Obama Does Not Believe in a Military Solution to the Syrian Conflict

September 26, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama made a speech to the United Nations on Tuesday. He addressed many issues, but there were two key areas, the crisis in Syria and Iran’s nuclear program, that were his focus.

On Syria, Obama said that Assad must be held accountable for using chemical weapons on August 21st, an event with which the facts were not in doubt. Obama also said that a political settlement is needed to end the crisis, and that Syrian President Bashar al Assad must go.

The Russian news agency Interfax had a different impression of the speech. Their headline focused on an idea that the Obama administration has always maintained, that a political settlement, and not a military settlement, is required to end the crisis. Interfax even pairs a quote by Obama about how military intervention cannot end the crisis with a quote about how Syria cannot go back to before the uprising. In context, however, Obama said that military strikes alone could not end the conflict, and when he made the statements about being unable to return to the “status quo,”  in the same paragraph stated that Iran and Russia must give up their support of Assad, because he cannot have any place in a transitional government. – Ed.

Speaking at the UN, the US President called on the Security Council to pass “ a strong resolution” on chemical weapons, and also announced the transfer to Syrian civilians of $340 million in humanitarian aid.

Barack Obama announced that a military operation would not bring peace to Syria. The American president stated this in a speech on 24 September at the meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York.

“I do not believe that military action by those within Syria or by external powers can achieve a lasting peace, “said the American leader. He also noted that “The notion that Syria can somehow return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy.”[1. This is a back translation to the original quote. A more accurate translation of Interfax originally has Obama saying that Syria “will never return to the political balance that existed before the conflict.”]

In addition, Obama called on the UN Security Council to pass “a strong resolution” on Syria which would force the regime of Bashar Assad to renounce chemical weapons and destroy his arsenals. The president noted that the text of the resolution should speak about the serious consequences for the ruling regime in Syria in the event that Damascus did not fulfill its obligations in destroying the chemical weapons.

Russia and China, which possess the right of veto on decisions by the UN Security Council, have consistently opposed the passage of harsh resolutions regarding Damascus.

In fact, Obama did not rule out the use of force in the Middle East. “The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region,” the president said. In his words, multilateral use of force may be required in order to avoid the large-scale use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Obama also called on Russia and Iran to renounce the idea that Syrian President Bashar Assad must remain in power.

The American president also said that he had allocated $340 million in humanitarian aid to the victims of the Syrian conflict. Earlier Washington had already spent $1 billion for these purposes.

Iran and Israel

According to Obama, the priorities for the White House in the Middle East remain the Iranian nuclear program and the Palestinian-Israeli settlement. The US president emphasized that Teheran’s statements that the program is not intended for obtaining nuclear weaponry should become the basis for a “meaningful agreement.”

Such a document would enable Iran to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. According to Obama, Washington intends to resolve this issue through diplomatic means. “I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government,” the president stated.

The American leader also noted that he welcomed the moderate political course taken by the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani. Moreover he emphasized that “conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.”[2. Interfax writes “concrete actions” when Obama’s original speech said “verifiable.” As Russia may be called on to help broker any deal between the UN and Iran, what Russia sees as “concrete” other powers may see as “non-verifiable,” so this distinction is perhaps important.]

Obama also noted that the task of the USA is to secure the stable delivery of energy from the Middle Eastern region to world markets. During his period in power as president of the Islamic Republic, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad constantly stated that in the event of a threat against his security he would close the Strait of Hormuz, through which oil from the countries of the Persian Gulf is exported.