World Wrap

Lessons of Iraq stall Syria strike

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
August 29, 2013

Britain backpedals on Syria strike, 4-year-old’s death outrages China, and Merkel’s opponent inspired by Romney. Today is Thursday, August 29, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

Demonstrators hold placards outside the Houses of Parliament in London, August 29, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

When, how, and at what cost? After President Barack Obama on Wednesday made his case for striking Syria, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who would oversee the intervention, voiced his own stance:

“I think the world has had enough war,” Hagel told a forum in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. He was responding to a question about the threat of conflict with China but broadened his answer to talk about war, generally… But Hagel hinted in Indonesia… that a limited intervention in Syria might be necessary, saying nations sometimes must go to war – including for humanitarian reasons. He had told reporters toward the start of his trip that the United States couldn’t wait indefinitely to respond to any confirmed use of chemical weapons. “If, in fact, this was a deliberate use and attack by the Syrian government on its own people using chemical weapons, there may be another attack coming,” he said.

Washington’s preferred course of action appears to be a cruise missile attack – a move intended to punish Assad for conducting a deadly chemical attack but not to change the course of the war. Still, even a quick military operation could provoke retaliation from Assad’s government:

Many analysts predict that Syria and its allies will avoid a direct conflict with the United States and opt instead for an “asymmetric response” aimed at Western vulnerabilities – terror or cyber attacks, for example. Assad also could opt not to respond to a strike, hoping to wait out the U.S. and allied military threat. A U.S. official with experience in the Middle East said that Washington also is concerned that Iran could turn up the heat in Iraq. So far, resurgent violence by Sunni militants there has not been answered with retaliation from Shi’ite militias with ties to Tehran… Iran’s military chief of staff, Hassan Firouzabadi, was quoted by a state-run Iranian news agency on Wednesday as promising that “any attack on Syria would burn down Israel.”

Despite an earlier sense of immediacy, any strike likely will be delayed as U.S. and British lawmakers seek to avoid repeating mistakes from the Iraq war. UK Prime Minister David Cameron walked back a demand for action on Wednesday, opting instead to wait for the U.N. chemical weapons team’s return on Saturday before making a decision. Senior members of the Obama administration will brief congressional leaders on the situation in Syria on Thursday.

Land over life. Chinese social media users are up in arms over reports that a bulldozer killed a four-year-old girl after a government land-grab dispute. AFP reports the child was crushed as her family tried to stop construction crews:

Images posted on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, showed a toddler lying on a table in what appeared to be an office, badly bruised with blood pouring from her head as a woman cried at her side. The family has been negotiating compensation over the acquisition of their land, Hong [Bingsheng] said. Such talks between residents and developers are common across China as the country undergoes rapid urbanization.

Local officials told AFP that he child was killed accidentally. China’s land seizures, which leave farmers with few legal options, have been an ongoing cause of unrest in the country.

A combination picture shows Social Democratic top candidate Peer Steinbrueck (SPD) in Hanover and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) in Winsen during their election campaigns in August 2013. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

Role model Romney. Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) hope their candidate will trump Chancellor Angela Merkel in an upcoming televised debate, citing U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s performance during the first debate as a model success:

Peer Steinbrueck, the SPD candidate for chancellor, is trailing badly in opinion polls, but his rhetorical gifts could give him an edge over Merkel in their only televised showdown before the September 22 election, and he could be helped by the inclusion of an irreverent entertainer on the question panel. He has promised to confront her over Greek bailouts, but Steinbrueck will also want to avoid appearing too aggressive in the 1-1/2 hour prime-time clash with Merkel, whose popularity rests in part on her modest, reserved style. The former finance minister has a quick wit but he can seem arrogant and overbearing. Like U.S. Republican challenger Romney, polls show he suffers from a “likeability” problem.

Merkel is expected to win easily despite concern over another possible Greek bailout. However, it remains unclear whether she will gain the votes necessary to continue a coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP).

Nota Bene: With the Muslim Brotherhood out, Egypt’s fate rests in the hands of the old order.

Standouts:

Credibility cost - Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer questions whether a strike on Syria could really be limited. (Reuters)

News-ish - French newspapers report on historical fiction. (The New York Times)

Wages at stake - Paraguayan bus drivers stage a crucifixion protest. (BBC)

On the ground - Ninja reporters record street protests in Brazil. (The Guardian)

Fatal fling - South Korean media report Kim Jong-un’s ex-girlfriend was executed by firing squad. (The Telegraph)

From the File:

  • U.S. transfers two Guantanamo detainees to Algeria.
  • Panama says Cuban weapons shipment violated U.N. sanctions.
  • Mother tells of heartbreak after North Korea abducted daughter.
  • Pakistan overturns sentence of doctor who helped find bin Laden.
  • Opposition sets deadline for Tunisia crisis talks.

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