In the face of statements by senior US officials that the Obama administration had crossed the Rubicon on military intervention in Syria, President Barack Obama declared early Thursday, Aug. 29, that he had not yet made a decision on whether to order a military strike against Syria. Although Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that US armed forces were “ready to go,” Obama said he was still examining options with his security team.
The US president added that he had no doubt that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian regime, not the rebels, saying that for violating international norms and human decency, Assad “should be held accountable.”
At the same time, the White House suddenly appeared Wednesday night to be engaging in maneuvers for buying time and holding up military action against Syria, after the armies of the Middle East and half of Europe were already standing ready after completing massive war preparations.
One such maneuver was a leak from White House sources about a delay in releasing to America and the world the promised evidence of Assad’s culpability in the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people. It was postponed because “the report was not yet ready.”
Another were grumbles from the president’s circle that President Obama had found himself jammed in an awkward timeline generated by his foreign travel schedule – he is due to take off next Wednesday, Sept. 4, for Sweden on his way to the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg of Sep. 5-6.
This left the optimal dates for his decision to go through with the attack as Friday night, early Saturday, Aug. 31 or after Labor Day, which falls on Sept. 2.
Although Obama appeared still to be standing by that decision, debkafile’s Washington and Moscow sources disclose he has applied the brakes on the momentum for its implemention to buy time for US Secretary of State John Kerry to wind up secret negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and strike a deal: The US would soften its military action against the Assad regime and his army and reduce it to a token blow, after which the American and Russian presidents would announce the convening of Geneva-2 to hammer out a solution of the Syrian crisis and end the civil war.
The Kerry-Lavrov back channel has not yet achieved results and so, Thursday, the fate of the US strike on Syria was still highly fluid and its timeline changeable.