Tags: Syria

Ukraine, Syria, Iran . . . America Is Out of the Consequence Business


Also from today’s Morning Jolt:/p>

Chicken Kiev, Much Worse When Reheated and Served again*

So . . . Kiev is burning. Again.

It’s a bloody mess, and by the time you read this, the numbers are likely to be worse:

Ukrainian riot police charged protesters occupying a central Kiev square early on Wednesday after the bloodiest day since the former Soviet republic, caught in a geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West, won its independence more than 22 years ago. At least 18 people, including seven policemen, died on Tuesday during hours of violence between security forces and civilians who have staged protests against President Viktor Yanukovich since last November.

The administration’s stance remains “Hey, stop it, you guys!

The Obama administration is “appalled” by the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters in the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Washington announced no specific new action and did not immediately lay blame for violence that left at least 13 dead, but U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt threatened both sides with sanctions.

The crackdown is awful, but we’re not going to do a darn thing about it. We don’t do much in the world of foreign policy these days. You may or may not have noticed that the deal with Assad’s regime in Syria collapsed. As S. E. Cupp summarizes:

Peace talks have collapsed, Bashar Assad’s murderous regime continues, the rebels have splintered, a mere 11% of Assad’s chemical weapons have been collected and radical operatives aligned with Al Qaeda are settling in nicely.

In response to these events, the Obama administration is quickly and energetically pursuing a new strategy of not dealing with it.

We’re not letting the failure of the Syria deal slow down efforts for a similar deal with the Iranians, even though the Obama administration’s top expert on weapons of mass destruction just told Jeffrey Goldberg that he sees almost no chance of successful negotiations. The text of our deal with Iran remains secret, and the Iranian ground forces commander says the U.S. is facing its “final collapse.” Full speed ahead, guys!


* For those of you who don’t understand the headline, President George H. W. Bush was accused of delivering a “Chicken Kiev speech” in the early days of the end of the Cold War, throwing cold water on Ukrainian independence:

He flew to Kiev after last summer’s Moscow superpower summit and delivered a speech that, to many, seemed like a tepid U.S. dismissal of Ukrainian aspirations to statehood.

“Freedom is not the same as independence,” Bush told Zayets and the rest of Ukraine’s legislature on Aug. 1. “Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.”

Shorn of rhetorical niceties, the American position seemed to be: Moscow and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev know best. Although the legislature here was dominated by Communists still opposed at that time to secession, Bush’s speech “went down about as well as cod-liver oil,” one Kiev-based diplomat remarked.

This time around, it’s not clear the Ukranians will get their own speech from the U.S. president.

Tags: Foreign Policy , Barack Obama , John Kerry , Syria , Iran , Ukraine

Scarborough: ‘Hillary Clinton is the biggest neo-con that there is out there.’


The third and final part of my recent chat with Joe Scarborough, host of Morning Joe, about his new book, The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics — And Can Again.

Geraghty: For a while, you stood out from most Republicans in your views on foreign policy. You would describe it as non-interventionist, I’m sure you’ve had the term “isolationist” thrown at you. It does seem there’s been a shift in the party — you see in dealing with Syria, an exhaustion with Iraq, a frustration with Afghanistan. How different is your idea of a good noninterventionist policy from what President Obama is doing now, and how big an issue will this be in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, for Americans who want to find an alternative to what we experienced under Bush but also may not be happy with what they’re getting with President Obama?

Scarborough: I actually think the biggest fight is going to be within the Republican party — and I say fight, I really mean debate, and it’s going to be a positive debate.

Hillary Clinton is the biggest neo-con that there is out there. Democrats are basically going to be putting a candidate out there who’s going to be in agreement with my friend [former Bush official and Romney-Ryan advisor] Dan Senor the majority of the time. So we’re going to try to figure out whether we want to do what Bush said he would do in that second Inaugural Address, and end tyranny in all four corners of the globe, or whether we’re going to be tough realists like Ike was, and yes, like another Republican general, Colin Powell, was. He followed up on the [Caspar] Weinberger Doctrine that the United States of America only sends troops into battle as an absolute last option. And when we go in there, we go in with overwhelming force. As Colin Powell said in the 1990s, we don’t want a fair fight. We want to go over there, we want to kill the enemy, we want to achieve our objectives, and we want to bring our sons and daughters back home.

I think it’s funny that the New York Times and the other progressives will attack George W. Bush for eight years about being a neo-con, and then the second that Republicans start talking about restraint, suddenly we’re isolationists. What I’m talking about is not isolationism. It’s realism. We can’t keep spending $2 billion a week in Afghanistan, which we’ve been doing for years now, and rebuilding Afghanistan instead of rebuilding our own country.

Geraghty: The costs of interventions are crystal clear in a situation like Iraq, where we spent a great deal of blood and treasure, and then see inconclusive or dissatisfying results. But there’s also a cost of not intervening, and you see it in places like Syria, where we’re not involved, and the death toll has passed six figures and it’s getting messier. Is America, and or the world, ready for the consequences of a world with a non-interventionist America?

Scarborough: We’ve got to choose our strategic targets carefully. Afghanistan was doomed to fail from the beginning when we moved beyond what George W. Bush had [originally] planned for Afghanistan to be, which was an anti-terror campaign. When it stopped being an anti-terror campaign, and began being a counter-insurgency campaign, and we started trying to rebuild Afghanistan instead of hunting down the terrorists who blew up our buildings on September 11, killing them or bringing them to justice, then we had mission creep. Then Obama tripled the number of troops. That’s insanity. I said it in real time, and I’m still saying it today.

You brought up Syria. If you look at a map of the Middle East, over the past 25 to 30 years, you see our two enemies — and I use that term specifically — have been Iran and Syria. There are times where there are strategic battles to be fought. If Barack Obama had gone into Syria six months ago, nine months ago, a year ago, things would have been different. If the president had actually had a plan to do that, I would have been supportive of it.

I wasn’t supportive of him going into Libya. I wasn’t supportive of it, because I didn’t see that as central to U.S. foreign-policy interests. I do see Iran and Syria and the checking of those regimes as central, not only to long-term U.S.-foreign policy objectives, but also to our biggest ally in the region, Israel.

Geraghty: I live in Virginia, where Ken Cuccinelli just got demolished on the airwaves, accused of wanting to ban birth control, ban divorce, and so on. Are social issues a liability for the GOP? Is it just a matter of avoiding Todd Akin moments, or do they have to approach these issues differently?

Scarborough: Avoid a Todd Akin moment, but understand that Chris Christie is pro-life. He’s the first pro-life guy to get elected in New Jersey since 1973, since Roe v. Wade passed. He used an approach to social issues that I used in northwest Florida. He said, “I could have been very outspoken and aggressive and ideological about it.” He let people know he was a Catholic, he let people know he was pro-life, and he let people know he wasn’t going to waver on that position. That’s a great approach.

Let me say also, this idea that Ken Cuccinelli was defeated because of his positions on social issues is absolutely ridiculous. Cuccinelli will tell you that, and the polls and the numbers show it. The first thing that killed him was the government shutdown. Cuccinelli will say that, and all the people close to Cuccinelli will say that. The other thing was that the Republican polling killed them. Republican pollsters got it wrong in 2013 the way they got it wrong in 2012.

All the polls showed him down seven, eight, nine points. That kept the money out. . . . With a little more money, and without that government shutdown, which Cuccinelli’s people say totally got him off his game and really hurt him in northern Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli would have won.

You would be hard-pressed to find a race where a candidate being pro-life cost them an election. We’ve got a pro-life senator from Pennsylvania [Pat Toomey], and we’ve got a pro-life governor in New Jersey.

A lot of this has to do with temperament and emphasis. If a Republican candidate can convince middle-class voters and working-class voters, that he’s the one who has the best ideas for getting them back to work and strengthening the economy, they’ll vote for a pro-life candidate.

Geraghty: What is the one most important thing that Republicans need to do between now and the 2014 midterms?

Scarborough: They need to come together. I’ll be the first to take my share of the blame. I was very critical of some guys who are actually friends of mine, leading up to the government shutdown. I was because I thought it would hurt the party, and I think I was right. But one of the things that exasperated me after the election this year was that everybody was sniping at each other. Cuccinelli was the bad guy, or Christie was the bad guy. We’re going to start winning elections when we get the Christie supporters and the Cuccinelli supporters on the same side. And we’re going to start winning elections the way Reagan won elections when we get a candidate that both Ted Cruz and Colin Powell can vote for. . . . We can do it again. But we’ve got to stop the ideological witch hunts, and we’ve got to start focusing on beating Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Tags: Joe Scarborough , Syria , Hillary Clinton , Iraq , Ken Cuccinelli , Chris Christie

Our Bored President


From the Los Angeles Times this morning:

If U.S. spying on key foreign leaders was news to the White House, current and former officials said, then White House officials have not been reading their briefing books.

Some U.S. intelligence officials said they were being blamed by the White House for conducting surveillance that was authorized under the law and utilized at the White House.

“People are furious,” said a senior intelligence official who would not be identified discussing classified information. “This is officially the White House cutting off the intelligence community.”

From a New York Times article on the formulation of Syria policy, last week:

Besides the Syrian government’s gains, there was mounting evidence that Mr. Assad’s troops had repeatedly used chemical weapons against civilians.

Even as the debate about arming the rebels took on a new urgency, Mr. Obama rarely voiced strong opinions during senior staff meetings. But current and former officials said his body language was telling: he often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.

From Ace of Ace of Spades, last night, discussing Obama’s disconnection from the problems in his health care plan:

I saw a quote by Valerie Jarrett, recently. The quote itself is old, from 2010.

“I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. . . . He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. . . . So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. . . . He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”

Ordinary people read detailed reports and take an interest in their own jobs. Obama, at least according to Jarrett’s puffery, has always felt that to be beneath him.

Why would he suddenly change simply because he’s president?

Answer: He wouldn’t.

I do not believe that smart people remain bored for long. They may be bored in a particular situation, but they will find things that interest them. Active minds seek stimulation.

If it’s true that Obama’s been “bored all his life,” I’d suggest that’s because he’s not terribly smart or curious. And not very hard working at all. Hard work, I think it’s fair to say, “bores” him, because hard work is frustrating.

We all know where Obama is at his most Alive, and it’s not reading reports or writing speeches or analyzing policy. It’s having a speech put in front of him on TelePrompters and reading it for deliriously cultish fans.

That seems to be the only thing capable of holding any of his interest.

We’re in the very best of hands! Only three more years of this!

Tags: Barack Obama , Obamacare , NSA , Syria

Relax, Everybody! Obama, Kerry, Putin, and Assad Say Syria’s Fixed!


The first Morning Jolt of the week features revelations that the U.S. State Department’s management is even worse than you thought, some questions on who really is influential on the right, criticism of Michelle Obama’s “Drink water!” plan, and, of course, Syria:

Relax, Everybody! Obama, Kerry, Putin, and Assad Say Syria’s Fixed!

Today and in the coming days, we’ll see President Obama and his surrogates insisting that the deal on Syria represents one of the greatest foreign-policy accomplishments of his presidency.

And they’re right — but not in the way that they think. In terms of policy, it’s a disaster. Assad is left unpunished, other than turning over weapons he wasn’t supposed to be able to have anyway. His cooperation is not guaranteed, and is in fact unlikely. Assad has gone from comparable to Hitler a few days ago to the only guy who can ensure the chemical weapons get turned over.

But the American people — left, right, and center — spoke clearly on Syria: “We don’t care what happens over there, just don’t get us sucked into another war in the Middle East.” And by acquiescing to a Russian plan designed to fail, Obama avoided war. So politically — really, the only measurement that matters to this administration — he wins. Considering how disastrous the military option appeared, maybe that really is the better choice.

Jeffrey Goldberg, over at Bloomberg:

. . . this limited Western victory might feel like a moral and strategic defeat, for two reasons.

One: Our allies across the Middle East, having seen the U.S. promise to help remove Assad and then not follow through, will further doubt American steadfastness and friendship and will reorient their policies accordingly, with some adverse consequences for the U.S.

Two: This plan probably won’t work. Assad is a lying, murdering terrorist, and lying, murdering terrorists aren’t, generally speaking, reliable partners, except for other lying, murdering terrorists. In any case, disarmament experts say that this process, properly carried out, would take years and years to accomplish, but of course they really don’t know how long this might take because no one has ever tried to locate and secure hundreds of tons of chemical weapons on an active battlefield, particularly one in which Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are vying for supremacy.

But for now, the president has underscored the international norm governing the use of chemical weapons, and he has done what the American people say they wanted — staying out of the conflict. He may not be a clear winner in this drama, like Assad and Putin are, but compared to Congress — in particular its reflexively isolationist, self-destructive Republican caucus — he looks like Churchill.

Sen. John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, points out an inconvenient fact for the Obama administration’s victory lap:

Moscow is not even complying with a commitment to eliminate its own chemical weapons. A State Department assessment in January reported that Russia has provided an “incomplete” list of its chemical agents and weapons to be destroyed. It has also missed deadlines to convert former chemical-weapon production plants. Why would we expect Moscow to help enforce similar restrictions against Syria? . . . 

Based on the experience of the past four years, the Russians, like the Iranians, are well aware that pretending to go along can buy time until the Obama administration becomes distracted with another issue. The U.S. should be prepared for the diplomatic effort on Syria to fall flat and have more effective alternatives ready.

Here’s how the plan is playing on the ground:

Air strikes, shelling and infantry attacks on suburbs of Damascus through yesterday morning offered evidence in support of opinions from both Assad’s Syrian opponents and supporters that he is again taking the fight to rebels after a lull following the August 21 gas attack that provoked the threat of US action.

“It’s a clever proposal from Russia to prevent the attacks,” one Assad supporter said from the port of Tartous, site of a Russian naval base. “Russia will give us new weapons that are better than chemical weapons,” he added. “We are strong enough to save our power and fight the terrorists.”

Rebel fighters have expressed disdain for US President Barack Obama after he backed away from striking over alleged chemical weapons attacks, saying the world does not care about Syria.

“America told the world it would bomb Syria and then, when the time came, it got scared,” said Abdelqaderi Asasheh, operations chief of the Liwa Al Tawhid brigade in Aleppo.

Then again, just in case you’re feeling bad for the rebels . . . 

Al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists in Syria say they are targeting members of the Alawite community in the country, adding that they massacred dozens of Alawites in three Homs villages last week.

On Sunday, the terrorist group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks in which at least 30 Alawites, including several women, children and elderly men, were shot dead in cold blood.

Syria went from a horrific bloodbath that didn’t interest the world, to a horrific bloodbath that included chemical weapons, to a horrific bloodbath that did interest the world . . . and it will soon go back to being a horrific bloodbath that doesn’t interest the world.

It’s like that old Arab proverb: “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”

Tags: Syria , Barack Obama , Bashir Assad , John Kerry , Vladimir Putin

Guy Who Used Chemical Weapons Promises to Give Them Up Someday


Today’s Morning Jolt, the final of this week, features an update on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, praise for an NR colleague’s dogged reporting, and then this latest twist in the farce that is our reaction to Syria:

‘Peace’ Plan That Is Impossible to Implement Hits First Obstacles

Is there a point where the Geneva talks become too much of a farce to continue?

Thursday afternoon on CNN, Fareed Zakaria was ooh-ing and ahh-ing about the important, historic achievement of persuading the Syrians to sign the international Chemical Weapons Convention.

Just how reliable is the signature of a dictator who used those chemical weapons against his own people, and who’s still denying the attack? We’re supposed to believe that a guy who’s okay with gassing kids would never lie?

Because early indications are that the Syrians aren’t behaving like they intend to turn over all their stockpiles: The Wall Street Journal:

A secretive Syrian military unit at the center of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons program has been moving stocks of poison gases and munitions to as many as 50 sites to make them harder for the U.S. to track, according to American and Middle Eastern officials.

The movements of chemical weapons by Syria’s elite Unit 450 could complicate any U.S. bombing campaign in Syria over its alleged chemical attacks, officials said. It also raises questions about implementation of a Russian proposal that calls for the regime to surrender control of its stockpile, they said.

U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies still believe they know where most of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons are located, but with less confidence than six months ago, U.S. officials said.

Also note Assad is now making his own counter-demands:

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has spoken about placing its chemical weapons under international control and said that the US must “stop threatening us and supplying terrorists with weapons”.

Speaking on Russian TV’s Rossiya 24, he said that only Russia could make the agreement happen as “Syria has neither contacts with, nor trust in, America”.

Now, you can like arming the Syrian rebels, you can hate arming the Syrian rebels. But the guy who just committed a crime against humanity, and who has our fleet off his coast, doesn’t get to make demands.

So how does Obama want to resolve this? I figured the new aim was to get the public to forget that the “red line” statement ever happened, that he ever wanted to fight a war over Syria’s chemical weapons, that his best efforts to persuade Congress and the public fell flat, that he ever got himself entangled into this mess, and that the country of Syria exists.

Allahpundit offers another possible Obama goal, a quick, check-the-box strike:

If Assad tells them to get lost, then what? O’s surely not going back to Congress; proof that Syria’s disarmament is a sham might win him some extra votes, but he’s in such a deep hole with both Democrats and Republicans that he might still not get to 218. I think the plan, such as it is, is to bomb Assad straightaway if he doesn’t comply, without congressional approval, on the theory that the public will be a little more tolerant of a new war if it looks like Assad and Putin are jerking the UN around. That would also explain the oddly belligerent tone to Obama’s speech on Tuesday night even though, ostensibly, it was all about how we *shouldn’t* attack right now. Maybe he’s concluded that the only way to get back some credibility is to hit Assad anyway, and the UN stuff is just a prelude designed to build a bit of extra moral authority for doing so. The fact that he tried a last resort to diplomacy and it went nowhere because Assad’s a liar will be presented as a game-changing fact by his spin team which requires an immediate response by the commander-in-chief, without waiting for approval from Congress.

Tags: Syria , Barack Obama , John Kerry

Got a Spare Billion and Two Years for a Syrian Disposal Plant?


A Campaign Spot reader in the military, familiar with chemical weapons disposal, writes in:

To be truly secure, the weapons have to be transported out of country or 
destroyed in Syria. Neither is an easy solution.

Moving them: To take them to another country, they have to be packaged for
 transport. The international standards for transport of chemical/biological
 weapons are extremely stringent and would be difficult to meet given the 
situation in Syria. Simply preparing them for transport will take a long 
time and it will be an extremely expensive proposition. Then, of course,
 there’s the security aspect of doing this in the midst of a civil war.

Destroying them: To destroy them in place would require building a disposal 
facility. Estimates to construct such a facility would easily be over $1 
billion and could be even twice that. It would also likely take a year or 
two to construct. On this option, once again, we have to consider security.
 How do you build such a facility in the middle of a conflict? ;Plus, for an
 additional degree of difficulty, you still have to transport the weapons 
from around Syria to the destruction facility.

 All in all, highly unlikely that any of this will go anywhere.

So if this is an idea that is highly unlikely to work, why is it being treated as a serious proposal in Damascus, Moscow, and Washington?

Because Bashir Assad doesn’t want the U.S. to bomb Syria. Vladimir Putin doesn’t want the U.S. to bomb Syria. President Obama isn’t sure if he wants the U.S. to bomb Syria. The U.S. Congress, for the most part, doesn’t want to bomb Syria. A solid majority of the American public doesn’t want to bomb Syria. And with the exception of France, most U.S. allies don’t want to join the U.S. in an effort to bomb Syria.

For most of the above groups, the reluctance to bomb Syria is stronger than the desire to punish Assad.

So, like in the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, everyone pretends to see something that isn’t there — a workable diplomatic solution.

Tags: Syria , Barack Obama

You Can’t Inspect for Chemical Weapons in a War Zone.


Huge Morning Jolt today — another terrorist attack in Benghazi, the dramatic win for Republicans and Second Amendment advocates in Colorado, reaction to the president’s speech . . . and then the massive question before the United States:

Syria has a reported 1,000 tons of chemical weapons, three known storage depots; five “scientific research centers” believed to be involved in chemical weapons production; two dual-use sites believed to be involved in chemical weapons production. Then when it comes to delivery systems, the Syrians had (when the civil war began) a few dozen SS-21 ballistic missiles with a maximum range of 72 miles, with mobile launchers; 200 Scud-Bs, with a maximum range of 180 miles, with mobile launchers; 60 to 120 Scud-Cs, with a maximum range of 300 miles, with mobile launchers.

Here’s a BBC map of depicting which side controls which territory, updated as of August:

Imagine being a U.N. inspector, needing to negotiate with militias every time you move from a red patch through a red-and-blue patch and a blue patch.

Here’s how unidentified assailants greeted a U.N. team in Syria last month:

U.N. inspections in Syria are going to make the U.N. inspections in Iraq from 1991 to 2003 look like a well-oiled machine.

For all of Obama’s indecision and foolishness, his original point in his “red line” comment was a good one. Chemical weapons are different and more dangerous than conventional weapons, and we should seek to prevent, and punish, their use whenever possible.

Bashir Assad used them, and the consequence will be . . . that he has to give the rest of his weapons up — or more specifically, he has to promise to give up the rest of his weapons. As seen above, verifying his compliance will be nearly impossible.

And that’s it. A guy who John Kerry and other officials were comparing to Adolf Hitler avoids any run-ins with a U.S. Tomahawk, gets to stay in power, gets to keep killing his opponents as long as he only uses conventional means.

Peggy Noonan, late Tuesday afternoon:

The president has backed away from a military strike in Syria. But he can’t acknowledge this or act as if it is true. He is acting and talking as if he’s coolly, analytically, even warily contemplating the Russian proposal and the Syrian response. The proposal, he must know, is absurd. Bashar Assad isn’t going to give up all his hidden weapons in wartime, in the middle of a conflict so bitter and severe that his forces this morning reportedly bombed parts of Damascus, the city in which he lives. In such conditions his weapons could not be fully accounted for, packed up, transported or relinquished, even if he wanted to. But it will take time — weeks, months — for the absurdity to become obvious. And it is time the president wants. Because with time, with a series of statements, negotiations, ultimatums, promises and proposals, the Syria crisis can pass. It can dissipate into the air, like gas.

A lot of things “dissipate into the air like gas” with this administration. Benghazi. Fast & Furious. The IRS targeting the Tea Party. The Department of Justice collecting the phone records of the Associated Press. Attorney General Eric Holder’s potential perjury. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius shaking down health-care companies for “contributions” to promote Obamacare. The General Services Administration’s wasteful spending scandal. The demonization and incarceration of the guy who made the YouTube video, and the use of him as a scapegoat for Benghazi. The NSA’s domestic surveillance programs. Huma Abedin doing private-sector consulting work while working for Hillary Clinton at the State Department.

There’s never any damn accountability with this bunch.

Tags: Syria , Barack Obama

Putin Demands the U.S., Not Assad, Renounce Use of Force


Now Putin announces that the Russian deal on Syrian chemical weapons only works if there are no consequences for not honoring it:

Russia’s initiative to place Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles under international control will only be feasible if the United States and its allies pledge not to use force, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday.

It is difficult to obligate any country, including Syria, to unilaterally disarm if force is going to be used against it, Putin said, adding that the Russian authorities “will work together with the Syrians and with our American partners.”

Assad gasses people and resumed bombing his people today, and it’s the United States that is expected to renounce the use of military force.

I’m sure he has only the best of intentions.

Tags: Syria , Barack Obama , Russia

Ultimately, We Won’t Even Take Assad’s Cheerios Spoon


Greg Corombos and I just taped our daily Three Martini Lunch podcast. Our format is to select one good, one bad, and one crazy news story each day. Today, the proposed deal to avoid military action in Syria qualifies as all three.

The development is good if you opposed the United States’ beginning a war in Syria and you think that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is unlikely to use his chemical weapons in the near future — or at least as long as there are international inspectors in his country. (Then again, United Nations inspectors were in Syria when the regime used chemical weapons September 21.) If you thought President Obama didn’t really want to fight this war — or that we would only launch an “unbelievably small” effort, largely symbolic, that would only leave the U.S. looking weaker — this course appears to avoid that bad scenario.

The development is bad if you believe that a dictator must be punished for using chemical weapons. Assad’s only punishment will be giving up his remaining stockpiles — presuming, of course, that the U.N. can find, track, and inventory those stockpiles in a country that is gripped by civil war. With the West’s disinterest in intervention now so obvious to the world, Assad’s odds of remaining in power are improving. That’s bad news for the Syrian rebels — and while they have many in their ranks who are no friend to America, the non-radical elements must feel betrayed by the United States now. Once again, the United States appears to be an unreliable ally, and a distinctly unmenacing enemy.

It’s bad for the Syrian people, because Assad now can fight with impunity, as long as he doesn’t use chemical weapons.

The development is crazy, because it appears that John Kerry just gave Assad and his friends the Russians an escape hatch by speaking off the cuff. This is why John Kerry would have made a bad president and is a bad secretary of state — his inclination to say whatever he thinks will be most persuasive to whoever in front of him at that moment. When Kerry needs to make an impassioned case for punishing Assad, he can do so with great passion and emotion, and he compares Assad to Hitler. When Kerry needs to reassure a nervous ally, he emphasizes that the attack will be “unbelievably small.” When he thinks he needs to appear reasonable and not too eager for war, he tosses out a scenario that puts the entire U.S. war effort on hold.

The Russians now appear to be altering the plan, preferring that it is never written down with any specific requirements or consequences spelled out:

Russia is not keen at this stage for a binding U.N. Security Council resolution that would provide a framework to control Syria’s chemical weapons’ stocks, France’s foreign minister said after talks with his Russian counterpart on Tuesday.

“As I understood, the Russians at this stage were not necessarily enthusiastic, and I’m using euphemism, to put all that into the framework of a U.N. binding resolution,” Laurent Fabius told French lawmakers after a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

So if there’s no binding resolution . . . well, then, it’s not really a resolution, now is it?

“Trust us.”

Tags: Syria , Barack Obama , John Kerry , Russia

Cruz: Consistent on Using Military Force in Syria


The Hill charges that Sensators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida are “singing a different tune from just months ago, when both seemed to advocate a more muscular U.S. response to Syrian President Bashar Assad.”

The Hill bases the charge on Cruz’s June 20 statement:

We need to be developing right now a clear, practical plan to go in, locate the weapons, secure or destroy them, and then get out. The United States should be firmly in the lead to make sure the job is done right.

Cruz declared yesterday he would vote against the Senate’s resolution authorizing military force.

Cruz’s staff says The Hill ignored the facts that the office provided them regarding the senator’s stance on Syria. They argue that Cruz has always been open to military action to secure chemical weapons, but he’s deeply wary about action that is designed to punish an “international norm” or arming the Syrian rebels.

They point to three statements in recent weeks.

First, an interview with Sean Hannity, August 26:

CRUZ: Number two, our concern should be those chemical weapons, preventing them from falling into the hands of Hezbollah, preventing them from falling into the hands of Al Qaida, that should be guiding our actions, not expressing some moral outrage from a university facility lounge. . . . If Assad is toppled and replaced by a radical Islamist regime, what would be truly dangerous for the United States, for our allies like Israel and Jordan, is for a radical Islamic government to seize control of those chemical weapons and to deploy them against us or our allies. That should be the focus of the President, and as we’ve seen throughout the Middle East that has not been the focus of the President.

Then a released statement from August 31:

Assad’s murderous actions have claimed the lives of more than a hundred thousand of his own people, which is a humanitarian tragedy. But our chief strategic concern should not be international norms; it should be preventing the chemical weapons from falling into the hands of al Qaeda or other terrorists who might use them against us and our allies.

Finally, an op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post:

It is not the job of U.S. troops to police international norms or to send messages. Our men and women in uniform have signed up to defend America . . . 

Today, the threat is active in Syria, where jihadists have infiltrated the rebel groups while Hezbollah is supporting Assad, making the presence of chemical weapons in Syria ever more perilous. And it is active in Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism that seeks a nuclear bomb to wipe the United States and Israel off the map.

If the president’s proposed military strike against Assad succeeds, al-Qaeda could be strengthened and terrorists could seize control of Syria’s vast cache of chemical weapons.

U.S. military force should always advance our national security. Should we in the future have intelligence that al-Qaeda or Hezbollah is on the verge of acquiring chemical weapons or that Iran is nearing a nuclear breakout, I would support aggressive military action to prevent them from acquiring those weapons because the alternative is unacceptable: allowing Islamic extremists to acquire chemical or nuclear weapons that could be used to slaughter millions in New York or Los Angeles or London or Tel Aviv.

On Rubio, The Hill summarizes:

Last week, he voted against the Syria strike resolution approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But in April, when Assad was first accused of using chemical weapons, Rubio said, “the time for passive engagement in this conflict must come to an end.”

If a lawmaker doesn’t like “passive engagement,” but then is presented with a military-force authorization that is equally problematic or worse, is he obligated to support it?

Tags: Ted Cruz , Marco Rubio , Syria

Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya: America’s Out of the Deposing-Rulers Business


Today’s Morning Jolt features a surprising vote for Ken Cuccinelli in the governor’s race, analysis of Putin’s maneuvering in the Syria crisis, and then a look at an element that’s been missing from the discussion of war in Syria:

Why Americans Aren’t that Angry at Bashir Assad

Real American anger at Assad is missing from the current debate about Syria; by and large, we don’t really feel enormous animosity or fury or rage towards the Syrian dictator. Ironically, there isn’t much dispute about his worst crime; the polling is pretty clear: “While eight in 10 Americans believe that Bashar al-Assad’s regime gassed its own people, a strong majority doesn’t want Congress to pass a resolution authorizing a military strike against it.”

But Assad doesn’t set Americans’ blood to a boil. Perhaps a decade of war, and runaway anti-Americanism, have left us shrugging when we see an evil man who has, at least so far, avoided direct confrontation with the United States.

America has a lot of enemies in that region who are directly confronting the United States: Just under one year ago today:


Cairo, above; Benghazi, below.

The pictures above are from Egypt — where we thought we stood with the Egyptian people, in their decision to depose Mubarak — and Libya, where we and NATO took military action to help the Libyan people against the dictator Qaddafi. And then the locals turned on us and attacked our diplomatic facilities and personnel. Then you throw in the response of the Iraqi people and the Afghans, last seen inflicting “green on blue” attacks by infiltrating the Afghan security forces and killing coalition personnel.

Right now, Americans aren’t that convinced that anybody over there is really deserving of our help. We’re not convinced that we would do much good, we’re nearly certain no one would be thankful, and we’re suspicious that the folks we help will just turn around and attack us again later. It’s painting with a broad brush, but one shaped by hard experience.

Tags: Obama , Syria , Benghazi , Egypt , Afghanistan

Trading a Small Attack for Faux Inspections


Hillary Clinton appears to have endorsed the last-minute alternative to U.S. military action in Syria, where the Assad regime gives up its chemical weapons:

If Syria’s government immediately surrendered its chemical weapons stockpiles to international control, “that would be an important step,” former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday during an event at the White House. “But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction. And Russia has to support the international community’s efforts sincerely or be held to account.”

A system of international inspectors will sound like a good idea to anyone who has completely forgotten the United Nations’ inspection of the Iraqi programs for weapons of mass destruction from 1991 to 2003. That inspection system was marked by intermittent cooperation from Saddam Hussein’s regime, punctuated by occasional U.S. bombing when the regime failed to cooperate, and an oil-for-food program that generated $10.1 billion in illegal revenues for Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Obviously, international inspections will be impossible in a country currently experiencing a civil war.

It appears the Obama administration will happily trade an “unbelievably small” military action for faux inspections.

A cinematic portrayal of Hans Blix, head of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission from March 2000 to June 2003.

Tags: Syria , Russia , Hillary Clinton

Cheeri-Oh-No, That’s Not Much of a Deterrence.


USA Today:

A second senior official, who has seen the most recent planning, offered this metaphor to describe such a strike: If Assad is eating Cheerios, we’re going to take away his spoon and give him a fork. Will that degrade his ability to eat Cheerios? Yes. Will it deter him? Maybe. But he’ll still be able to eat Cheerios.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is our administration, leading us into war.

Tags: Syria , Barack Obama

An ‘Unbelievably Small Effort’ Against Many, Many, Many Targets


Today Secretary of State John Kerry inadvertently answered the first of the four questions below: Are we making a symbolic gesture, just to say we did something, or are we inflicting a punishment truly fitting of a war crime of killing civilians with chemical weapons?

Kerry, today:

We will be able to hold [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort, in a very limited, very targeted, very short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria’s civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing; an unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.

How much can you degrade . . . 

 . . . with an “unbelievably small” effort?

Tags: John Kerry , Syria , Barack Obama

Four Big Questions for the President Before War


From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Four Big Questions for the President Before the War Vote

Four big areas of concern President Obama has to resolve in his Oval Office address Tuesday night:

One: How much damage will these airstrikes inflict? Are we making a symbolic gesture, just to say we did something, or are we inflicting a punishment truly fitting of a war crime of killing civilians with chemical weapons?

Above: This is a Tomahawk missile. It costs roughly $1.5 million to fire at a target. We ought to make sure that whatever it’s destroying costs at least that much, right?

The Los Angeles Times reports that war plans are being expanded:

The Pentagon is preparing for a longer bombardment of Syria than it originally had planned, with a heavy barrage of missile strikes followed soon after by more attacks on targets that the opening salvos missed or failed to destroy, officials said.

The planning for intense attacks over a three-day period reflects the growing belief in the White House and the Pentagon that the United States needs more firepower to inflict even minimal damage on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, which have been widely dispersed over the last two weeks, the officials said.

Two: If Assad retaliates — a likely scenario — are we prepared, and what will our response be to any retaliatory attacks against Americans?

Above: This is a Chinese-made C802 anti-ship missile. Hezbollah used one to hit an Israeli ship in 2006.

PBS: “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Charlie Rose on Sunday that he is preparing for a U.S. strike, and that Syria and some of their allies would retaliate if one occurs.”

Three: Do we want to topple Assad’s regime or not? If the Islamists in the rebel factions come to power, doesn’t that hurt our interests?

Above: The Al-Nusra Front brags about its executions.

Evidence continues to mount that the Syrian rebels may be as brutal and bloodthirsty as Assad:

After days of clashes in and around Maaloula, rebels captured the village following fierce fighting late Saturday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group. Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said the assault was led by Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaida-affiliated group, as well as by the Qalamon Liberation Front…

One resident said the rebels — many of them wearing beards and shouting, “God is great!” — attacked Christian homes and churches shortly after seizing the village.

If these reports are true, why wouldn’t we bomb these groups as well? Why would we take action that would ultimately benefit them and help them come to power?

Four: Why does America have to do this alone? If this is so important to the “international community,” why is only France joining us?

Above: This is the French destroyer Chevalier Paul, currently the only non-U.S. ship that would join anti-Assad military operations.

And then again, maybe the French are iffy:

When asked this morning if the U.S. has any pledges of military support for strikes in Syria, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough emphasized that the G20 and other nations have made supportive condemnations of the Syrian government’s actions, but when repeatedly pressed by CNN’s Candy Crowley, he provided no examples of countries that have endorsed or will provide personnel or equipment for a military intervention.

He wouldn’t explicitly admit that the U.S. has no allies willing to provide support, saying, “You’re trying to get me to say that, but I’m not going to say it.” There is specific support from the EU and others, he said, for “holding Syria accountable.”

Finally, because we all need a laugh at grim times like these . . . 

 . . . via FishWithDan, a joke suggesting that al-Qaeda finds a potential alliance as discomforting as we do:

 . . . and finally, from Todd Adams, a bumper sticker coming soon to a Prius near you:

Tags: Barack Obama , Syria

Free Syrian Army Depicts Obama as Captain America


This photo, on the Facebook page of the Free Syrian Army, depicts Obama as Captain America, waiting for Congress to unchain him to take on Assad, spraying poison gas on people:

The administration must be glad to see somebody finds the president’s Syria policy heroic.

Of course, not every photo on every Facebook page of every Syrian faction is so cheery. NBC News spotlighted this photo on the page of

the “Al-Aqsa Islamic Brigades,” a small armed Sunni rebel faction fighting with the Free Syrian Army, the main umbrella military organization of the opposition forces. Two other photos posted on the group’s page feature the widely recognized black flag of the al Qaeda in Iraq terrorist group, which operates freely in Syria.

Yes, that appears to be the U.S. Capitol building burning in the background. 

Tags: Obama , Syria

Once Flights Begin, No One Can Guarantee ‘No Boots on the Ground’


Earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attempted to emphasize that U.S. military action in Syria will not include “troops on the ground.”

The New York Times, today:

For the first time, the administration is talking about using American and French aircraft to conduct strikes on specific targets, in addition to ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles.

U.S. planes can be shot down. When they are shot down, we attempt to rescue our pilots. And then we have, at least for a short time period, several dozen “boots on the ground.” As seen in our intervention in Libya:

The Marines were assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., and are credited with quickly preparing and launching their Osprey from the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge with a 30-man recovery force. Under cover of darkness, they flew 150 miles to the crash sight of an Air Force F-15E near the city of Benghazi as part of a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel mission on March 22, 2011.

The Marines recovered Air Force pilot Maj. Kenneth Harney, who along with his weapons system officer, Capt. Tyler Stark, ejected from the aircraft into uncertain circumstances. Heavily armed forces were advancing on the port city in support of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who later died after he was captured by rebel forces. Armed rebels held the territory east of Benghazi at the time, but the pilots didn’t know if they posed a threat, too.

Everything turned out well in Libya, and in the Balkans in 1995:

United States marines staged an audacious rescue mission into the Bosnian war zone after dawn today, snatching up a missing American fighter pilot from his hiding place in the woods and helicoptering him to safety through a smattering of Bosnian Serb missile and machine-gun fire.
The Air Force pilot, Capt. Scott F. O’Grady, had been on the move stealthily in hilly woodlands for six nights before his guarded radio signals allowed rescuers to verify his survival and home in.

“This is Basher-52,” the 29-year-old combat pilot announced from hiding, using his code name in a rescue plea monitored by NATO officials. “I’m alive and I need help.”

Four helicopters and two jet fighters ultimately arrived in response. Captain O’Grady was jubilantly yanked into a helicopter in a drill-perfect two-minute operation after a score of marines leapt down onto Bosnia’s soil to secure the ground for his rescue.

But there’s always a chance that the forces involved with the rescue mission will encounter the enemy and exchange fire, leading to a larger conflict . . . 

Tags: Syria , John Kerry , Chuck Hagel

Should Syria Matter in the Virginia Governor’s Race?


Should Syria matter in the Virginia governor’s race?

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II said Thursday that he is opposed to U.S. military intervention in Syria, just hours after his foe in the Virginia governor’s race, businessman Terry McAuliffe, declined to take a position on the thorny topic.

While the governor of Virginia has no real role in national-security policy, the possibility of war that is dominating the news is probably what’s on voters’ minds right now. One former GOP county chair e-mails me this could resonate because of the number of military families in the state.

And while military families aren’t a monolith, an op-ed in the Washington Post suggests that there’s a great deal of wariness and skepticism in the ranks about military action in Syria.

Robert H. Scales, a retired Army major general and a former commandant of the U.S. Army War College, writes:

The tapes tell the tale. Go back and look at images of our nation’s most senior soldier, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and his body language during Tuesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Syria. It’s pretty obvious that Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, doesn’t want this war. As Secretary of State John Kerry’s thundering voice and arm-waving redounded in rage against Bashar al-Assad’s atrocities, Dempsey was largely (and respectfully) silent.

Dempsey’s unspoken words reflect the opinions of most serving military leaders. By no means do I profess to speak on behalf of all of our men and women in uniform. But I can justifiably share the sentiments of those inside the Pentagon and elsewhere who write the plans and develop strategies for fighting our wars. After personal exchanges with dozens of active and retired soldiers in recent days, I feel confident that what follows represents the overwhelming opinion of serving professionals who have been intimate witnesses to the unfolding events that will lead the United States into its next war.

They are embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the Obama administration’s attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense. None of the White House staff has any experience in war or understands it. So far, at least, this path to war violates every principle of war, including the element of surprise, achieving mass and having a clearly defined and obtainable objective . . . 

More accurately, it’s hard to believe that Terry McAuliffe genuinely has no opinion about military action in Syria, Most likely, he has an opinion (perhaps a conflicted one) and doesn’t want to tell the rest of us what it is.

Tags: Terry McAuliffe , Ken Cuccinelli , Syria

Our ‘Credibility’ Is Gone, and Airstrikes Won’t Restore It


From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

‘Credibility’? It’s Gone. It’s Not Coming Back Until January 2017 at the Earliest.

National Review’s editors on Syria:

Credibility can seem an elusive commodity and one not worth firing shots over, but it is the coin of the realm in international relations, especially for a great power. . . . If we don’t act in this case, after all this windup, Iran and Hezbollah will take note of how little our admonitions to not acquire or use weapons of mass destruction really mean. We can’t know exactly what would come of our self-inflicted humiliation, but it would be nothing good. For that reason, we would vote “yes” on the authorization, although we think reasonable people can disagree, and we urge Congress to push the president to enunciate a Syria strategy beyond punishing it for its chemical-weapons use.

Here’s the thing: Even if we launch some cruise missiles and blow up some Syrian military buildings . . . our credibility is in tatters, anyway. Everybody knows our president makes promises he can’t keep, threats he doesn’t intend to carry out, bluffs and then gets mad when others call his bluff.

President Obama is who we thought he was. He is who we said he was. And we let him off the hook! (storms away from podium)

Here’s MSNBC creating a Facebook graphic, spotlighted over at Ace of Spades:

Except that you did set a red line, Mr. President. And we know “the world” didn’t set that red line, because “the world,” with the exception of Turkey and France, has decided they’re not willing to do anything militarily to punish Assad.

You notice Obama and Kerry keep insisting other nations are with us because they’ve issued statements denouncing Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Let me be clear: When a brutal dictator uses poison gas to kill hundreds of people, including children, issuing a denunciatory statement is almost literally the least you can do.

Lost credibility? We have a president and administration who couldn’t persuade the United Kingdom’s parliament to support unmanned airstrikes against a dictator who used nerve gas. It sounds like a joke. Diplomatically, that’s a six-inch putt, to put it in terms the president can appreciate. This is the salesmanship equivalent of selling beer in Ireland.

Ed Morrissey:

This credibility crisis goes beyond Syria, however, and extends to the whole Arab Spring, for which Obama seemed all too pleased to take credit not terribly long ago. He demanded Hosni Mubarak’s ouster and quick elections in Egypt, which turned a stable American ally into a barely-contained disaster, and then has vacillated ever since on how to handle the crisis. Obama then led a NATO intervention in Libya while claiming not to want regime change, but ended up decapitating the Qaddafi regime anyway. That replaced a brutal dictatorship that was still cooperating with the West on counter-terrorism into a failed state that has allowed for a rapid expansion of radical Islamist terror networks through the whole region.

The NR editors wrote, “the Obama policy of passivity has, so far, proved a disaster.” Even if the Tomahawks started flying, Obama’s inclination towards passivity will probably return with a vengeance, the moment everything went wrong. (Reminder: We still haven’t arrested, killed, or as far as we know, even pursued anyone for the attack in Benghazi.) It’s unlikely that Obama is transforming his entire worldview as a result of this painful experience.

He’s caught between a war he doesn’t really want to fight, and his fear of being exposed as a guy who draws red lines but doesn’t enforce them. So he’s splitting the difference by pledging to bomb Syria, but not that badly. That won’t restore our national credibility.

Tags: Barack Obama , Syria

Oval Office Addresses Before War Are Not ‘Passé’


President Obama and his advisers sometimes act as if they completely reinvented modern politics, and everything that came before them is outdated and lame. Their tone sometimes emulates a rebellious teenager rolling his eyes at his father. A good recent example:

Passé: (adjective) past one’s prime, outmoded, behind the times.

It was once utterly unthinkable for a president to launch military action without addressing the country. It was also once unthinkable for a president to sit down with the ladies of The View, or to slow-jam the news with Jimmy Fallon, or go to a campaign event the day after a terror attack kills a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, or . . . well, you get the idea.

Obama’s election in 2008 did not restart history at Year Zero. It did not rewrite the dynamics between American public opinion and military action, and it did not the transform the relationship between the American people and their leaders. It did not represent a referendum renouncing all preceding presidential actions and traditions.

Declaring presidential addresses to the public before military action “passé” is not sophisticated, or cutting-edge, or shrewd. It is stupid. And one of the reasons the president is in the mess that he’s in on Syria is that he has stupid people around him telling him stupid things, like that he doesn’t need to address the country in a venue appropriately serious for this kind of life-and-death decision — not shoehorned into a joint appearance with the Swedish prime minister, or outsourced to the secretaries of state and defense, or with a quick statement in the Rose Garden on the Saturday afternoon of Labor Day Weekend

NBC News’ First Read:

We can report that momentum is growing for President Obama to address the nation in a primetime speech.

The Hill:

On Wednesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said an Oval Office address by the president was a necessary step before U.S. involvement in a foreign civil war, and predicted Obama would make the address “later this week.”

Gee, I guess primetime addresses aren’t so passé after all.

Tags: Barack Obama , Syria


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