Obama officials try to stoke fear in Congress about the risk of delaying Syria strikes

The Wall Street Journal reports: The U.S. has intercepted an order from Iran to militants in Iraq to attack the U.S. Embassy and other American interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike on Syria, officials said, amid an expanding array of reprisal threats across the region.

Military officials have been trying to predict the range of possible responses from Syria, Iran and their allies. U.S. officials said they are on alert for Iran’s fleet of small, fast boats in the Persian Gulf, where American warships are positioned. U.S. officials also fear Hezbollah could attack the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

While the U.S. has moved military resources in the region for a possible strike, it has other assets in the area that would be ready to respond to any reprisals by Syria, Iran or its allies.

Those deployments include a strike group of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and three destroyers in the Red Sea, and an amphibious ship, the USS San Antonio, in the Eastern Mediterranean, which would help with any evacuations.

The U.S. military has also readied Marines and other assets to aid evacuation of diplomatic compounds if needed, and the State Department began making preparations last week for potential retaliation against U.S. embassies and other interests in the Middle East and North Africa.

U.S. officials began planning for a possible strike on Syrian regime assets after the Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus in which the U.S. says Syrian government forces killed over 1,400 people using chemical weapons. The U.S. military has prepared options for an attack and beefed up its military resources in the region, including positioning four destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean.

That process slowed last weekend when Mr. Obama said he would first seek an authorization for using military force from Congress.

A delay in a U.S. strike would increase opportunities for coordinated retaliation by groups allied with the Assad government, including Shiite militias in Iraq, according to U.S. officials. [Continue reading…]

In the event that the U.S. goes ahead with strikes on Syria, it goes without saying that U.S. interests across the region will be possible targets for acts of retaliation of some kind from a variety of possible sources. So why have U.S. officials chosen to leak this particular classified intelligence on a purported threat from Iran? Is this all part of President Obama’s new found desire to promote transparency in the intelligence community? Unlikely.

Maybe there are some members of the administration who are trying to hit the brakes and want to alert the public to the risks involved in the attacks. Think Benghazi.

But this report isn’t based on whistle-blowing — it’s based on a briefing and the object of the exercise soon becomes clear.

An alarm bell is being rung and the message to Congress is: don’t hold up the strikes on Syria because if you do, you will be responsible for the next Benghazi.

But just a minute! Wasn’t it only last weekend that Obama declared: “our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now.”

It’s not time-sensitive, but the longer the delay, the greater the risks of retaliation.

It’s not time-sensitive, but the delay that’s already taken place through seeking Congressional approval means that the Pentagon is already working on expanding the target list.

But if the White House is now hitting the panic button, this might have less to do with the information its getting from the Pentagon and more to do with the word from Capitol Hill.

Concerted pressure from AIPAC notwithstanding, there is a strong possibility that Congress may this time around pay more attention to public opinion than anything else and as a consequence reject Obama’s plan. Obama will then be on a trajectory to enter his own unique expression of unilateralism: no support from Britain, nor from the UN, nor from Congress, nor the American people. Even George Bush never attempted to go it alone to this degree.

Obama’s already passed the point of no return. He’s committed the U.S. to this operation with or without the support of Congress.

With Libya, Obama led from behind. With Syria, he may be on the brink of leading with no one behind.

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5 thoughts on “Obama officials try to stoke fear in Congress about the risk of delaying Syria strikes

  1. Patrick

    Iran can see perfectly well that the US Congress and public is reluctant to attack Syria because of fears of getting ensnared in a further widening conflict. Deliberately allowing a communications intercept of this sort would be a clever way to stoke those fears and deter an attack that it doesn’t want to see happen. Psyops anyone?

  2. rosemerry

    “Military officials have been trying to predict the range of possible responses from Syria, Iran and their allies”
    They don’t need a crystal ball. Iran has clearly stated numerous times that it will only respond IF ATTACKED ie legally defending itself, unlike the USA and Israel with their constant threats of “first strike”. Syria is its ally.
    Remember the USA got the whole of NATO to respond to the mighty force of alleged AlQaida
    attacks on its soil, causing minimal damage.

  3. Paul Woodward

    Patrick: Maybe. Or it might be psyops of another flavor — designed for its internal effect. Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani has been busy on twitter recently sending out one conciliatory signal after another. Naive fellow that I am, I take these at face value and think they represent a real desire to cool the situation and look for diplomatic openings. The Republic Guard probably feels threatened by Rouhani’s moves and may be looking for ways to undermine him. When Obama gets intelligence like this, who among his advisers is going to have the guts to say that now is the time to talk to Iran? I doubt that they’ll be anyone.

  4. Patrick

    I too regard Rouhani’s conciliatory messages as genuine. However, I don’t see a contradiction between those messages and the threat of retaliation if the US attacks Syria. The conditional aspect of this threat is important.

    It’s also worth noting that Rouhani’s attempts at conciliation are likely to end abruptly in the event of a US attack on Syria.

  5. Norman

    Why the big push on Congress by A.I.P.A.C., and can the Wall Street Journal be taken seriously, considering who owns it? As I understand the “going to Congress”, the usual “bait & switch” the “O” pulls every time he opens his mouth, is to allow him-“O”-to have unfettered power[s] to war on whom ever he pleases. Considering that A.I.P.A.C. is twisting, threatening, demanding Congress give this power, I for one citizen of the U.S.A., ask just who/what gives them the right to demand this additional war power, ultimately leading to the putting boots on the ground, upsetting the economy throughout the world? More deaths of innocent civilians, possibly even a complete melt down in the M.E. and beyond.

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