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Obama’s Use of Force Bluff

Obama’s Use of Force Bluff

Mideast Media Sampler 09/16/2013: Never really intended, Putin gave him a way out.

After President Obama chose to ask for Congressional approval for any military action against Syria, NBC reported The White House walk-and-talk that changed Obama’s mind on Syria:

The plan was immediately met with robust resistance from a whiplashed Obama team who had listened to Kerry lay out the administration’s strongest case yet for action against Assad. “My friends, it matters here if nothing is done,” Kerry had argued. “It matters if the world speaks out in condemnation and then nothing happens.”

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal added more details of the reversal, Inside White House, a Head-Spinning Reversal on Chemical Weapons (Google Search here):

When President Barack Obama decided he wanted congressional approval to strike Syria, he received swift—and negative—responses from his staff. National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned he risked undermining his powers as commander in chief. Senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer pegged the chances of Congress balking at 40%. His defense secretary also raised concerns….

Not everyone is pleased. Mr. Obama infuriated allies who lined up against Mr. Assad and his regional backers Iran and Hezbollah. French officials, who were more aggressive than the U.S. in urging a strike, feel they have been left out on a limb.

It can’t be good when the people you confuse and blindside are your domestic and foreign allies. At the time President Obama decided to go to Congress, the Wall Street Journal reported that the military was poised to strike at Syria and was just awaiting the President’s command.

While I don’t believe that the president was indecisive – he never intended to attack Syria – the way he publicly came to his eventual policy was unplanned. In the words of the Wall Street Journal’s sub-headline, “How the U.S. Stumbled Into an International Crisis and Then Stumbled Out of It.”

The Journal also reported the “stumbling out” part of the President’s policy:

The way out of the impasse came by accident during a news conference in London on Sept. 9. Secretary of State Kerry, in response to a question, ad libbed that Syria could avert a U.S. attack if it gave up its chemical weapons.

Minutes later, his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, called him. “I’d like to talk to you about your initiative,” Mr. Lavrov said from Moscow, where he was hosting a delegation of Syrian diplomats.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the American diplomat jokingly replied.

The country appears leaderless, and there are consequences.

The Washington Post reported During talks on Syria’s chemical weapons, fighting on the ground escalated:

At the close of a week hailed in Moscow and Washington as a triumph of diplomacy over war, more than 1,000 people died in the fighting in Syria, the latest casualties in a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people and can be expected to claim many more.

The Wall Street Journal reports Iraninans dial up presence in Syria (Google search here.)

The training of thousands of fighters is an outgrowth of Iran’s decision last year to immerse itself in the Syrian civil war on behalf of its struggling ally, the Assad regime, in an effort to shift the balance of power in the Middle East. Syria’s bloodshed is shaping into more than a civil war: It is now a proxy war among regional powers jockeying for influence in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions.

On one side of this proxy war is Mr. Assad, backed by Iran, Russia and Shiite militias. On the other side, the rebels, backed by Saudi Arabia, Arab states and the U.S.

As far as the American backed rebels, The New York Times reports Deal Represents Turn for Syria; Rebels Deflated:

Rebels who had hoped to capitalize on a military strike to regain momentum in the fighting are now bracing for the opposite, expecting Mr. Assad to press the battle more aggressively with conventional weapons, which they bitterly note have killed scores of times as many civilians as chemical weapons have.

Rebels and analysts critical of Mr. Assad’s government say he has a well-established pattern of agreeing to diplomatic initiatives to buy time, only to go on escalating the fighting.

For example, when Mr. Assad accepted Arab League monitors in the country in late 2011 and early 2012, he also intensified his crackdown on opponents, and shortly afterward he began the large-scale bombardments of rebel-held areas, like the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, that have since become daily occurrences.

Even as negotiations were pursued for an unenforceable agreement, the fighting increased and Syrias fortunes improved. If there was a message sent it wasn’t: don’t dare test me.

If Syria and its patrons are now encouraged that there are no consequences to their actions, will Syria abide by the chemical weapons agreement sponsored by Russia? More generally, will Iran believe that it can get away stalling with talks as it obtains nuclear weapons?

These are results not of President Obama’s (in)decisiveness, but of his philosophy.

When President Obama spoke to the nation about Syria, he said:

After all, I’ve spent four and a half years working to end wars, not to start them. Our troops are out of Iraq. Our troops are coming home from Afghanistan. And I know Americans want all of us in Washington.

This is President Obama’s belief. Wars are ended by retreating and with pieces of paper; not by defeating one’s enemy on the battlefield. Or as Barry Rubin put it:

There is one other important consideration: the Obama administration does not accept the traditional diplomatic and great power strategies. It believes that it can reconcile with Islamist states, it does not comprehend deterrents, it does not keep faith with allies, and it does not believe in credibility, the belief that only power exerted can convince a foe of seriousness.

Syria, Iran and Russia know that President Obama has not interest in using force. They couldn’t be happier.

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Comments

What a shock – President Fluffy Bluffer, who claims to be able to do everyone’s job better than they can, ignores the advice of his advisers. Reap the whirlwind, jackass.

I have been chugging away on this issue over The Diplomad. I don’t think Obama ever had a clear idea of what he wanted to to do. The end result is an emboldened Russia, Syria, and Iran and great unease in Israel and among our other allies. Kerry proved himself incompetent and should be fired. See my piece over at http://thediplomad.blogspot.com/2013/09/barry-obama-in-peace-in-our-time.html

In addition, soon we will see the narrative that this was a war the GOP wanted and only Obama’s leadership averted it. The low information sorts will buy that argument.

    Rosalie in reply to Diplomad. | September 16, 2013 at 11:15 am

    “Kerry proved himself incompetent and should be fired.”

    Starting with the President on down we have a bunch of progressive/Marxists in the administration who are probably very pleased with themselves that they are destroying our country. And let us not forget our own side who have become nothing more than enablers. Any politician who actually listens to their constituents is considered to be a troublemaker.

Obama supports two things: himself and the spread of radical islam, consistent with his muslim faith.

Obama did attack Libya, to America and Libya’s detriment. Why does he hesitate to attack Syria?

    18-1 in reply to n.n. | September 16, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Bush had neutered Kaddafi so he was less risk to the US then his Islamist opposition.

    In Syria it is arguable as to which is worse from the American perspective – the Islamist Sunni opposition or the fascist government that helped murder Americans in Iraq. Obama doesn’t know for sure helping the Islamists is against American interests…

If the decision was really limited to air strikes or not, why can’t France take the lead by itself?

France has modern aircraft and I presume access to NATO bases close enough to strike Syria. Heck, the Israelis might let them…

Amazing how history repeats itself.

Carter presided over a collapsed economy and the devastation of American foreign policy.

Obama presides over a collapsed economy – largely of his own party’s doing and has destroyed America’s foreign policy presence.

The one positive I suppose is whereas the Islamist revolution in Iran under Carter gave us the first Islamist state that exists to this day, Obama’s attempt to do the same in Egypt appears to have failed.

For this you have to give the people of Egypt some credit…

Obama’s Use of Force Bluff

Seemed to work. Syria has agreed to sign the Chemical Weapons Treaty and give up its chemical weapons.

    Valerie in reply to Zachriel. | September 16, 2013 at 11:52 am

    It will require some canny follow-through. Where is that going to come from?

      Once signing the Chemical Weapons Treaty, and with the commitment of his Russian partners, there is little likelihood of the Assad regime using chemical weapons in the future.

        Henry Hawkins in reply to Zachriel. | September 16, 2013 at 12:53 pm

        Your spin fails. Obama’s stated goal was to punish Assad for using chemical weapons. There will be no punishment. As for Assad’s chemical weapons, there has been nothing but words about giving them up.

        I promise to give you five million dollars. Those are my words. Now go check your bank account.

          Henry Hawkins: Obama’s stated goal was to punish Assad for using chemical weapons. There will be no punishment.

          Assad has agreed to disarm, so deterrence is no longer an issue.

          Henry Hawkins: As for Assad’s chemical weapons, there has been nothing but words about giving them up.

          Syria’s government is reliant on Russia who is committed to the disarmament.

          Henry Hawkins in reply to Henry Hawkins. | September 16, 2013 at 3:50 pm

          Words from Russia are no less menaingless nor indicative of a guarantee of action than are those from Assad.

          Do you play poker? If so, stop.

          Trust but verify. — Ronald Reagan quoting a Russian proverb

          Henry Hawkins in reply to Henry Hawkins. | September 16, 2013 at 4:53 pm

          And what is the promised Obama punishment of Assad for using chemical weapons? After school detention? That’s why what you post is just failed pro-Obama spin. The ‘verify’ part is hilarious. Verified by whom? The Russians? The UN?

          Henry Hawkins: And what is the promised Obama punishment of Assad for using chemical weapons?

          Punishment is meant as a deterrent. Disarmament is a far better option.

          Henry Hawkins: The ‘verify’ part …

          By the international community.

    It wasn’t a bluff. Obama was neutered. Syria is not Libya.

    As for the chemical weapons, it is less interesting who possessed them, than who used them. There is circumstantial evidence to implicate each party, the government and “rebels”. The effort to neutralize Assad’s government is not motivated by humanitarian interests.

      n.n: It wasn’t a bluff.

      Technically it wasn’t a bluff as the U.S. administration had more than enough capability to punish the Assad regime.

      n.n: As for the chemical weapons, it is less interesting who possessed them, than who used them.

      A few weeks ago, Assad said he didn’t have chemical weapons. Today, he has agreed to disarm. There is little doubt that Assad’s forces used the weapons. There are communication intercepts, the weapons were launched from government controlled areas onto areas of strong rebel-resistance. And there have been a number of such attacks.

      n.n: The effort to neutralize Assad’s government is not motivated by humanitarian interests.

      It’s to uphold the international standard against chemical weapons, which is a long term humanitarian interest.

        Actually, it was a bluff, and it was called. There is a reason why Obama attacked Libya without provocation, but now hesitates to attack Syria. The evidence of the chemical weapons consumer and source is circumstantial. That evidence implicates each party. Apparently, Syria is also not Serbia; otherwise, we would have already attacked Syria. There is no humanitarian interest served if people are not protected. The action against Syria is motivated by interests other than humanitarian.

          n.n: Actually, it was a bluff, and it was called.

          Then there would be no need for Assad to sign the Chemical Weapons Treaty, after having spent many years developing them.

          n.n: There is a reason why Obama attacked Libya without provocation, but now hesitates to attack Syria.

          The Libyan opposition was collapsing, and there was a fear of a devastating retribution.

          n.n: The evidence of the chemical weapons consumer and source is circumstantial.

          The evidence strongly supports that the weapons were used by government forces. The attacks were launched from government controlled areas against entrenched rebel forces. Communication intercepts indicate that the weapons were launched by government forces

          But no matter. Syria has agreed to disarm their chemical weapons, without the U.S. having fired a shot.

          n.n: Apparently, Syria is also not Serbia; otherwise, we would have already attacked Syria.

          It took years to for the West to respond to the war in the Balkans.

          n.n: The action against Syria is motivated by interests other than humanitarian.

          The interest is reducing the threat of banned weapons being used.

      Henry Hawkins: Obama’s stated goal was to punish Assad for using chemical weapons. There will be no punishment.

      Assad has agreed to disarm, so deterrence is no longer an issue.

      Henry Hawkins: As for Assad’s chemical weapons, there has been nothing but words about giving them up.

      Syria’s government is reliant on Russia who is committed to the disarmament.

        Henry Hawkins in reply to Zachriel. | September 16, 2013 at 3:51 pm

        Words from Russia are no less meaningless nor indicative of a guarantee of action than are those from Assad.

        Do you play poker? If so, stop.

        NeoConScum in reply to Zachriel. | September 17, 2013 at 10:39 am

        Zachriel: Lemme guess,’Yoot… You spend your vacuous days pounding on app thingies on your i-Thingy in your sophomore dorm at(Fill in the Blank)University??

        A sign above your toytee says: DEFACO ERGO SUM. Right..? In a nation of Infants, Santa Claus WINS.

I agree that Obama never intended to attack Syria, and that he comes off looking weak and foolish. I fear that you and Barry Rubin are correct, in that this administration has the weltanshauung of a pot-smoking college sophomore, completely unleavened by any appreciation of world events since about 1963. This is inexcusable because this administration has access to the collective expertise of the extremely competent US military, not to mention professionals in the State Department, CIA, NSA, etc., — should it allow those professionals to even present their advice.

Neither Barack Obama nor John F’n Kerry are known for attending their briefings. They probably do not even understand the advice they are being given. This makes them, and us, extremely dangerous. We still have options for effective action, but the term “loose cannon” does come to mind.

    He did attack Libya. Why does he hesitate to attack Syria? Perhaps the debacle in Libya, including the loss of American lives in Bengazi, raised awareness of his actions. He should have started with Syria, then his campaign may have evaded public scrutiny.

    NeoConScum in reply to Valerie. | September 17, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Valerie: AMEN..! “..administration with a world outlook of a pot smoking college sophomore.”

    CONTEXT: A Post-9/11 World populated by many Real Monsters who have continually given hideous evidence of that which they wish for The West. The more the evidence—call that PROOF—of their Evil Intent, the more Obama pushes his useless, feckless head into that soggy hole in the sand with choruses of Halleleuyaaaaaaa from his 10s of millions of mush brained minions.

    Thus, the Perpetual Campaign of nearly 5-years. It’s called(among other things):”Yo!! Watch my hands so you won’t see what I’m NOT DOING,’Yo!!”

    The Infantile Majesty officiated over the American Retreat from our MASSIVE Victory in Iraq. And, BRAGS about it!! It was the very best ‘Tell’ he could ever signal that the strength—Armed and Moral—of the Bush Administration(aka America) was no longer a threat to Evil. So many, many acts of cowardice and flab since that Retreat.

      NeoConScum: The Infantile Majesty officiated over the American Retreat from our MASSIVE Victory in Iraq. And, BRAGS about it!!

      Thought the U.S. was obligated to withdraw from Iraq based on agreements with the Iraqi government made during the Bush Administration.

        NeoConScum in reply to Zachriel. | September 17, 2013 at 3:45 pm

        Our “intent”, under the strong, stand-up, Enemy of Evil, George W. Bush was for a strong American force to be present in Iraq a stablizing influence there and surrounding countries, as we’ve done in Korea and Germany.

        And, to HONOR the blood we sacrificed there–for Freedom.

          NeoConScum: Our “intent”, under the strong, stand-up, Enemy of Evil, George W. Bush was for a strong American force to be present in Iraq a stablizing influence there and surrounding countries, as we’ve done in Korea and Germany.

          Then why did the U.S. agree to withdraw their troops?

Drudge has a better headline up. Obama is forcing doctors to ask personal questions, which are not necessary in making a medical diagnosis. But it seems the government wants a database on people’s sexual activities.

The legally required questions are:

Are you in a sexual relationship? (Or are you not in one?) Is it same sex? Do you have multiple partners?

And, it should be interesting IF Drudge can get this “piece” of ObamaCare rescinded. Both parties are involved in the passage of this law.

And, now the GOP will be blamed for an Internet Tax. Which is coming out of the GOP section of the House.

Americans aren’t interested in what happens in Syria. There’s a lot of propaganda going on saying Assad is not a legitimate leader. Shows ya what the saud’s propaganda machine can buy.

Both parties legislative members stinks to high heavens.

Der Spiegel has the latest Laura Poitras article today.

Obama’s threat to blow up the budget is real enough, and he will not negotiate with the “terrorist” Republicans over a single cut. He has preconditions, which are to give him everything he wants, and he will STILL blame Republicans when his own red lines blow up in his face.

Obama’s bold offensive (as parroted on local NBC news) is to help the middle class, by “urging Congress to do more for the middle class”. Obama doesn’t LEAD from behind, he SNIPES from behind.

As Krauthammer has said, he looks down from above to criticize the evil politicians in DC. And the world has disappointed him on Syria, and about everything else.

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