New developments in the ongoing debate over a potential U.S. strike against Syria’s Assad regime point to the likelihood of a proxy war between the U.S. and Syrian allies, potentially involving both Russia and China, who each have expressed support to the Syrian government.
While debate continues over the issue, foreign leaders met over the weekend at the G20 Summit in Russia, which ended with Russian President Vladimir Putin issuing a “chilling” warning to the West: that Russia might come to the aid of Bashar Assad’s regime, further commenting on Russia’s past practices of supplying weaponry to Syria, and citing conflicting opinions between he and U.S. President Barack Obama. “I don’t agree with his arguments,” Putin said sharply, “[and] he doesn’t agree with mine.”
Beginning at 9 PM ET Tuesday, President Barack Obama will deliver a televised address, where it is expected he will present his administration’s latest rationale for the proposed attack against Syria’s Assad regime. Subsequently, a Senate vote on the proposed intervention is expected to take place on Wednesday. However, it still remains unclear at present whether the regime of Syrian leader, Bassar Assad, is to blame for the attacks.
Going to Vote on Syria
Writing for National Review, John Fund speculated in a blog post as to whether Congress would even vote on the matter. Citing “a top aide to the Republican leadership,” Fund notes that there has been some talk of whether Congress could be convinced of the necessity for such intervention:
“I just don’t believe that if defeat is certain, the House leadership will want to see a president utterly humiliated on the House floor in a public vote,” one top aide to the Republican leadership told me. Should the full Senate vote to approve an attack on Syria — as still appears somewhat likely — the battle would shift to the House. “An attempt would be made to let the whole thing go away. I don’t think it would be done to give the GOP any extra leverage in debt-ceiling or budget negotiations — Obama isn’t the grateful type — but simply because the weakness it would demonstrate wouldn’t be good for the country,” the aide told me.
This line of speculation comes to us amidst reports that have emerged over the weekend, which point to the fact that there are still no clear direct links between Assad and the chemical attacks that took place near Damascus. Reuters news reported on Saturday that
“No direct link to President Bashar al-Assad or his inner circle has been publicly demonstrated, and some U.S. sources say intelligence experts are not sure whether the Syrian leader knew of the attack before it was launched or was only informed about it afterward.”
This apparent lack of any information, still, that directly links the Assad regime to the chemical attacks had not been enough to sway a vote among European Union foreign ministers, however, who maintained Saturday that there “appeared to be ‘strong evidence’ ” linking Syria’s government to the attacks, which warranted a “strong response,” acknowledging their hope that UN investigators would be allowed to present their reports before any direct action is taken.
Cold Conflict, or Proxy War?
However, in the event that the U.S. does decide to intervene in Syria, sending the “clear message” Obama and others in his administration have often cited over the last two weeks, there is a strong growing potential for what many are concerned could become a proxy war with Russia; despite meetings over the weekend during Obama’s visit and subsequent televised address from St. Petersburg, an interview with Putin, published last Wednesday, expressed that U.S. intervention against the Assad regime could result in Russia sending Syria the “components of a missile shield”, along with the suggestion that they “might even replace any military assets the U.S. destroys in a strike.” Furthermore, an AP story issued on Friday reported that four Russian ships had been en route to Syria in the eastern Mediterranean, with the possible intention of evacuating Russians from the region.
China, who has also positioned itself alongside Russia as a primary arms supplier to Syria, has also expressed concerns over the strike:
Speaking in St. Petersburg Thursday, Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said that “Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price — it will cause a hike in the oil price,” before citing estimates that a $10 rise in oil prices could push down global growth by 0.25 percent.
Questions over whether the U.S. will continue with a strike against the Syrian government, in lieu of the public address Obama will give on Tuesday night, along with the Senate vote scheduled for the following day, remain unclear. However, if action is indeed taken, such an operation will, with little question, bring the U.S. closer to a potential global conflict than has been seen in decades.
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