The Morning Jolt

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Striking Syria Was the Right Call

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor flies over Syria in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, March 25, 2018. (Staff Sergeant Colton Elliott/USANG)

Hope you’ve got those taxes done! Making the click-through worthwhile today: a Goldilocks response to chemical weapons — not too hot, not too cold — and the tired complaints of the Left on Middle East messes, James Comey meets George Stephanopoulos and conveniently forgets a few details, and why the former FBI director didn’t have one useful law-enforcement tool when investigating Hillary Clinton.

The Airstrikes in Syria: The Best Option in a Bad Situation

This morning, to the extent the joint American-British-French strikes in Syria are still in the news, they’re the focus of complaints about being insufficient or ill-considered. The Washington Post rushes to inform us of “the many things Trump didn’t accomplish in the latest Syria strike.” Thank goodness there are experts to tell us that launching 105 missiles did not “take ownership of the Syrian endgame.”

It’s abundantly clear that neither the American people, nor this president, nor many figures in his administration, nor most members of Congress, nor our NATO allies, nor our regional allies want to “take ownership of the Syrian endgame.” We would rather not deal with it at all, and for most of the Obama administration, that was more or less our policy, even when presidential “red lines” were crossed. A half-million deaths later . . .

Color me among the few who actually think this strike was about right. It seemed appropriate that America and its allies contemplated striking Syria during Holocaust Remembrance Day, since once again the Western powers confronted the question of how to deal with a hideously brutal regime that uses poison gas, attacks civilians, and builds giant crematoriums, led by a dictator with a poorly-groomed mustache. No, sending 105 missiles isn’t going to alter the course of the Syrian Civil War. It’s just going to demonstrate to Assad and his allies that every time they reach for the chemical weapons, we’ll blow some of their stuff up*. Stick to conventional weapons — war is awful enough without poison gas becoming a standard part of the arsenal.

(*The strike also demonstrated that those highly touted Russian air-defense systems aren’t all that effective against the United States or its key allies. Back in 2012, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told Congress that “a long-term, sustained air campaign would pose a challenge because Syria’s air defenses are five times more sophisticated than Libya’s” and that “suppressing the Syrian air defenses would take an extended period of time and a significant number of aircraft, an effort that would have to be led by the United States.” Perhaps for a sustained air campaign, but last Friday night four British Tornadoes, five French Rafales, four French Mirages, two U.S. E-3F AWACS Sentries, six U.S. C-135 tankers, and two U.S. B-1 bombers all took the skies, all 36 missiles launched from aircraft hit their targets, and all aircraft returned safely.)

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in The Guardian:

To let yet another use of chemical weapons happen without any form of response would have given a complete sense of impunity to the Assad regime and its sponsors in the Kremlin. Every dictatorship on the planet has been getting the message that there is no penalty for the acquisition and use of weapons prohibited since the First World War and that has chilling implications for future conflicts.

Elsewhere in the U.K., Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn retches a mealy-mouthed collection of tired clichés about diplomacy that apparently hasn’t been updated in years:

We have to remove the scourge of chemical weapons but also use our influence to end the still greater scourge of the Syrian war. A diplomatic solution that will allow for the country to be rebuilt, for refugees to be able to return home and for an inclusive political settlement that allows the Syrian people to decide their own future could not be more urgent.

Oh, hey, a diplomatic solution! Gee, why didn’t we think of that? Corbyn just ignores that the Arab League launched peace talks in 2011, the United Nations in 2012, additional talks in Geneva that year, and again in 2014, and in Vienna in 2015, and in Riyadh in 2015, and back to Geneva again in 2016, and a very short-lived ceasefire that year, and then back to Geneva yet again in 2017, and then talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, throughout last year. Wishing for a diplomatic solution is like wishing for a unicorn.

Corbyn writes, “There can be no question of turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons. Their deployment constitutes a crime, and those responsible must be held to account.” Well, nobody’s heading over to Syria to arrest Assad or to knock on bunker doors with search warrants. You want to hold somebody accountable, you send Tomahawks and Storm Shadow missiles.

On March 10, 2016, Derek Chollet, former assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs, said, “Imagine if Syria’s chemical weapons were still there today.”

Way, way back in the National Review archives in 2004, before the Kerry Spot days, some wire-service reporter wrote, “even Assad has to wonder whether he wants to be the last Middle Eastern dictator bragging about having chemical and biological weapons.”

When James Chatted with George

James Comey, to George Stephanopoulos last night, describing the FBI’s interview of Hillary Clinton: “There was nothing she said that they [the interviewers] believed we could prove was false.”

Really? They didn’t look very hard, did they?

Clinton told agents that she could not recall “any briefing or training by State related to the retention of federal records of handling of classified information.”

As Jeryl Bier laid out, on January 22, 2009, Clinton signed the standard State Department Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement declaring, “I hereby acknowledge that I have received a security indoctrination concerning the nature and protection of classified information.”

But leave it to Stephanopoulos to ask questions that leave you sympathizing with Comey:

George Stephanopoulos: So if no prosecutor would prosecute this case, why not put out a one-line statement, “We decline to prosecute”?

James Comey: Yeah. It’s a great question and a reasonable question. And the reason I thought that would be inappropriate is the faith and confidence of the American people in the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. are at the core of those organizations. If they’re not believed to be honest, independent, and competent, they’re done. If you issue a one liner from the Obama Justice Department about one of the two candidates for president of the United States, in this case the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, and say, “We’re done here,” in the absence of any kind of transparency, corrosive doubt creeps in that the system is rigged somehow.

Could you imagine a lengthy investigation from either Comey or Lynch saying, “we decline to prosecute,” without a word of criticism of Clinton? A lot of people would have justifiably screamed “whitewash!” and “coverup!”

This is why network news divisions should not choose famous political operatives to anchor their political news coverage. Particularly one that, say, donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation.

A Point on Comey and the Authority to Convene a Grand Jury

The great Andy McCarthy writes in with a point to clarify about the discussion in Friday’s Morning Jolt — that it would be just about impossible for FBI director James Comey to convene a grand jury without cooperation from Loretta Lynch and the Department of Justice.

If the FBI wants to compel production of evidence or testimony, they have to ask the prosecutor for a subpoena. I have no doubt that Comey understood the Obama DOJ did not want to authorize a grand jury investigation and that he went along with that decision. But it wasn’t his decision, it was DOJ’s . . .

The complicating overlay in the Clinton case was classified information in the emails. That means the Department of Justice’s National Security Division had to have been involved. Plus, we know from the reporting at the time of Cheryl Mills’ FBI interview that Main Justice was keeping close tabs — when the feds tried to ask Mills about the process used to sift through the emails and decide which were private, her lawyer objected and DOJ intervened, telling the FBI they couldn’t ask questions that might infringe attorney-client privilege. Since Main Justice was so heavily involved, and Comey was in frequent contact with Main Justice on the case (it was Lynch herself who told him not to call it an “investigation”), I don’t think Comey could have shopped the case to a willing U.S. attorney. This was DOJ all the way.

ADDENDA: National Review’s spring Webathon is here — and while you may not particularly enjoy being asked for money (we don’t particularly enjoy asking for it!), the latest missive from Jack will lay out where your donations will go in detail. Please give it a look.

I’m scheduled to appear on HLN, discussing James Comey’s new book, around 12:30 this afternoon. I’m also scheduled to appear on CNN International’s State of America, around 2:30 p.m. eastern tomorrow.

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