The ghost of "Curveball" is haunting the Obama administration and undermining its efforts to marshal strong foreign and domestic support for military strikes on Syria.
Curveball was the code name given Iraqi defector Rafid Ahmed Alwan, who claimed in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had deployed mobile biological weapons labs to evade international detection of his manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. His testimony, even though viewed as dubious, was used by the
As Americans and their allies debate the wisdom of making military strikes against the government of Syrian President
Political and international security analysts concede that the conditions prompting Obama to push for punitive strikes on Assad's forces are vastly different this time. Obama, who campaigned against his predecessor's rush to wage costly, faraway wars, has made clear his reluctance to get involved in Syria's nearly 2 1/2-year-old civil conflict, which has taken more than 100,000 lives.
Nor does Obama seek to topple Assad. Though despised by Western leaders and accused of savagery and war crimes, the Syrian autocrat would leave a dangerous power vacuum if he were ousted. That probably would lead to chaotic revenge attacks on Assad's minority Alawite community, sectarian clashes between Shiites and Sunnis, and infighting among the disparate rebel groups, the stronger of which are aligned with Al Qaeda.
This time, unlike the 130,000 coalition troops Bush had massed to invade Iraq, any U.S. strike on Syria would be limited in scope and duration, Obama insisted Friday.
"We’re not considering any open-ended commitment. We’re not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach,” Obama said after the
British lawmakers in the House of Commons pointed to the misleading intelligence used to justify the Iraq invasion in the volatile debate that preceded a Thursday night vote against Britain taking part in military sanctions on the Assad government.
"One thing is indisputable," Cameron conceded. "The well of public opinion was well and truly poisoned by the Iraq episode and we need to understand the public skepticism."
He was unable to persuade lawmakers, though. They voted 285-272 against joining U.S. allies in any attack on Syria.
U.S. congressional leaders on both sides of the political aisle have also been urging a more cautious approach than was the case in 2003.
Bush sought and gained overwhelming support for the Iraq invasion from lawmakers, an outcome in doubt for Obama were he to ask for a vote.
The Constitution requires the president to seek congressional approval for an act of war, except when there is an imminent threat to U.S. security.
Even U.S. Secretary of State
"Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack and I will tell you it is more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment," Kerry said in disclosing the broad findings of a U.S. investigation of who was behind the suspected sarin gas attacks.
Arab countries were almost unanimously opposed to the Iraq invasion. But the Arab League this time has said it holds Assad accountable for the illegal weapons use, although it called for first pursuing a U.N. Security Council mandate for sanctions. That was attempted by Britain on Wednesday but thwarted by veto-wielding Russia, Syria's most influential ally and protector.
Political and military analysts agree there are major differences in both the motivation and justification for attacking Syria than was the case for invading Iraq.
“The big, overriding factor is that the United States doesn’t want to get dragged into this. Whatever type of strike is made, this has to be it, we’re not going to get sucked into this in the long run,” Thomas H. Henriksen, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution with expertise in insurgencies and rogue states, said of Syria’s bloody
A foreign correspondent for 25 years, Carol J. Williams traveled to and reported from more than 80 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.