Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. government knows that at least 1,429 people, including 426 children, were killed in a chemical attack in Syria. War “fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility,” he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry made a forceful case Friday for U.S. intervention in Syria, but stopped short of announcing detailed plans of attack.
Kerry said the U.S. knows with “high confidence” that the regime of Syrian president Bashar al Assad launched last week’s chemical weapon attacks in a Damascus suburb, calling the attacks “a crime against humanity.”
Speaking from the State Department, Kerry described the government’s unclassified assessment of the issue, released by the White House Friday morning, claiming the Syrian government used nerve gas in last week’s attack.
He said the U.S. government knows that at least 1,429 people, including 426 children, were killed in the attack.
Kerry said the U.S. intelligence assessment was based on evidence collected from thousands of sources, and that it was reached by officials “mindful of the Iraq experience.” Former President George Bush went to war in 2003 against Iraq based on intelligence that later proved to be wrong.
Describing the gruesome images of attack victims that have reverberated online this week, Kerry denounced “the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons,” adding: “This is what Assad did to his own people.”
Kerry argued that a failure to respond to the attacks would badly diminish America’s credibility and embolden its enemies. “A lot of other countries whose policies challenge these international norms are watching.” He specifically noted Iran, Hezbollah, and North Korea.
“Our concern is about choices that will directly affect our role in the world and our interests in the world,” Kerry added.
Strongly hinting that Americans should prepare for conflict again in the Middle East, Kerry said he knew “the American people are tired of war.” But, he added, “fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.”
Addressing concerns that U.N. inspectors are still working on the ground in Syria to verify a chemical weapons attack, Kerry said “the U.N. can’t tell us anything we haven’t shared with you or we don’t already know.” He pointed to “Russian obstructionism” at the U.N. as making it almost impossible to win Security Council backing for an international strike against Assad.
The gruesome image of anguished Syrian victims in the Aug. 21 attack have reverberated online and around the world.
On Thursday, Britain’s parliament voted against military action, and congressional Republicans have expressed deep skepticism about the idea. That has left President Obama appearing isolated as he works to rally support for intervention.
The airstrikes being contemplated by the Obama administration would likely do little to end the ongoing Syrian civil war, which has claimed over 100,000 lives, or oust Assad. But they would be intended to demonstrate that there’s a cost for crossing the “red line” that Obama established last year against the use of chemical weapons. In an interview with PBS Wednesday, Obama characterized the potential strikes as a “shot across the bow.”
In June, President Obama stepped up aid to the rebels after saying evidence emerged that the Syrian regime low-level chemical weapons attacks.
For months, Kerry has been working on a diplomatic strategy aimed at easing Assad from power. But the effort has appeared to make little progress amid a lack of cooperation from Russia.