Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Reluctant War President



President Obama finds himself caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place over Syria.  He drew his line in the sand last Spring when he threatened military action that Assad used chemical weapons against civilians in a recent attack outside Damascus.  The 2-1/2 year civil war has long turned ugly, but the US has not been able to get Russia from arming the Assad regime, so it seems he is capable of carrying this war on indefinitely against the poorly armed rebels.  All though, if he has resorted to chemical weapons, as US intelligence agency insist, it sounds like the Assad regime is on the ropes and Obama sees this as a propitious moment to take him out.

He has become a reluctant war president, having had to take over two wars from his predecessor, and provide back-up for British and French forces in Libya, which he was roundly criticized by Republicans in Congress for doing so without Congressional approval.  So, it seems Obama will honor a Congressional decision this time around on Syria to avoid the impression that this was a unilateral decision.

Obama's argument seems to be that the UN is paralyzed to take action because of Russia's veto power in the UN Security Council, which Putin has vowed he would use.  NATO is out because Britain is out.  Parliament voted against going to war in Syria.  Could a "no" vote by Congress be a convenient "out" for Obama, who finds himself battling with Democratic and Republican hawks who insist the US will lose credibility if it does not strike Syria?

It seems that Senators McCain and Graham, the most outspoken Republican advocates of military intervention are looking beyond Syria to Russia and Iran, who have both aided Assad.  It's the old Cold War paradigm with Syria essentially a proxy, as the US has little strategic interest in this country.

From Obama's perspective, he doesn't want to risk losing ties with Turkey, which has long been frustrated with the spill-over of the Syrian civil war into its country, and would support the US in an attack on Syria.  Obama has also received the support of Israel and France and the tacit support of Gulf Arab countries like Saudi Arabia.  Strange bedfellows to say the least.  But, is this a good enough reason for going to war, as it seems that the limited missile strikes Obama is proposing would only serve as a punitive gesture, having little impact on Assad's hold of the country.

This is the basic conundrum of being President.  Whatever high-mindedness one might have when seeking the highest office in the land is soon put to the test by thorny international problems that Obama has found himself wrestling with for the better part of five years.   For those on the sidelines, like McCain and Graham, the decision is easy, but for Obama he risks jeopardizing the next three years of his administration over a highly questionable war.

43 comments:

  1. Thankfully, this time the British are NOT coming:


    http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/08/30/article-2406572-1B897303000005DC-118_634x727.jpg



    As everyone knows or should know, it was the al-Nusra terrorists who were arrested in Turkey on May 30 for possessing and attempting to distribute sarin:


    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/30/us-syria-crisis-turkey-idUSBRE94T0YO20130530


    The Syrian victims point the finger at these terrorists:


    http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/



    But, as usual, the controlled pro war media are pointing the finger at the wrong people. Once again the traitors in the WaSHITton Post (oops, sorry for the spelling error) declare they have concrete proof that it was Assad who used WMD in violation of international law. As in the lead up to Bush's war on Iraq, it made this declaration without presenting even the slightest bit of evidence to the public. So where is that "proof"???


    Even the right wing Breitbart and WND agree that it is the CIA backed jihadist terrorist al-Nusra that is behind these attacks. Obama needs to pull off Netanyahu's puppet strings and to end his war rhetoric. And people need to write to their Congressional reps and to demand that there be no more war.


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  2. I'm sympathetic with the situation Obama has backed himself into but when the U.S. says chemical weapons are a "red line," I can't help but think we are being manipulated by parties unknown to get involved, even though the press says Turkey welcomes it.

    Hadn't heard about the arrests in Turkey and have a friend who lives there part time. But he, too, is dead set against the US involvement.

    I also heard a Syrian NPR reporter say outright that she personally doesn't believe it either.

    I'm glad Obama decided to backtrack and go to Congress. Nothing happens there. But the debate we really need to be having is why one kind of war death is "legitimate" and another not "legitimate," and why the US response always has to be to bomb everything in sight. How can that possibly be humanitarian?

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  3. It seems to me that the proper path would be to pressure Russia to quit arming Assad. The US were doing this through the UN, but then last Spring Obama drew this "red line," and now finds himself on the defensive. We have to get away from these "red lines." Diplomacy is constantly in flux. It isn't something you can deal with in absolutes, and I would think that Obama, of all persons, would know this.

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  4. This would have been my hope as well, since I'm pretty confident Clinton would have had us in there long ago. And permanently.

    But Obama continues to disappoint. If he draws the US into the Middle East again, any good he could have done with his last four years will be lost. (Although I'm sure it will give a good kick to the economy which may, sadly, be the point of all this. We are a very sick country.)

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  5. I think it is mostly to send a message to Russia and Iran. Russia for supplying Syria and Iran for developing its nuclear program. Unfortunately, Obama is allowing himself to be steered by the Hawks in his administration, as I would hope he doesn't put much stock in what McCain and Graham have to say. This is very similar to Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin situation. Hopefully, he will choose the path of Kennedy.

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    1. Even the Tonight Show is joking about the message to Iran ... a lose/lose situation was the joke (I guess that's funny?).

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  6. Interesting comment -- like the atomic bomb, eh?

    My guess is that it is Powers et al., the real "humanitarians" in his cabinet, who are pushing him in this direction. But what can possibly be more unhumanitarian than dropping more bombs on people?

    I was thinking this afternoon that the logical humanitarian choice would be to declare Assad a war criminal and try to maneuver for trials -- if indeed Assad were responsible. A transparent tribunal could decide that.

    But then that opens an entirely new conundrum for Obama ... what to do with people like Bush and Cheney who should also be tried for their own war crimes. What a messy web the US has spun. And no matter what, we all seem to get caught up in it.

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  7. Sounds like you may be right. They were talking around it this p.m. but the gist was that this is the blow Iran can expect if it pursues nuclear weapons. And one commentator warned that this "limited action" could be a lot bigger than anyone in Congress or the press is anticipating. Scary.

    Doesn't sound like there's anything any of us can do to stop this insanity. Again.

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  8. I don't get it, especially when I hear Pelosi, a mother of six, defending the administration's position. This is pure insanity, and shows just how antiquated our world view is.

    Iran had a recent election with a relative "reformer" winning in a landslide. This is a great diplomatic opening, yet we respond by threatening to send a "message" in the form of missile strike. Total bullshit!

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  9. And don't forget we have our macho credibility to defend.... They keep going back to that (which is part of the Iran response I suppose). Even Pelosi was mocking her own 5 year old grandchild who said No War. "Don't know where he is hearing that."

    As another commentator said last night, bombing is the only response the US knows how to do. We have nothing else left in our arsenal.

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  10. The clear MAJORITY of Americans oppose war adventurism:


    http://www.washingtonpost.com/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2013/09/03/National-Politics/Polling/release_258.xml


    close the deal - stay home and keep the peace




    BUT WATCH FOR ANY POSSIBLE "TERRORIST" ATTACK ON THE USA. One that is staged in order to "justify" Obama's push for war.

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  11. I think Obama has enough on his plate to keep him busy without staging a terrorist attack.

    Still, this rush to bomb a nation to stop them from bombing the same nation seems totally irrational. This is one time I hope the Republicans (once again) rise to the occasion and vote against something Obama wants -- in this case, the 90 day "action" on the table.

    This will, of course, play out in pretty predictable fashion: He'll bomb the people of Syria anyway and the Republicans will _finally_ have their justification to impeach a black president. What a country!

    Gintaras, what do you think about Iceland? I think I'm going there next spring or fall to check it out.

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  12. Listening to Obama at a press conference with the Swedish PM in Stockholm, he made his most cogent defense of military action. Not that I agree, but at least now I better understand where he is coming from. Even after the conference, where Obama was very articulate, CNN reporters tried to spin and put words in his mouth.

    I got the impression that he still left the door open to Russia to renounce the Assad regime, which is what he is principally after. Putting the measure before Congress bought him time to discuss the matter with Russia (and also China) at the G20 conference in St. Petersburg.

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  13. Never been to Iceland, but heard it is very beautiful in a stark way.

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  14. Well now they are all saying it out loud -- we have to attack another country that hasn't attacked us to send a signal to another country. This is getting harder and harder to watch. I place my few hopes in the Republicans who won't do a thing to help the president and will probably love to have a chance to try to impeach him.

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  15. http://31.media.tumblr.com/a06492e1feb5e8b0f225d3ff8d8923fb/tumblr_mso7deRLS91qckp4qo1_500.png

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  16. YES!

    I did hear a promising bit of news this a.m. on the radio, however. IF Congress votes no, then an aide says the President won't bomb Syria anyway. That appears to be a major shift in the way Kerry and Obama had been talking, establishing the right to do it anyway.

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  17. It completely flies in the face of everything Obama ran for as President. I can well understand the frustration in dealing with a nettlesome situation like Syria, but you just don't bomb it, especially in the face of growing international opposition. The amazing thing to me is how many Dems have signed onto this measure. Pelosi had voted against the Iraq War, so I'm amazed to see her now supporting air strikes in Syria. Kerry, of course, voted for the Iraq War measure.

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  18. I'm assuming this is what that commentator meant about much bigger strikes being planned than anticipated. Never thought I'd be cheering for the Republicans, but if even Pelosi is on board, they are our only chance:

    http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-syria-strikes-20130908,0,6708714.story

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  19. I have a feeling Obama gets the votes, as the Republicans will have nothing to lose. It will still be his "war."

    As I said upstream, I listened to his press conference in Stockholm, and he was pretty dispassionate about the whole thing, seeing this as something that has to be done to reign in Assad and other tyrants like him. How effective it will be is anyone's guess. Obviously Assad is not going down without a fight, and with Putin's military support it seems he can keep this civil war going indefinitely until the opposition is simply worn down.

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  20. You are usually right about these things, but I sure hope you are wrong!

    Heard this on NPR, which is my preference. Wish this would get traction:

    http://www.npr.org/2013/09/08/220037023/nuremberg-prosecutor-makes-the-case-for-trying-assad

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    Replies
    1. Prof Ferencz said the same thing about Bush but that did not get very far in public or political circles.

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    2. I don't think the US has even signed on to an international court. We'd rather just bomb them all. And protect people like Bush.

      But he makes an excellent point in that interview -- why should one man (or a few men) decide someone is guilty without due process? We say we are a nation of laws but that's rarely the default position in US foreign affairs. And better a few criminals go free than innocents be condemned to death.

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  21. How interesting that Tea Baggers and Occupy Wall Street are together on this issue along with the overwhelming majority of people.

    No more war means just that - no more!

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  22. Such a trial would be in absentia and then the US would feel even more compelled to go after Assad. The Assad regime has long been a thorn in the side of US foreign policy in the region. Their ongoing support of Hezbollah has frustrated the US and Israel to no end. Not that the opposition in Syria would be anymore sympathetic to Israel (probably even less so), but I guess the devil you don't know is better than the one you do know in this case.

    Watching Obama struggle with this issue makes it pretty clear to me that US foreign policy does not change dramatically from one president to another. This is one issue that the old guard in both the Democratic and Republican parties seems to hold sway and this group is still mired in the Cold War, and seems sufficiently able to spook the younger generation into believing in its rhetoric.

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  23. "Whether deft diplomacy or a rhetorical stumble, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has managed to crack open the door to a possible solution to the Syrian crisis that could get President Barack Obama and U.S. lawmakers out of a bind, save Syria from a bombing and cast Russia as peacemaker."

    http://news.yahoo.com/analysis-kerrys-off-hand-remark-put-deal-syria-011440151.html

    This is the way I have been reading these threats. If it works is another story, but I hate the idea of Putin coming out smelling like roses.

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  24. It is such an interesting turn of events and one that Kerry said can't be done. But it's now the "Peace proposal" as NPR just called it.

    I can add Putin to my list of allies now with the Republicans. Got word that Steve Daines, the R Montana Congressman, will vote no according to a local peace group.

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  25. It seems all sides got what they wanted,

    http://news.yahoo.com/obama-sees-possible-breakthrough-syria-weapons-proposal-010203859.html

    Maybe Putin would be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Wouldn't that be grand!

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  26. I don't think there will even be a vote at this stage, assuming the deal is acceptable to the Obama administration. Of course, the "Butcher" of Damascus is still in place, and Obama has made it clear that any peace deal should include him stepping aside. But, it seems the door is now open to the US and Russia working out a deal that could possibly lead to "democratic" elections in Syria.

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  27. Here's my favorite proposal:

    http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum1136.php

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    1. I've sent several emails to various members of Congress including my own rep and senators.

      They better listen to the American MAJORITY if they value their jobs.

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  28. Saddam disarmed and Iraq got invaded.

    Libya disarmed and got invaded.


    Syria to disarm - what can you anticipate next? An invasion.


    Same with North Korea.

    Same with Iran.



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    1. The other night Rachel Maddow talked about how Libya decided to come in out of the cold and destroy all the "weapons of mass destruction." Her point ... it can be done. My thought at the time -- yeah and look at what happened next. I can't believe she didn't know the rest of the story. I know it makes it a more complex story to tell but it does provide the context of what is happening now. As horrific as all those weapons are, that lesson has surely not been missed by Assad.

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    2. Gaddafi got what he deserved, and as we found out during that much shorter civil war, he still had a sizable arsenal.

      I'm sure Britain, the US, and France would have loved to launch air strikes in Syria when the civil war first broke out, but given Russia supplied Assad and showed no willingness to back down, it risked a much larger conflagration, so the Western allies chose the role of diplomacy.

      For two-and-a-half years that led nowhere. Over 100,000 Syrians are dead and as many as 2 million displaced. The spillover into Turkey has reached a breaking point, and the Arab League wanted a resolution to the crisis.

      You can say we don't need to be fighting other people's wars, but some show of force had to be demonstrated to bring this issue to force Russia's hand. Obama did that. In my opinion, he deserves a lot of credit.

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    3. "Obama did that. In my opinion, he deserves a lot of credit."


      I admire your optimism. But, sorry to say, I'm not so enthusiastic about these proceedings.

      When Bush launched his campaign that resulted in the Arab spring everyone believed peace was in the near horizon in that region. What happened next? FAR more violence, bloodshed, and troubles. Some today are crediting Obama for his tact and diplomacy. Others are crediting Putin. This is exactly what commentators said about Bush because all the celebration turned out to be premature. Sad to say, I suspect there will be more trouble to follow - FAR more trouble, especially if those refugees try to come back to their homes in Syria.

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    4. The "Arab Spring" didn't come about until 2010, 8 years after Bush went into Iraq, and it resulted in sweeping changes, which for the most part were good.

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  29. I don't think Obama ever wanted to go war with Syria, he was pressing Russia to offer something construction to the Security Council in the way of a proposal after he stymied the Security Council for months. The threat of missile strikes appeared to be his only option. It if means Putin comes away looking like the great peacemaker then so be it. Obama manages to duck a war.

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  30. Obama boxed himself into this one in much the same way that Kerry did. By trying to stay out of it (i.e., we'd only get involved if ... say ... they used chemical weapons on civilians) he got stuck. Plus, I believe he is torn. Even his family is against him. He mentioned that last night and in at least one of his interviews.

    I must say that Chris Matthews came through during the speech: you can't claim to be a humanitarian by bombing more people. And you can't claim it's only a small strike and not an act of war -- just ask the people on the ground.

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  31. I admit I was drawn into all the war talk, but now it very clearly appears Obama used the threat of force to bring about a binding resolution in the UN Security Council. Obviously, it couldn't be a hollow threat, so he pushed it all the way to Congress. This, I feel, was the only way to get Putin to quit blocking Security Council resolutions, and offer one of his own. Putin delivered, begrudgingly I might add, but given it cast him as a peacemaker, he seems to have warmed up to the role.

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  32. BTW, it was his well articulated press conference in Stockholm last week that altered my opinion. It was clear to me he was approaching this crisis from all angles.

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  33. Is this rubbing salt into the wound?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/opinion/putin-plea-for-caution-from-russia-on-syria.html?pagewanted=all

    Quite frankly, Putin has little room to talk, having supplied the Assad regime with munitions throughout the civil war.

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    Replies
    1. Chechens would hardly regard him as a peace maker or savior.

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    2. The 2002 Moscow Theater crisis also comes to mind, in which Putin authorized the use of deadly gas (probably sarin) to subdue the Chechen terrorists, which also resulted in more than 80 innocent deaths, as the special forces team refused to tell doctors what gas was used, so that they had no way to treat those most severely affected by the gas.

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