If you spent your Labor Day weekend in a news-free zone, here's the biggest detail you missed: President Obama on Saturday announced he would seek congressional approval before striking Syria, which means nothing will happen until Congress returns Monday. Except, of course, there's a flurry of activity already under way. On that front:
- Syria is getting ready: Even in the face of the delay, the Assad regime is prepping for an attack, telling Damascus residents to flee areas near military bases the US may have in its crosshairs. In what appears to be a first, it's also reportedly moving soldiers into abandoned apartments in the capital's residential neighborhoods, one of which is now studded with antiaircraft gun-topped trucks. A Syrian official yesterday told the Wall Street Journal that both Syria and Hezbollah are prepared to retaliate, and would first target the five US destroyers and amphibious ship in the Mediterranean.
- Missiles in the Mediterranean: Things weren't exactly quiet in the Mediterranean this morning, with Reuters reporting that Russia "raised the alarm" after its radar picked up the launch of two ballistic "objects" there. But Syria state sources quickly confirmed it was not hit, and Israel confirmed that it had tested a missile around that time in a joint test with the US. (Reuters explains the missile was "used as a target in a US-funded anti-missile system.") Reuters notes the cruise missiles aboard the US ships in the area are not ballistic.
- Senate committee gets things rolling: ABC News reports that John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey will testify in support of military force before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today.
- Gloomy milestone: The number of Syrian refugees since March 2011 passed the 2 million mark today, reports the UN. The UN reported yesterday that a total of one in three Syrians—or 7 million—have been displaced.
- Putin to be confronted: The G20 host may find himself a bit mistreated by his guests this week. The Guardian reports by way of British sources that Putin "will face a concerted challenge" on Thursday and Friday as attendees push him to support the chemical-attack evidence (which Russia previously deemed "absolutely unconvincing") and the notion that Assad needs to step aside.
- Where Iran fits in: The New York Times today takes a look at the catch-22 the Obama administration finds itself in vis a vis Iran. On the one hand, Iran may be the "strongest card" it can play in seeking support for airstrikes on Syria (ie, if we're soft on Syria, an emboldened Iran will push ahead on nukes). But that approach is complicated by attempts to "explore dialogue" with moderate new president Hassan Rouhani.