Obama goes to Congress on Syria as his International Support Collapses

People have been asking why President Obama did not go to Congress about Libya but is willing to do so with regard to a much less robust action in Syria.

The answer is a pragmatic and not a legal or constitutional one. Obama did not need Congress in the case of Libya. He had the Arab League, the UN Security Council, and NATO, along with the 60-year history of the post-WW II imperial presidency, in which all wars are police actions and can be initiated by presidential fiat. Some argued that US treaty obligations under the United Nations treaty obligated military action both in Korea in the 1950s and in Libya in 2011 (Congress wasn’t involved either time).

But as I have been trying to explain in the past few days, President Obama did not have a favorable international climate for a Syria strike. As time went on, he became more and more isolated. The Arab League declined to call for intervention even though it condemned Damascus for chemical weapons use. Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and other Arab countries forthrightly denounced the idea of foreign military intervention in Syria, a very different stance than many of them took in 2011 with regard to Libya. The fall of the Muhammad Morsi government in Egypt, and the stigmatization of the Muslim Brotherhood, led to a 180 degree turn in Egyptian policy, with the military junta now more or less supporting the Baath Party in Damascus and hostile to the rebels, who are mostly adherents of political Islam.

Then NATO declined to get involved, with Poland, Belgium and others expressing reluctance. Poland explicitly cited its bad experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then the British Parliament followed suit. It was as though Europe viewed Washington as like the Peanuts cartoon character Lucy, who set up the football for Charlie Brown to kick and then always pulled it away at the last moment, leaving Charlie flat on his back. Europe was saying it wasn’t falling for the unhealthy US obsession with Middle East conflict any more, that some problems can’t be resolved militarily.

Then Obama’s own intelligence links cast doubt on whether President Bashar al-Assad had actively ordered the chemical weapons attack of August 21, which seems more likely the action of a local colonel who either went rogue or made an error in mixing too much sarin into crowd control gases. The Ministry of Defense seems to have upbraided him.

So by Friday, Obama had painted himself into a box with repeated statements that he had to attack Syria because of the gas attack. But as he looked behind him, the troops he was leading had thinned out faster than Custer’s at the Little Bighorn.

With regard to domestic politics, Obama would be pilloried on Capitol Hill if he backed down as his international support (and elements of his case) collapsed. If he went forward with a unilateral strike, he would be alone and exposed, and risk extreme reputational damage if the operation went bad. (What if a cruise missile went astray and hit a village, killing women and children? What if the missile strikes riled up radical Shiites in Iraq and US facilities in that country were attacked).

Obama made a clever political calculation. The Tea Party and the GOP in general had been demanding that he submit the Syria file to them. So he obliged them. If they say ‘no,’ as the British parliament did, then Obama is off the hook. If they say ‘yes,’ then they are full partners in any failures that result. Either way, the issue is taken off the agenda of the 2016 election and Democrats are held harmless.

Those who think a ‘no’ vote will make Obama an early lame duck do not reckon with how all the votes have been ‘no’ for some years now. Nothing will change in that regard.

Will Congress authorize a missile strike on Syria? I think the odds are fifty-fifty. It is not impossible that the Libertarian Republicans and the left wing of the Democratic Party will ally to defeat the resolution. They came close to derailing NSA spying, after all. And feelings against entanglements in Middle Eastern wars are far more inflamed than on the issue of domestic surveillance.

It is remarkable how important the Iraq experience has been in the debates on Syria, and how decisive. Even if the US goes ahead with the strike, it is likely to attempt to keep the action narrow and symbolic, and to avoid troops on the ground, and indeed, generally to stay out of the conflict thereafter as long as no more chemical attacks are launched. Whether it is possible to bomb Syria and then walk away like that isn’t clear; but it is the maximal Obama plan. The minimal one is to be able to blame the Tea Party for isolationism and cold disregard of the regime’s violation of international law.

66 Responses

  1. You can call it a clever political calculation; I call it leadership.
    I’m T-Party, anti-Obama on most everything else, but this is the first time I’ve felt like saluting the guy.

    Even if Congress says no and he attacks anyways, I like that he’s insisting that he be held accountable.
    Rare in any President.

    • There are serious questions whether the War Powers Resolution of 1973 is violated if the President does not seek prior Congressional authorization.

      • There are also serious questions as to whether the President is legally constrained by that resolution. Even when they have followed it, prior presidents have stated that they weren’t required under the Constitution to follow it and I personally believe they are correct.

        • There are also serious questions as to whether the President is legally constrained by that resolution.

          Questions that will never be answered, because the Supreme Court refused to rule on its constitutionality, dubbing the matter of what force a President can use absent authorization from Congress a “political question.”

          Which, come to think of it, looks an awful lot like a statement that the question belongs in the realm of politics, not constitutional interpretation.

      • Congress won’t have any problem with Obama violating the War Powers Resolution or shredding the Constitution as long as extra-marital sex in not involved.

  2. How does a local colonel manage to mix too much sarin into crowd control gases?

    Sarin is a highly toxic gas and the process of mixing it with other agents or adding it to rockets or shells is unlikely to be done on the front line and within a regime controlled neighbourhood of Damascus. Surely this is done within a chemical weapons factory by chemists within controlled and ventilated areas and the munitions delivered to the front line?

    • Having served as a medical corpsman in Vietnam, it could have happened. I was surprised early in my tour of duty there that perhaps around ten percent of the grunts were wounded by friendly fire during the heat of battle or an ambush. And remember the extensive and widespread spraying of Agent Orange in the war, which was chemical warfare and has effected the health of three million Vietnamese civilians and caused around 150,000 birth defects in Vietnamese children. In fact, in September, 2010, I was finally awarded a service-connected disability having been exposed to Agent Orange, which cause in part my heart condition. And there were around 100,000 other Vietnam veterans who were eligible for compensation. You have to remember that in the fog of war, mistakes will be made by colonels and even chemists. Wars are fought by human beings, who are under great emotional stress.

    • I’m sceptical of the notion of nerve agents being mixed with irritant crowd control gases.

      Given the stakes involved, I would be inclined to believe that authorization to use lethal gases would be limited to the high command, if not cabinet-level.

      Without specific reference to any particular alleged instance of chemical weapons use in the Syrian Civil War, I would like to draw attention to the general incidence of poisoning or asphyxiation casualties during ordinary bombardments by explosive or incendiary weapons.

      Intense bombardment, and the fires which often result, can use up so much oxygen in a locality that people taking shelter in crowded, ill-ventilated places can be asphyxiated. During the many bombardments of cities during the Second World War, thousands of people died with scarcely a mark upon their bodies.

      Also, certain kinds of high explosive generate toxic gases as a byproduct of their detonation. Many of these casualties occurred during the First World War. Even before chemical weapons use began in that war, both sides accused the other of using toxic gases, when in fact soldiers had been poisoned by the by-products of high explosives.

  3. The only reason Obama had the SC with him on Libya is that he bamboozled Russia and China into abstaining because he promised them his “no fly” zone was strictly “humanitarian.” When it turned into regime change, Russia and China vowed to the world and their people they wouldn’t be lied to again on military intervention.

    And that’s why Obama can’t get the SC to back him on Syria. It’s called Blowback…

      • “We saw with the example of Libya how such a zone is introduced and how such decisions are implemented. We do not want a repeat of this in respect to the Syria conflict. I think that we will not permit in principle such a scenario,” Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters.

        As reported in alarabiya on Monday, 17 June 2013 under heading of “Russia ‘will not permit’ no-fly zone over Syria”

        After the idiocy of Bush and Iraq was revealed, Obama got a Security Council Resolution and International backing to bomb Libya. It is the actions on Libya, not Iraq, which have prevented action on Syria.

      • This was called the reboot of US-Russian relationship. Basically, Medvedev was happy to believe whatever he was told. This is not the case with Putin meaning now the reboot is over.

    • This is an ahistorical myth, that ignores the long history of Russia and China opposing international operations, and the unique nature of their acquiescence in Libya.

      Their actions since then are merely a return to the norm, and require no explanation. It’s their one-off breaking of their form during the Libya debate that needs to be explained.

      • Joe, if you tally all the UNSC resolutions USA has vetoed (mostly in support of Israel) they exceed by far the ones ussr and Russia have vetoed. Of course, Israel is a no no topic in the us MSM!

        • Spiral,

          So what?

          There was an actual conversation going on. There are other topics in the world besides “America sucks!” and “Israel sucks!”

      • Joe, the USA has gone to war several times in the Middle East since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991

        1991: Russia did not oppose Operation Desert Storm
        1998: Russia did oppose Operation Desert Fox
        2001: Russia did not oppose Operation Enduring Freedom
        2003: Russia did oppose Operation Iraqi Freedom
        2011: Russia did not oppose Operation Odyssey Dawn
        2013: Russia is opposed to this proposed Syrian smackdown

        So I think you are being waaaay too simplistic in claiming that Libya was an outlier.

        It wasn’t.

        The Russians are perfectly capable of supporting (or at the least not opposing) the use of US military force *provided* that the USA can come up with a plausible reason why it is necessary for the USAF to go BANG!!!! on someone.

        • Johnboy, I guess I wasn’t clear: I meant that the Libya operation was an outlier in that Russia and China did not veto the mission in the UNSC. I was responding to Mike Munk’s claim about Russian UN action, and why they would be skeptical of a resolution to authorize force.

  4. If Britain had gone along, it would have been bombs away yesterday, Congress be damned.

  5. Lots of talk yesterday about Obama losing credibility over not taking action on the crossing of the ‘red line’ he drew a year ago. I don’t see it that way. For one, most rational people would draw the same red line (Nobody thinks its OK to use chemical weapons on their own people)

    Consequences for crossing Obama’s ‘red line’ would probably gain international support 99.9% of the time. However, in this unique instance, the opposition is also crossing ‘red lines’ (from what I’ve read, the rebel forces are slaughtering and eviscerating regime innocents).

    It doesn’t make sense (just to save credibility) to punish an evil when the result of that punishment will aid another evil. I wouldn’t want my kid going over there just so Obama could could claim credibility over a statement he made a year ago and that couldn’t possibly have forseen scenarios where punishing one red line contributed to the advancement of another.

    Stay out of it and try diplomacy.

    • “(Nobody thinks its OK to use chemical weapons on their own people)”

      “The Risk from Distorting Intelligence: The Obama administration’s emotional reaction to the alleged chemical attack in Syria may be understandable given the human toll, but the high-level clamor for action put pressure on intelligence analysts assessing the evidence. It also could have distorted their judgments, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.” – link to consortiumnews.com

    • @ Froncek, I understand your concern, but everything that has ever been stated about any potential U.S. strikes has said that boots on the ground is completely off the table. Whether one supports or doesn’t support military strikes is another issue, but from everything I read, the response seems more along the lines of Clinton’s response in 1993 to Saddam Hussein’s attempted assassination on George Bush 41 or to the bombings in Sudan (I believe it was) as a response against OBL’s attack against the U.S. embassies.

      • The debate in Congress hasn’t yet begun and Lindsey Graham and John McCain are already saying that surgical strikes will not accomplish anything in Syria and that the US has to commit to more. In addition, Israel is disappointed. Obama drew a ‘red line’ with Syria’s use of chemical weapons and Iran’s nuclear program, and now that he’s deferred to Congress over Syria crossing the red line, Israel wonders where they stand should Iran’s nuclear program accelerate.

        A million things can go wrong that could turn a ‘limited’ strike into a more extensive commitment (Syria counterattacks our warships, lobs missiles into Israel, etc) – and (taking into consideration the influence that the Israeli’s have on our Middle East policy) once that ball gets rolling, there’s a possibility it might not stop until it hits Iran.

        A limited strike only reinforces that chemical weapons are not acceptable to the international community (something the international community already knows). A limited strike that escalates into a major commitment has the potential to become a global war (considering all of the countries with differing interests over there).

        I still think that diplomacy is the best action. If it works, fine. If it doesn’t – at least you tried. Who cares if another country thinks that Obama ‘blinked’? 80% of Americans do not want to get involved – so I would assume that they have forgiven Obama’s perceived ‘blinking’. Those are the opinions he should care about.

        • “Israel wonders where they stand should Iran’s nuclear program accelerate.”

          A 2007 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program, so Israel should have no fear of a nuclear program that has nothing to do with weapons. Israel is reputed to have 200 to 400 nuclear weapons, including nuclear-armed submarines so why should it fear Iran even if it did have a few? I guess paranoia is a possible answer to that question.

          “Report Shows Iranian Nuke Restraint: A new inspections report about Iran’s nuclear program prompted the usual alarmist headlines in U.S. newspapers about the growing need to attack Iran. But details in the report suggest that Iran is holding back from any “breakout” capability to build a nuclear bomb, reports Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service.” – link to consortiumnews.com

  6. I’m still unclear why “rogue generals” = evidence thinning. This was a chemical weapons attack whether it was ‘a little too much sarin gas’ or whatever else, and there are long established principles/international laws against their use.

    Should governments not be held accountable for the rogue acts of a member of their own military forces? Let’s assume it was a general who ignored the chain of command and went on to use a weapon banned by the international community for 80 years. What is the appropriate response?

    Also, I think it’s unfair to give Europe a free pass and paint this as just another American government eager for war. If anything Obama was the one dragging on this and France and Britain were cheering him on until they got cold feet.

    So I wonder if we can really see this as Europe trying to discourage the US. Could be wrong, but my impression after watching the way they have acted is that they want the US to go ahead, they just don’t want to be made a party that has to shoulder the consequences. They want Obama to continue on with the U.S.’s old ways of unilateral actions. It’s just that America, or at least Obama, is not as willing to do that anymore.

    • Lane, the international law does not support your assertion. My reading is there are two relevant ones: a chemical weapons ban which Syria did NOT sign and a Geneva convention which bans the use of chemical weapons among states (this was not a use against another state). Perhaps Prof. Cole can clarify.

    • Hey, don’t worry, fellow with the twitching limbs; the order for the sarin attack went no higher than a colonel.

      One-star at the most.

  7. It will be interesting to see what Congress does. I think the odds are significantly less than 50/50 that it will even express disapproval of the planned missile strike, and virtually nil that it will emulate the British House of Commons and make any kind of serious effort to actually prevent the attack from happening. The habit of deferring to the Imperial Presidency on matters of “national security” is, tragically, too ingrained at this point.

    Certainly the Tea Partiers and the sad, powerless handful of Democratic “doves” will make some strident noises, but I don’t think they will actually pass anything, even in the House.

    • Our Congressman, democrat, from a really mixed district, asked our opinion on his facebook page. Out of 130+ comments, there were two or three who would go along with his decision to vote for the strike. The rest were variants Of “Hell no”. As I said the district contains everything from very liberal to very conservative.

  8. […] There’s already been plenty of discussion of yesterday’s decision by President Obama to take Syrian intervention to Congress, but I just wanted to add that it’s both clever politics and good policy. I agree with Juan Cole on the politics: […]

  9. At the end of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” there actually is a wolf, and the boy gets eaten.

    Then Obama’s own intelligence links cast doubt on whether President Bashar al-Assad had actively ordered the chemical weapons attack of August 21, which seems more likely the action of a local colonel who either went rogue or made an error in mixing too much sarin into crowd control gases.

    A dozen times? This was not the first chemical attack by the Syrian government. British intelligence estimates 14 attacks. Were they all rogue colonels?

  10. The votes in Congress should be interesting. We know who the warmongers are and who their opponents are, but what about the silent majority who were probably happy in their anonymity? It’s time for the people to let them know their positions on this. No doubt, the Israel Lobby will be “explaining” their position to their representatives in Congress.

    • Unfortunately, one of my state’s senators with an excellent record on other issues keeps issuing statements about Iran’s efforts to build nuclear weapons despite my notifying him of a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate saying the Iranians had abandoned that project.

      Gareth Porter reports that Hassan Rouhani was opposed to the development of nuclear weapons, but apparently rogue scientists were in favor. As Iran’s new president, Rouhani will very likely maintain his opposition to nuclear weapons.

      “Fresh doubts on Iran’s nuke program: Though Israeli leaders and U.S. neocons still beat the drum for war on Iran, new evidence suggests top Iranian officials did not sanction nuclear weapons research a decade ago but rather the work originated from scientists who resisted the will of political leaders to shut it down, Gareth Porter reported for Inter Press Service.” – link to consortiumnews.com

  11. “Obama, Congress and Syria: The president is celebrated for seeking a vote on his latest war even as his aides make clear it has no binding effect” by Glenn Greenwald – link to commondreams.org … According to the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman, Secretary of State John Kerry, this morning on CNN, said this when asked whether the Congressional vote would be binding: “[Obama] has the right to do this no matter what Congress does.”

    “Obama Will Launch a Huge Propaganda Blitz — and May Attack Syria Even If He Loses the Vote in Congress” by Norman Solomon – link to commondreams.org

    If Congress opposes a war on Syria and the Obama administration shows contempt for that vote and Congress and the American people remain mute after the war begins it will, in effect, say that there is no longer any doubt that the United States’ experiment in democracy is over.

  12. I just read a CBS News report that Senator John McCain is in such close contact with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he can report that al-Assad is “euphoric.”

    Seems dubitable to me, that McCain is calling for al-Assad’s murder at the same time that they are BFF.

    Like the bologna about mixing Sarin into crowd control munitions like tear gas, consider the source. And I don’t mean CBS.
    Consider the source of McCain’s news. Hint: it ain’t the CIA. A US Senator is willingly allowing himself to be manipulated by a foreign, frequently hostile intelligence agency.

  13. I’ll be interested to see how Rand Paul votes; he does a lot of talking and has a base that is more anti-war than pro-war, but he also vying for the presidency in 2016. I don’t think he is as anti-war as some would think. And we all know what the GOP did to his father when he took anti-war stances. Sadly, the GOP and even the Tea Party are, at the end of the day, pro-war and imperialism. Tough guys. Of course, Ran Paul is risking aliening his energetic base if he votes “yes”.

  14. There is something very bizarre about the warmongering talk promoting wars against Iran and now Syria. If, instead of both Iraq and the United States both losing the war on Iraq, Iraq had won and applied the same principles against the American and British leadership that the Allies applied to the Germans at Nuremberg, then many of the advocates for that international aggression and crime against humanity would have been dangling at the end of a rope a long time ago instead of promoting more wars in the Middle East as they are now doing.

      • Victors’ justice is part of the story, but what about the millions of American voters who keep re-electing these war criminals to offices where they can commit more crimes?

        • Hey, those things happened way away over there. And OUR congresscritter not only brings home the bacon, s/he has really good TV ads that speak right to our gut issues.

  15. Hopefully, and I am crossing my fingers here, when Congress does reconvene on September 9th, it will vote down President Obama’s military strike against the Assad regime just as the British parliament did against PM David Cameron. The brittle bipartisan coalition between the Democrats and Republicans in the so-called long war on terror has been crumbling ever since Edward Snowden dropped his bomb on them and revealed the extent of NSA’s spying on us and citizens throughout the world. And more importantly, Paul Rand’s filibuster has shown just how out of touch traditional war hawks, such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are even within the GOP. So there has been a gradual but real sea change in the mood of the country as the foreign policy debacle of the Iraq War sinks into the consciousness of the average American voter. They have had it, and our fearless leaders in Washington D.C. know it. They love being gainfully employed and want to be re-elected for another term. And I agree with Professor Cole in his astute analysis that President Obama has been seduced by his war powers as commander-in-chief and has, unfortunately and tragically. become just another imperial president. In fact, he eerily reminds me of LBJ’s fall from grace during the Vietnam War. But I served as a medical corpsman in Vietnam and saw the human face of war. As Dick Cheney might sat, I was introduced to “the dark side” of our foreign policy at an early age. Most liberals are suffering from cognitive dissonance when it comes to President Obama. How could a liberal Democrat, who ran in his first election on ending the Iraq War, have changed so dramatically in his second term? seems to be the relevant question. Well, a liberal Democrat can be an imperial president just as well as a conservative Republican as his predecessor, President George Bush, while he was in office. In fact, President Obama has violated the national sovereignty of more nations with his drone wars than President Richard Nixon ever did. But as the late Gore Vidal sarcastically observed once we live in the Unites States of Amnesia. And I have to say that I voted for President Obama and I am basically a liberal on most issues. So I am against any involvement or escalation in the Syrian civil war. But I learned a very painful lesson during my tour of duty ( 31 May 1967 – 31 May 1968)in Vietnam that the hell to hell is paved with good intentions.

  16. Belgium were alarmed by reports that some of their citizens were recruited by jihadists for Syria. I think that was the deciding factor in their stance.

    I like to see whether or not that undermining US intelligence about a rogue Colonel comes out in the Congress debate, which would be surprising if it did. Though, I think it may not be a strong arguing point against military action even if it was disclosed.

  17. Dear Professor Cole, I am curious about the evidence you have for the following statement about the instigation of the alleged gas attack in Syria:

    “which seems more likely the action of a local colonel who either went rogue or made an error in mixing too much sarin into crowd control gases. The Ministry of Defense seems to have upbraided him.”

    You manage with this speculation to shift the blame away from the President of Syria but squarely on the regime or its local authorities. If there is clear evidence of this I think the Obama administration should actually produce it. If not, then I think investigators should continue to look at other possibilities for such crimes. This would involve a better assessment of the capabilities of the rebels and their supporters, all the way from Riyhad to Tel Aviv to Washington (including the contractors these governments are capable of hiring privately). I think the plausibility of your argument is somewhat weak on this story.

  18. “As his international support collapses?”

    I agree with the commenter who said that if the British Parliament had not undercut the British Prime Minister, Obama would’ve begun his Syrian initiative by now, without the backing of the Arab League, Congress, or anyone else, but not without France AND Britain. his two standbys (and stand-ins) in Libya. All he really needed for his international support was that pair of the largest and most active European nations in trying to do something about al-Assad’s slaughter of his own people for little more reason than to keep the rulership of Syria purely a family matter, with his family enjoying that privilege. Meanwhile the rest of that “international support” mainly seems to have stood idly by while over the past several years, many thousands of Syrian citizens have been killed. to the tune of as many as 100,000 by now.

    And that is the whole point of why I think American military intervention is not a bad idea, and that’s been so for some time.. It would be a truly humanitarian effort to cut down and even end this bloodbath, as one was cut short in Libya, and meanwhile I don’t think the number of operative crystal balls is anywhere near the number of dire predictions — should Obama give the order — that are being flung all over the place. And what better use of that unbelievably expensive American military machinery that otherwise merely sits rusting away, here. there. and everywhere?

    It’s too bad that Obama let himself be spooked into consulting that body of do-nothing baboon-butts called the U.S. Congress. While he wastes that time, more Syrians will be fed into the Syrian death machine who otherwise had every right to live as long and as comfortably as anyone else in this largely indifferent world. And that will also happen for sure if the U.S. merely resumes sitting in the bleachers.

    • “And that is the whole point of why I think American military intervention is not a bad idea, and that’s been so for some time.. It would be a truly humanitarian effort to cut down and even end this bloodbath, …”

      If only it were that simple!!!

    • “All he really needed for his international support was that pair of the largest and most active European nations in trying to do something about al-Assad’s slaughter of his own people for little more reason than to keep the rulership of Syria purely a family matter, with his family enjoying that privilege.”

      The Iraq warmongers used a similar line about how evil Saddam Hussein was (true) and if we got rid of him everyone in Iraq would live happily ever after. Have you checked the news out of that disaster area lately? Getting rid of evil dictators is a great idea, but wars rarely are the answer. World War II was one of the rare exceptions.

  19. I can’t understand why none of the mainstream media journalists ask Obama about use of CW by the US and others in the not-too-distant past. He’s getting away with outrageous hypocrisy.

    And analysis of whether or not to bomb Damascus so often centres on politicians saving their backsides rather than how to stop the killing in Syria which, surely, should be the first priority.

    For the most part, politicians are a totally amoral bunch despite their overt displays of Christianity.

    • “I can’t understand why none of the mainstream media journalists ask Obama about use of CW by the US and others in the not-too-distant past.”

      To qualify as a mainstream journalist applicants must know that they dare not ask challenging and embarrassing questions of politicians doing the bidding of the ruling plutocracy; otherwise, they will be dumped. During the hiring process the would-be mainstream journalist is made aware of corporate standards that dare not be breached. The politicians can be asked challenging questions on nickel-and-dime issues that few people care about, but that’s the limit. An ability to transcribe accurately whatever spokespersons say and relay it to the masses is essential.

    • Bill: This article is important. Illustrating how complicated things get. NaFl is essential for fluoridating a water supply, making aluminum window frames and also making sarin gas.

      This played a role in the 8 hr debate in the house of commons as did a number of other things revealed by Snowden. You won’t see anything like this kind of open debate in the US congress because nothing is declassified that the NSA doesn’t want declassified… so you can’t talk about it even if it’s published in the UK press.

      So maybe you can mix sarin gas in with other gases in the field or maybe you just throw in sarin shells with tear gas shells?? The other thing that won’t be mentioned is what the
      hell is Saudi Arabia and Prince Bandar doing for us or to us? It’s time to put the screws to our representatives!!

  20. Consider this scenario: Congress approves a strike but only a limited one time thing. This being necessary to get it passed. The strike happens but because it is limited it has minimal effect on the course of the war. A strike that affects the course of the war is the only real measure of its desired “punishment” effect.

    The regime and the Arab world laugh it off. Does Obama repeat the strike without Congressional approval? Does Obama opt for a real as opposed to symbolic strike the second time around? Perhaps a real strike requires boots on the ground? I think not, his bluff has been called!

    I think that, at this point, Obama would recognize the slippery slope to another quagmire and back off. His only next move would be to continue our slow disengagement from the Middle East; the announced pivot to the orient. This would be a good thing.

  21. One of the reasons offered for an attack on Syria is that the gassing is a violation of international law. Since Syria has signed but not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court my limited understanding is that Syria is not subject to ICC jurisdiction and could not be prosecuted for war crimes. I’m wondering, however, if there is a mechanism whereby the evidence accumulated by the UN inspectors could be presented to and reviewed by the ICC on an unofficial basis to give an independent opinion of the evidence. This would (a)either prove or disprove Putin’s claim that the “rebels” intentionally spread the gas, and (b), if disproved, and the evidence showed that Assad was knowledgeable, if not supportive, of the plan to use gas, place Putin in the position of supporting a war criminal, although unindicted. This might also demonstrate to other nations, either non-signors or ‘non-ratifiers” that the rule of law may have some value in the new order, such that it is, or isn’t.

      • The ICC has convicted only one person in its 10-year existence – Thomas Lubanga of the Congo, who received a 14-year sentence.

        One criticism of the court is that it only targets Africans and avoids prosecution of well-connected Western nations’ citizens.

        There is so much “red-tape” in bringing an ICC prosecution, almost none have occurred.

        There is also no death penalty available under ICC jurisdiction.

    • IIRC,
      The UN / OPCW team is only looking into the type(s) of chem weapons used.

      AFAIK, the only sources at this time on who employed these weapons are:
      *** US (NRO) Photo / Image analysis concerning movement of units and equipment;
      *** Opposition / rebel reports on missles found and mortar bombardments; and
      *** MOSSAD input on intercepted phone calls.

      Whenever a source of “intelligence” has such a clear interest in what we do with the intel they sell us, we should exercise some skepticism.
      If it could be taken at face value, this assortment of “intel” would be overwhelming. See, e.g., Secretary Kerry. But it can’t.

      For $76 Billion a year, the US IC ought to have some actual spies in key countries, and not be totally reliant on partners with an axe to grind.

  22. Senator Rand Paul believes the AUMF proposed to justify military strike against Syria has a 50/50 chance of passing in Congress and Representative Peter King feels it will not pass at all.

  23. I thought under Article 12(3) that either a State Party to the Statute OR the Security Council could refer a matter to the ICC.

  24. You mentioned that Congress wasn’t involved in the decision to attack Libya, though it should be noted that the House voted by a significant margin against authorization for the action.

  25. With all due respect to Glenn Greenwald on his role in the Snowden affair, his article on this vote shows why I consider him a “concern troll.”

    “The president is celebrated for seeking a vote on his latest war even as his aides make clear it has no binding effect”

    Of course it has no _binding_ effect – that would take a spending resolution denying any funds for an attack, which this wouldn’t be. The aides are just pointing out the Constitutional reality. BUT, that doesn’t mean that this call for a vote will have no effect in the future, nor that a “no” vote could be easily disregarded by any President. Asking Congress to get involved is a real political event with real consequences; only a concern troll would pretend otherwise.

  26. Mr. Cole concludes with the prediction that the attack will be limited and not include ground troops. I wonder where he got that idea. Can you predict what the president will do after the president say that is exactly what he wants to do? I wonder about the listening skills of some pundits who lay out scenario after scenario, as if the Joint Chiefs of Staff have not done so and advised the White House accordingly. And, the headline reads that the President’s support has collapsed, which is odd since he did not seek any support from the outset. Finally, yesterday the Arab League voiced its support for disciplining Syria. Could it be that other Middle East nations do not want chemical weapons used on their people? Perhaps that should enter into the considerations of NATO members and others so skeptical of punsing the murderer Bashar Al Assad.

  27. I am at a loss at all the calculations and contortions that various people are going through in order to either favour or oppose a military action on Syria.
    There ought to be only one issue: should a guilty party be held accountable for violating an international standard. I would hope that few , if any, would have a problem with the above proposition. If the evidence shows that the Syrian government is responsible then there ought to be a meaningful international action against the Syrian regime. It is as simple as that. Nothing else should be used to influence the argument.

  28. A great analysis by Professor Cole,since it agrees with my thinking. I think it will be a close vote which will be determined if AIPAC takes a position on it. If they support, it will pass, if they oppose, it will fail. Neutral and it could go either way.

    I have read a lot of criticisms on Obama’s policy on Syria,but the fact is that any number of criticisms can be leveled at any policy decisions made regarding this issue. Like most issues in the Middle East, there are no good choices, only bad, wrose, worse still, and worst of all and it isn’t always easy to sort out which is which.So much of the criticism is over blown, IMO. It's clear to me what is intended--make it more painful to the regime in losses than anything gained by using poison gas. That's all that is intended, and that is all we can hope to do.

    • Gary,
      what you hope for, I don’t think its even possible.
      There is no weapon in the US arsenal that I am aware of that can:
      “make it more painful to the regime in losses than anything gained by using poison gas.”

      That’s even assuming that the régime even used poison gas, which is not yet a given.
      Any attack, including precision surgical strikes on régime military targets, will mostly kill the same folks who do most of the dying in all wars, innocent civilians. In Syria, as in other wars, they are killed by both (all) sides.

      And if we did manage to kill al-Assad, and destroy the régime, as many seem to wish, the carnage will get much worse.
      What happens in civil wars when the US enters on the weaker side ? Look to the Hindu Kush.


      There is no doubt in my mind where AIPAC stands on this.
      They stand in solidarity with the Likud government of Israel.
      And I have no doubt that Israeli military and intelligence services are trying to gin up a war to turn Syria into a wasteland, at the behest of that same Likud government.

  29. Besides the costs to our reputation and national security,
    the missile strike that Obama just delayed is gonna cost in the ballpark of $200 Million.

    For that kind of money,
    the US taxpayer could furnish 10 million $200 gas masks to the Syrian people. That’s enough to give one to half of the population, which would cover all Syrians in the 7 largest cities.
    The US taxpayer has already provided about 2 1/2 gas masks for each Israeli.

  30. It’s a good thing that we only have to preoccupy ourselves with with the political issues in this matter. So far the public opponents of the attack have not been asking how many Syrians will be killed and maimed by whatever military action we take, or even whether the action will prevent another chemical attack.

    No American blood will be shed while we shed Syrian blood. We will launch cruise missiles at a distance guaranteed not to place the US military in harms way (even one US fatality could start a national calamity). The US officials with the most serious responsibility are those tasked with debunking every report of Syrian civilian casualties, mainly by posthumous promotion of non-combatants to Assad privates and corporals.

    The decision to use chemical weapons is probably attributable to a few high ranking officials, including Assad. But like our military force, they will make sure they are out of harms way when the missiles start to land. But for our purposes, the unprotected are suitable subs.

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