­a­tion of weapons of mass de­struc­tion.”

Wash­ing­ton’s former am­bas­sad­or to the United Na­tions, Rice im­plied that if the United States failed to re­spond mil­it­ar­ily to the Ghouta at­tack, some around the world might ques­tion U.S. re­solve to re­tali­ate with a “full range” of weaponry avail­able in re­sponse to fu­ture WMD at­tacks. This ap­peared to be a veiled ref­er­ence to Wash­ing­ton’s cred­ib­il­ity in de­ter­ring nuc­le­ar war by threat­en­ing a nuc­le­ar re­sponse.

“Re­ject­ing the lim­ited mil­it­ary ac­tion that Pres­id­ent Obama strongly sup­ports would raise ques­tions around the world as to wheth­er the United States is truly pre­pared to em­ploy the full range of its power to de­fend our na­tion­al in­terest,” Rice said. “Oth­er glob­al hot spots might flare up if bel­li­ger­ents be­lieve the United States can­not be coun­ted on to en­force the most ba­sic and widely ac­cep­ted in­ter­na­tion­al norms.”

Rice sum­mar­ized the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­tel­li­gence case for con­clud­ing that the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment was to blame for the Aug. 21 chem­ic­al at­tack, but did not of­fer ad­di­tion­al evid­ence or elab­or­a­tion that some pun­dits are call­ing on the White House to di­vulge as a way of strength­en­ing its pub­lic case for re­tali­ation.

Al­though world lead­ers at the G20 eco­nom­ic sum­mit last week in St. Peters­burg failed to un­an­im­ously of­fer Obama back­ing for his pro­posed mil­it­ary ac­tion, Rice sought to un­der­score grow­ing glob­al sup­port for the lim­ited strikes.

She rattled off 10 G20 na­tions — from Aus­tralia to the United King­dom — that have blamed As­sad for the chem­ic­al at­tacks and signed onto a state­ment say­ing that “those who per­pet­rated these crimes must be held ac­count­able.”

An­oth­er nine na­tions, in­clud­ing Ger­many and Qatar, sub­sequently en­dorsed the state­ment.

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