WH: Chemical Attack in Syria 'Goes to the Core Nat'l Security Interests of USA'

August 30, 2013 - 5:09 AM

Josh Earnest

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest answers reporters questions in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(CNSNews.com) - Is a chemical attack in Syria a "direct and imminent threat" to the security of the United States? a reporter asked on Thursday.

A White House spokesman indicated that the answer is yes.

"The president has assessed that the clear violation of an international norm against the use of chemical weapons goes to the core national security interests of the United States of America," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"And there are any number of reasons for that. It includes the large stockpile of chemical weapons that the Assad regime maintains.

"It includes the volatility of not just the country, but also the region. It involves the relationships that we have with other countries in the region, including our allies like Turkey and Israel and our close partners and friends like the nation of Jordan. It also involves the facilities that the United States maintains in the region.

"So there are a number of ways in which the violation of this clear international norm has an impact on our -- on our core national security interests."

Earnest said it's also important to let "other totalitarian dictators around the globe" understand that the "international community will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons." He called it an "inviolable" international norm.

Earnest told reporters, "I think the president's been very clear and I've done my best to try to describe to you all of the national interests that are -- that the president believes are important, that he was elected to protect, that are at stake here. And that is the appropriate response to this circumstance is what the president is currently weighing. OK?"

The U.S. State Department took the same question on Thursday: Does Syria's use of chemical weapons "compromise the national security of the United States of America?"

Again, the answer was yes:

It "presents a situation where, yes, U.S. national security interests are threatened," said Marie Harf, the State Department's deputy spokesperson. "It’s in our interest – in our national security interest, but in the world’s security interest -- to not allow this use -– these use of chemical weapons to go un-responded to."

Asked to explain, Harf said, "Clearly, we have an interest – a national security interest in upholding an international norm against the use of chemical weapons. There’s a reason that 98 percent of the world’s peoples live in countries that have said these weapons should not be used.

"Also, we have a national security interest in not allowing the proliferation of these weapons and not allowing them to be used in a region of the world that’s already incredibly volatile, that has incredible national security interests, including Syria, which is bordered by some of our allies and friends and closest partners in the world.

"So clearly, those are core U.S. national security interests as well."

'Define the mission'

But some Americans disagree.

Donald Rumsfeld, who served as defense secretary under President George W. Bush, told Fox News's Greta Van Susteren that many Americans don't understand why Obama thinks an attack on Syria is in the nation's strategic interest.

"What is the national interest for the United States?" Rumsfeld asked. "You can't put a coalition together until you define the mission. When you define the mission and say, 'Here's what we're going to do and here's why we're going to do it,' then countries come in line.

"Countries aren't going -- I mean, in the Bush administration, they had dozens of countries supporting the activity in Afghanistan, in Iraq, proliferation, counter-proliferation initiative, the global war on terror. And the reason they did was because there was clarity, and there's a lack of clarity here.

"The idea of firing a shot across the bow (those were Obama's words) or a pinprick action to so-called punish them (Syria), I think, is probably a mistake. I think unless you've decided you have a clear purpose that is in the interests of our country, it's best not to do that because the United States will look ineffective and weak."

Rumsfeld said Britain's decision not to go along with a U.S. attack on Syria is "humiliating."

"It is a direct result of the confused and "lead from behind" posture that our country has taken under the Obama administration," Rumsfeld told Van Susteren.

"The fact that there has not been a mission defined leaves people with confusion and unwillingness to be supportive. Unless we state -- it's true not just overseas, but it's true in our country. I mean, if you can't even organize a three-car convoy, a motorcade, then you've got a real problem and you have to stop and say, 'Is what we're doing really making sense?'"

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, a conservative Republican, believes President Obama has failed in his promise to be a consensus-builder:

"For a president who came in saying that he was going to be a consensus builder, that he was going to rally the world around the United States, improve relationships with all of our allies, and here you see him being snubbed at every turn," Santorum told Van Susteren. "You don't see really any support from Congress on either side of the aisle" (for an attack on Syria).

"I really can't remember a time when we're looking at a potential military action where both sides of the aisle are sort of stepping back and saying, wait a minute, this may not be a wise course, double-check, triple check -- which we should be doing, obviously, when it comes to the use of chemical weapons. But he's rallied nobody. And it looks like he's acting to defend his ego or to defend his statement about a red line as opposed to having any kind of coherent idea as to why he wants to act."

Santorum said before he does anything to punish Syria, Obama needs to get the support of Congress.