Tags: Syria

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

Obama, Shifting From ‘Forward’ to ‘For War’


From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Ed Markey, Useless Doofus

If you wanted to parody a politician’s fear, paralysis, indecisiveness and timidity, you couldn’t do much better than the Senate’s newest addition, Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey:

U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey punted as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a compromise resolution designed to win support for President Obama’s proposed strike on Syria by limiting the scope of any military action, voting present and saying he needs more information — drawing a derisive “Profile in Courage” award from the state’s GOP for the newly elected senator.

“This is an important decision that has the potential to draw us into the Syrian civil war,” the Massachusetts Democrat told the Herald in a statement after his vote. “I will be analyzing intelligence information about the Syrian chemical attacks, and I will be considering the potential for additional entanglement in that war. When I have had a chance to further analyze all of the information, I will then make a fully-informed vote of yes or no on the final resolution next week on the floor of the Senate.”

This goes well beyond the garden-variety coward:

He sits in the seat held by now-Secretary of State John Kerry, who urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to give the resolution their approval. It would have made an outright “no” vote a bit awkward.

Markey had earlier demanded that the President seek congressional approval before using military force. That makes his “present” vote read a bit like, “You better ask my opinion on this, but meh, I don’t really have one.”

Way to go, Massachusetts. Way to go.

Also note this brilliant illustration from Jeff Dobbs and Hit and Run . . . “What a difference a red line makes. It’s two words now.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Ed Markey , Syria

Does Obama Really Want to Bomb Syria Anymore?


Easy lay-up for Citizens United today: Just putting Obama’s contradictory “red line” comments together . . . 

In recent days, it has seemed like Obama doesn’t really want to go forward with this. The military action once considered urgent can be delayed until Congress returns from its recess; now the president is emphasizing that the “red line” that the action would enforce wasn’t really his policy, his threat, his statement.

If the president doesn’t really want to go forward with this . . . why should we?

Tags: Barack Obama , Syria

Why Killing With Chemical Weapons Is Different from ‘Regular’ War


Skeptics of U.S. involvement in Syria ask a fair question: Why is the world expected to respond to the horror of 1,000 or so killed in the sarin-gas attacks, but not the horror of another 110,000 or so Syrian dead?

(First note that it’s not accurate to say Assad killed 110,000 people; that’s the overall death toll on both sides and civilians in the civil war. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights breaks up the death toll as 40,146 civilians, 21,850 rebel fighters, 27,654 regime army soldiers, 17,824 pro-regime militia, and 171 members of the Hezbollah, with another 2,726 unidentified.)

Why does the world treat those killed by chemical weapons differently? The simplest explanation is that there’s an international treaty banning the use of chemical weapons, drafted and signed in the early 1990s, but no treaty banning the use of guns and missiles to kill your own people during an uprising. Almost all of the world’s governments — all of them except for Angola, Myanmar, Egypt, Israel, North Korea, South Sudan, and Syria — thought their interests would be enhanced by a global ban on the use of those weapons.

Leaders from Moscow to Beijing to Washington to Havana concluded that chemical weapons are fundamentally different from the ‘standard’ and necessary tools of war.

Guns, artillery, bombs — they’re all capable of killing lots of people, but at least they can be aimed.

A chemical weapon, once deployed, is subject to the wind and other atmospheric conditions. A biological weapon can spread well beyond the intended target. (Think of the anthrax mailings, and how they killed Postal Service employees and some Americans whose connection to the mailings remains unclear, years later.)

Some types of biological weapons aren’t that hard to make, which is why you’ll find lunatics sending ricin in the mail. Some components of chemical weapons, like chlorine, have common industrial uses. Technically tear gas is a chemical weapon (although not the kind banned by international treaties).

These types of weapons of mass destruction present a unique danger to the world because they’re both deadly and hard to control, compared to firearms and conventional arms.

How do you prevent particularly immoral SOBs running countries from using a weapon that is relatively easy to make, extremely deadly, and often intimidating and terrorizing? The only real deterrent is to make the consequences sufficiently dire. Sure, you may kill your enemy with the poison, but the rest of the world will gang up on you.

But in order to work, the rest of the world has to gang up on the perpetrator! So far, most countries don’t seem interested. France might. Turkey might. Everyone else is a ‘no’ and the American public also isn’t interested. Even the United Nations secretary-general is arguing that U.S. bombing to enforce the treaty, without Security Council approval, would be illegal. Of course, Russia will veto any resolutions to use force.

Tags: Syria

Historical Revisionism on Who Set Syria’s ‘Red Line’


Obama, speaking in Sweden this morning: “I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.”

Funny, that’s not how he put it at the time:

I have at this point not ordered military military engagement in the situation. But the point that you made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria, it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us. We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons fall into the hands of the wrong people. We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.

Don’t look for video of Obama’s “red line” statement on the White House web site:

A closer look, showing video of Obama’s “red line” statement does not come up in searches of the White House web site:

And you thought those lines were blurred before.

Tags: Barack Obama , Syria

The Old ‘Engage Assad’ Crowd Now Compares Him to Hitler


From the Wednesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Persuasion Tip: Stop Comparing Your Old ‘Partner for Peace’ to Hitler

How’s this for irony? Chuck Hagel and John Kerry, writing in the Wall Street Journal (text found here), back on June 5, 2008, in an op-ed headlined, “It’s Time to Talk to Syria”:

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991, President George H. W. Bush did the improbable and convinced Syrian President Hafez Assad to join an American-led coalition against a fellow Baathist regime.

Today, these leaders’ sons have another chance for a diplomatic breakthrough that could redefine the strategic landscape in the Middle East.

. . . While many doubt Syria’s intentions, we have real leverage and some inducements that have more value to Syria than cost to us. There is no guarantee of an agreement, but the potential payoff is huge, and our current policy is failing.

Of course, that was 110,000 dead and a couple of nerve-gas attacks ago. The desire to punish a murderous, brutal dictator for using abominable weapons is good and noble and right. But it’s insufferable to be told that we have to do this, by the crowd that a half-decade ago kept telling us how wrong we were about Bashar Assad, and how he was just a misunderstood, reasonable reformer.

During a debate, Obama said he was willing to meet with Assad in the first year of his administration. (The summit never took place.) Pelosi did meet with him, and said afterwards, “We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.” Kerry met with him at least six times. Now Kerry tells us, “Bashar al-Assad now joins the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein who have used these weapons in time of war,” and he’s alluding to the Holocaust.

You spent much of the past decade insisting we judged Assad too harshly. Let’s see some humility, fellas.

On Tuesday, the two guys who five years ago confidently assured the world of Assad’s value as a partner for peace went before the Senate and confidently assured the country that the administration’s plan for limited long-distance airstrikes would be quick and effective.

Hagel’s testimony showcased how the conventional wisdom about him was almost entirely wrong. Remember, he was supposed to be the quasi-isolationist budget-cutter who wanted to disengage from the Middle East. Perhaps he still is, and he’s stifling what he really believes in service to the president. Or perhaps he never really meant it, and merely grasped that the media would embrace and adore him as a veteran anti–Iraq War Republican. Or perhaps he’s not really sure what he thinks.

“Wait, you’re serious? You want me to go to the Hill and get them to sign off on this?”

War Salesman Hagel sounded quite different from War-Weary Skeptic Hagel — particularly when discussing Syria.

Chuck Hagel in May 2012:

“I think we’ve got to be very wise and careful on this and continue to work with the multilateral institutions in the lead in Syria. I don’t think America wants to be in the lead on this,” he said. “What you have to do is manage the problem. You manage it to a higher ground of possible solutions, ultimately to try to get to a resolution. You don’t have control over what’s going on in Syria.”

“You’ve got to be patient, smart, wise, manage the problem,” he said.

“We’ve got to understand great-power limitations. There are so many uncontrollable variables at play in Syria and the Middle East,” Hagel said. “You work through the multilateral institutions that are available, the U.N., the Arab league. The last thing you want is an American-led or Western-led invasion into Syria.”

Lesson: Nobody really knows how cabinet appointments will turn out. Foreign Policy magazine, back in December 2012:

With Hagel at the helm, Obama could proceed even more quickly with cutting the defense budget and retrenching abroad, while largely neutering his Republican adversaries. . . . He would also be a likely opponent of direct American intervention in Syria and push for as small a remaining military force in Afghanistan as possible. His entire thrust is to emphasize diplomacy over brute power. Hagel’s doctrine is crystal clear: No matter how well-intentioned America may be, it cannot single-handedly impose democracy abroad.

Chuck Hagel, back in 2007:

I have to say this is one of the most arrogant, incompetent administrations I’ve ever seen or ever read about. . . . They have failed the country.

The job’s a little harder than it looked from the outside, huh, Mr. Secretary?

Yesterday Ron Johnson, Wisconsin, asked a devastating question:

You say this is the world’s red line, not ours, and I agree. So how many partners will we have with us?

If sending troops is the price of stopping chemical attacks, almost all of the nations in the world are actually perfectly okay with chemical attacks, as long as they’re not downwind.

Tags: Chuck Hagel , John Kerry , Nancy Pelosi , Barack Obama , Syria

Cory Booker, Suddenly Not Quite So Opposed to Syria War


New Jersey Senate candidate Cory Booker, in a chat with the Huffington Post on August 28: “My posture on Syria is that we should not be going to war. We should not be unleashing missiles.”

New Jersey Senate candidate Cory Booker, on the campaign trail, September 2: “There’s got to be a high bar that’s met, and I think the president will meet that in the coming days.”

What changed?

Tags: Cory Booker , Syria

The Democrats’ ‘Smart Power’ Lies in Ruins


Welcome back from Labor Day weekend. From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Democrats Suddenly Realize What They Miscalculated About the World: Everything

As we await Congress’s decision on authorizing the use of U.S. military force in Syria, Democrats are suddenly realizing that their foreign-policy brain-trust completely misjudged the world.

Being nicer to countries like Russia will not make them nicer to you. The United Nations is not an effective tool for resolving crises. Some foreign leaders are beyond persuasion and diplomacy. There is no “international community” ready to work together to solve problems, and there probably never will be.

You can pin this on Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Susan Rice, but most of all, the buck stops with the president. Those of us who scoffed a bit at a state senator ascending to the presidency within four years on a wave of media hype and adoration are not quite so shocked by this current mess. We never bought into this notion that getting greater cooperation from our allies, and less hostility from our enemies, was just a matter of giving this crew the wheel and letting them practice, as Hillary Clinton arrogantly declared it, “smart power.” (These people can’t even label a foreign-policy approach without reminding us of how highly they think of themselves.) They looked out at the world at the end of the Bush years, and didn’t see tough decisions, unsolvable problems, unstable institutions, restless populations, technology enabling the impulse to destabilize existing institutions, evil men hungry for more power, and difficult trade-offs. No, our problems and challengers were just a matter of the previous hands running U.S. foreign policy not being smart enough.

How stressed is Obama? He’s starting to climb onto the Resolute desk during phone calls. To the right, Vice President Biden thinks about squirrels.

Well, here we are, five years later. Anthony H. Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, yesterday:

When Samuel Beckett wrote “Waiting for Godot,” he was not writing an instruction manual on strategy for American Presidents. Unfortunately, however, that seems to be the instruction manual President Obama has read. He has suddenly transformed a rushed call for immediate action into a waiting game where it is not clear what he or the U.S. is waiting for, and where much of the action may come to border on tragicomedy…

The President needs to show real leadership, not overreaction, sudden reversal, and uncertainty. We need the President to shape a broad policy for the Syrian civil war even more than we need a far clearer policy for preventing the use of chemical weapons. More broadly, we need leadership to deal with Iran, its moves towards nuclear weapons and any new options created by Iran’s election. We need clear decisions over how the U.S. will deal with Afghanistan as it pulls out its combat troops. We need a clear definition of what “rebalancing” in Asia really means. We need a clear concept for our future national security posture and spending, and our defense strategy, rather than a food fight over defense spending alone. This is the 21st century. It is not a play and we cannot wait for Godot.

Lest you think this is some Bush-team cheerleader, back in 2006, Cordesman was writing:

As a Republican, I would never have believed that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would waste so many opportunities and so much of America’s reputation that they would rival Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy for the worst wartime national security team in United States history.

Honest to God, the self-described smart set told us, again and again, Obama would bring a calmer world, just by showing up. (In their defense, the Nobel Committee did practically gve him the Nobel Peace Prize based on attendance.)

Let’s recall how Andrew Sullivan hyperventilated about how Obama would calm anti-American tensions in the Middle East just by showing his face:

Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.

The other obvious advantage that Obama has in facing the world and our enemies is his record on the Iraq War. He is the only major candidate to have clearly opposed it from the start. Whoever is in office in January 2009 will be tasked with redeploying forces in and out of Iraq, negotiating with neighboring states, engaging America’s estranged allies, tamping down regional violence. Obama’s interlocutors in Iraq and the Middle East would know that he never had suspicious motives toward Iraq, has no interest in occupying it indefinitely, and foresaw more clearly than most Americans the baleful consequences of long-term occupation.

This was not some drunken screed (as far as we know); this was a cover piece in The Atlantic magazine. The chattering classes considered this serious thought back in December 2007. Events have proven that ultimately, the president’s hue and middle name don’t really matter. Anti-Americanism is driven by the United States’s role in the world as a secular, Judeo-Christian, economic, cultural and military superpower and the fact that so many other nations and cultures require a scapegoat, rival, or demon figure.

The mega-hype continued into 2009. Here’s Lee Hamilton, former Democratic congressman and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, in April 2009:

President Obama’s accomplishments, as listed by Hamilton, include: “Re-energizing our efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, commencing the withdrawal from Iraq, dramatically shifting nuclear-weapons policy, including support for the CTBT and cooperation with Russia, changing policies towards Cuba, an opening to Iran, working with our partners to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula, pushing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and Syria, helping Mexico fight the drug cartels and more.”

Think about it. Hamlton genuinely believed those were his accomplishments! Note the ATF and DOJ were sending guns to the Mexican drug cartels back when he was saying that.

Now Kerry tells us, “because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the UN Security Council, the UN cannot galvanize the world to act as it should.”

No @%, Senator Global Test. The United Nations could rarely, if ever, galvanize the world. Maybe back after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait back in 1990. Now, whenever there’s a crisis in the world, Russia and China see an opportunity – to make a few bucks through arms sales, to build a relation with a client state, to expand their sphere of influence, or to just antagonize us for the sake of antagonizing us.

The United Nations did not suddenly become an ineffective debating society with little or no influence on the real crises in the world. It has been that for years, and some of us noticed this long before the current crew did.

(This doesn’t stop some of the Democrats’ alleged foreign-policy geniuses from reflexively uttering their rote talking points. Friday night, on Chris Hayes’s show, Bill Richardson said, “I would try to get some kind of ban on arm shipments, send Assad to the International Court of Justice, that the Security Council can do, a condemnation statement. I would continue this U.N. effort.” Keep banging your head against the wall! Sooner or later those bricks will break!)

The whole “reset button” ceremony with Hillary Clinton and Russia’s Sergey Lavrov was a formal commemoration of the incoming administration’s naïveté. The “famously stormy” relationship between Condi Rice and Lavrov was not a matter of Rice not being diplomatic enough or nice enough or trying hard enough. It reflected that Vladimir Putin and most of Russia’s highest levels of government defined their interests as opposing our interests.

But no one could have foreseen that, right? Russian implacability on Syria was completely a shock to all the experts, right? Could anybody have seen this coming? Oh, wait:

“[Russia] is without question our number one geopolitical foe, they fight for every cause for the world’s worst actors.” – Mitt Romney, March 26, 2012.

But hey, that guy thought negotiating with the Taliban was foolish, too.

This crew, so certain of their charm, persuasiveness, and diplomatic mettle somehow failed to persuade the British government or people that the effort against Assad is worth joining.

When it hits the fan elsewhere in the world, the EU is not going to come running with peacekeepers. There is nobody else but us.

Tags: Barack Obama , Hillary Clinton , John Kerry , Susan Rice , Syria

Lonegan, Booker Both Oppose U.S. Action in Syria


Steve Lonegan, the Republican nominee in New Jersey’s special election for the United States Senate, spent yesterday and today emphasizing his opposition to intervention in Syria.

“While there has been much tragedy, the war in Syria is not simply between the Syrian government and the Syrian rebels,” Lonegan said in a statement. “We must work with our allies to provide humanitarian aid to those affected by the war, but punitive actions in Syria will not deliver stability to the region.”

Yesterday, Lonegan held a press conference with Montvale, N.J., councilman Mike Ghassali and Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, urging President Obama to resist the temptation to take military action in Syria, and calling on Senator Bob Menendez, New Jersey’s Democratic senator, to reverse his position. Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for missile strikes and declared, “time is of the essence.”

Lonegan said: “The President should not intervene militarily without the consent of Congress. And given the facts we have today, I would vote against sending American men and women into Syria as a member of the United States Senate.” (Any U.S. military action in Syria is not likely to put American men and women in uniform directly into Syria; any attack is expected to rely on Tomahawk cruise missiles and other long-range weapons, fired from ships and submarines in the Mediterranean Sea.)

In a chat with the Huffington Post on August 28, Booker said, “My posture on Syria is that we should not be going to war. We should not be unleashing missiles.”

Cory Booker’s oft-mentioned friend, “T-Bone,” could not be reached for comment.

Tags: Cory Booker , Steve Lonegan , Syria

What if Congress Doesn’t Approve Syrian Airstrikes?


The last Morning Jolt of the week looks at Cory Booker, my comments on liberty and privacy at Heritage, what makes a “bad person,” and this key question:

What Is the Consequence of a War Without Congressional Authorization?

Call me schizophrenic. Call me an extremist. You can recall that I’m supportive of airstrikes to punish Syrian dictator Bashir Assad for using chemical weapons — as long as we’re sure that his side used the chemical weapons and he ordered the launch.

But if a president were to A) take military action against Syria, without seeking a resolution authorizing military action, or B) Congress rejected the resolution, but he went ahead anyway . . . 

Would that be grounds for impeachment?

Probably not. There’s some precedent for this sort of thing:

The War Powers Resolution passed by Congress in 1973 requires that the president seek consent from Congress before force is used, or within 60 days of the start of hostilities. It also says the president must provide Congress with reports throughout the conflict.

Since 1973, the United States has used military force in Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Iraq in 1991, Haiti in 1994 and Kosovo in 1999. In all those instances, presidents — both Democrats and Republicans — sidestepped Congress and committed U.S. military forces without obtaining congressional approval.

I think CNN is wrong above when it mentions the Persian Gulf War. Perhaps they meant Somalia?

Congress did, however, provide President George W. Bush with its approval for the war in Iraq in 2002 and the war in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Now, House Republicans lead the calls for President Barack Obama to convene a joint session of Congress to lay out his case to the lawmakers and the American people. Some in both parties demand a vote before any military strikes occur.

More than 90 members of Congress, most of them Republican, have signed a letter to the president urging him “to consult and receive authorization” before authorizing any such military action, according to the office of GOP Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia.

Meanwhile, 54 House Democrats mostly representing the party’s progressive wing sent Obama a letter Thursday that said “we strongly urge you to seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any U.S. military engagement to this complex crisis.”

It is not good to have laws on the books that are optional.

On the other hand, public opinion is pretty united:

Fifty percent of Americans say they oppose the United States taking military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad, and nearly eight-in-10 believe President Barack Obama should receive congressional approval before using any force, according to a new NBC News poll.

What’s more,

a whopping 79 percent of respondents — including nearly seven-in-10 Democrats and 90 percent of Republicans — say the president should be required to receive congressional approval before taking any action.

Obama may not realize it, but his presidency’s in a precarious position here:

The NBC also shows that President Obama’s overall job-approval rating has dropped one point since last month to 44 percent, which is tied for his lowest mark in the survey.

He gets even lower marks on foreign policy: Just 41 percent approve of his handling of the issue — an all-time low.

And only 35 percent approve of his handling of the situation in Syria.

Tags: Syria , Barack Obama

Is There a War Powers Act on the Books or Not?


Love the War Powers Act or hate it, it’s the law of the land. There are those who believe the War Powers Act is unconstitutional — such as all recent presidents — and the Obama administration has refused to say whether it believes the WPA is constitutional.

But the fact that a lot of people think a law is unconstitutional does not necessarily make it unconstitutional. (Right now, many people think Obamacare is unconstitutional, but five Supreme Court justices ruled otherwise.) If it is indeed unconstitutional, it would be good to get the Supreme Court to sort this out tout de suite. Because if it isn’t, it has been violated fairly regularly, and we may see it violated again soon.

The War Powers Act doesn’t allow a president to use force absent authorization from Congress unless there is a “national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces” — a threshold Syria simply does not meet. If Assad’s forces shoot at our ships offshore, Obama can rain hell down upon him, but absent that “national emergency,” he has to go to Congress — as President Bush did for Afghanistan and Iraq.

(From August to October 2003, President George W. Bush sent 200 Marines to Liberia without authorization from Congress, but that was in response to our ambassador’s requesting assistance to help noncombatants, including American citizens, get out of the country. Similarly, U.S. military forces helped evacuate nearly 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon during July and August 2006. Both Congress and the Supreme Court would probably easily agree that evacuating U.S. citizens from a combat zone qualifies as a national emergency.)

We have some members of Congress insisting that the law is the opposite of what it is. Representative Peter King (R., N.Y.) told BuzzFeed today, “We should not be talking about or insisting on congressional approval.” King added, “If he wants to get approval from Congress, he can, but he does not have to.”

The law sitting there on the books says he does. Either a law is in place or it isn’t. Either the president has the unilateral authority to use this military force absent an attack on the U.S., or he doesn’t.

Tags: Peter King , Syria , Barack Obama

If You’re Going to Go to War, Don’t Do It This Way.


The Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt tries to find the bright spots in race relations, 50 years after the March on Washington; examines the increasing political role-reversal as we approach war with Syria; notes some bad news for Pennsylvania Republicans; and then gives some thoughts on the big question:

What Should We Do in Syria? If We’re Going to Strike, Strike the Right Way.

Push is coming to shove on Syria.

The editors:

After Assad’s last chemical attack, President Obama said he would arm more moderate elements among the rebels, but didn’t follow through. We should have covert forces on the ground arming, training, and advising the rebels with whom we can work, so we aren’t leaving the field to Arab governments with their own interests in influencing the nature of the rebellion.

Ramesh disagrees:

This is not a military action that we are undertaking to defend ourselves from attack or to protect a core interest. The congressional power to declare war, if it is not to be a dead letter, has to apply here. And it seems to me exceedingly unlikely that Congress would vote to commit us in Syria, because the public manifestly opposes it. This is a war with no clear objective, thus no strategy to attain it, no legal basis, and no public support. I dissent.

Speaker of the House John Boehner:

[Mr. President,] I respectfully request that you, as our country’s commander-in-chief, personally make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests, preserve America’s credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our broader policy and strategy. In addition, it is essential you address on what basis any use of force would be legally justified and how the justification comports with the exclusive authority of Congressional authorization under Article I of the Constitution.

A congressional resolution authorizing force would force the wishy-washy to come off the fence.

What would I recommend to the president? The world — meaning everybody, in every country, in peaceful places and in tense, brink-of-war places — needs dire, lethal consequences for using chemical weapons. Without those consequences, the temptation for other regimes and leaders will be too great. And as bad as bullets and bombs are, we do not want our kids growing up in a world where Sarin, VX, and mustard gas become commonplace weapons of war.

So, if we are certain that Assad’s regime used the chemical weapons . . . 

“If [the rebels] have overrun an arms dump which had some of the agent, if a defector brought a limited amount with him, then it would explain why some of the signs and symptoms showed less toxicity than we expected,” said [Gwyn Winfield, the editorial director of CBRNe World, a magazine that covers biological and chemical weapons for the industry]. “That is a lot of ‘ifs,’ though.”

 . . . and if we are certain that Assad authorized or ordered the use of chemical weapons (see above and below) . . . 

U.S. intelligence officials were able to confirm that chemical weapons were used in Syria last week in part because they intercepted panicked phone calls in which a Syrian defense official demanded an explanation for the attack from an official in a chemical weapons unit, according to a new report.

 . . . then it is in the national security interest for the United States to ensure that Assad pays a heavy price for using those weapons.

Of course, a good president isn’t afraid to go to Congress, making the case for his preferred course of military action, and a good president isn’t afraid to go to the American public to make the same case. A really good president isn’t afraid to do something that he knows is right, even though it might make him less popular.

Going to Congress and making the case to the nation would hopefully resolve Ramesh’s concerns about the lack of a legal basis and public support. (And if Congress refuses to authorize military force, the president shouldn’t pursue it. The War Powers Act doesn’t allow a president to use force absent authorization from Congress unless there is a “national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces” — a threshold Syria simply does not meet.)

Presuming Congress signed on, I would urge the President and the Pentagon to look for something that mattered to Assad personally and bomb the crap out of it.

Someplace like, say, this:

Somewhere in there he’s got a Rolls-Royce or Ferrari he adores. The palace overlooks the city of Damascus — seeing the palace of the glorious, untouchable leader reduced to a pile of smoking rubble would indeed send a signal to everyone around the globe.

Tags: Barack Obama , Syria , Donald Rumsfeld

Meet Some More Helicopters That May Get Blown Up Soon


Here you see a Google Maps image of Aleppo International Airport, shut down from commercial flights since January, with several military helicopters:

The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project studied satellite images of Aleppo and concluded, “A number of military helicopters were observed on the tarmac at the Aleppo International Airport. Their numbers and positions changed frequently, suggesting regular use.”

Yesterday the New York Times reported that “an American official familiar with the military planning said that the initial target list has fewer than 50 sites, including air bases where Syria’s Russian-made attack helicopters are deployed.”

Tags: Syria

Notes on Our Upcoming Odd, Brief, Announced War


From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Notes on Our Upcoming War With Syria

1. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to the BBC:

The secretary also said that he thought it was “pretty clear that chemical weapons were used against people in Syria,” and he believes that “the intelligence will conclude that it wasn’t the rebels who used it, and there’ll probably be pretty good intelligence to show that the Syria [sic] government was responsible.”

Ahem. “Probably”?

Don’t get me wrong, I think Assad’s regime is the one who used the chemical weapons, too. But I’m just some schmo, not the Secretary of Defense.

Say, United Nations, you’ve got inspectors on the ground. What can you tell us?

The U.N.’s special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi says evidence suggests that some kind of chemical “substance” was used in an attack that killed hundreds of people, but said any military strike on Syria must have U.N. Security Council approval.

The United Nations: always so helpful!

2. Back in late July, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid out in unclassified fashion the U.S. military’s options for Syria in a letter to Congress. In that letter:

Conduct Limited Stand-off Strikes. This option uses lethal force to strike targets that enable the regime to conduct military operations, proliferate advanced weapons, and defend itself. Potential targets include high-value regime air defense, air, ground, missile, and naval forces as well as the supporting military facilities and command nodes. Stand-off air and missile systems could be used to strike hundreds of targets at a tempo of our choosing. Force requirements would include hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers. Depending on duration, the costs would be in the billions. Over time, the impact would be the significant degradation of regime capabilities and an increase in regime desertions. There is a risk that the regime could withstand limited strikes by dispersing its assets. Retaliatory attacks are also possible, and there is a probability for collateral damage impacting civilians and foreigners inside the country.

Presuming we launch attacks in the coming days (the media helpfully points out Thursday is the day we’re likely to begin) . . . whatever happened to needing “hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines” and so on?

The only person who’s noticed this, as far as I can tell, is NR’s Bing West:

He has asserted that hundreds of ships were needed to strike Syria. Whether he was acting on his own or as the White House messenger in relaying an extreme statement to justify inaction, he has lost face in the region and among the other members of the Joint Chiefs.

Did Dempsey think this would be a bad idea, and exaggerate the number of resources needed in order to discourage Congressional support for strikes in Syria?

3. Eliot Abrams, on NRO this morning:

Two things have been notable about the Syrian civil war. First, real American security interests are at stake in Syria and have been from the start. Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah, which together have an enormous amount of American blood on their hands, have sent troops to Syria to win a war there. Russia has provided a constant flow of arms to the regime. They all consider their control of Syria important, and they are right: If they lose the control they have through Bashar Assad, their position in the entire Middle East is badly weakened — and ours is strengthened. This is a proxy war, with them on one side, and American allies — Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — on the other. It is in the interest of the United States to win this fight, and we should want Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia to lose.

4. Stuart Varney, business correspondent for Fox News Channel and possessor of one of the most distinguished-sounding accents in the news business, thinks that gas prices will jump 20 cents per gallon as soon as military action begins.

5. John Ekdahl Jr., over at Ace of Spades, turns the wayback machine to 2007:

Presidential hopeful Delaware Sen. Joe Biden stated unequivocally that he will move to impeach President Bush if he bombs Iran without first gaining congressional approval.

“The president has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran, and if he does, as Foreign Relations Committee chairman, I will move to impeach,” said Biden, whose words were followed by a raucous applause from the local audience.

Biden said he is in the process of meeting with constitutional law experts to prepare a legal memorandum saying as much and intends to send it to the president.

I wonder how long it took before someone told him the impeachment process begins in the House of Representatives.

Note that if we bomb Syria in the near future — heck, bombs may be falling by the time you read this — this will be the second time President Obama initiated significant military action without a vote in Congress, the first time being Libya.

I suppose there’s a big question about how you define “significant military action,” President Obama sent troops to Uganda and South Sudan in October 2011, Chad in December 2012; the Turkish-Syrian border in January 2013, Niger in February 2013, Jordan in April 2013, Egypt in June 2013, and so on.

But not Benghazi on the night of September 11.

Tags: Syria , Barack Obama , Joe Biden , Martin Dempsey

Meet Some Syrian Helicopters That Are Likely Initial U.S. Targets


From the New York Times: “An American official familiar with the military planning said that the initial target list has fewer than 50 sites, including air bases where Syria’s Russian-made attack helicopters are deployed.”

This is what a row of helicopters looks like at Mezzeh Military Airport, just west of Damascus, as seen on Google Maps.

It’s about two and a half miles from Bashir Assad’s palace:

A big explosion at the air base would be seen from the palace, which sits on a mountain, overlooking the city.

So while the target list isn’t set, those helicopters sure appear to be extremely likely targets for any incoming cruise missiles.

Tags: Syria

Recalling the Worst Article on Syria in the Western Press . . .


As a writer and reporter, you have good days and bad days. Sometimes you write something that looks foolish in hindsight. But then I realize, at least I never wrote this for Vogue magazine:

The presidential family lives surrounded by neighbors in a modern apartment in Malki. On Friday, the Muslim day of rest, Asma al-Assad opens the door herself in jeans and old suede stiletto boots, hair in a ponytail, the word happiness spelled out across the back of her T-shirt. At the bottom of the stairs stands the off-duty president in jeans — tall, long-necked, blue-eyed. A precise man who takes photographs and talks lovingly about his first computer, he says he was attracted to studying eye surgery “because it’s very precise, it’s almost never an emergency, and there is very little blood.”

The old al-Assad family apartment was remade into a child-friendly triple-decker playroom loft surrounded by immense windows on three sides. With neither shades nor curtains, it’s a fishbowl. Asma al-Assad likes to say, “You’re safe because you are surrounded by people who will keep you safe.” Neighbors peer in, drop by, visit, comment on the furniture. The president doesn’t mind: “This curiosity is good: They come to see you, they learn more about you. You don’t isolate yourself.”

There’s a decorated Christmas tree. Seven-year-old Zein watches Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland on the president’s iMac; her brother Karim, six, builds a shark out of Legos; and nine-year-old Hafez tries out his new electric violin. All three go to a Montessori school.

Asma al-Assad empties a box of fondue mix into a saucepan for lunch. The household is run on wildly democratic principles. “We all vote on what we want, and where,” she says. The chandelier over the dining table is made of cut-up comic books. “They outvoted us three to two on that.”

Dictators: They’re just like us!

Vogue removed the article from its web site, but . . . it’s the Internet. Nothing ever goes away entirely.

I love how the guy who didn’t hold free elections runs his household on “wildly democratic principles.”

If only Vogue had gone with the headline: Assads’ Chemistry Is a Gas for Syrian People.

Several months later, Vogue editor Anna Wintour declared, “Subsequent to our interview, as the terrible events of the past year and a half unfolded in Syria, it became clear that its priorities and values were completely at odds with those of Vogue.” Wintour went on to hold several high-profile fundraisers for President Obama, and then was briefly considered to be a potential U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom or France.

Tags: Syria , Assad

Remember When Assad Was Described as a ‘Reformer’?


Rising Response reminds us of then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement that “many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months say they believe he is a reformer,” back in March 2011.

One point: What thoughts are going through Hillary Clinton’s head at the moment she seems to stifle a laugh while describing “indiscriminate strafing and bombing your own cities”?

Tags: Hillary Clinton , Syria

Hom-Assad-al Maniac


Epic Morning Jolt to start the week: More warnings Obamacare isn’t ready, why your ex who works at the National Security Agency might be checking up on you, and of course . . . 

Hom-Assad-al Maniac

Big day in the Middle East: “U.N. weapons experts are due on Monday to inspect a site where poison gas killed many hundreds of people in Damascus suburbs, amid calls from Western capitals for military action to punish the world’s worst apparent chemical weapons attack in 25 years.” We’re informed subsequent shelling and warfare may have eroded the evidence.

Bit of a hitch, just as this newsletter is about to be sent out: “Vehicle of UN Syria ChemicalWeapons team hit by sniper fire. Team replacing vehicle & then returning to area.”

Sounds like our government’s convinced: [A senior Obama administration] official, in a written statement, said that “based on the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, witness accounts and other facts gathered by open sources, the U.S. intelligence community, and international partners, there is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident.”

Airstrikes coming? “Royal Navy vessels are being readied to take part in a possible series of cruise missile strikes, alongside the United States, as military commanders finalise a list of potential targets. Government sources said talks between the Prime Minister and international leaders, including Barack Obama, would continue, but that any military action that was agreed could begin within the next week.”

I see everyone on the Right and their brothers giving Samantha Power grief about a spectacularly ill-timed Irish vacation:

Mystery solved. America’s ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power was in Ireland on a personal trip when she missed an emergency meeting on the alleged chemical gas attack in Syria, U.N. sources tell Fox News.

A day earlier, State Department officials were mum when asked for information on Power’s whereabouts. She had come under fire for missing Wednesday’s urgent U.N. Security Council meeting, where delegations weighed how to respond to charges that the Assad regime had just committed the deadliest chemical weapons attack in the country’s two-year civil war.

The meeting, and her absence, came just 19 days after Power assumed the U.N. leadership post.

Keep in mind, her boss is this guy, who was on his yacht the day Egypt’s military decided to hit CONTROL-ALT-DELETE on the Arab Spring:

“‘Here I come to save the day!’

That means that John Kerry’s on the way!

Yes sir, when there is a wrong to right, John Kerry will join the fight!

On the sea or on the land, he has the situation well in hand!”


Question: What’s really the bigger problem — that Power is texting in statements from her vacation, or that she actually thinks the United Nations is going to do anything serious in response to a Syrian chemical-weapons attack? Or, more specifically, anything that might actually influence the actions of Bashir Assad?

Oh, and if you’re one of those folks arguing the United States should steer clear of any role in the ever-widening, ever-worsening mess that was once known as Syria . . . well, too late:

As part of that, intelligence agents from Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Jordan and other allied states are working at a secret joint operations center in Jordan to train and arm handpicked Syrian rebels, according to current and former U.S. and Middle Eastern officials.

The CIA has put unspecified limits on its arming efforts. But the agency has been helping train rebels to better fight. Earlier this year it also began making salary payments to members of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, U.S. and Arab officials said. There are now more CIA personnel at the Jordan base than Saudi personnel, according to Arab diplomats.

Americans in our part-time economy may have trouble finding salaries, but at least Free Syrian Army leaders can collect salaries — courtesy your tax dollars. But I’ll bet it’s just a matter of time before these guys start complaining that Obamacare loused up their health-care benefits, too.

Tags: Samantha Power , United Nations , Syria , John Kerry , Barack Obama


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