Tags: Syria

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

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


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