Strange Bedfellows

Posted September 3, 2013 on 3:55 pm | In the category McCain, Obama, syria, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

The weird new Bromance between President Obama and John McCain surged (so to speak) over the weekend as they agreed to a general strategy over Syria. This after everyone’s (except my) favorite cranky uncle, Joe Lieberman, reminded us of the importance of bombing something, anything, anytime something happens in the Middle East. This morning we find that Speaker of the House John Boehner is also supporting Obama’s plan for intervening in Syria. So for the first time in his presidency Obama has the support of Republican leaders – although Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell might be holding out. One might think that Obama would give pause to the source of his support, but it appears this train of battle has virtually left the station.

But the fundamental issue of whether such action is in our national interest – and whether it can do anything but harm – seems to have been skipped over to become now a struggle for political support in the Congress, regardless of the quality of the basic decision and regardless of the judgment of the American people. There seems to be no doubt that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people and this time it is seen to qualify for a military response, while the 100,000 plus earlier deaths by other means did not.

So far there has been only vague lip service given to whether it serves our long term strategic interests to get involved. There are comments to the effect that if we do not do something we will lose prestige, but with whom, and so what? There is also fear that the President will lose personal prestige because he drew the “red line” and now must respond regardless of any collateral damage to our interests. The talk shows on Sunday were all focused on what kind of military response is needed – how robust, how long, what targets, etc. The issue of WHETHER we should do something has been pushed aside and now we focus on the process of gaining political cover for the decision from the Congress.

The role of the press has been largely reactive, focusing on process issues rather than substantive strategic concerns. One exception was the appearance of John Mearsheimer on the PBS Newshour Monday night. He argued convincingly that the U.S. does not have a central strategic concern in Syria, that if we get involved we will likely suffer unpleasant consequences in the future, that we really have no idea what kind of government we would end up with in Syria if Assad is driven out and that our track record when getting involved in the region is a miserable failure. As for the moral case, it is not America’s job to be a kind of global moral force, given our own record in places like Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua, Iran, Iraq – even Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Obama may have wanted a working relationship with the Republicans for lo the past 5 years, but this smacks of his going away from some core American values in search of love in all the wrong places.

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Speak loudly and carry a tiny little stick

Posted September 2, 2013 on 3:31 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Middle East, Obama, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Now let’s get this straight. Ten years ago, the neatly attired Secretary of State of the United States told the UN Security Council that his security experts had definite proof that the nasty Arab dictator of Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that council should therefore  approve a military action that would remove them from his control. Okay that turned out to be a fib – there were no such weapons and it may even be that the poor secretary didn’t know it – and the results are very much central to the problems of the middle east today. Iraq is a dangerous place, its minorities have fled or are hidden in holes and the once legendary city of Bagdad is a disaster zone.  The nasty dictator was executed, but chaos rules in his absence and for the normal Iraquis, if they managed to survive the ensuing war, life is no better or worse than before.   My brother was at the Baltimore Ravens football game when that attack was announced by then President George Bush and explains  that the president waited until half time to announce the news on  the giant jumbo screen that the invasion had begun.  Didn’t want to interrupt the game when it was on.  The 80,000 spectators cheered.

Now we have the next president announcing in best sports lingo that he was drawing a line in some kind of sand (beach volleyball?) and if anyone dared venture  over that  he would take out his big stick and thump them, just like the Ravens’ defense did that afternoon a decade ago.  Now it seems clear that somebody did  that recently by throwing poison gas across the line, and the current Secretary of State, very nattily attired,  is haunting the talk shows to announce that the security aces of the United States, who know everything about you, also know who is guilty of crossing the red line, namely the nasty dictator of Syria this time.  He denies it, though it may well be the case, but it is not yet proven and the Iraqui past haunts this present like a ghost.  The powerful president of Russia says he doesn’t believe it ,  and then the British parliament cut down their prime minister at the knees by voting against his decision to join the attack with the US, apparently forgetting that in the UK the Parliament has to approve such an action.  The Prime Minister of Canada, which did not join the attack on Iraq,  says he is a”reluctant convert” to this one (whatever that means), and won’t contribute any military help.  Germany says it will never join a military action not sanctioned by an international body like the UN (as they well know,this one doesn’t have a chance there).  Even Israel is not taking sides on this one, afraid of the results of any such invasion, no matter who wins.  The only real military power answering the call to use the big stick is France, which, according to Secretary of State Kerry, is the longest-standing ally of the US.  (He said that with a straight face, but many thought he remembered the French contributions in the Second World War,  Vietnam, NATO, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. and meant it ironically).

And now the wielder of the big stick has run for cover and suddenly announced he will wait for approval from a Congress which won’t be able to deal with that for some weeks.  Obama will be meeting with Putin in a couple of days at a G-20 conference in St. Petersburg. As  a warm-up to the reception he will receive in St. Petersburg, he will spend his first European night in Stockholm where the frosty fall nights are already  well underway. Needless to say Sweden will not be supporting an attack on Syria.  When he sits down with  Putin, he must be prepared for the following difficult questions.  1. What will he do if the US congress does  not support him, as happened in the UK to the now lame duck PM Cameron?  It is clear that there is substantial bipartison opposition to the Obama attack proposal, though it seems  likely to pass.  2. Just how does he imagine  the attack?  Most observers think it can only be a brief attack on military targets, airfields , strategy centres,barracks, etc. The Syrian government now will have ample time to remove much of value from such targets in the next weeks.   Cruise missles are very accurate but not 100%, and any variance will inevitably land on civilians.  Is the US prepared for the reaction of the Moslem world if that happens?  3. Worst of all, has the US considered what the  consequences would be if the security information, much of it apparently gathered by tapped telephone calls, turns out to be planted information by the other side, a standard spy-ploy. Many suspect that’s what the Russians suspect – they are no novices at that – and it is not inconceivable.  What if it turns out the US with unmanned drones bombed the wrong targets in another legendary Middle-Eastern city out there in the cradle of civilization.  4. And finally, how does the US imagine the reaction  in the Arab world after an attack.

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