Obama's Puppet Strings Get Tangled On Syria: Analysis

 

President Obama's desire to bomb Syria even without international support shows, yet again, the pitfalls of his high-blown rhetoric to mask crass political deal-making.

In updates from our initial report, the nation's leader said he would seek approval from Congress before authorizing a strike. The concession to public press marked a major retreat from the administration's initial stance and is complicated by world meetings next week and potential resistance from rank-and-file members of both major U.S. parties who fear public opinion more than leaders.

As background, former President Carter, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and former U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld were among strong critics of planned U.S. actions. Also, the non-partisan conservative scholar and former Wall Street Journal Associate Editor Paul Craig Roberts advanced the themes of this column with one of his own, entitled, Will Obama Doom Himself As A War Criminal. The New York Times published, After British Vote, Unusual Isolation for U.S. on Syria. The government's view was John Kerry Makes Case For Syria Strike. Below also is a video from UK Member of Parliament George Galloway opposing bombing.

Presidents are often called, "The Most Powerful Man on Earth." That conventional wisdom seems, on the surface, even more true regarding Obama than his predecessors.

Obama and his team have dispensed with many of the niceties of U.S. and international law. They have assumed the power to launch wars against those who do not threaten U.S. national security, albeit without the death totals as high as during the Bush administration. They launch action without votes by Congress or the United Nations -- and hinted late Aug. 29 at moving forward against Syria even though Britain's Parliament backed away from a strike.

The White House orders death by drone of those residents of foreign nations and their families whom they think dangerous, based on secret evidence.

And they spend vast amounts during a period of national austerity that helps the defense industry even without specific appropriations from Congress. A strike against Syria will cost hundreds of millions of dollars -- and thus helped boost stock prices this week, according to a report this week by Defense News.

Following a surprise vote by Britain's Parliament late Aug. 29 against military action against Syria, White House sources suggested that the United States could proceed on its own.

The British withdrawal and the refusal of Canada to join the United States action leaves France, the former colonial ruler of Syria, as the major ally for the military action. The U.S-France coalition creates further public relations problems for Obama because a major fighting force in the rebellion against Assad are radical Al Qaeda and other jihadist mercenaries recruited from opponents of the United States in many nations, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House photo at left shows several of the Obama team's key players speaking with the president in the Oval Office this June. From left are Samantha Power, former senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights, along with National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Ambassador Susan Rice, the U.S. representative to the United Nations.

Power and Rice are leading advocates of a so-called "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine whereby nations, especially under U.S. leadership, are entitled to take military action worldwide in situations whereby their leaders see a dire need to protect the afflicted.

Also, Power is the wife of former Obama White House regulatory chief Cass Sunstein. As a response to the domestic spying scandal, Obama this month  named Sunstein to the panel to review National Security Agency surveillance methods.

The Sunstein appointment underscored the close bonds of decision-makers. Sunstein, while generally regarded as an esteemed liberal, is also notorious for advocating in a 2008 paper that the government secretly hire academics and journalists to disrupt activities of those millions of voters who believe in conspiracy theories. Power and Sunstein, friends of the president, are Harvard Law professors when not on the Obama administrations payroll full-time. 

Obama knows better than anyone that he ascended to office only because of the hidden help of the nation's private sector dynastic powers, as documented in my new book Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters. I argue there and in this column that Obama seeks to serve those masters on core issues, despite his branding to the public as being to the left of his fellow puppets who lead the Republican Party.

But the kingmakers do not necessarily agree among themselves on what they want. Neither do they always act in the high-minded fashion that their minions in office are supposed to voice to voters.

Many decision makers who operate out of sight above public stage create further confusion by changing their minds about what they want the government to do.

Some masterminds and their operatives may even seek to trap or otherwise embarrass a president, thereby obtaining even more leverage over his administration

Watching Obama trying this week to please so many VIPs, including his opponents, has reminded me of how a sting unfolds. An investor thinks he's going to make a killing and feast on the spoils. Then he learns, too late, that his advisers were leading him on.

"What's for dinner today?"

"You."

 

The Washington Post editorial board and its major "liberal" columnist Eugene Robinson and a conservative counterpart, Michael Gerson, each called in Wednesday's print editions for a military strike, as we reported Aug. 28. The Obama administration moved full-blast to implement that consensus, seemingly reflected through much of official Washington, as elsewhere.

The administration first had to wait, of course, soon after the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Due respect for Dr. Martin Luther King, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was needed before launch of new war-making. 

What a difference a day makes.

Joe BidenMajor media outlets then began featuring critics of the president's plan. Bill O'Reilly repeatedly showcased on his Aug. 28 show 2007 news reports of then-Senators Obama and Joseph Biden opposing as unconstitutional a potential military strike by then-President Bush against Iran.

The hypocrisy and partisan slant revealed by the Biden video clip was especially devastating to his credibility as vice president (or as a 2016 contender). Biden, right, cited his vast foreign policy and legal experience to insist that a Bush-ordered strike, much like the one currently promoted by the Obama administration, would be illegal and an impeachable offense.

Meanwhile, academic and political commentators have backed away from the utility, legality or popularity of a strike, as have the Arab League and Britain. France, the former colonial ruler of current Syria, sill insists on action but with its moral authority undermined by suspicion that its motives include selfish motives.

Much of the criticism comes from those who largely assume that the United States arguments, based in significant part on an Israeli intercept, are correct in saying the chemicals used in the attacks came from the Syrian government. For current purposes we'll not focus on related questions. These include identification of the chemicals, a process not yet completed by UN inspectors. Another is whether the chemicals had been captured by rebels or smuggled into the country, and then launched by radical rebels in a "false flag" event common in warfare. A Turkish newspaper reported such a plot last May by Syrian rebels using chemical weapons, for example. Also, to what extent are "the rebels" foreign mercenaries, who reputedly included jihadists from more than 20 nations funded by more than a billion dollars from the Gulf Monarchies and the United States? Those remain huge questions, largely unasked and certainly unanswered in the media most Americans see.

Yet the popular media have begun raising harsh critiques of the Obama policy on other points. The Washington Post, for example, printed in its Aug. 29 print edition objections by its top syndicated columnist, George Will, who mocked Obama for creating a "red line" a year ago and then believing he had to follow-through no matter what.

The Post's UN and State Department correspondents Colum Lynch and Karen DeYoung, respectively, reported more criticism. So did Post national security columnist Walter Pincus. So did two Yale Law School professors, Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, who co-authored,The case against a war in Syria. 

By Aug. 29, antiwar liberal David Swanson wrote Opposition to Iraq War May Save Syria after discerning that the Obama administration is backtracking on its bombing plan.

Summing Up

Here is what happened, in my view.

Assad is beginning to win the civil war, in part from a changed military strategy and in part because of significant part of the population do not like seeing their country made into hell on earth.

Western allies who have funded the rebels with billions of dollars and mostly secret mercenaries from at least a score of foreign nations needed a game-changer.

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans and their allied media see terrific opportunities to bash Obama for failed policies in Syria. They are heavily dependent on Wall Street and its financiers of the war industry, as are Democrats. Goading Obama for lack of intervention helps everyone, especially if no one mentions to the American public the largely secret help the CIA has already been providing the rebels, including through arms transfers via Benghazi and elsewhere underway for months by the CIA when the Benghazi killings took place last September. With much bravado, CNN recently broadcast a report on Benghazi but pulled its punches. The alternative and foreign media are the the place to look for facts about it.

Obama, his team, and the higher powers controlling both parties have fostered the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine as a way to reduce the need for international approval before military action in such situations. The U.S. increasingly uses the doctrine and an expanded military within the CIA to fight wars in coordination with special forces troops and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, thereby bypassing certain United Nations and Congressional procedures.

President Harry Truman, who created the CIA to develop national intelligence, protested in 1963 and 1964 after the Kennedy assassination the CIA's "limitless power" and expansion into "strange activities." But Truman's warnings were seldom reported or recorded because they ran counter to conventional wisdom through the years to expand military and security capabilities.

But the United Nations approved the concept in 2005 under Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The recent chemical weapons deaths in Syria seemingly provide a way to keep important United States and international groups happy, as well as to  vindicate the president's "red line" comment and strong-man image.

Also, U.S. military action based in part on intercepted intelligence helps change the U.S. news coverage away from the domestic spying theme created by NSA contractor Edward Snowden's revelations of a massive program targeting innocent Americans and residents of allied nations.

These motives are not noble, even if the larger goal of opposing chemical weapons is a worthy cause.

Most Americans will soon be relaxing on a Labor Day holiday. Cruise missiles raining more horror upon Syria at great financial and other cost to the United States should not be part of the celebration.

 
 
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Update

Democracy Now! via OpEdNews, Seymour Hersh: Obama "Cherry-Picked" Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Attack to Justify U.S. Strike, Amy Goodman, Dec. 10, 2013. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (below right) joins us to discuss his new article casting doubt on the veracity of the Obama administration's claims that only the Assad regime could have carried out the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta earlier this year. AMY GOODMAN:  Lay out your case for what it is that the Obama administration did or didn't tell us. SEYMOUR HERSH: Actually, Amy, it's really not my case; it's the case of people in the administration who believe when they -- when they take the oath, they take the oath of office to the Constitution and not to their immediate general or admiral or not to the -- or not to the president even. It's about truth.... There's -- it's a real rebel war there, civil war. And the point was that at no Seymour Hershtime did the United States ever consider al-Nusra to be a potential target of investigation. They were simply excluded from the conversation. And the narrative was Bashar did it. And it was bought by the mainstream press, as we all know, and by most people in the world. And this is why, you know, creepy troublemakers like me stay in business.

FireDoglake, Seymour Hersh: Obama Administration Cherry-Picked Syria Intelligence, Avoided Al-Qaeda Connection, DS Wright, Dec. 9, 2013. In a piece that was rejected by both the New Yorker and Washington Post, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, right, writes that the Obama Administration cherry-picked Syria intelligence and that President Barack Obama misled the American public on the case that the Assad regime were the ones guilty of using sarin gas. Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack

London Review of Books, Whose sarin? Seymour M. Hersh, Dec. 8, 2013. Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack.

 

Historical Video

BBC, A History of Syria with Dan Snow, 2013, Produced and directed by Robin Barnwell (3 hours). 
 

Related News Coverage

Update: AP via Washington Post, Obama, top advisers work to persuade public and Congress to back action on Syria, Staff report, Sept. 8,  2013. President Barack Obama is hitting the airwaves to try to convince Americans that limited strikes against Syria are needed for the United States’ long-term safety. “It is not Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday during one of his five network television interviews. “This is a very concerned, concentrated, limited effort that we can carry out and that can underscore and secure our interests.” But McDonough conceded the administration lacks “irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence” that skeptical Americans, including lawmakers who will start voting on military action this week, are seeking. “It’s an uphill slog,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who supports strikes on Assad. “I think it’s very clear he’s lost support in the last week,” Rogers added, speaking of the president.

Telegraph, Saudis offer Russia secret oil deal if it drops Syria, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Aug. 27, 2013. Saudi Arabia has secretly offered Russia a sweeping deal to control the global oil market and safeguard Russia’s gas contracts, if the Kremlin backs away from the Assad regime in Syria. The revelations come amid high tension in the Middle East, with US, British, and French warship poised for missile strikes in Syria. Iran has threatened to retaliate. The strategic jitters pushed Brent crude prices to a five-month high of $112 a barrel. “We are only one incident away from a serious oil spike. The market is a lot tighter than people think,” said Chris Skrebowski, editor of Petroleum Review. Leaked transcripts of a closed-door meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan shed an extraordinary light on the hard-nosed Realpolitik of the two sides.

National Interest, Brzezinski on the Syria Crisis, Zbigniew Brzezinski, June 24, 2013. Editor’s Note: Following is an interview by Jacob Heilbrun with Zbigniew Brzezinski former White House national-security adviser under Jimmy Carter and now a counselor and trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a senior research professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Huffington Post, Obama Says U.S. Should Take Action In Syria, Will Seek Congress' Authorization For Use Of Force, Staff report, Aug. 31, 2013. President Barack Obama addressed the crisis in Syria on Saturday, saying he has decided the United States should take military action against regime targets, but that he will seek authorization from Congress before taking action. "I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people's representatives in Congress," Obama said during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden. Obama said any action would "be designed to be limited in duration and scope." Obama referenced an Aug. 21 attack at the start of his remarks, saying "this menace must be confronted."

New York Times, After British Vote, Unusual Isolation for U.S. on Syria, David E. Sanger, Aug. 30, 2013. With a few exceptions in the past half-century, there has been a simple rule of thumb when it comes to international conflict: America does not use force without Britain at its side. So when Prime Minister David Cameron was unable to muster the votes in Parliament for support for a strike in Syria — even one limited to stopping the future use of chemical weapons — shock could be heard in the voices of senior White House officials who never saw the British rejection coming. Now Mr. Obama is left to cope with miscalculations on both sides of the Atlantic. If he goes ahead with the strike — which seems all but inevitable, based on the statements of senior administration officials who say the president is determined to restore “international norms” against the use of chemical weapons — he will look more isolated than any president in recent memory entering a conflict.

Mediaite, Pat Buchanan: Syria Chemical Weapons Attack ‘Reeks of False Flag Operation,’ Evan McMurry, Aug. 31, 2013.  Former Richard Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan floated the notion that the reported use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army in their civil war against rebel fighters was a false flag operation designed to give western powers an excuse to intervene. “This thing reeks of a false flag operation,” Buchanan told Newsmax. “I would not understand or comprehend that Bashar al-Assad—no matter how bad a man he may be—would be so stupid as to order a chemical weapons attack on civilians in his own country, when the immediate consequences of which might be that he would be at war with the United States.”

Vladimir PutinReuters, Putin On Syria: It Would Be 'Utter Nonsense' For Assad To Use Chemical Weapons, Aug. 31, 2013. Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, said on Saturday it would be "utter nonsense" for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons when it was winning its war with rebels, and urged U.S. President Barack Obama not to attack Syrian forces. The United States said on Friday it was planning a limited military response to punish Syria's President Bashar al-Assad for a "brutal and flagrant" chemical weapons attack it says killed more than 1,400 people in Damascus 10 days ago. Putin told journalists that if Obama had evidence Assad's forces had the chemical weapons and launched the attack, Washington should present it to the U.N. weapons inspectors and the Security Council. "I am convinced that it (the chemical attack) is nothing more than a provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict, and who want to win the support of powerful members of the international arena, especially the United States," Putin said.

AP, via Huffington Post, NATO Allies Will Not Take Part In Syria Strike, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen Says, Jan M. Olsen, Aug. 30, 2013. NATO's chief said for the first time Friday that the alliance has no plans for military action in Syria because of the alleged use of chemical weapons against its civilians. Asked about the alleged deadly attack in a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen pointed the finger at Syrian forces. "It demands cynicism beyond what is reasonable to believe that the opposition is behind a chemical attack in an area it already largely controls," he said.

Institute for Political Economy, Will Obama Doom Himself As A War Criminal, Paul Craig Roberts, Aug. 30, 2013. Obama, pushed by his Israeli and neocon masters, especially his National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, who, in effect, functions as an Israeli agent, crawled far out on the limb, only to have it sawed off by the British Parliament. In response, the “socialist” president of France, Hollande, who lacks French support for France’s participation in a US/Israeli orchestrated military attack on Syria, has crawled back off the limb, saying that, while everything is still on the table, he has to see some evidence first. As Cameron and Obama have made clear, there is no evidence. Even US intelligence has declared that there is no conclusive evidence that Assad used chemical weapons or even has control over the weapons. Even the US puppet government in Canada has disavowed participating in the Obama/Israeli war crime. This leaves Obama with support only from Turkey and Israel.

Huffington Post, John Kerry Makes Case For Syria Strike, But Questions Linger, Matt Sledge, Sabrina Siddiqui, Joshua Hersh, Aug. 30, 2013. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that there was "no doubt" the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in a devastating attack last week that killed more than 1,400 people, pointing to a newly released White House intelligence report that leaves unresolved whether President Bashar Assad himself ordered the attack. Kerry's speech made clear that the United States was preparing for strikes on Assad's government, even as the United Kingdom declined to join in the military effort. Details on what led the intelligence community to its conclusion were slim in the declassified version of the report released to the public.

David CameronYouTube, George Galloway Syria speech as Parliament Debates Military Action Against Syria, Aug. 29, 2013. Labour member George Galloway speaks as the British House of Commons holds an urgent debate on possible military action against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. Prime Minister David Cameron, right, recalled parliament following reports of a chemical weapons attack against Syrian citizens. "There is no compelling evidence that the Assad government is responsible," said Galloway in his hard-hitting style widely shared in the UK and US afterward.

Washington Post, White House: Obama can go it alone on Syria, Karen DeYoung, Aug. 29, 2013. British parliament rejects proposal for military action,White House statement comes as more U.S. lawmakers clamor for a vote, and Britain’s support appears unlikely.

Washington Post, Within U.S. military, deep doubts about strike on Syria, Ernesto Londoño, Aug. 29, 2013. After the scars of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, current and former officers fear the potential unintended consequences. The Obama administration’s plan to launch a military strike against Syria is being received with serious reservations by many in the U.S. military, which is coping with the scars of two lengthy wars and a rapidly contracting budget, according to current and former officers.

Washington Post, NSA pays U.S. firms millions for communications network access, Craig Timberg and Barton Gellman, Aug. 29, 2013. Documents offer a look at program expected to cost $278 million in the current fiscal year.

Donald RumsfeldPolitico, Donald Rumsfeld to W.H.: Justify Syria attack, MacKenzie Winger, Aug. 29, 2013. Former Bush Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, shown at left in an official photo, says the Obama administration has not yet justified an attack on Syria. “There really hasn’t been any indication from the administration as to what our national interest is with respect to this particular situation,” Rumsfeld told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto on Wednesday. “If you think of what’s really important in that region, it’s two things,” he added. “It’s Iran’s nuclear program and the relationship between Iran and Syria, the Assad regime, with respect to funding terrorists that go around killing innocent men, women and children including Americans."

Info Wars, Obama’s Syria Attack Rationale Crumbles, Kurt Nimmo, Aug. 29, 2013. New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, stated the obvious on Wednesday — under the Constitution, only Congress can declare war.

Defense News, Syria Strike Wouldn't Be Cheap, Marcus Weisgerber, Aug. 28, 2013. The Department of Defense’s missile and munitions budget is $9.2 billion so a missile strike on Syria means a big payout for defense companies like Raytheon and Boeing. According to DefenseNews.com, the planned Syria strike wouldn’t be cheap. “A cruise missile strike against Syria could cost the Pentagon hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons,” according to experts and government documents. A report by the Department of Defense states that the unit cost of a Tomahawk tactical missile costs $1.5 million.

Reuters via Huffington Post, White House On Syria Response: If 'Legal Justification Is Required....We'll Produce One', Staff report, Aug. 29,2013. The United States is looking at a response to Syrian use of chemical weapons that is "very discrete and limited" and not open-ended, the White House said on Thursday, as President Barack Obama consulted German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone. The Obama White House rejected any attempt to compare U.S. plans for Syria to Republican President George W. Bush's long-running war in Iraq that was justified on claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, which were never found.  At the same time, the White House made a nuanced argument to suggest the United States might be willing to act on its own to enforce an international ban on the use of chemical weapons and protect U.S. national security interests. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama's potential response to Syria's Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack stood in stark contrast to the Iraq experience.

War Is a Crime, Opposition to Iraq War May Save Syria, David Swanson, Aug. 29, 2013. Evidence of "weapons of mass destruction" is "no slam dunk," U.S. officials are saying this time around, reversing the claim made about Iraq by then-CIA director George Tenet. Opposition to a U.S.-led attack on Syria is growing rapidly in Europe and the United States, drawing its strength from public awareness that the case made for attacking Iraq had holes in it. A majority in the United States, still very much aware of Iraq war deceptions, opposes arming the "rebel" force in Syria, so heavily dominated by foreign fighters and al Qaeda. And a majority opposes U.S. military action in Syria. What's discouraging an attack on Syria is the public uproar that was created over the disastrous attack on Iraq. The nation of Iraq was destroyed. Millions of refugees still can't safely return. As with every other humanitarian war thus far, humanity suffered, and the suffering will last for ages.

War Is a Crime, Possible Consequences of a U.S. military attack on Syria—Remembering the Marine Barracks destruction in Beirut, 1983, Ann Wright, Aug. 31, 2013. Its 4 a.m. and I can’t sleep, just like 10 years ago when President Bush was telling the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the United States must invade and occupy Iraq to rid humanity of these weapons. I didn’t believe President Bush ten years ago and I resigned as a U.S. diplomat. Now a decade later, President Obama is telling the world that the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Assad government must be answered by other weapons, even though the results of the UN inspection team have not been compiled—just as the Bush administration refused to wait for the UN report by the inspectors who had been looking for WMD in Iraq. President Bush and his advisors either didn’t know or didn’t care about the probable consequences of their decision to invade and occupy Iraq: Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and over 4,000 Americans dead; Millions of Iraqis and Americans wounded physically and psychologically.

Agonist, 'Insider Threats' Sabotage Obama's Syria Attack, Michael Collins, Aug. 29, 2013. As he prepares to launch cruise missiles against the sovereign state that poses no threat to the United States, President Barack Obama's administration is spouting leaks of major proportion. "… multiple U.S. officials used the phrase "not a slam dunk" to describe the intelligence picture --  a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet's insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a 'slam dunk' -- intelligence that turned out to be wrong." 

Washington Post, Britain, France seek time to weigh military strike against Syria, Anthony Faiola, Aug. 29, 2013.  Britain’s prime minister confronts a political fight over military action, and France calls for a delay until U.N. inspectors finish their work in Damascus.

Washington Post, U.S. explores possible legal justifications for strike on Syria, Colum Lynch and Karen DeYoung, Aug. 28, 2013. As the United States and its allies weigh limited military strikes against Syria, their lawyers have been exploring a range of legal frameworks for any operation, including propositions that members of the international community have the right to use force to protect civilians or to deter a rogue nation from using chemical weapons. But the Obama administration’s efforts to build a legal case are encountering skepticism from U.N. officials and other experts, including former Republican and Democratic State Department lawyers, who argue that the use of force against the Syrian regime, absent a U.N. Security Council resolution, would be illegal.

John KerryWashington Post, The case against a war in Syria, Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, Aug. 28, 2013. Why we shouldn't enforce the law by breaking it, When a nation as powerful as the United States repeatedly breaks the law, that law ceases to be law. If the United States is able to decide for itself — or with the help of friendly states — when international law may be enforced with force, everyone else may do the same.

War Is a Crime, Opposition to Iraq War May Save Syria, David Swanson, Aug. 29, 2013. Evidence of "weapons of mass destruction" is "no slam dunk," U.S. officials are saying this time around, reversing the claim made about Iraq by then-CIA director George Tenet. Opposition to a U.S.-led attack on Syria is growing rapidly in Europe and the United States, drawing its strength from public awareness that the case made for attacking Iraq had holes in it. A majority in the United States, still very much aware of Iraq war deceptions, opposes arming the "rebel" force in Syria, so heavily dominated by foreign fighters and al Qaeda. And a majority opposes U.S. military action in Syria. What's discouraging an attack on Syria is the public uproar that was created over the disastrous attack on Iraq. The nation of Iraq was destroyed. Millions of refugees still can't safely return. As with every other humanitarian war thus far, humanity suffered, and the suffering will last for ages.
 
Washington Post, Obama is talking America into a war, George F. Will, Aug. 28, 2013. Barack Obama’s foreign policy dream — cordial relations with a Middle East tranquilized by “smart diplomacy” — is in a death grapple with reality. His rhetorical writhings illustrate the perils of loquacity. He has a glutton’s, rather than a gourmet’s, appetite for his own rhetorical cuisine, and he has talked America to the precipice of a fourth military intervention in the crescent that extends from Libya to Afghanistan.

Washington Post, Fine Print: Obama boxed in on Syria, Walter Pincus, Aug. 28, 2013. President Obama faces “no win” situations no matter the actions he authorizes in Syria,  

Washington Post, U.S. rejects Syrian request that U.N. inspectors stay longer, possibly delaying military strike, Karen DeYoung, Aug. 28, 2013. President Obama said that “there need to be international consequences” for the Aug. 21 chemical strikes he said he has concluded were carried out by the Syrian government. The Obama administration appeared Wednesday to be forging ahead with preparations to attack Syria. It dismissed a Syrian request to extend chemical weapons inspections there as a delaying tactic and said it saw little point in further discussion of the issue at the United

'

AP via Huffington Post, Obama: U.S. Concluded Syrian Government Behind Chemical Weapons Attack, Staff report, Aug. 28, 2013. President Barack Obama says the U.S. has concluded that the Syrian government carried out a large-scale chemical weapons attack against civilians last week. Obama says the U.S. has examined evidence and doesn't believe the opposition fighting the Syrian government possessed chemical weapons or the means to deliver them.

Washington Post, National security team shuffle may signal more activist stance at White House, Scott Wilson, June 5, 2013. President Obama announced a major shuffle of his national security team on Wednesday, ushering out a cautious Washington insider and elevating two long-time proponents of a larger American role in preventing humanitarian crises and protecting human rights. The ideological shift signaled by the choices highlights a central dilemma for Obama as he seeks to make a mark on the world at a time of austerity — and war weariness — at home. How ambitious Obama intends to be abroad at a time of stiff challenges on the domestic front has remained an open question well into his second term. Samantha Power, Obama’s pick for U.N. ambassador, is a longtime foreign and national security adviser to Obama. She has been called a Harvard brainiac with both a Pulitzer Prize and a mean jump shot.

War Is a Crime, Cruise Missile Law Enforcement, David Swanson, The White House is treating the Syrian government like a potential drone strike victim. President Barack Obama's preferred method for dealing with targeted individuals is not to throw them into lawless prisons. But it's also not to indict and prosecute them. Missile-strike law enforcement is now being applied to governments as well. For, of course, dropping missiles on people is normally itself a serious crime, just as kicking in your door at night with guns blazing is normally against the law. But if a policeman -- global or normal -- does it, well, then it's law enforcement, not law breaking.
This is why the U.S. government can itself use chemical weapons, while punishing others for doing so. It's the cop.  It uses white phosphorus and napalm to enforce laws, or at least to do something in the line of duty.  The BBC this week reported on yet another horrific incident in Syria, this one involving "napalm-like burns."  The only way for the U.S., the land of napalm, to punish such acts with righteous indignation is through the immunity granted to the global police force.

Previous Commentaries This Week on Syria

Editor's Note: The following excerpts were updated additions to our previous column this week on Syria. The commentaries, many from alternative or non-U.S. sources, are relevant also to today's column but may have already been seen by readers earlier this week. Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, formerly assistant Treasury secretary in the Reagan administration and former associati editor of the Wall Street Journal, has been especially critical of both major parties regarding Mideast wars. The Journal's editorial page is hawkish but its news story below Aug. 26 is a significant mainstream confirmation of reports through the summer that Saudi Arabia unsuccessfully sought to bribe Russia with massive deals to enable the Saudis to topple Assad.

Paul Craig RobertsInstitute of Political Economy, On Syria, Paul Craig Roberts, left, Aug. 28, 2013. Have you lost patience, as I have, with the pretense that a US/UK military attack on Syria is a response to Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons? If only one journalist on live camera would ask one of the many liars–Obama, Cameron, Hague, Tony Blair–this question: “Why are you lying to us?” If only there were a Helen Thomas somewhere in the media! Alas! The media consists only of pimps and whores for governments. The US and UK governments have made it completely clear that Assad has not used chemical weapons. If Assad had used chemical weapons, Washington would wait for the report of the UN chemical weapons inspectors, who are in Iraq conducting the investigation. The UN Secretary General says that the facts should first be established before starting a war, but Washington knows that the facts will prove that the US and UK governments are liars. Washington is desperate to attack before experts reveal the facts....The point that everyone misses, including the UN Secretary General and the Russian media, is that whether Assad used chemical weapons or not, it is still a war crime for the US and UK to commit naked aggression against Syria. The Syrian government is confronted with an invasion from outside forces, most likely recruited and most definitely encouraged and equipped by the US. What right does Washington and London have to decide what weapons Assad can use to resist an invasion?

Wall Street Journal, A Veteran Saudi Power Player Works To Build Support to Topple Assad, Adam Entous, Nour Malas and Margaret Coker, Aug. 26, 2013. Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud maneuvers behind the scenes to defeat the Syrian regime and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies. Officials inside the Central Intelligence Agency knew that Saudi Arabia was serious about toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when the Saudi king named Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud to lead the effort. They believed that Prince Bandar, a veteran of the diplomatic intrigues of Washington and the Arab world, could deliver what the CIA couldn't: planeloads of money and arms, and, as one U.S. diplomat put it, wasta, Arabic for under-the-table clout. Prince Bandar—for two decades one of the most influential deal makers in Washington as Saudi ambassador but who had largely disappeared from public view—is now reprising his role as a geopolitical operator. This time it is to advance the Saudi kingdom's top foreign-policy goal, defeating Syrian President Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies.

Telegraph, Saudis offer Russia secret oil deal if it drops Syria, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Aug. 26, 2013. Saudi Arabia has secretly offered Russia a sweeping deal to control the global oil market and safeguard Russia’s gas contracts, if the Kremlin backs away from the Assad regime in Syria. The revelations come amid high tension in the Middle East, with US, British, and French warship poised for missile strikes in Syria. Iran has threatened to retaliate. The strategic jitters pushed Brent crude prices to a five-month high of $112 a barrel. “We are only one incident away from a serious oil spike. The market is a lot tighter than people think,” said Chris Skrebowski, editor of Petroleum Review. Leaked transcripts of a closed-door meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan shed an extraordinary light on the hard-nosed Realpolitik of the two sides.

Time, Australians Are Joining Syria’s Rebels in Surprising Numbers, Ian Lloyd Neubauer, July 16, 2013. As many as 6,000 foreign fighters from nearly 50 nations have now joined the brutal 2½-year civil war to unseat President Bashar Assad of Syria. The vast majority are veterans from the the Arab Springs of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Islamist volunteers from Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and a few former Soviet republics bolster their ranks. And then there are the Aussies. Surprising estimates suggest that Australians now make up the largest contingent from any developed nation in the Syrian rebel forces. There are around 120 French fighters in Syria, about 100 Britons and a handful of Americans — but there are at least 200 Australians, according to a public statement made by David Irvine, director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO). The total may appear small, but it is growing rapidly, having doubled since the end of last year — and when looked at as a proportion of the Muslim population of Australia, the figure is startling.

Zero Hedge, Meet Saudi Arabia's Bandar bin Sultan: The Puppet master Behind The Syrian War, Tyler Durden, Aug. 27, 2013. Yesterday the Telegraph's Evans-Pritchard dug up a note that we had posted almost a month ago, relating to the "secret" meeting between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Saudi's influential intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan met with Putin and regaled him with gifts, including a multi-billion arms deal and a promise that Saudi is "ready to help Moscow play a bigger role in the Middle East at a time when the United States is disengaging from the region," if only Putin would agree to give up his alliance with Syria's al-Assad.  What was not emphasized by the Telegraph is that Putin laughed at the proposal and brushed aside the Saudi desperation by simply saying "nyet." However, what neither the Telegraph, nor we three weeks ago, picked up on, is what happened after Putin put Syria in its place. We now know, and it's a doozy.

FireDogLake, Obama Deciding What Size Explosion Bouquet Will Send Just the Right Message, Jon Walker, Aug. 28, 2013. The Obama administration is trying to decide on a military strike in Syria that will make this administration look just tough enough according to the Los Angeles Times. 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. I have noticed a complete lack of goals in the discussion of possible military action in Syria. The plan does not seem to be destroy Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile, kill him, or cripple his military capacity. It is not clear what the mission entails nor is it clear the the number of resources that will be necessary to complete the mission. Instead the administration seems to be acting like a man at a flower shop before a third date, trying to decide how many bombs, drones, and cruise missiles to include in our explosion bouquet to let Assad know we are interested without appearing too eager. It is like trying to find a medium between carnations and a dozen red roses.

Washington Post, U.S. says it has proof of chemical attack in Syria, Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan, Aug. 27, 2013. U.S. intelligence has established a timeline of last week’s attack, officials say, and the Obama administration is planning to release evidence that points a finger at Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

John KerryWashington Post, Imminent strike could draw U.S. into Syria’s civil war, Ernesto Londoño and Ed O’Keefe, Aug. 27, 2013. Historical parallels for retaliatory interventions feature unintended consequences and no success stories.

Washington Post, Russia says Western attack on Syria would be ‘catastrophic,’ Will Englund, Aug. 26, 2013. A Western military attack on Syria would only create more problems in the region, lead to more bloodshed and result in the same sort of “catastrophe” as previous such interventions in Iraq and Libya, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Monday.

Washington Post, Britain, France weigh joining U.S. in possible strikes against Syria, Anthony Faiola and Loveday Morris, Aug. 27, 2013.

Washington Post, Where probable strike targets are, Staff report, Aug. 27, 2013.

Washington Post, Britain to offer U.N. resolution on Syria, Aug. 27, 2013.   

Washington Post, U.N. chief pleads for diplomacy, Aug. 27, 2013.   

Washington Post, Britain to offer U.N. resolution on Syria, Aug. 27, 2013.   Washington Post, U.N. chief pleads for diplomacy, Aug. 27, 2013.  

BBC, US ready to launch Syria strike, says Chuck Hagel, Staff report, Aug. 27, 2013. Video American forces are "ready" to launch strikes on Syria if President Barack Obama chooses to order an attack, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says. "We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take," Hagel told the BBC. US Secretary of State John Kerry has said there is "undeniable" proof that Syria used chemical weapons.

Washington Post, New poll: Syria intervention even less popular than Congress, Max Fisher, Aug. 26, 2013.  A new Reuters/Ipsos poll has finally found something that Americans like even less than Congress: the possibility of U.S. military intervention in Syria. Only 9 percent of respondents said that the Obama administration should intervene militarily in Syria; a RealClearPolitics poll average finds Congress has a 15 percent approval rating, making the country’s most hated political body almost twice as popular. The Reuters/Ipsos poll was taken Aug.19-23, the very same week that horrific reports emerged strongly suggesting that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people, potentially killing hundreds or even thousands of civilians.

FireDogLake, UN Envoy Waffles On Chemical Weapons Use In Syria, DSWright, Aug. 28, 2013. As US forces prepare a punitive strike on the Assad regime over alleged chemical weapons use, the United Nations envoy refused to state whether sarin gas was used. Instead the UN envoy merely stated some chemical “substance” was involved. Evidence suggests that some kind of chemical “substance” was used in Syria that may have killed more than 1,000 people, but any military strike in response must first gain U.N. Security Council approval, the U.N.’s special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said Wednesday. Even the people on the ground don’t know let alone pontificating politicians in Washington. Of course, Syria is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Even if the Assad regime did use prohibited weapons under the convention like sarin they would not be breaking international law. While that fact gives the Assad regime no moral immunity it would be another complicating factor in getting a UN resolution to authorize military force.

FireDogLake, Kerry Steps up Rhetoric on Syria, Likely Indicating Military Action, Jon Walker, Aug. 26, 2013. The overwhelming impression from Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent speech sounds like we got ourselves another war in the Middle East. Kerry used the most forceful and direct rhetoric to date from the administration, leaving little doubt that military action in Syria will soon be taken. The administration now believes the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, crossing President Obama’s red line. Kerry said multiple sources of information “strongly indicate” that chemical weapons have been used. Kerry, right, also made it clear that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. He claimed that all peoples “must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so it never happens again.” Assad, left, used chemical weapons and the Obama administration believes that people must be held accountable. While Kerry did not explicitly say the United States will take military action, he walked right up to that line leaving that as the only logical conclusion from his statement. It sounds like official reason the United States is about to get involved in a civil war on the other side of the world is to the send the message that killing people with fast moving pieces of metal is acceptable but killing people with chemicals is not.

Institute for Political Economy via OpEd News, Syria: Another Western War Crime In The Making, Paul Craig Roberts, Aug. 26, 2013. Obama drew a red line, saying that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrians was such a great crime that the West would be obliged to attack Syria. Washington's UK puppets, William Hague, left, and David Cameron, have just repeated this nonsensical claim. The final step in the frame-up was to orchestrate a chemical incident and blame the Syrian government.

Huffington Post, President Obama: Don't Strike Syria Without Congressional Approval, Robert Naiman, Aug. 27, 2013. If President Obama can get us into war in Syria without prior Congressional approval, it will set a terrible precedent: A future president could get us more easily into war in Iran without prior Congressional approval. On Sunday, Republican Sen. Bob Corker and Rep. Eliot Engel -- a Democrat who voted for the Iraq war -- told Fox News that President Obama should strike Syria first and get congressional approval afterwards. That's not how the U.S. Constitution says it should go. That's not how the War Powers Resolution (which, despite the name "resolution," is binding U.S. law) says it should go. The Constitution and the War Powers Resolution say that absent an attack on the United States, Congress must approve military action before it takes place. There is a common misconception about the War Powers Resolution that it allows the president to do whatever he or she wants for 60 days. This confuses one provision of the War Powers Resolution with the whole.

Online Asia Times, Obama set for holy Tomahawk war, Pepe Escobar, Aug. 27, 2013. The ''responsibility to protect'' (R2P) doctrine invoked to legitimize the 2011 war on Libya has just transmogrified into ''responsibility to attack'' (R2A) Syria. Just because the Obama administration says so. On Sunday, the White House said it had ''very little doubt'' that the Bashar al-Assad government used chemical weapons against its own citizens. On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry ramped it up to ''undeniable'' and accused Assad of ''moral obscenity." So when the US bombed Fallujah with white phosphorus in late 2004 it was just taking the moral high ground. And when the US helped Saddam Hussein to gas Iranians in 1988 it was also taking the moral high ground. The Obama administration has ruled that Assad allowed UN chemical weapons inspectors into Syria, and to celebrate their arrival unleashed a chemical weapons attack mostly against women and children only 15 kilometers away from the inspectors' hotel. If you don't believe it, you subscribe to a conspiracy theory. Evidence? Who cares about evidence? Assad's offer of access for the inspectors came ''too late.'' As far as the Obama administration and UK Prime Minister David ''of Arabia'' Cameron are concerned -- supported by a barrage of corporate media missiles -- that's irrelevant; Obama's ''red line'' has been crossed by Assad, period. Washington and London are in no-holds-barred mode to dismiss any facts contradicting the decision. Newspeak -- of the R2A kind -- rules. If this all looks like Iraq 2.0 that's because it is.

Larouche Pac.org, How Saudis Are Working Obama Over To Attack Syria, Staff report, Aug. 27, 2013. An AP article carried by the Wall Street Journal on Aug. 26 shows the role of Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin-Sultan in leading the Obama administration, with the help of some of U.S. legislators, to attack Syria and remove Bashar al-Assad. Bandar did all that because "he could deliver what the CIA couldn't: planeloads of money and arms, and, as one U.S. diplomat put it, wasta, Arabic for "under-the-table clout." It is evident that the plan was put into motion months ago when Bandar began "jetting from covert command centers near the Syrian front lines to the Élysée Palace in Paris and the Kremlin in Moscow, seeking to undermine the Assad regime," Arab, American, and European officials told the authors.

New York Times, A Sharp Shift in Tone on Syria From the White House, Scott Shane and Ben Hubbard, Aug. 25, 2013. Moving a step closer to possible American military action in Syria, a senior Obama administration official said Sunday that there was “very little doubt” that President Bashar al-Assad’s military forces had used chemical weapons against civilians last week and that a Syrian promise to allow United Nations inspectors access to the site was “too late to be credible.” The statement, released Sunday morning on the condition that the official not be named, reflected a tougher tone after President Obama’s meeting at the White House on Saturday with his national security team, during which advisers discussed options for military action. While officials said the United States would still hold consultations at the United Nations, they made it clear that the United Nations was not the only avenue for taking action against Syria.

InfoWars, Flashback: Hacked Emails Reveal ‘Washington-Approved’ Plan to Stage Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria, Paul Joseph Watson, Aug. 26, 2013 (republished from Jan. 28, 2013). Obama administration complicit in war crime? UPDATE: Britam has admitted that it was hacked but denied that the emails released by the hacker were genuine. Click here for a statement by a Britam spokesman. Alleged hacked emails from defense contractor Britam reveal a plan “approved by Washington” and funded by Qatar to stage a chemical weapons attack in Syria and blame it on the Assad regime, fulfilling  what the Obama administration has made clear is a “red line” that would mandate US military intervention. The leaked emails, obtained by a hacker in Germany, feature an exchange (click here for screenshot) between Britam Defence’s Business Development Director David Goulding and the company’s founder Philip Doughty.

Today's Zaman (Istanbul), Report: Police foil al-Nusra bomb attack planned for Adana, Staff report, May 30, 2013. Seven members of Syria's militant al-Nusra group were detained on Wednesday after police found sarin gas, which was reportedly going to be used in a bomb attack, during a search of the suspects' homes, Turkish media have reported. Newspapers claimed on Thursday that two kilograms of sarin gas, which is usually used for making bombs and was banned by the UN in 1991, had been found in the homes of suspects detained in the southern provinces of Adana and Mersin. Twelve suspects were caught by the police on Monday. The reports claimed that the al-Nusra members had been planning a bomb attack for Thursday in Adana but that the attack was averted when the police caught the suspects. Along with the sarin gas, the police seized a number of handguns, grenades, bullets and documents during their search. Five of the suspects were released later on Thursday.

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Huffington Post, Bill O'Reilly Falsely Claims Republicans Not Invited To March On Washington Event (VIDEO), Jack Mirkinson, Aug. 29,2013. Bill O'Reilly got a few things wrong about the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Wednesday. Some had wondered why no Republicans appeared to be involved in commemorating the historic day. Though three Democratic presidents spoke at the event marking the moment, no Republicans did, and there were no other GOP officials who participated. Answers were quickly given for this state of affairs. Both presidents Bush had bowed out of the event, citing health issues. Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor were both invited, but declined to attend. (Cantor had a meeting with oil lobbyists instead, and Boehner spoke at a Congressional event.) Jeb Bush and John McCain also declined. Moreover, every member of Congress was invited. O'Reilly must not have seen all of this information, because he got angry that, in his words, "no Republican or conservative" was invited to the event. They were!

FireDogLake, UK Police Granted Authority to Investigate Whether Material Seized From David Miranda Violates Official Secrets Act, Kevin Gosztola, Aug. 30, 2013.   A high court in the United Kingdom has given the Metropolitan police the expanded power to investigate whether David Miranda committed “crimes related to terrorism and breaches of the Official Secrets Act,” according to Robert Booth of The Guardian. Miranda, who is Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, was detained by British authorities at Heathrow Airport under a terrorism law for just under nine hours, which is the maximum period under the law that one can be held without charge. The authorities detained him to gain access to documents from former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.