James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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The World Next Week: Talk of a U.S. Military Strike Against Syria Grows, G20 Meets in St. Petersburg, Obama Visits Sweden

by James M. Lindsay
August 29, 2013

UN chemical weapons experts inspect one of the sites of an alleged poison gas attack in a Damascus suburb (Abo Alnour Alhaji/Courtesy Reuters). UN chemical weapons experts inspect one of the sites of an alleged poison gas attack in a Damascus suburb (Abo Alnour Alhaji/Courtesy Reuters).

The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed the possibility of the United States attacking Syria, the upcoming G20 summit in St. Petersburg, and Obama’s trip to Sweden.

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The highlights:

  • The world is waiting to see whether the United States attacks Syria in light of what the White House says is definitive evidence that the Syrian military killed more than 1,000 people in a Damascus neighborhood on August 21 with chemical weapons. Although administration officials say off the record that they do not have a “smoking gun” tying President Bashar al-Assad to the attack, they say he must be held accountable. But in comments on and off the record to journalists, the White House is also saying that a military strike would not seek to change the regime in Damascus. Instead, the goal would be to “deter and degrade” future attacks. Whether President Obama can devise a military response sufficient to change Syrian behavior without changing the Syrian government is an open question, as is what the administration would do if an attack fails to deter Syria from using chemical weapons again.
  • As President Obama contemplates what he will do on Syria, he is scheduled to begin a trip that will take him to St. Petersburg, Russia for the annual G20 Summit. International economic and financial issues are slated to top the agenda, but the question of what to do (or what has been done) in Syria will hang over the talks. Adding to what may be contentious discussions is the fact that President Obama canceled his planned meeting in Moscow with Vladimir Putin after Russia granted temporary asylum to Edward Snowden. The public sessions of the summit could get awkward.
  • President Obama will be stopping in Stockholm on his way to the G20 Summit. The visit substitutes for the canceled stop in Moscow. In what is a surprise to most people, Obama’s visit will mark the first time that a sitting U.S. president has traveled to Sweden for bilateral talks. (George W. Bush was the first sitting U.S. president to visit Sweden, but that trip back in June 2001 was for a U.S.-EU summit meeting.) The White House is hoping to focus the talks on how to move ahead with the negotiations for a free-trade deal between the United States and the EU, and on forging a common position on the future of the Arctic Sea. Events in Syria, however, could scramble that agenda.
  • Bob’s Figure of the Week is Wolfgang Schäuble. My Figure of the Week is seven. Our audience-nominated Figure of the Week comes from TWNW listener @CVLanford who picks nine. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.

For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:

Crisis in Syria: BBC News has the latest on the Syria crisis. Jonathan Mercer argues that Obama should “focus on what can be done to reinforce the longstanding norm against the use of weapons of mass destruction” rather than focusing on his credibility. Jack Goldsmith explains why Obama isn’t seeking congressional authorization for a strike on Syria. Jeffrey Goldberg says a missile strike on Syria could make things worse.

G20 Summit: Reuters writes that Obama and Putin may not hold an individual meeting on the sidelines of the summit and that a G20 body has suggested that the United States could improve “how it spots and prevents risks in the financial system.” BBC News reports that China is refusing to meet with Japan on the sidelines of the summit to discuss territorial disputes in the East China Sea.

Obama in Sweden: Reuters reports that free trade and influence in the Arctic will be high on the agenda for Obama’s meetings in Sweden. The Huffington Post explains why the relationship between the United States and Sweden matters. AP writes that Obama’s upcoming trips to Sweden and Russia complicate his decisions about Syria.

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