The White House has launched what it describes as a “flood the zone” campaign to persuade Congress to authorize bombing Syria days after President Obama surprised many by announcing he would seek congressional approval before taking action against the Syrian government. On Saturday, the White House released a proposed military resolution that authorizes the president to use the armed forces “as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria.” Critics of military intervention say the draft resolution could open the door to possible use of ground troops or eventual attacks on other countries. “It would intensify sectarian tensions inside Syria and neighboring states in particular in Lebanon and Iraq,” says Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. “It would deepen the involvement of regional powers further in Syria, particularly Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar on the one hand, and Iran, Hezbollah and to a smaller extent, Iraq. It would rekindle the collective memory of Arabs and Muslims of previous Western hegemonic attacks. The Iraq model is very much alive in the Arab imagination.” While Washington debates the use of military force, the United Nations has revealed the number of refugees who have fled Syria has topped two million. The tide of children, women and men leaving Syria has risen almost 10-fold over the past 12 months.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration has launched what it describes as a “flood the zone” campaign to persuade Congress to authorize military action against Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry and James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, will testify tomorrow in a closed hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. [Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey will testify at a public hearing today.] Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Defense, Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees are also heading to the White House today to hear the administration’s case for military action.
On Saturday, President Obama surprised many by announcing he would seek congressional approval before taking action against Syria for allegedly launching a chemical weapons attack last month.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’ve long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people and for the people. And that’s why I’ve made a second decision: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, the White House released a proposed military resolution that authorizes the president to use the armed forces, quote, “as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria.” The resolution also explicitly allows military action to deter or prevent the transfer of those weapons into or out of Syria. Critics of military action say the draft resolution could open the door to possible use of ground troops or eventual attacks on other countries.
The McClatchy news service reports the proposed 172-word resolution is significantly longer than either the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution authorizing the Vietnam War or the 2001 resolution authorizing retaliation for the 9/11 terror attacks—two measures that later became notorious for how aggressively presidents used them.
On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview with CNN’s Gloria Borger that the president had the right to act Syria regardless of the congressional vote.
SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: This morning, a very important recent development that in the last 24 hours we have learned, through samples that were provided to the United States and that have now been tested from first responders in East Damascus, and hair samples and blood samples have tested positive for signatures of sarin. So this case is building, and this case will build. And I don’t believe that my former colleagues in the United States Senate and the House will turn their backs on all of our interests, on the credibility of our country, on the norms with respect to the enforcement of the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons, which has been in place since 1925.
AMY GOODMAN: While Washington debates the use of military force, the United Nations has revealed the number of refugees who have fled Syria has topped two million. The tide of children, women and men leaving Syria has risen almost tenfold over the past 12 months. On average, almost 5,000 people take refuge in Syria’s neighboring countries every day. The fighting in Syria has killed more than 100,000 since 2011.
On Monday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned the region would “explode” if the United States and its allies execute a military strike against Syria. Speaking to the French newspaper Le Figaro, Assad said, quote, “The Middle East is a powder keg and the fire is approaching today.”
To find out more about the situation in Syria, we go to London. Fawaz Gerges is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science, author of a number of books, including, most recently, Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment?
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Professor Gerges. First, do you believe that the—that the evidence of the sarin gas attack is real and that it comes from the Syrian government?
FAWAZ GERGES: Well, thank you for having me, Amy.
First of all, the U.S. has presented, in its own words, compelling evidence about the use of chemical weapons, the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. It’s compelling. It’s not conclusive. Even John Kerry said the case is building. They’re collecting more evidence by the hour, by the day.
The question for all of us is, why the rush to war? Why not wait ’til the U.N. inspectors file their report in the next one or two weeks? Why not share the U.S. compelling evidence with the Security Council, which is basically in order to convince the Russians and the Chinese that the evidence collected by the U.S. intelligence services is credible and compelling and conclusive? And that’s why it seems to me that regardless of how we view the American evidence, this is an American case against the Syrian regime. It’s not part of international legality of the United Nations. And that’s why I think the president’s decision to go to the U.S. Congress is very prudent, but it’s not conclusive yet.
AMY GOODMAN: What would be the effects of a military strike against Syria?
FAWAZ GERGES: First of all, Amy, we have two sets of concerns, as you know, you and I, and the debate in the United States has focused mainly on the legality and legitimacy and the need to defend the principle, the Geneva convention, the use of—against the use of chemical weapons or mass destruction—weapons of mass destruction. Really, the debate has not really focused on the potential consequences and implications of a potential U.S. action against the Syrian government.
One point must be made very clear here, is that this is no longer an internal Syrian conflict between the Assad government and the opposition. The conflict has mutated from an internal struggle into a regional war by proxy. This is mainly a regional war by proxy. You have two major camps: a Saudi-Turkish-Qatari camp, and you have an Iranian-Hezbollah-Syrian camp. And both camps are battling one another on Syria’s killing field. And that’s why we have to understand that any particular potential U.S. military action would basically—the United States would be taking sides.
In this particular region, I mean, wide war that’s taking place in Syria, my take, my reading—and I could be wrong—is that the disadvantages of a U.S. military strike or strikes would outweigh any potential advantages. And let me run quickly, you know, power points. First, it would exacerbate tensions inside Syria and in neighboring states. It would intensify sectarian tensions inside Syria and neighboring states, in particular in Lebanon and Iraq. It would deepen the involvement of regional powers further in Syria, particular Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, on the one hand, and Iran, Hezbollah and, to a smaller extent, Iraq.
It would rekindle the collective memory of Arabs and Muslims of previous Western hegemonic attempts. I mean, the Iraq model is very alive in the Arab imagination. Once, Amy, American bombs fall on Damascus, many people would forget the alleged use of chemical weapons and would focus on American—basically, previous American attempts to dominate the region, whether rightly or wrongly, but that’s how—the collective memory of the people in that part of the world. In fact, one of the points that has not really taken into account, I would argue, if the American military campaign basically is limited, as President Barack Obama had suggested—has suggested, this would also go a long way to really turning Assad into a hero, an Arab hero, a hero standing up to the might of the most powerful Western nation in the world.
And there is the risk of a widespread regional war, if my reading is correct. If this is mainly a regional war by proxy, this has the potential to expand beyond Syria. Already, Lebanon is in the eye of the storm, on the brink of all-out war. There is a major fierce battle taking place inside Iraq. Jordan is in a very fragile position. So, the consequences are tremendous, not just for Syria, but for the region as a whole.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Haass, the head of the Council on Foreign Relations, referred to the Goldilocks dilemma about a U.S. strike—the idea, don’t hit too hard, not too soft, get it just right. Your response to that, Fawaz Gerges?
FAWAZ GERGES: As we know from, I mean, the history of war, you can never basically predict how a military strike or military strikes would be received on the other end. Neither Syria nor its allies, Hezbollah and Iran, view a potential American strike in such a limited way. And I doubt it very much whether a limited American strike can be limited just to the Syrian theater, because both Iran and Hezbollah feel targeted. They feel that their interests, their vital interests, are very much involved inside Syria.
Hezbollah, one of the most powerful non-state actors in Lebanon, has already mobilized its forces. You’re talking about one of the major regional players—thousands of missiles, tens of thousands of skilled and trained and committed young men. Iran has made it very clear that if war comes to Syria, Iran would fight to the bitter end on behalf of the Iranian regime. You cannot dance around Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel. We have not mentioned Israel yet, yet both Iran, Hezbollah and Syria view Israel as a pivotal player in the American attempts to basically punish President Assad.
So my take on it is that regardless of how President Barack Obama would like to sell the decision to the American public that it’s a limited and narrow military strike, no one, not even President Barack Obama, can predict the consequences and the reactions, on the other hand. And that’s why President Barack Obama, being very intelligent, he basically—he wants a mandate from the U.S. public, and that’s why he has gone to the U.S. Congress to get this particular mandate.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Gerges, you mentioned—you mentioned that—
FAWAZ GERGES: My hope, Amy, is that the debate in the U.S. Congress—
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
FAWAZ GERGES: Please.
AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned Israel. Just before you talk about the Congress, the Israeli military has now admitted that it carried out a missile launch in the Mediterranean Sea. It was first detected, two, quote, “objects,” by Russian radar. Israel first denied, then admitted and said that it was carrying out a joint test with the United States. This was earlier this morning.
FAWAZ GERGES: And, you know, Amy, this would basically pour gasoline on a raging fire. I mean, wait and see in the next few hours how the narrative would basically play itself out in Iran, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Syria, in the rest of the region, that already Israel, together with the United States, are plotting to attack Syria, that basically, regardless of what the nature of the Israeli military exercise and U.S. exercise was, this is the kind of action that basically reinforces deeply entrenched views in that part of the world that whenever the United States acts in that part of the world will be seen as part of a U.S.-Israeli action, given the stalemate on the Palestinian-Israeli theater, and given the fact that this is really a regional war by proxy, and given the fact that Israel has already celebrated the fact that any military strike on Syria would be a rerun, a case of how to attack Iran.
Israeli leaders—the big debate inside Israel, Amy, is not about Syria. I don’t think they’re taking President Assad seriously anymore. Assad has been weakened so much that he’s basically impotent to really, I mean, project any power versus Israel. The Israeli leadership basically views any American act against Syria as basically a deterrence statement against Iran, as a case study of how in the future the United States and Israel would try to preempt the Iranian nuclear program.
AMY GOODMAN: And you were saying your hopes for Congress?
FAWAZ GERGES: I’m hoping—as you well know, Amy, Senator John McCain has been saying that if the U.S. Congress votes against war, this would be catastrophic. I mean, think catastrophic. I don’t see why, if the Congress votes against war in Syria, this should be seen as a catastrophic. Far from it. I would argue this would be seen to show the vibrancy of the American democracy. This would be seen to show that somehow American—the American public voices are being heard. This also will show—would show that there are checks and balances on the ability of the imperial presidency to declare war.
But my hope—to come back to my point, my hope is that the debate in the U.S. Congress on the 9th of September does not just focus on the nature and—of the military strike or strikes, whether it’s a limited, narrow campaign or a bigger campaign to weaken and undermine Assad’s ability to attack the opposition. I hope that the debate would focus on the legality and legitimacy of the U.S. action; on basically America’s vital interests; on the consequences and the implications of a potential military strike inside Syria; on America’s place in the world and how the United States views itself in the world, whether it really acts unilaterally or somehow seeks international legitimacy; and also on the lessons learned in the last 20 or 30 years when the United States declares war unilaterally, even though there is compelling evidence that the Assad government has used chemical weapons or some nonconventional weapons against the opposition in the last year or so.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. We’re speaking to him in London. His latest book is called Obama and the Middle East. When we come back to this discussion, I want to ask you, Professor Gerges, about what the possibilities would be for diplomacy. If a military strike was completely off the table, with the G-20 meeting happening actually in Saint Petersburg in Russia, what could President Obama do to possibly help to lead to peace in Syria? Stay with us.