President Barack Obama is under increased pressure from within his administration and from Congress to intervene in Syria, especially following the most recent allegations that President Bashar al-Assad’s army used chemical weapons on its own civilians.
A White House official told the Voice of America on Saturday that the U.S. has a “range of options” if it decides to act against Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons.
The official commented as President Barack Obama met with his top national security advisers to discuss the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians in a Damascus suburb. Obama’s team is considering a repeat of the NATO air war in Kosovo, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said U.S. forces are positioned in the Mediterranean and ready to act.
”The Defense Department has a responsibility to provide the President with options for all contingencies,” Hagel said. ”That requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets to be able to carry out different options, whatever option the President may choose.”
Secretary Hagel’s comments came as a defense official said the U.S. Navy would expand its presence in the Mediterranean with a fourth warship armed with cruise missiles. The Sixth Fleet, with responsibility in the Mediterranean, has decided to keep the USS Mahan in the region instead of letting it return to its home port in Norfolk, Virginia.
U.S. Defense officials said the additional warship was moved into the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
There are no orders for the time being for any missile launch into Syria, said the officials. But if the U.S. wants to send a message to the Syrian president, the most likely military action would be a Tomahawk missile strike, launched from a ship in the Mediterranean.
Three other destroyers are currently deployed in the area: the USS Gravely, the USS Barry and the USS Ramage. All four warships are equipped with several dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles. The reinforcement would allow the Pentagon to act more rapidly if President Obama decides on a military strike.
”If the U.S. attacks another country without a UN mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it. Do we have the coalition to make it work?” Obama told CNN on Friday.
In his first comments since the alleged Wednesday chemical attack, the president said he is still trying to find out what happened.
He said Americans expect him to consider “what is in our long-term national interests” in deciding what to do.
Referring to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama added: “Sometimes what we’ve seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.”