September 06, 2013

#Syria: The more #Obama himself sounds like #Bush ...

Update, Sept. 18: The UN investigation seems to tie the attacks to senior officers of President Bashar Assad. Whether they were following orders or not may still not be final, but the linked New York Times story indicates the answer is yes.

That said, per the oft-cited piece by William Polk at the Atlantic? His "cui bono" was, and still is, a good question. And, if part of why he wrote that piece was pushback, given America's generally poor history of regime change in the Middle East, the neocons leading the charge again on this one and Obama not having a Syria exit plan, the shoot-first warmongers can still look themselves in the mirror.

Now, back to the original blog post.

I had crammed so much in my previous post about Team Obama's warmongering vis-a-vis Syria that it was about to blow up.

Now that we have a new level of mendaciousness from Dear Leader himself, it's time for a new one.

And, trust me, we do.

Remember how Obama talked about a "red line" of Syrian chemical weapons use?

Here's the actual quote, from a story that tries to "nuance" that statement. Guess the inside-the-Beltway media sees it needs to earn its keep to bail him out. Anyway:
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the president said a year ago last week. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
But, but ...

I'm sorry, it's not Dear Leader's red line after all. According to him, it's the world's red line. I guess that, like Poppy Bush, we're supposed to read his hips instead of reading his lips. And, speaking of Bushes, Dear Leader may be surpassing Shrub in his chutzpah.

I mean, this is Bushian lying in its blatancy level:
“I didn’t set a red line,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference here in Stockholm. “The world set a red line.”

He added, “My credibility’s not on the line. The international community’s credibility’s on the line. And America and Congress’s credibility’s on the line.”

Meanwhile, per ABC, note that this was said a year ago.

And now, even "our oldest ally" France (right, John Kerry?) has said, "that's your red line, Dear Leader." 

That's even after he tried to pawn them off with this blather:
(Obama) acknowledged the deep reservations over the use of force and said he reminded the leaders at the dinner that he had opposed Mr. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. “I was elected to end wars, not start them,” Mr. Obama said he told them. “I’m not itching for military action.” 
Uhh ... not boots on the ground, perhaps, but videogame-style wars? Yes, you are. 

Or, you're just an idiot. This piece suggests Obama's "red line" comments ultimately are another case of him undercutting himself and boxing himself in, just like he did with the sequester and the Bush Obama tax cuts. 

(This has made me come to the point of saying that, if Bush is one of the three worst presidents in history, Syria has officially moved Obama from the bottom half into the bottom third, at least.)

So, why are we, or "we," aka Dear Leader, huffed up now?

Maybe because Syrian President Bashir Assad is starting to get the upper hand again against the rebels?

That's part of the thesis, if not directly spoken, by this excellent analysis by William Polk, an "old Syria hand" formerly of the State Department:

1. We don't know whether Assad or some part of the opposition planted the sarin;
2. The US deliberately tried to stall the UN investigation;
3. There's a lot of conflicting information involved;
4. Israel's doing a lot of "spinning";
5. Assad had relatively little to gain by the attack. Indeed, Polk notes that the government has been gaining ground against the rebels in recent weeks and months.

I update thoughts from this part of the post at a new one, which looks specifically at the "cui bono" issue.

Let's also not forget, which Polk didn't mention, that, as Aum Shinrikyo showed in Tokyo, sarin is  relatively easy to produce and weaponize/distribute. This ignores other possibilities, such as rebel theft of government supplies, help from Iran or Hezbollah, etc. And, yes, such possibilities are many, if rebels did this, depending on which group of rebels. Kurd nationalists could have gotten help from their brethren in Turkey. Shi'ites, from Iran directly, or via Hezbollah. Al-Qaeda wannabes? The network in Iraq seems strong enough.

And, contra Team Obama's blathering, we don't actually know who the hell did this. (More on that below.) 

Beyond that, contra the first commenter below, even the death count is disputed.
Neither Kerry’s remarks nor the unclassified version of the U.S. intelligence he referenced explained how the U.S. reached a tally of 1,429, including 426 children. The only attribution was “a preliminary government assessment.”
Anthony Cordesman, a former senior defense official who’s now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, took aim at the death toll discrepancies in an essay published Sunday.
He criticized Kerry as being “sandbagged into using an absurdly over-precise number” of 1,429, and noted that the number didn’t agree with either the British assessment of “at least 350 fatalities” or other Syrian opposition sources, namely the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has confirmed 502 dead, including about 100 children and "tens" of rebel fighters, and has demanded that Kerry provide the names of the victims included in the U.S. tally.

“President Obama was then forced to round off the number at ‘well over 1,000 people’ – creating a mix of contradictions over the most basic facts,” Cordesman wrote. He added that the blunder was reminiscent of “the mistakes the U.S. made in preparing Secretary (Colin) Powell’s speech to the U.N. on Iraq in 2003.”
As usual, McClatchy, far more than other mainstream media, cuts through the bullshit of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. That said, the link provided by said first commenter below is from the Center for a New American Security, a leading bipartisan foreign policy establishment think tank.

That said, at least it's not Project for a New American Century, which is probably having wet dreams right now.

Also add this up, and we have a Team Obama wanting to destabilize Assad further before he can restabilize himself more. And, a Dear Leader who, assuming Polk is right, is willing to act outside the bounds of facts.

That gets me back to Polk's Point 5.

What if the rebels did do it? Even if all we are doing is launching a few cruise missiles, then Obama's drone strike murders have reached a whole new level if we're using fabricated information to deliberately target the wrong people. And we're doing it in a place where we (we, not Israel) doesn't have a lot of geopolitical interest, and where we don't have a good idea yet about how to sort out the non-Assad players.

We do know, though, that at least some of them are roughly as bad as Assad. Now, tis true that these are the Islamists we don't want. But, if not now, then when in power, there's no guarantee "secularists" won't engage in an orgy of revenge killings. And, if we do try to "degrade" Assad, there's no guarantee that we can also boost the secularists vis-a-vis the Islamists, or tamp down interference or support by Iran.

Assad has now said he didn't do it. Per the story, there's another option: the Syrian military did it without orders from Assad.

But, back to fact No. 1: Since there's no firm proof Assad's behind the chemical weapons, and circumstantial evidence to indicate he has no need to be behind it, Team Obama's claims, while not as bad as Condoleezza Rice's "smoking mushroom cloud," may eventually wind up being in the same category. 

Let's look at this all more from Team Obama's point of view.

For most of the past two years, an ungainly coalition of rebels, linked by little but their dislike of the Assad regime, had been slowly and semi-surely rolling it back. Because no one rebel group had risen head-and-shoulders above the rest, Team Obama didn't have to worry about picking winners and losers. It could merrily train bands of "freedom fighters" to do that dirty work for it.

And, now, the rebels are faltering. Even losing ground in spots.

My theory is the chemical weapons story, especially if it's being falsely attributed to the Assad regime, makes an easy "handle" for war, a war that's desired because Assad is starting to get the upper hand on the rebels again. 

As for why he's seeking the Congressional vote, when he didn't on Libya? Several reasons.

First, Dear Leader is, in his own way, quite the politician. And, yes, he's trying to fracture the GOP on this particular foreign policy issue, at least.

Second, the more Syria gets publicized, the more that NSA snooping gets UN-publicized. Damage control, wag the dog, whatever you want to call it.

Third is another political angle. That's keeping neocons in the Democratic Party happy. And donors who often support them. To spell out what some people are guessing at, at risk of getting tarred with the anti-Semitic brush, this means keeping a certain stream of Jewish politicians and Jewish donors with similar political philosophy happy. Please note what I highlighted.

Meanwhile, going beyond snark of mine a couple of days ago, the Religious Right's Amen corner for the neocons, at least the nuttier of them, are starting the Gog, Magog and End Times talk about Syria, per this YouTube video.

In light of this all, it's funny, sad, and stark, all at once, to read this from Andrew Sullivan:
As for Obama? I wish I understood better.
Per some political analysts, even inside the Beltway, Sully's not alone.

Here's his specific plaint.
But the point of Obama’s entire presidency – something bigger than just him – was to resist the impulse toward what Obama once called “dumb wars.” Dumb wars are often acts of hubris; and when a country has the kind of massive military power the US now wields, every problem looks tempting. Everything the president has said and done has suggested he understands this. And yet in Libya, he gave in to the hysteria because of an alleged, planned massacre that never happened. 
Hey, Sully, it's like this.

Obama's pulling a Clinton. Not so much on "wag the dog" as on "triangulation."

As for the idealism claims? Everybody should take them all with a grain of salt.

If we wanted to be that idealistic, we've got spare Tomahawks to fire around the world, and with as good of reason, if we're talking morality, and against countries more defenseless.

Burmese military junta, take this! Robert Mugabe, for starving your own people, take that!

Bahrain, for ... 

Oops. They're one of our allies, no matter the amount of Shi'ite repression.

Syria? You just have the unlucky constellation of factors of never really having been our ally, having been a Soviet ally in the past, being hated by Israel (often with good reason, though), being hated by a number of Arab neighbor states, and being in the middle of the oil world without having enough oil to play a bigger game of geopolitics.

And, with the modern United States, I think Clemenceau was at least incomplete, if not wrong, when he said: "War is too important to be left to the generals."

That all said, Obama's better than Massachusetts' newest addition to the Senate. Ed Markey, on the Foreign Relations Committee, wins the chickenshit award by voting "present" on attacking Syria

Unfortunately, the usually reliable Charles Pierce seems to cut Markey too much slack on this.

Based on I Tweeted to him, edited for full English reading, and expanded, here's my counterthought.

I don't buy it on Markey. First, he was in the House before the Senate. Second, Obama's "red line" was 1 year ago. If Markey was unsure of intelligence info, he should have voted "no," since, as McClatchy and Wm. Polk at Atlantic have shown, the intelligence is being manipulated. Only a "no" vote challenges the run-up to war.

And, if Slick Willie supports Obama on this, then wag-the-dog ideas become even more in play, perhaps. 

Update, Sept. 10: The warmongers are monging tonight, in light of Obama's speech. On NPR just now, Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, was claiming out of thin air that Assad has crossed Obama's red line a dozen times since he made that statement a year ago.

Foreign Policy mag has its mind made up, calling Assad's claims not to have done it unbelievable. And, it goes on to claim that this has all brainwashed right-wingers into trumpeting Assad's claims.

Really? Anthony Cordesman's a winger? 

Update, Sept. 12: Somebody on Facebook asked why it matters who did it if we're trying to stabilize the area, control chemical weapons, and related issues.

Focusing on the "stabilization" issue, here's why it matters:

The issue of who did it influences where we aim our missiles, what follow-up we're going to do, etc. Say rogue generals did it. Directly attacking Assad could strengthen their hand for a coup. Say the Free Syrian Army, human-heart-eaters and all, did it. That could strengthen their hand, and Syria potentially is led by worse than Assad.

And, there's the simple morals issue of potentially attacking the wrong folks.

It matters a lot who did it, if you want to avoid the risk of destabilizing rather than stabilizing, or stabilizing a monster even worse. It matters a lot.

Update 2, Sept. 12: The Nation is halfway right about alleged Syrian expert Elizabeth Bagy. It is a wag the dog, to some degree. But, it's part of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. Kimberly Kagan, the founder of the Institute for the Study of War, is part of the neocon wing of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. She is Fred Kagan's wife, Donald Kagan's daughter in law and Robert Kagan's brother in law.

For Greg Mitchell to not have drilled down that far is kind of sad.

Update, Sept 13: It's not just Obama, either. Per this Truth-Out piece, not just John Kerry, but Vice President Joe Biden, when also in the Senate, were among Democrats who made false claims about Iraqi weapons in the run-up to the Gulf War. So did Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House, now Minority Leader.

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