Putin Saves Obama

You have to almost feel sorry for Barack Obama. Almost. He drew a red line at the use of chemical weapons in Syria (although he now insists he totally didn’t) only to see Syria stomp over it. He had — to his credit — done the right thing and gone to Congress. But it looked like Congress would reject his request to authorize the use of force. And just when things can’t get any worse, his Secretary of State becomes a late-night punchline by claiming the attacks will be “unbelievable small”.

There’s only one thing for it: Vladimir Putin to the resc- … wait, what?

Syria said Tuesday it has accepted Russia’s proposal to place its chemical weapons under international control for subsequent dismantling.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Tuesday after meeting with Russian parliament speaker that his government quickly “agreed to the Russian initiative.”

Al-Moallem added that Syria did so to “uproot U.S. aggression.”

His statement sounded more definitive than his remarks Monday, when he said that Damascus welcomed Russia’s initiative.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that Russia is now working with Syria to prepare a detailed plan of action, which will be presented shortly.

Lavrov said that Russia will then be ready to finalize the plan together with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The Obamabots are contending that this was Obama’s secret intention all along (a statement belied by the Administration’s claims of last week). Maybe this was all a smoke screen by the Obama people. But they have never really crossed me as that clever or that subtle.

If I had to guess, I would say this is just Putin outsmarting Obama. This is a pretty good deal for the Russians. They sell chemical weapons to Syria, they store the chemical weapons for Syria and they look good on the diplomatic stage. Putin looks like the accomplished diplomat compared to the stumbling, bumbling Obama and his idiotic Igor of a Secretary of State.

Well played, guys. It’s a good think you weren’t at Yalta.


Hey Mr DJ: Incoherent Interventionism Edition

It’s safe to say that America’s political elite has finally managed to completely divorce itself from its constituents, the military, almost every other country on Earth, and possibly reality itself on the issue of the Syrian Civil War. Nobody understands what those fools are doing; but like a roomful of chainsaw-wielding crackheads, they’re certain to hurt a lot of people in the course of being crazy and stupid.

Mind you, the entire country has not lost its mind. The political bloggers, journalists, and other commentators of all ideological representation agree that the decision to jump into the middle of Syria is bizarre and will likely worsen the situation. There’s no clear benefit and the risks are severe. I’ve seen some outstanding writing about all of it here on RTFLC and sites spanning the spectrum from Huffington Post to Ace of Spades.

The government is actively turning itself against the people at every turn, it’s just fortunate for them that we’re all still more stunned and confused than really pissed off now. Hell, even the NRA and the ACLU have teamed up against the NSA and its fetish for spying on Americans (as well as their own spouses). How much more weird can you take?

What is wrong with our “leaders”? Well, I’m sure it’s probably money. They seem to like it and there is almost certainly a correlation in the relationship between those who receive a lot of goodies from the defense industry and those who want to keep the wars going. Also, they are too often proven to be amoral and self-serving fucking idiots compared to normal people.

The primary question we have is what Congress will decide. Our nation’s foreign policy is completely bonkers. Is this about human rights, WMD non-proliferation, geopolitical rivalry with Russia, a continuation of the Obama Administration’s grand master plan to support the Arab Spring and destabilize the entire Middle East in hopes that it turns out with super democracy, save Israel, piss off/weaken Iran by proxy, or, or…yes? Without comprehending any of the pro-war arguments coming from Washington’s leaders in the Boehner-Pelosi-Reid-Obama Axis of Dumbass, I can’t know what to expect. Nobody can. This Administration has such low credibility on so many things, that it probably doesn’t matter what Congress does anyway.

It’s as if we have no plan; indeed, no foreign policy at all. We kind of just kill people from far away with electronically-guided explosives or throw money at them to try to make them like us. Sometimes, we even throw money at people we should bomb and we bomb people in countries that we consider allies. In increasingly common circumstances, we manage to end up getting hated by people who hate each other in the same countries we’re trying to help (i.e. Egypt, Syria).

It’s The Age of Folly. Lie to me and tell me it’ll work out in spite of our ruling class.

Remember that the embedded video is the entire playlist. I update it with your selections as I can. Here are this week’s options.

1. “I Didn’t Set a Red Line”: Celebrate incoherence with the most maddeningly undecipherable songs you can find.

2. “There’s a Bathroom on the Right“: Reference your favorite frequently misunderstood song lyrics here.

3. “Beware the Military-Industrial Complex”: All about people (including the artists who perform the songs you post) who will sell out for anything.

4. Vlad the Infallible: Songs filled with smart questions or with appeals to good sense.

5. Go ahead and just tell the Powerful how much they suck at everything they do. Call them out for all their hubris, greed, and ineptitude.

“Buck Stops Over There, Somewhere” Bonus: Calling for help from Mom and Dad, the authorities, anybody. You don’t want to be held responsible for anything, do you?

To benefit the goals of our incoherent mission statement, you shouldn’t identify which category is which. This will be especially fun if anyone goes rogue.

It’s Friday and I have to go on a business trip over the weekend. I’ll be around all day though. Please keep it going until I return on Monday. SOMEBODY has to take care of something in the world, right?

Mississippi Yankee: Flying into the Sun by Crystal Stilts

Santino: Shithawks by The Flatliners

pfluffy: Informer by Snow

CM: Nine in the Afternoon by Panic! At the Disco

WVR: Yellow Ledbetter (Misheard Lyrics Video) by Pearl Jam

Biggie G: King of Fools by Social Distortion

Here’s a rare display of Twitter activism on my part as well as a big thumbs up to Rep. Alan Grayson: #Don’tAttackSyria. Sign the petition already. He’s agreed to pester your representative for you.

The Eight Questions

At the risk of going all-Syria, all-the-time here, I thought this article was worth a post. You remember the Powell Doctrine? These were eight questions that Colin Powell asked about foreign interventions before we engaged in them. They are not definitive and this isn’t a game where if you get answers to five of them, you can go ahead and bomb. But they do a very good job of clarifying the thinking about a war. Foreign Policy goes through all eight with Syria. I’ll add my comments but also contrast them against the motivations of the War in Iraq. Note that my answers to the latter will be based on what we knew at the time rather than what we know now. I think you could make the argument that the case for the war in Syria is weaker than the one we had for Iraq.

1. Vital national interests at stake? Hardly. The United States hasn’t cared who governed Syria since 1970, and it did business with Bashar al-Assad’s regime whenever doing so suited it. … Nor is defending the norm against chemical weapons a “vital” interest, given that other states have used them in the past and they are not true weapons of mass destruction anyway.

I agree with this. By contrast, Iraq had a supposed vital national interest of Saddam’s WMDs and the concern that they would be turned against us or Israel. That concern turned out to be bogus (as might this one). But at least it was a legitimate one. Saddam was also a sponsor of terrorism, paying out bounties to the families of Palestinians who blew themselves up in suicide bombs.

2. Clear obtainable objective? Nope. If you can figure out what the Obama administration’s actual objective is — defend the chemical weapons norm? reinforce U.S. credibility? weaken the regime a little but not a lot? send a warning to Iran?, etc. — you have a better microscope than I do.

Agreed. By contrast, our objective in Iraq was regime change and the destruction of the WMDs. Goal one happened, although it didn’t as well as we’d hoped. Goal two had already been achieved.

3. Costs and risks analyzed fully and frankly? Well, maybe. I’m sure people in the administration have talked about them, though it is hard to know how “fully” the risks and costs have been weighed. But let’s be generous and give the administration this one.

I won’t be generous. The supposed costs and risks are being hand waved. No one is really talking about the risk of a broader conflict or a terror response. Obama is talking about how this will be a “limited action” but the Syrians may not agree to limit it the way he wants to. This isn’t a game of Civilization.

In this case, this a flaw that the Syria debacle shares with Iraq, where I don’t think the risk of a full-on civil war was accounted for. In fact, if you read Cobra II, you’ll know that Rumsfeld made it a priority to fight the war on the cheap and over-ruled concerns from the State Department about the long term problems.

4. Other nonviolent policy options exhausted? Hardly. As I’ve noted before, there has been a dearth of imaginative diplomacy surrounding the Syrian conflict ever since it began. Oddly, the administration seems to have thought this whole issue wasn’t important enough to warrant energetic diplomacy, but it is important enough to go to war.

Agreed. By contrast, we spent a decade trying to find a peaceful solution to Iraq including pressure from within the Arab world.

5. Plausible exit strategy to avoid entanglement? Not that I can see. Barack Obama, John Kerry, et al. seem to recognize the danger of a quagmire here, so their “exit strategy” consists of limiting the U.S. attack to airstrikes and cruise missiles and maybe some increased aid to the rebels.

This is the one point where the Syrian issue scores over Iraq. It never was really clear what the endgame in Iraq was and we did become bogged down in a sectarian conflict. Our footprint in Syria is likely to be orders of magnitude smaller. Once we stop bombing, that appears to be it.

For now.

6. Have the consequences been fully considered? It’s hard to believe they have. Whacking Assad’s forces won’t do that much to restate any “red lines” against chemical weapons use, and as noted above, that’s a pretty modest objective in any case. But military action might also help bring down the regime, thereby turning Syria into a failed state, fueling a bitter struggle among competing ethnic, sectarian, and extremist groups, and creating an ideal breeding and training ground for jihadists. It may also undercut the moderate forces who are currently ascendant in Iran, derail any chance of a diplomatic deal with them (which is a far more important goal), and even reinforce Iran’s desire for a deterrent of its own. Is there any evidence that Obama, Kerry, Rice & Co. have thought all these things through?

Nope. By contrast, the theory behind the Iraq War was that we would frighten other nations into abandoning WMD programs (which worked with Libya) and turn Iraq into an ally against other gulf regimes. The latter did not work out and it turned out our post-war planning foundered on the rocks of incompetent management from Bremmer and Rumsfeld. But there was a lot of thought into what was going to happen after Iraq.

7. Support from the American people? No, no, and no.

By contrast, our intervention in Iraq had the initial support of 50-60% of the public. The public has apparently learned their lesson.

8. Genuine and broad international support? Not really. The British Parliament has already voted against military action, and Germany has made it clear that it’s not playing either. Russia and China are of course dead set against. America’s got the French (oh boy!), the Saudis, and (quietly) the Israelis, along with the usual coalition of the cowed, coerced, or co-opted.

The Left mocking Bush’s Coalition of the Willing but we had a lot more support for that than Obama does for Syria.

Now, I am comparing apples and oranges here. Iraq was a full-scaled invasion and a ten-year occupation. Syria is “just” a police-action bombing, similar to what Clinton did to Iraq in 1998. But run Clinton’s bombing through that list. Clinton’s bombing had goals (I mean, besides attracting attention away from the Lewinsky scandal). We attacked the WMDs and destroyed almost all of them. We’re not doing that here. We’re “sending a message” that we don’t like the use of chemical weapons. In that sense, the Syrian attack is basically Hans Brix’s strongly worded letter taped to a Tomahawk missile.

But the point is that this action has not been thought out, is not the result of a long involved policy decision and is attracting — at least within the beltway — very little debate.

I always harp on about process — following the Constitution, following the rules, following procedure. The reason I do is because I think that if you create a good process you will, more often than not, get a good result. The problems in our country are mainly a result of a “do something, anything” mentality and a tendency to defer to government power and action in any crisis. It’s very clear that the process within this Administration when it comes to war is haphazard, sloppy and politicized. This time, it may only cost us a few billion in treasure, a few hundred Syrian lives. It may cost us a lot more.

How much will it cost, though, if we ever a real foreign policy crisis?

Our Incompetent Media

August was a very slow news month, as you may have noticed. Congress is on vacation — again. We’re all bracing for the trainwrecks of Obamacare implementation and the next budget fight. Syria was pretty much the only big news (well, that and some washed-up child star reminding people that the MTV music awards still exist).

But our media abhors a vacuum. So they’ve blown up Syria in a mega-criss that will define Obama’s presidency. Seriously:

Syria coverage in America’s newspapers is the latest example of purportedly neutral, “objective” press coverage that’s bursting with contestable assumptions, often without the reporters and editors involved quite realizing their biases. The core news: President Obama asked Congress to vote on intervening in Syria. The way it’s being framed in accounts billed as straight news?

The New York Times cast it as a roll of the dice:

“In one of the riskiest gambles of his presidency,” they wrote, “Mr. Obama effectively dared lawmakers to either stand by him or, as he put it, allow President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to get away with murdering children with unconventional weapons.” But Obama is a lame duck, few Americans care about Syria, no one is going to take to the streets if the U.S. doesn’t intervene, and striking Syria’s regime without Congress while flouting public opinion was a far bigger gamble. In fact, you could easily write that Obama averted one of the riskiest gambles of his presidency by postponing a strike and consulting the Congress.

If you’re someone who personalizes politics, fetishizes disagreement, and intends to treat a Congressional rejection of a strike on Syria as a “humiliation” for Obama, the Times frame makes some sense, but make no mistake: its assessment of the Syria debate’s impact is self-fulfilling prophecy from an insular, status-obsessed elite. Obama’s approach is “a gamble” because and only because other insiders imagine that a president being denied by Congress — gasp! — is embarassing, rather than a healthy manifestation of Madisonian checks.

The executive is more prone to war than the legislature or the people. This was foreseen.

And come January 2017, when Obama leaves office, it’ll be hard to find an American outside D.C. who’d treat failure to intervene in Syria as a defining moment. The economy, health care, the end of the war in Iraq: those are his legacies, for better or worse.

You should read the whole thing, because it gets far far worse. The media seems to be ignorant of the Constitutional limts on Obama’s authority, oblivious to the text of the War Powers Act, unable to read their own archives on past debates over war and obsessed with making this the MOST DRAMATIC DECISION EVER! The belief that we must do something about the atrocities in Syria (even though we haven’t done anything for two years and there are atrocities going on elsewhere) is not to be questioned.

The media doesn’t want a political debate; they want an episode of The West Wing.

War? What War?

Continuing a theme from Alex’s post, I wanted to highlight two stories highlight just how much things change when the man in the White House has a D after his name.

First, you remember all the anti-war protesters we had under Bush? You might have been wondering where they were. Well, CNN, MSNBC, NYT, etc. couldn’t be bothered so it’s up to … Buzzfeed to ask those questions:

Activists who turned out thousands of protesters during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq say they’ve been unable to effectively organize or raise money since the end of the Bush years, and that newer causes like drones have seized the space on the left once occupied by opposition to conventional warfare. And some acknowledge that the energy has leaked out of the movement because a Democrat is now in office. Though some groups have organized online petitions and some real-life protests, the antiwar crowd that was on fire before the war in Iraq has made hardly a dent in the conversation surrounding Syria.

“Well, the most incredibly depressing thing was that most of the groups that existed before don’t exist anymore,” said Medea Benjamin, the founder of Code Pink. “That’s the number one problem, is that the antiwar movement is a shadow of its former self under the Bush years.”
Benjamin pointed to groups like United for Peace and Justice, a Communist Party-connected group, as examples: “They’re down to a couple of volunteers,” she said.

Some people are trying to blame the economy or the attention on drone strikes. But the more honest war protesters — i.e., the ones who are just as fired up about Obama attacking Syria — admit that they simply can not drum up the support because it’s Obama. Now I will grant that bombing Syria is not the same thing as a full-on invasion of Iraq. But the protesters were also silent during the bloody Afghan surge. And if you really oppose war, really oppose intervention, the scale of the operation shouldn’t really make a difference.

Now you could accuse the Republicans of hypocrisy too for opposing this while they supported Iraq. It’s a fair point. However, it’s important to remember that the Iraq War started only a couple of years after 9/11 — we were still on edge about terrorists and WMDs. Moreover, as someone who supported the Iraq War and now opposes this one, my explanation is that I learned my lesson. At least in Iraq, we had some shadowy goal — removing a dictator, destroying his WMDs and setting up a democratic replacement. Goal one was accomplished, goal two had already been accomplished by Bush I and Clinton. Goal three is still shaky. But what are our goals in Syria? What’s the mission? If it’s destroying the WMDs from afar, I’m not completely opposed. But if it’s to “send a message” or “maintain or credibility”, I don’t put much stock in that. And if it’s too empower one side in this war, I think that’s a terrible idea.

The second story is that Obama is waffling on whether he needs Congressional approval for this war, police action, kinetic action, conversion of potential energy or whatever he’s calling it these days. Friersdorf reminds us that Joe Biden said attacking another country without Congressional approval was an impeachable offense. I will say what I said on Libya, on Iraq, on Afghanistan, on everything: if there is any doubt, get Congressional approval. And that point is becoming increasingly obvious even to many on the left.

Of course, the reason Obama doesn’t want to go to Congress is because he’d have to justify an attack (indeed, Boehner has already sent a letter asking about this very point). Unfortunately for Obama, going to Congress and saying, “I’ll look weak if we don’t do something” probably won’t fly.