Friday, August 30, 2013

Transcript: Obama's Speech Against The Iraq War

The following is a transcript of the remarks then-Sen. Barack Obama delivered in Chicago on Oct. 2, 2002. In his speech, Obama said that what he was opposed to was "a dumb war ... a rash war." He said the war was a "cynical attempt" to shove "ideological agendas down our throats" and would distract from domestic problems such as poverty and health care.
Good afternoon. Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances. The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the crucible of the sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union, and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don't oppose all wars.
My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton's army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain. I don't oppose all wars.
After Sept. 11, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this administration's pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance, and I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such tragedy from happening again. I don't oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism.
What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.
What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income — to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression. That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics. Now let me be clear — I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity. He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.
But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.
So for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for our children, let us send a clear message to the president today. You want a fight, President Bush? Let's finish the fight with bin Laden and al-Qaida, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings. You want a fight, President Bush?
Let's fight to make sure that the U.N. inspectors can do their work, and that we vigorously enforce a non-proliferation treaty, and that former enemies and current allies like Russia safeguard and ultimately eliminate their stores of nuclear material, and that nations like Pakistan and India never use the terrible weapons already in their possession, and that the arms merchants in our own country stop feeding the countless wars that rage across the globe. You want a fight, President Bush?
Let's fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells. You want a fight, President Bush? Let's fight to wean ourselves off Middle East oil, through an energy policy that doesn't simply serve the interests of Exxon and Mobil.
Those are the battles that we need to fight. Those are the battles that we willingly join. The battles against ignorance and intolerance. Corruption and greed. Poverty and despair. The consequences of war are dire, the sacrifices immeasurable. We may have occasion in our lifetime to once again rise up in defense of our freedom, and pay the wages of war. But we ought not — we will not — travel down that hellish path blindly. Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

FLASHBACK: Obama, Biden downplayed threat from Syria in ’05.

Although U.S. warships are preparing to attack Syrian installations in 2013, key members of the Obama administration warned not to “cry wolf” at Syria’s nuclear weapons development in 2005 — including the secretary of state, vice president and the president himself.
Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden repeatedly criticized ambassador’s John R. Bolton’s assessment that the dictatorship was seeking weapons of mass destruction only eight years ago.
“The narrative that ran throughout the hearing was that I was manipulating intelligence to fit my own analysis and that I was being too mean to poor old Bashar al-Assad,” the former ambassador told The Daily Caller.  “I specialized in that.”

In April 2005, during Bolton’s confirmation then-Senator Barack Obama, leaning on one hand while reading from newspaper article, challenged Bolton for what he said was an overstatement of the threat Syria’s W.M.D. program faced.
“The CIA had to reign you in,” Obama said.

Let me just go to this particular point: Moving forward, with respect to assessments in threats in Syria, or North Korean or Iran, we can’t afford to cry wolf. When we say that there is a threat, people have to believe us. Am I wrong to think that this kind of potential overstating after what happened in Iraq, after Colin Powell’s presentation before the United Nations, etc. might hamper our ability to protect our national security?”
“If we gild the lily and overstate our case,” said Obama, it will harm our troops abroad and our national security.

Bolton did not recall what Obama said, but did recall Biden “giving me a hard time” about “‘cooking intelligence’ suit my own purposes, which was absurd.”
The two senators, along with then-Senator John Kerry, seized on June 2003 testimony before the House International Relations Committee in which Bolton said officials were “looking at Syria’s nuclear program with growing concern and continue to monitor it for any signs of nuclear weapons intent.”
This statement contradicted an April CIA report to Congress that downplayed the threat and stressed that Syria and Russian had reached an agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation. ”In principal, broader access to Russian expertise provides opportunities for Syria to expand its indigenous capabilities, should it decide to pursue nuclear weapons,” the report read.
Events would later prove Bolton correct. Less than two years later, the Israeli Air Force destroyed a nuclear reactor in northern Syria.
Obama insisted that “diplomacy” convinced Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to give up its WMD program, not America’s intervention in Iraq as Bolton contended.
In a later interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Gaddafi’s son, Saif, said that the U.S. offered security guarantees for Libya if it promised to dismantle its nuclear program and planned future military security agreements. Saif also expressed regret that they had given up their nuclear program after the NATO invasion.
Both Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Biden said yesterday that it was “undeniable” and “no doubt,” respectively, that the Assad regime had killed civilians with chemical weapons.

Read more:

Obama admits little economic progress for blacks, urges more political action.

Obama Wednesday acknowledged the failure of the federal government’s economic policies over the last 50 years to help Africans-Americans catch up with whites economically, but he still urged Americans to rally for a political fix to the economy.
Since 1963, the economic gap “has not lessened, it has grown,” Obama declared in a speech marking the 50th anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King’s famous “content of their character” speech.
Americans’ wages have stagnated “even as corporate profits soar, even as the pay of a fortunate few explodes. Inequality has steadily risen over the decades. Upward mobility has become harder,” Obama said, while standing on the steps of the Lincoln Monument before tens of thousands.

Instead of lauding entrepreneurship, personal ambition, families and technological advances, Obama declared “the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together.”
“Change has always been built on our willingness, We The People, to take on the mantle of citizenship,” he said later.
“That’s the lesson of our past,” said Obama.
Since Obama’s inauguration in 2009, he has worked to expand government’s role in the nation’s education, banking, real estate, manufacturing, health-care and energy sectors.
At the same time, the richest one percent of Americans doubled their income from 2009 to 2011, while all other Americans saw a slight drop in their income.

Households’ after-inflation income dropped by 4.4 percent, or $1,002, after the recession ended in June 2010, according to a recent report by Sentier Research.
The lousy economic numbers were highlighted by an August report from the Pew center.
Since 1963, the gap between whites’ and blacks’ median household income has grown by 50 percent to $27,414 and the median household wealth gap has expanded by 10 percent to $84,960, partly because fewer blacks than whites are getting married, said the Aug. 22 report, titled “King’s Dream Remains an Elusive Goal; Many Americans See Racial Disparities.”
Obama, however, denounced conservatives who believe government played a role in slowing African-Americans’ progress.
March On Washington Obama
The “politics of division” push “a great untruth — that government was somehow to blame for their growing economic insecurity,” he complained.
Also, “technology and global competition have subtracted those jobs that once provided a foothold into the middle class — reduced the bargaining power of American workers,” he said.

Read more:

Allies hold up Syria intervention, Obama takes case to Congress.

The Obama administration was running into roadblocks as it tried to corral an international coalition in support of intervention in Syria, with U.S. allies appearing to hit pause on calls for a missile strike. 

Britain and France, which helped lead the 2011 mission to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, on Thursday were still in a wait-and-see mode on Syria, as the countries await the results of a United Nations investigation. 

And unlike with Libya, the U.N. Security Council has so far not approved any action on Syria. The five permanent members reportedly will meet Thursday afternoon to discuss the situation. 

Some of the fiercest deliberations were unfolding in London, where British Prime Minister David Cameron faced down a skeptical Parliament as he tried to make the case for intervention. He has already backed off his goal of holding a single vote on Thursday, allowing for a second vote possibly next week. 

Cameron argued that an attack on Syria in response to chemical weapons use would be legal. Met with skepticism in Parliament, though, Cameron said the motion he's put forward would require Britain to wait until U.N. weapons inspectors report their findings, until "further action" is taken at the U.N., and until another vote is held in Parliament. 

The delay in London could prevent Obama from taking any action, as his administration has said it will not act unilaterally on Syria. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says inspectors are leaving the country on Saturday, meaning any report from them is not likely until next week at the earliest. 

But Obama is facing his own set of problems in Washington, where lawmakers currently on summer recess are beginning to voice serious consternation about the possibility of a missile strike. 

"It is essential that you provide a clear, unambiguous explanation of how military action -- which is a means, not a policy -- will secure U.S. objectives and how it fits into your overall policy," House Speaker John Boehner wrote in a letter to the president on Wednesday. 

Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel were briefing top lawmakers on Thursday, as the military continues to prepare for a possible strike. A fifth Navy Destroyer was sent into the eastern Mediterranean on Thursday. 

One senior Hill aide said there was a concern that launching missiles at Syria could simply be a case of "fire and forget." Further, lawmakers are worried about the potential consequences of a bombing mission. And they want to know the endgame. 

"We don't employ the U.S. military just to make a point," groused one congressional source who asked not to be identified. 

In an interview with PBS on Wednesday, Obama bluntly declared that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack last week. 

He suggested a "shot across the bow" for Syria could be in the interest of U.S. national security. 
But while the administration is expected to release intelligence findings regarding last week's attack as early as Thursday, the Associated Press reported that officials say that intelligence is "not a slam dunk." 
If there is even a shred of doubt that Assad and his top lieutenants ordered the strike last week, Obama is likely to face even more questions from Congress during briefings on Thursday. Many lawmakers are already demanding that he seek a formal vote before moving ahead with any strikes. 

Meanwhile, battle lines are being drawing in the international community. After Russia refused to sign on to a Britain-drafted resolution before the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, Reuters reports that Russia is sending two warships to the Mediterranean Sea, where the U.S. has also positioned ships. The Navy has also boosted its presence in the Persian Gulf, adding one more aircraft carrier.

Read more:


Senior officials from the Department of Energy have signaled the Obama administration is ready to restart a controversial automotive loan program designed to kick-start the development of alternative vehicles.
The program was effectively put on hold two years ago after several problems, and the halt in funding was blamed for the failure of several potentially promising recipients — while critics faulted poor oversight for the loss of money loaned to several other start-ups.
A total of $15 billion, or 60 percent of the original $25 billion set aside for the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program is still set aside and there is no official end date the administration has to meet.
But proponents point to the need to rush new technologies to market to meet upcoming increases in fuel economy standards — and they point to California start-up Tesla Motors as a successful example of what the ATVM program was meant to achieve.
“We are actively looking at what might be an effective new” request for funding, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told The Detroit News. He recently took over the department from Steven Chu who put the program on hold during the second half of the Obama administration’s first term.
The ATVM project came under intense criticism from Republicans, which notably included 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who referred to the companies that had been funded as “losers.”
There have been problems, including Vehicle Production Group which defaulted on a $50 million loan in June, and Fisker Automotive, a California-based plug-in hybrid maker that is not expected to pay back most of the $193 million it received from the loan program.
The DOE originally approved $529 million for Fisker before pulling the remaining loan when the automaker missed critical targets. And that triggered a decision to put other loans on hold, including one for another California venture, Next Auto, which wound up closing down when it couldn’t get funding.
Several other projects also faltered without access to the low-interest government loans. And major automakers, including Chrysler andGeneral Motors, eventually withdrew their own applications.
Proponents of the ATVM program say there have been a number of successes, as well, and point out that even the best venture capital firms routinely succeed with only a handful of the projects they back.
Among the highlights of the advanced vehicle program, Tesla Motors recently used proceeds from a new stock offering to pay off its $465 million start-up loan nine years ahead of schedule. Tesla is now valued by investors at roughly $20 billion, or more than Fiat/Chrysler and PSA Peugeot Citroen combined.
Other successful loans have included $5.9 billion to Ford, which has launched an array of battery-based vehicles. Nissan, which markets the Leaf battery car, also received $1.4 billion in loans.
The DOE initially received around 100 applications. But all remaining bids for funding have either been rejected or withdrawn. It remains to be seen how long it will take to fire the program back up — and who will be the next to apply.

Obama, the “Constitutional scholar” vs. Obama the CINC

As our Nobel Peace Prize winning president heads toward his third war, it’s useful to review his words of the past and compare them to his actions of today.
[Candidate Obama] responded in writing to a series of questions regarding executive power from Charlie Savage, then of The Boston Globe:
Q. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)
OBAMA:  The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent.;
In those days, Mr. Obama enjoyed passing himself off as a “Constitutional scholar”.  His statement above isn’t equivocal or nuanced.  It’s a statement that clearly claims that what he is about to do as Obama the CINC is not authorized by the Constitution. Yet to watch the White House spin this, not only is he authorized, but he’s entitled to do it whenever he feels it necessary.
Vice President Joe Biden, who voted for the Iraq War, agreed with Obama.
“The president has no constitutional authority to take this country to war… unless we’re attacked or unless there is proof that we are about to be attacked,” Biden said in 2007.
Biden, then a Democratic senator from Delaware, suggested presidential war-making was an impeachable offense.
Oh my, the “i” word.  I thought only GOPers slung that word around.  Another myth busted.
The point, of course, is that what Candidate Obama said was supposed to indicate how he would do things when he took office.  It was the whole purpose of the question.  To sound the man out about how he would approach a similar situation and what would guide his decision.  It was to let the voting public know where he stood on such matters.
We were all supposed to be convinced by his answer that he’d be guided by the Constitution and would rein in the use of “executive power”.  Subsequent history with Obama and his actions indicates we should believe very little of what the man says.  He has, time and time again, chosen to expand executive power – something he railed against in his candidacy – instead of doing the hard work of persuading and working with Congress to accept his agenda.
This situation with Syria is just more of the same.  The hypocrisy is stunning but really nothing unusual in politics today.  But it does leave one wondering what the man really, honestly believes and what principles guide him when he makes decisions.  At this point, the interim conclusion must be “not much”.

The security state continues its advance

The Wall Street Journal points out something that ought to chill everyone to the bone:
The U.S. government has used the merger-approval process to increase its influence over the telecom industry, bringing more companies under its oversight and gaining a say over activities as fundamental as equipment purchases.
The leverage has come from a series of increasingly restrictive security agreements between telecom companies and national-security agencies that are designed to head off threats to strategically significant networks and maintain the government’s ability to monitor communications, according to a review of the public documents and lawyers who have negotiated the agreements.
I think it is safe to say we’re terrified of terrorism to the point that we seem willing to trade freedom and privacy for at least the veneer of security.  And we all know what Ben Franklin had to say about that trade.
The increased oversight reflects the national-security establishment’s growing concern about threats to U.S. networks and the globalization of an industry in which equipment is increasingly made in China and other foreign countries, people familiar with the accords said.
The deals routinely require the companies to give the government streamlined access to their networks. At their most restrictive, they grant officials the right to require firms to remove certain gear and approve equipment purchases and directors.
So government is knee deep in telecom to the point that it even decides what equipment they can use and what directors they can appoint.  While the government’s security concerns may have some validity, are the terms and restrictions too much?
Well, let’s consider a recent example of a related industry during the Snowden affair:
If there’s any confirmation that the U.S. government has commandeered the Internet for worldwide surveillance, it is what happened with Lavabit earlier this month.
Lavabit is — well, was — an e-mail service that offered more privacy than the typical large-Internet-corporation services that most of us use. It was a small company, owned and operated by Ladar Levison, and it was popular among the tech-savvy. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden among its half-million users.
Last month, Levison reportedly received an order – probably a National Security Letter — to allow the NSA to eavesdrop on everyone’s e-mail accounts on Lavabit. Rather than “become complicit in crimes against the American people,” he turned the service off. Note that we don’t know for sure that he received a NSL — that’s the order authorized by the Patriot Act that doesn’t require a judge’s signature and prohibits the recipient from talking about it — or what it covered, but Levison has said that he had complied with requests for individual e-mail access in the past, but this was very different.
So far, we just have an extreme moral act in the face of government pressure. It’s what happened next that is the most chilling. The government threatened him with arrest, arguing that shutting down this e-mail service was a violation of the order.
In essence, the NSA was telling Mr. Levison, via it’s threat to arrest him for not doing what it said, that it was the defacto “owner” of his enterprise.  That he, in fact, had only one duty – comply.  That he had no decision on how to proceed with what he apparently erroneously believed was his property until the NSA showed up.
Another example:
T-Mobile has been operating under a security agreement since 2001, when its parent company Deutsche Telekom AG, acquired VoiceStream Wireless Corp. for $50 billion. The agreement required that communications infrastructure be located in the U.S. and pass through a facility from which lawful electronic surveillance could be conducted.
It also prohibited the carrier from sharing communication data with foreign governments and allowed officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department to interview employees and inspect “communications infrastructure” upon “reasonable notice” in order to ensure compliance with the agreement.
Reasonable or unreasonable?  Who is the defacto owner here?
The carrier also agreed to provide the two agencies with an updated list of principal network equipment, including routers, switches, base stations and servers, as well as manufacturer and model numbers for hardware and software, a provision that wasn’t included in the 2001 agreement.
Such inspection rights have improved the government’s understanding of how the networks are put together, said Andrew Lipman, a partner at Bingham McCutchen LLP who has worked on about three dozen agreements over the last 20 years.
“The fact they have these rights to inspect gives them a window into equipment vendors that otherwise the government wouldn’t have,” he said. The government is using these agreements to “go to school” on network operations. “It’s like a shadow foreman at the factory,” he said.
That knowledge, he added, facilitates “the ability to—when appropriate—engage in record collection, data collection and wiretapping.”
And, of course, we all know that government would never abuse any of this access.  I mean, it’s silly to think, for instance, that NSA employees would use their access to spy on their love interests, isn’t it?
In the final analysis we have to decide where the line is to be drawn in terms of the limits of the security state.  Otherwise, as we’re discovering, it continues to creep into more and more areas and assume more and more powers.  Are we really willing to give government … any government … the sort of power it has apparently assumed on its own?  Are we willing to trust our privacy to an entity which has gone this deeply into controlling this one industry (and how deeply are they into others we don’t know about?)?
Security is important.  Freedom and privacy are more important. More and more it seems our government has put security above both freedom and privacy.  And that is contrary to the founding principles upon which this nation was founded.  The question is, who will call a halt to the creeping security state?

Great news:: Americans have advanced beyond needing President to address them, or something

in previous administrations, Presidents who ordered the military into action would go on television from the Oval Office in prime time to explain the reasons why it was necessary to put our service members in harm’s way, lay out the goals of the operation and the path to victory, and perhaps suggest a timeline for its arrival.  George W. Bush actually gave two addresses on the Iraq invasion from the Oval Office — one as it launched in March 2003, and another in December 2005 to update Americans.  In contrast, Barack Obama gave some brief remarks in the middle of the day from the East Room before starting an intervention in Libya in 2011, and now the White House has rejected an Oval Office speechbefore attacking Syria … as “passé”:
With military action against Syria set to begin within hours, according to reports, President Barack Obama and his administration are determining what legal route to take in order to justify the attack. According to NBC News White House reporter Chuck Todd, the administration is leery of seeking Congressional support for a mission in Syria because Congress many decline to bless such an operation. Now, according to reports from POLITICO’s Glenn Thrush, Obama may seek to avoid the American people as well.
Thrush reported on Wednesday that, based on his conversations with aides to the president, Obama will not address the American people about the mission in Syria before hostilities commence. Thrush reports that Obama’s advisors believe addressing Americans from the gravity of the Oval Office or the East Room is “passé.” Furthermore, most Americans who care about the mission in Syria will learn the logic behind it from cable news.
It’s too old-fashioned, the Obama administration says:
In one sense, they maybe right, but I’d question that logic.  They’re right only in reference to those voters who immerse themselves in politics.  The White House is looking at this from too far inside the Beltway, and overestimating the reach of cable news.  Ratings for the cable-news networks have steadily declined after last year’s election, which means much less reach. The failure to use the bully pulpit to get around the cable networks and their opinion shapers is even more inexplicable considering the success Obama had last year in engaging low-information voters by going around hard-news media and talking directly to voters through the entertainment media, who offered few if any tough questions to the celebrity incumbent.
Presidents have no better tool than an Oval Office address to get voters to rally around them, and it’s curious that Obama has eschewed it in this case. Does the White House think Americans won’t notice that Obama has started a fresh new war front if they pretend it didn’t happen?  Perhaps so, but that’s an even bigger miscalculation, and a huge missed opportunity.  I’d expect this decision to change quickly.

Quotes of the day: Syrian warmongering turning Obama into Bush's 'clone' cowboy foreign policy of George W. Bush, now is wrestling with some of the same moral and legal realities that led Bush to invade Iraq without clear U.N. consent in 2003.

Syrian warmongering turning Obama into Bush's 'clone'

 Obama said Wednesday he had not yet made a decision on taking action in Syria, but that taking a stand against that country’s use of chemical weapons on its own people can have a positive impact on the United States’ national security in the long run.
We have not yet made a decision but the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place,” Obama said in an interview with PBS’ Newshour.
“I think it’s important that if in fact we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime .….will have received a pretty strong signal that in fact it better not do it again,” Obama added.
The former constitutional law professor, who came to office determined to end what critics called the cowboy foreign policy of George W. Bush, now is wrestling with some of the same moral and legal realities that led Bush to invade Iraq without clear U.N. consent in 2003. …
One U.S. official who has been briefed on the options on Syria said he believed the White House would seek a level of intensity “just muscular enough not to get mocked” but not so devastating that it would prompt a response from Syrian allies Iran and Russia.
“They are looking at what is just enough to mean something, just enough to be more than symbolic,” he said.
Obama and his top aides have shared intelligence with key members of Congress. But White House aides made it clear Tuesday that Obama would not wait for Congress to return from its monthlong recess on Sept. 9, and House and Senate leaders signaled no plans to call members back for an emergency session.
Dear Mr. President:
I deeply respect your role as our country’s commander-in-chief, and I am mindful that Syria is one of the few places where the immediate national security interests of the United States so visibly converge with broader U.S. security interests and objectives. …
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.
-What standard did the Administration use to determine that this scope of chemical weapons use warrants potential military action?
-Does the Administration consider such a response to be precedent-setting, should further humanitarian atrocities occur?
-What result is the Administration seeking from its response?
-What is the intended effect of the potential military strikes? …
I urge you to fully address the questions raised above.
John Boehner
Key lawmakers will get a classified briefing from the Obama administration on Thursday regarding Syria’s alleged slaughter of civilians using chemical weapons last week, two U.S. officials said.
The briefing, to be held by conference call because Congress is still out on its August recess, is expected to include the chairmen and ranking members of key committees as well as the top leaders from each party in each chamber, the sources said. One of the officials specified that chairs of the House and Senate committees on armed services, foreign relations and intelligence would likely take part. …
“The President continues to review options with his national security team, and senior administration officials from the White House, State Department, Defense Department and Intelligence Community are continuing to reach out to bipartisan House and Senate Leadership, Leadership of the relevant Committees, and other Members of Congress,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
If the United States was genuinely interested in preventing an escalation of violent conflict in Syria, we would impatiently pursue all preventive mechanisms available to us – from international law to international diplomacy to international weapons inspection – before adding more violence (e.g. Tomahawk Missiles) to an already combustible situation.
By all accounts this week, we’re not interested in prevention because we’re not pursuing it. Before we invade, as it sounds like the White House is itching to do by Thursday at the earliest, we must do due diligence in de-escalating, not escalating, violence in Syria. This is how to do it:
First, we should invite the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as stakeholders like Turkey, Iran and Hezbollah, for continued talks with Russia as part of the stalled Geneva II peace process. In recent months, we’ve primarily engaged Russia on the Geneva peace talks, a country that has some leverage over Syria, but an insufficient amount if we want to see Syrian President Bashar Assad act differently. That’s not enough. We have other potential allies at the ready. …
There are moral reasons for disregarding the law, and I believe the Obama administration should intervene in Syria. But it should not pretend that there is a legal justification in existing law. Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to do just that on Monday, when he said of the use of chemical weapons, “This international norm cannot be violated without consequences.” His use of the word “norm,” instead of “law,” is telling.
Syria is a party to neither the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 nor the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, and even if it were, the treaties rely on the United Nations Security Council to enforce them — a major flaw. Syria is a party to the Geneva Protocol, a 1925 treaty that bans the use of toxic gases in wars. But this treaty was designed after World War I with international war in mind, not internal conflicts.
What about the claim that, treaties aside, chemical weapons are inherently prohibited? While some acts — genocide, slavery and piracy — are considered unlawful regardless of treaties, chemical weapons are not yet in this category. As many as 10 countries have stocks of chemical weapons today, with the largest held by Russia and by the United States. Both countries are slowly destroying their stockpiles, but missed what was supposed to be a final deadline last year for doing so.
A lot of commentators imagine that Operation Habitual Line-Stepper will look a lot like Operation Allied Force — the 78-day air war in which NATO supported the Kosovar Liberation Army in its efforts to stop the Serbian genocide — or the recent military operation against Libya. (That is, when they can keep straight our mid-1990s Balkan adventures.)
While a major air campaign remains a possibility, a more limited military action looks more plausible to me. In both Kosovo and Libya, there was an organized opposition capable of taking territory when supported by Western airpower. The situation in Syria is not nearly so promising. If the canonical test for using force is whether it contributes to a specific, desirable diplomatic settlement, Syria does not pass it. The opposition seems too fragmented to make use of the sort of air campaign of the sort we saw against Yugoslavia or Libya.
It seems far more likely that the Obama administration will settle for a one-off series of airstrikes, largely using cruise missiles, in order to reestablish deterrence against the further use of chemical weapons. (And, perhaps, make good on the president’s blustery talk.) There is a direct historical precedent to such an operation — Operation Desert Fox, which the Clinton administration launched against Iraq in 1998. Although Desert Fox was far from perfect, it offers a useful model of limited use of force over a period of days that might degrade Syria’s capability to use chemical weapons and discourage Assad’s commanders from repeating the carnage at Ghouta without committing the United States to long-term involvement in the country’s civil war.
In an operation some policy analysts have used as a template, the United States and NATO allies started a bombing campaign in 1999 in an effort to stop ethnic cleansing and drive Serbian forces from Kosovo. American diplomat Christopher R. Hill, who was dispatched as a special envoy to Kosovo, said there was an expectation that U.S. military intervention would be short and decisive. Some thought the bombing campaign would last a few days, Hill said, but it dragged on for 78.
“The problem is that people expect when U.S. military assets are deployed that we will do so until the regime goes away,” he said.
Hill said he understands and supports the White House’s desire to launch a strike, but with a major caveat.
“The problem with Syria is that it’s bombing in the absence of a political plan,” said Hill, who worries that the government of President Bashar al-Assad could respond with even more chemical attacks. “I think we’re opening a big door. Every time you drop bombs on something, you can’t entirely predict the results.”
Which makes us wonder why the Administration even bothers to pursue the likes of Edward Snowden when it is giving away its plan of attack to anyone in Damascus with an Internet connection. The answer, it seems, is that the attack in Syria isn’t really about damaging the Bashar Assad regime’s capacity to murder its own people, much less about ending the Assad regime for good.
“I want to make clear that the options that we are considering are not about regime change,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday. Translation: We’re not coming for you, Bashar, so don’t worry. And by the way, you might want to fly those attack choppers off base, at least until next week.
So what is the purpose of a U.S. attack? Mr. Carney elaborated that it’s “about responding to [a] clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.” He added that the U.S. had a national security interest that Assad’s use of chemical weapons “not go unanswered.” This is another way of saying that the attacks are primarily about making a political statement, and vindicating President Obama’s ill-considered promise of “consequences,” rather than materially degrading Assad’s ability to continue to wage war against his own people.