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Tags: Syria

Obama Acknowledges Syrian Chemical Weapons Everyone’s Been Talking About for Months



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I suppose I should give the Obama administration a bit of credit; part of me wondered if they would try to avoid acknowledging the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons until the war was over. A January U.S. State Department cable discussed the possible use of the weapons; Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said it had “probably” been used in March.

As I wrote not too long ago . . . 

The vast majority of the American people, want nothing to do with the maelstrom that is what’s left of Syria. That may be even be the wise course considering how neither side appears to be aligned with our interests and both sides have proven capable of brutality.

But polling indicates that public opinion shifts if chemical weapons get used: Support for involving the U.S. military in general rises to 63 percent if Syria’s government uses chemical weapons on its own people. If the Syrian government lost control of their stockpile of chemical weapons — known to be among the world’s largest — 70 percent would support U.S. military action.

So a whole lot rides on whether or not the Western public sees evidence that the Assad regime uses chemical weapons.

A few weeks ago, in Syria, the French government declared sarin has been used:

“These results show the presence of sarin in the samples that are in our possession,” Fabius said. “In view of these elements, France now has the certainty that the sarin gas was used in Syria several times and in a localized manner.”

The announcement did not say when, where or by whom it may have been used in Syria, where rebels have been fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war.
The announcement coincided with the release of a draft report posted on the website of the U.N. Human Rights Council that concludes: “There are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons. The precise agents, delivery systems or perpetrators could not be identified.”

The administration responded to this with “Well, we’re not quite sure.” Maybe that “red line” is still intact and the president doesn’t have to do anything.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the United States was working with the French and other allies as well as the Syrian opposition to determine those answers.

“We need to expand the evidence we have,” he told reporters Tuesday. “We need to make it reviewable; we need to have it corroborated before we make any decisions based on the clear violation that use of chemical weapons would represent by the Syrian regime. So, we will continue in that effort.”

Asked how long that might take, he said, “I don’t have a timetable for you.”

Let’s not kid ourselves about what’s happening here. Assad’s regime is periodically using chemical weapons, but not on a large scale, and testing to see what the U.S. reaction is. Our government is looking for any thin reed of plausible deniability, any gray area, any way to avoid acknowledging that the “red line” is getting crossed more frequently than a crosswalk in Times Square.

By avoiding any action beyond garden-variety sanctions and nonlethal aid to the rebels — does anyone think a regime willing to use sarin will be deterred by sanctions? — we’re declaring to every leader, present and future, that you can use chemical weapons against your opponents as long as you don’t use them too broadly. The world hasn’t changed that much since Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds in Halabja in 1988.

The absurdly revealing comment from Obama national-security staffer Ben Rhoades today: “There is an urgency to the situation. There has been an urgency to the situation for two years.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Syria

Examining Obama’s Very Quiet Atrocities Prevention Board



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Susan Rice, who worried about how a Rwanda genocide declaration would impact the 1994 midterm elections while she was on the National Security Council, will be President Obama’s next National Security Adviser.

Rwanda comes up in the longest section of today’s Morning Jolt:

The Disintegration of Syria, and Obama’s Very Quiet Atrocities Prevention Board

President Obama, speaking at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., April 23, 2012:

Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing. In this sense, “never again” is a challenge to us all — to pause and to look within.

Is ‘never again’ really a challenge to us all to pause and to look within? Isn’t it a challenge to those with the authority to prevent, interrupt, impede or stop mass killings to do something about it?

He declared in that speech, “Last year, in the first-ever presidential directive on this challenge, I made it clear that ‘preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.’”

That presidential directive came on August 4, 2011; four months into the Syrian conflict, where the brutal tactics of the Assad regime were clear.

It was at that 2012 event that President Obama announced he was forming a “new Atrocities Prevention Board, to bring together senior officials from across our government to focus on this critical mission.” (Because there’s nothing like a board of senior officials to prevent an atrocity.) Obama emphasized, “This is not an afterthought. This is not a sideline in our foreign policy.”

Here’s a list of what the board has done in the past year. I’m pleased to learn that “the intelligence community is finalizing the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate on the Global Risks of Mass Atrocities and Prospects for International Response, which will provide a rigorous analytical framework for anticipating and preparing for mass atrocities over the coming years.” It will make fascinating reading for our foreign policy professionals.

Back in college in the mid-90s, I remember some colleague on the school paper expressing incredulity that so many Americans in the 1930s remained oblivious to the threat of Hitler’s Germany and the horrors it was perpetuating. In true progressive fashion, he remarked how much more aware and moral “we” were now. I asked if he had followed the news in the Balkans lately. This was, I’m pretty sure, before we learned about Rwanda.

Above: what happened in Rwanda.

We say “never again”… and then the “ethnic cleansing” of the Balkans occurs (estimated 40,000 civilians killed). And then we see what happens in Rwanda (500,000 dead). And then Darfur, Sudan (between 178,258 and 461,520 dead, mostly from disease).

And now Syria, 70,000 to 94,000 dead, depending upon who you ask.

We say, “never again,” but the evidence of history is “again and again and again and again, each time in slightly different ways, as long as they’re relatively far away.”

We’re all supposed to tip-toe around how things really are, aren’t we? We talk a good game about how much we would have opposed those horrible massacres of the past, but we’re not often that motivated the next time one comes around. The administration, and the vast majority of the American people, want nothing to do with the maelstrom that is what’s left of Syria. That may be even be the wise course considering how neither side appears to be aligned with our interests and both sides have proven capable of brutality.

But polling indicates that public opinion shifts if chemical weapons get used: Support for involving the U.S. military in general rises to 63 percent if Syria’s government uses chemical weapons on its own people. If the Syrian government lost control of their stockpile of chemical weapons — known to be among the world’s largest — 70 percent would support U.S. military action.

So a whole lot rides on whether or not the Western public sees evidence that the Assad regime uses chemical weapons.

Now, in Syria, France says sarin has been used:

“These results show the presence of sarin in the samples that are in our possession,” Fabius said. “In view of these elements, France now has the certainty that the sarin gas was used in Syria several times and in a localized manner.”

The announcement did not say when, where or by whom it may have been used in Syria, where rebels have been fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war.

The announcement coincided with the release of a draft report posted on the website of the U.N. Human Rights Council that concludes: “There are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons. The precise agents, delivery systems or perpetrators could not be identified.”

The administration says, “well, we’re not quite sure.” Maybe that “red line” is still intact and the president doesn’t have to do anything.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the United States was working with the French and other allies as well as the Syrian opposition to determine those answers.

“We need to expand the evidence we have,” he told reporters Tuesday. “We need to make it reviewable; we need to have it corroborated before we make any decisions based on the clear violation that use of chemical weapons would represent by the Syrian regime. So, we will continue in that effort.”

Asked how long that might take, he said, “I don’t have a timetable for you.”

Let’s not kid ourselves about what’s happening here. Assad’s regime is periodically using chemical weapons, but not on a large scale, and testing to see what the U.S. reaction is. Our government is looking for any thin reed of plausible deniability, any gray area, any way to avoid acknowledging that the “red line” is getting crossed more frequently than a crosswalk in Times Square.

By avoiding any action beyond garden variety sanctions and nonlethal aid to the rebels — does anyone think a regime willing to use sarin will be deterred by sanctions? — we’re declaring to every leader, present and future, that you can use chemical weapons against your opponents as long as you don’t use them too broadly. The world hasn’t changed that much since Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds in Halabja in 1988.

We’ll tell ourselves that this won’t come to bite us at some point in the future. We’ll tell ourselves that “blowback” only comes from action, not from inaction.

Bret Stephens:

What should be obvious today is that we are at the dawn of a much wider Shiite-Sunni war, the one that nearly materialized in Iraq in 2006 but didn’t because the U.S. was there, militarily and diplomatically, to stop it. But now the U.S. isn’t there. What’s left to figure out is whether this megawar isn’t, from a Western point of view, a very good thing.

The theory is simple and superficially compelling: If al Qaeda fighters want to murder Hezbollah fighters and Hezbollah fighters want to return the favor, who in their right mind would want to stand in the way? Of course it isn’t just Islamist radicals of one stripe or another who are dying in Syria, but also little children and aging grandparents and every other innocent and helpless bystander to the butchery.

But here comes the whispered suggestion: If one branch of Islam wants to be at war with another branch for a few years — or decades — so much the better for the non-Islamic world. Mass civilian casualties in Aleppo or Homs is their tragedy, not ours. It does not implicate us morally. And it probably benefits us strategically, not least by redirecting jihadist energies away from the West.

Wrong on every count.

He cites the Iran-Iraq war as the most recent comparable large-scale Sunni-Shia bloodbath:

. . . the 1980s were the years of the tanker wars in the Gulf, including Iraq’s attack on the USS Stark; the hostage-taking in Lebanon; and the birth of Hezbollah, with its suicide bombings of the U.S. Marine barracks and embassy in Beirut. Iraq invaded Kuwait less than two years after the war’s end. Iran emerged with its revolutionary fervors intact — along with a rekindled interest in developing nuclear weapons.

In short, a long intra-Islamic war left nobody safer, wealthier or wiser.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how that Atrocities Prevention Board was working out

Wanting to ascertain whether the board was actually doing anything to help prevent crimes against humanity, some 60 scholars of genocide studies and human-rights activists from across the globe sent a letter to Samantha Power, then-chair of the board, in December. Power never responded. They sent her a second letter in January, and again received no response.

When Power resigned in late February, they sent a letter to Steven Pomper, who assumed Power’s position as senior director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. He, too, never replied. On March 28, a letter was sent to another member of the board, Donald Steinberg, deputy administrator of USAID. Again, no response. In early April the scholars wrote to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice about this situation. To date, she has not responded…

. . . the board does not have a website, a Twitter account or even list email addresses for its main office or its members.

Tags: Susan Rice , Syria , Rwanda , Barack Obama

President Obama’s Rough Weekend



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So, other than Israel intervening in Syria — with no heads-up to the United States — and unnamed administration officials telling the New York Times that the “red line” policy was a giant accident, and the fact that the Benghazi hearings appear set to have the deputy chief of mission contradicting all kinds of administration statements about the attacks, and bad news for Democrats in South Carolina and Virginia . . . well, other than all that, President Obama had a good weekend.

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

The New White House Line: Maybe We Don’t Care About Chemical-Weapons Use After All

Ladies and gentlemen, some unidentified White House official, within our government:

“How can we attack another country unless it’s in self-defense and with no Security Council resolution?” another official said, referring to United Nations authorization. “If he drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”

I realize that we’re all tired of war, that we’re tired of being asked to intervene in Arab countries, with their tribal loyalties and factionalism and blood feuds and cycles of revenge and seemingly endless reserves of cruelty and capacity for bloodshed. But if we don’t see any purpose or value in attempting to prevent, deter, or punish the use of chemical weapons against civilians, we might as well close up shop. Every two-bit dictator and ruthless regime is watching the international response to Syria or lack thereof, and we’ve already sent the signal that you can probably escape serious consequence if your use of chemical weapons is hard to prove and on a small scale.

Elliott Abrams:

How soon they forget. According to the Times that line was uttered last August, not quite four months after Mr. Obama established his “Atrocities Prevention Board.” In a speech on April 23, 2012 he said this at the Holocaust Museum:

And finally, “never again” is a challenge to nations. It’s a bitter truth — too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.

We may feel like the use of chemical weapons isn’t enough to justify airstrikes, a no-fly-zone, a “safe zone” for refugees, or any other steps beyond a sternly worded United Nations resolution, but other countries see their own interests in what happens in Syria, and they’re acting.  Also this weekend:

Israel launched airstrikes into Syria for the second time in three days, said Syria and its allies, targeting what it believes are stores of advanced missiles that could be transferred to the militant group Hezbollah, amid new concerns that the Syrian civil war could widen into broader regional conflict.

Surely a lot of factors go into the decision to use military force, but it’s tough to ignore that that the Israeli Defense Force suddenly got a lot more active in Syria just a couple of days after Obama said that crossing the red line meant . . . well, that we would “rethink the range of options that are available to us.”

The Benghazi Hearings: This Week’s Must-See TV

Jake Tapper offers a preview of what we can expect from this week’s hearings on Benghazi, and everyone crying “oh, this is a partisan witch hunt” can go sit in the corner.

Greg Hicks, former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, told congressional investigators that the State Department internal review of the catastrophe at the mission in Benghazi “let people off the hook,” CNN has learned.

The Accountability Review Board “report itself doesn’t really ascribe blame to any individual at all. The public report anyway,” Hicks told investigators, according to transcript excerpts obtained by CNN. “It does let people off the hook.”

The board’s report on the Benghazi attack, in which Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in September, is being reviewed by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.

Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Sunday on CBS that Hicks will testify Wednesday in a congressional hearing on the deadly attack in Benghazi.

“In our system, people who make decisions have been confirmed by the Senate to make decisions,” Hicks told investigators. “The three people in the State Department who are on administrative leave pending disciplinary action are below Senate confirmation level. Now, the DS (Diplomatic Security) assistant secretary resigned, and he is at Senate confirmation level. Yet the paper trail is pretty clear that decisions were being made above his level.

Whom might Hicks be referring to? He specifically mentions Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy.

“Certainly the fact that Under Secretary Kennedy required a daily report of the personnel in country and who personally approved every official American who went to Tripoli or Benghazi, either on assignment or TDY (temporary duty), would suggest some responsibility about security levels within the country lies on his desk,” Hicks said.

In the interview, conducted on April 11, Hicks also makes clear that he immediately believed the September 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi had been conducted by terrorists, though the White House and other officials in the Obama administration initially suggested that the attack was the result of an out-of-control demonstration against an anti-Muslim YouTube video.

“I thought it was a terrorist attack from the get-go,” said Hicks, who was in Tripoli during the attack. “I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning.”

Looks like a rough week ahead, Mr. President.

Tags: President Obama , Syria , Benghazi

Who Knew ‘Game Changer’ Was a Synonym for ‘the Status Quo’?



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The midweek edition of the Morning Jolt features grim statistics on attitudes in the Muslim world, thoughts on Marvel’s superhero film franchises, and then these notes from the president’s press conference:

‘Hello,’ the President Lied

Three quick points on Obama’s press conference from Tuesday

First, Obama demonstrates that the term “Game Change” is now the most useless buzzword since “value-added”:

THE PRESIDENT:  If I can establish in a way that not only the United States but also the international community feel confident is the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, then that is a game-changer because what that portends is potentially even more devastating attacks on civilians, and it raises the strong possibility that those chemical weapons can fall into the wrong hands and get disseminated in ways that would threaten U.S. security or the security of our allies.

Q    By game-changer you mean U.S. military action?

THE PRESIDENT:  By game-changer I mean that we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us.


Watch your rear, Assad, or we might have to rethink the range of options.

In Syria and all of the world’s trouble spots, the American people are going to resist intervening internationally until they’re confronted with something more horrible than the loss of blood and treasure spent in the war in Iraq. Right now, Americans aren’t convinced that anything can happen overseas that is so bad, so consequential and horrific, they’ll wish they had sent their sons and daughters and neighbors to go fight and die for something. For now, they’re right; they will probably be wrong someday.

Secondly, examine Obama’s reaction to Jessica Yellin’s question:

YELLIN: Lindsey Graham, who is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, has said that Benghazi and Boston are both examples of the U.S. going backwards on national security.  Is he right?  And did our intelligence miss something?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, Mr. Graham is not right on this issue, although I’m sure generated some headlines.

I think that what we saw in Boston was state, local, federal officials, every agency rallying around a city that had been attacked — identifying the perpetrators just hours after the scene had been examined.  We now have one individual deceased, one in custody.  Charges have been brought.

I think that all our law enforcement officials performed in an exemplary fashion after the bombing had taken place.  And we should be very proud of their work, as obviously we’re proud of the people of Boston and all the first responders and the medical personnel that helped save lives.

Notice the sneer that Graham merely wants to “generate headlines” with his statement, as if it’s outlandish to argue that a terrorist murdering our ambassador or a terrorist bombing on the streets of Boston constitute “going backwards on national security.”

Then notice that Yellin asks about the intelligence before the bombing, and Obama responds by citing the work of law enforcement after the bombing.

Thirdly, Obama declared about his signature health care reform, “ A huge chunk of it has already been implemented.  And for the 85 to 90 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, they’re already experiencing most of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act even if they don’t know it.  Their insurance is more secure.”

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times responded, “Obama’s claim that folks who have insurance now have already gone through the ACA implementation is just not right. Lots of issues left.”

The tax penalty for not having insurance isn’t in effect yet. Businesses may still decide to drop coverage and pay the fines  (for some companies, it may actually be cheaper to pay the fines). We’re seeing companies try to shift as many employees as possible to less than 30 hours a week.  As Inc. put it:

The law’s new mandates–such as requiring insurers to cover preventive care at 100 percent–could drive rates higher. And small employers that buy insurance through the newly created Small Business Health Options Programs, or SHOP exchanges, may find higher costs once they are lumped in with a general-population risk pool.

And as for that claim that your health insurance is “stronger,” perhaps the president meant, “more expensive”: “Premiums could increase by an average of 30 percent for higher-income people in California who are now insured and do not qualify for federal insurance subsidies, the study said.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Syria , Boston Marathon Bombing , Obamacare

Fluff Stories Conveniently Distract from the Government Failures Around Us



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From today’s Morning Jolt

Forget the Rest of the World; President Personally Calls Some Athlete You Never Heard Of Before

Hey, remember North Korea? They’re detaining a U.S. citizen.

Unless the Syrian rebels figured out some way to fake the presence of Sarin in the bloodstream of some volunteers, the Syrian regime used chemical weapons and crossed the red line… and no one can come up with a way to demonstrate the consequences of crossing that line.

Oh, and the guys we may soon intervene to help, the Syrian rebels, may have just tried to shoot down a Russian airliner.

Remember Boston?

But U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) told ABC News yesterday that the FBI is also looking into “persons of interest” in the U.S. possibly linked to the Boston bombings.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said he’s spoken with the FBI about the probe into possible trainers the brothers had.

“Are they overseas in the Chechen region or are they in the United States?” he said. “In my conversations with the FBI, that’s the big question. They’ve casted a wide net both overseas and in the United States to find out where this person is. But I think the experts all agree that there is someone who did train these two individuals.”

Remember Boston, again?

State lawmakers have launched an investigation into whether the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings improperly received public benefits.

Sources who have seen the 500 pages of documents sent to the House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight told News Center 5’s Janet Wu that the Tsarnaev family — including the parents of the two bombing suspects, the two suspects themselves, their sisters, the widow of the suspect killed and their child — received “every conceivable public benefit available out there.”

Remember the economy?

We’re still stuck in the muck.

That’s the conclusion to draw from the new report on gross domestic product. The U.S. economy grew at a 2.5 percent annual rate in the first three months of the year, which was an improvement from the weak 0.4 percent of the final months of 2012… We’re muddling along at basically the same pace we’ve been at for nearly four straight years of this dismal recovery, with growth too slow to make up the lost economic ground from the 2008-2009 recession.”

National debt? $ 16,756,644,393,707.05,as of Friday. (That’s $16.7 trillion.)

Remember Obamacare?

In total, it appears that there will be 30 million to 40 million people damaged in some fashion by the Affordable Care Act—more than one in 10 Americans. When that reality becomes clearer, the law is going to start losing its friends in the media, who are inclined to support the president and his initiatives. We’ll hear about innocent victims who saw their premiums skyrocket, who were barred from seeing their usual doctor, who had their hours cut or lost their insurance entirely—all thanks to the faceless bureaucracy administering a federal law.

With all of this going on, guess what the top story was on Memeorandum, measuring what bloggers and news sites are writing about?

An NBA player coming out of the closet as gay. Wait, there’s more:

A groundbreaking pronouncement from NBA veteran Jason Collins — “I’m gay” — reverberated Monday through Washington, generating accolades from lawmakers on Twitter and a supportive phone call from President Barack Obama.

Hours after Collins disclosed his sexuality in an online article, Obama reached out by phone, expressing his support and telling Collins he was impressed by his courage, the White House said.

Collins, 34, becomes the first active player in one of four major U.S. professional sports leagues to come out as gay. He has played for six teams in 12 seasons, including this past season with the Washington Wizards, and is now a free agent.

This president can’t get squat done about North Korea or Syria, and so he doesn’t want us to focus on those far-off lands. His policies have done diddlysquat for most of the long-term unemployed. He’s not interested in throwing people off public assistance, even when they don’t deserve it, and he wants to insist that every terror attack is a one-time occurrence, instead of connected bits of an international ideological movement dedicated to killing Americans. Obamacare’s a mess, and he’s hoping you don’t notice. The debt continues to increase, even with the alleged horrors of sequestration.

“God, gays and guns.” That’s what he’s got left. And that’s what he hopes stays on your mind, for as many days between now and November 2014 as possible.

Tags: North Korea , Syria , Economy , Debt , Barack Obama , Boston Marathon Bombing , Obamacare

Kerry: Don’t Worry, Syrian Extremists Getting Only a Few Weapons



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Our secretary of state reassures us:

DOHA, Qatar — Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday the Obama administration is confident that the vast majority of weapons being supplied to Syrian rebels by U.S. allies are going to moderates and not finding their way to extremists.

“You can’t guarantee that one weapon or another may not fall in that kind of a situation into the hands that you don’t want it to,” he said. “But, in terms of fundamental balance of battlefield tactics and of effort, I think it is pretty clear that the prime minister shares a belief in trying to do what we need to do rapidly and to try to effect this through the SNC.”

In other news, the vast majority of guns purchased by the Department of Justice are not finding their way to Mexican drug cartels.

Tags: John Kerry , Syria

Foreign Aid Promises on Kerry’s Debut Trip: $310 Million and Counting



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Was sequestration really the best time for the Obama administration to send new Secretary of State John Kerry overseas to announce $250 million in assistance to Egypt and $60 million in assistance to the Syrian rebels?

Because I’m sure we’ll hear about American firehouses shutting down because of the sequester… and in 2004, one of the biggest applause lines in Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in Boston was, “We shouldn’t be opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America.”

Because each time the administration points to some allegedly horrific cut, taxpayers can legitimately wonder, “why was that less of a priority than a Muslim Brotherhood-run Egypt or the Syrian rebels?”

Tags: Egypt , John Kerry , Sequester , Syria

The Demonization of the Iraq War Ensures No Syria Intervention



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A busy Morning Jolt today, looking at Marco Rubio giving the response to the president’s State of the Union Address, some bad reviews for Chuck Hagel, some messaging issues on the president and skeet shooting, and then this point about the increase in cries to intervene in Syria:

No, World, We’re Never Going to Militarily Intervene in Syria.

This column, by Roger Cohen of the New York Times and International Herald Tribune, has garnered a bit of attention in recent days:

The United States does not want to get dragged into another intractable Middle Eastern conflict. Americans are tired of war. My colleagues Michael Gordon and Mark Landler have revealed how Obama blocked an attempt last summer by Hillary Clinton to train and supply weapons to selected Syrian rebel groups.

Nor does Obama want to find himself in the business of helping Islamist extremists inherit a Syrian vacuum. The opposition coalition is divided and lacks credibility. But the net result of these concerns cannot be feckless drift as Syria burns. Senator John McCain was right to say here that, “We should be ashamed of our collective failure to come to the aid of the Syrian people” and to answer a question about how to break the impasse with two words: “American leadership.”

An inflection point has been reached. Inaction spurs the progressive radicalization of Syria, the further disintegration of the state, the intensification of Assad’s mass killings, and the chances of the conflict spilling out of Syria in sectarian mayhem. It squanders an opportunity to weaken Iran. This is not in the West’s interest. The agreement that Assad has to go is broad; a tacit understanding that it is inevitable exists in Moscow. The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, spluttered in justified incredulity at the notion the opposition would sit down with a regime that has slaughtered its own.

It is time to alter the Syrian balance of power enough to give political compromise a chance and Assad no option but departure. That means an aggressive program to train and arm the Free Syrian Army. It also means McCain’s call to use U.S. cruise missiles to destroy Assad’s aircraft on the runway is daily more persuasive.

Everybody knows we’re not going to intervene in Syria, right?

Part of this is because we have Obama as president, part of this is because Americans consumed with our own domestic issues right now — a consistently floundering economy, immigration — but mostly it’s because of Iraq.

Dear world . . . do you remember how you greeted the invasion of Iraq?

The invasion of Iraq was treated as the greatest crime against humanity in the history of the world, denounced far more frequently and loudly than any act by Saddam Hussein, Bashir Assad, the Iranian regime, or North Korea.

Giant protests in lots of American cities. Giant protests in every foreign capital. The 2004 Guinness Book of Records described the anti-war movement around the globe as the largest mass protest movement in history — eclipsing any popular opposition to any act of the Soviet Union or any other totalitarian regime around the globe, ever. Among the elites in Paris, Berlin, and most corners of London, the Iraq War was the single-most important issue, and denouncing the evil of George W. Bush was the most important goal, not building a stable and peaceful Iraq. You recall Kofi Annan denouncing it, and the United Nations delegates scoffing when Hugo Chavez called our president the devil.

You recall the cries of “Bushitler,” the ubiquitous Code Pink interrupting every event in Washington, as if some ninny shouting during a press conference ever spurred sudden reversals in U.S. national security policy. You recall Hollywood’s relentless cavalcade of movies demonizing the war and those fighting it: “In the Valley of Elah,” “Stop Loss”, “Green Zone,” “Redacted,”  “Grace is Gone,” “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Hey, my Turkish friends so upset by a bloody civil war across the border and a flood of refugees, remember “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq”? Remember when that film suggested that Jewish U.S. army doctors in Iraq were harvesting organs from Iraqi civilians to be sold in Israeli, and that U.S. soldiers use Iraqi children as human shields? Yeah, remember that? Well, go solve your #*%&^ border problems yourself.

The Davos set is horrified to learn that after spending the better part of a decade screaming at the top of their lungs that an American intervention to topple a bloodthirsty Arab dictator is the absolute worst thing imaginable, suddenly Americans are no longer interested in toppling bloodthirsty Arab dictators.

(Slap, slap) Wake up, anti-war movement! You’ve got what you wanted! The United States is out of the armed intervention business, besides the occasional “leading from behind” in Libya, or the occasional covert mission in Pakistan.

And this is what you get:

The United Nations said earlier this month that more than 60,000 people had been killed during the 22-month-old revolt against President Bashar al-Assad. This figure was based on 59,648 individuals reported killed in Syria between March 15, 2011 and November 30, 2012.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Monday that the number of Syrian refugees and individuals awaiting registration is 714,118. This includes 5,417 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated in a report on January 17 that 4 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance across all 14 governorates in Syria. Of the total, 3 million lacked food and 2 million were internally displaced.

But wait, there’s more!

Outbreaks of hepatitis A and other diseases spread by poor hygiene are now becoming problems among Syrians displaced by the civil war, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. It is one of at least four United Nations agencies seeking to add a new sense of urgency to the humanitarian crisis afflicting the country.

Further aggravating the health of Syrians, the organization said, is a breakdown in the delivery of safe water throughout the country; the closing of at least one-third of Syria’s public hospitals; an exodus of doctors; and an acute shortage of ambulances, many of them damaged by fighting or impounded by the military or insurgent forces for use in combat.

But don’t worry, world. We may not be using our military force to influence the events in Syria, but we are taking action:

President Barack Obama released a video statement to the Syrian people attesting to the U.S. commitment to their humanitarian needs amid fresh reports of civilian killings by the Assad regime.

The three-minute video with Arabic subtitles was circulated today by the White House in connection with a U.S. announcement of $155 million in new humanitarian assistance to Syria. The move comes days after Obama indicated in an interview no move toward U.S. military intervention.

“The relief we send doesn’t say ‘made in America’ but make no mistake, our aid reflects the commitment of the American people,” Obama says in the statement.

I’m sure everyone in the civil war zone will appreciate that video statement.

Hate our quasi-isolationist policy, world elites, but don’t be surprised by it. We’re just giving you what you demanded. Maybe in a generation, we’ll be interested in intervening abroad again.

Tags: Barack Obama , George W. Bush , Iraq , Syria

Selling Grown-Up Policies to an Adolescent-Minded Electorate



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This morning, I’ll spotlight two sections from today’s Morning Jolt. First, thoughts on what to do when it seems like the electorate just won’t listen to us, and isn’t interested in the solutions we know work best:

The Difficulty of Selling Grown-Up Policies to an Adolescent-Minded Electorate

There’s a lot of wisdom in what Drew M. writes over at Ace of Spades:

How many people who voted for Mitt Romney or actual conservatives for Senate and the House want their Social Security and Medicare left untouched? How many of them give lip service to a flat tax proposal but would freak if their various tax credits and deductions were eliminated? How many of them talk a good game about getting rid of the Department of Education but would freak if aid to their kid’s district were cut?

Of course Republicans are going to respond to these people. But these people who support all sorts of government spending while talking about “the damn government” and taxes are the problem.

It’s simply too much to expect a political party to stand up to voters and say, “no”. Politics is a market and voters have become consumers. If the GOP as a whole or an individual candidate won’t give the customer what they want, they will find someone else to do business with. Consumers don’t care about the health of the places they shop, they care that they get what they want. If Brand A doesn’t have it but Brand B does, who cares so long as their needs are met.

What America needs is a movement that will not just tell people “no” but also convince them to stop being a consumer of government and look at themselves as they were meant to . . . an owner of the government. Once you own something your value set shifts. Owners care about efficiency, quality and the long term survival of the organization. Owners invest not simply take out. No political party is set up to do this. It’s irrational for someone selling a product to ask their customers to take on the responsibilities of ownership. Selling is about making things easier, ownership is about hard work.

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days. A slim majority of the voting public doesn’t want what we’re selling, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the solutions we’re offering are wrong. That slim majority of the voting public may think they’re wrong, but a large portion of their assessment is driven by a dedication to ignoring the problems that we want addressed.

We’re attempting to sell them policies of limited or reduced spending, but many Americans don’t really see why spending has to be cut, or why the particular spending that they like has to be cut. This doesn’t make our concerns any less valid; it just means that a large swath of the voting public would like to pretend that adding roughly a trillion to the debt each year is not that big a deal.

We’re attempting to sell them various efforts at entitlement reform, but Americans again would prefer to believe the problem isn’t that bad and can be taken care of later. We’re right, and they’re wrong, but it’s particularly difficult to persuade someone to undertake a painful remedy when they’re not convinced that the problem exists.

I think you can argue that what constitutes “socially conservative policies” has gotten fuzzy beyond opposition to abortion and gay marriage. But broadly speaking, conservatives have wanted to see strong families, children in stable families, husbands and wives trying to work it out through tough times, making sure every child has a mom and a dad who loves them and hopefully a strong network of support from the rest of the family and the community beyond. We’re attempting to sell the public a lifestyle of responsibility and putting others’ needs first — particularly children’s needs first — and it cuts against a culture of instant gratification and irresponsibility and perpetual adolescence.

We’re (in part) attempting to sell them a foreign policy/national security stance that is variously strong/hawkish/interventionist, when they’re exhausted from Iraq and Afghanistan and feeling pretty isolationist. Now, I’m sure within our own ranks we have a lot of folks who are seeing the appeal of isolationism right now.

So let’s take Syria for example. I know the place is a pit of vipers, and that we’re not even sure if there are many folks in the Syrian resistance who count as good guys. But when the U.S. doesn’t intervene, or we use the Obama administration’s approach of sorta-kinda intervention, giving the resistance some sorts of aid but not others, well . . . we see what we get: 60,000 deaths so far, perhaps 100,000 deaths in the year to come, millions of refugees, violence spilling into neighboring countries, and the risk of the country collapsing into anarchic bands of warlords and bands struggling to control the rubble.

I can hear the argument, “we can’t save everybody, it’s the Syrians’ issue to work out, it’s not our problem.” But how many deaths does it take before it becomes our problem? Does anybody feel confident that at no point this won’t become a major problem to our interests? How about if Assad starts tossing around chemical weapons? I’m not saying we have to invade tomorrow, but the administration’s policy is by and large, leave the place alone and hope for the best.

The opposition’s policies lead to crushing debt, sluggish and anemic economic growth, miserable lives of dependency upon government, and a chaotic world beyond our borders. They can coast along on luck for a while – help for the economy from a fracking boom they haven’t managed to regulate to death yet, our enemies preferring low-level antagonism to direct confrontation – but sooner or later reality gets a vote, and it gets the biggest vote. The problem is that a lot of damage can be done while we wait for the electorate to start absorbing the lessons from the School of Hard Knocks.

Tags: Barack Obama , Debt , Syria

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