It is almost impossible to make sense of the situation in Syria or President Obama’s responses to it.
Lack of credibility and accountability.
It would be a trifle easier to make sense of the situation if President Obama were driven by neither incompetence nor ideology and if His credibility and accountability were not risible. According to Maggie’s Notebook,
The lies surrounding Benghazi are so deep, neither the Executive branch nor the State Department (no matter who heads it or who has moved on) can be allowed to get a second chance to perpetrate such betrayal on this country.
Here, from the same source, are comments from South Carolina Congressman Jeff Duncan (R.):
DUNCAN: I can’t discuss the possibility of U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war without also talking about Benghazi. The administration has a serious credibility issue with the American people (inaudible) surrounding the questions the terrorist attack in Benghazi almost a year ago.
When you factor in the IRS targeting of conservative groups, the AP and James Rosen issues, Fast and Furious and NSA spying program, the bottom line is, there is a need for accountability and trust-building from the administration…The administration has a credibility issue. In my opinion, Secretaries Kerry and Hagel, Benghazi is germane to the discussions of Syria because as you stated, Mr. Secretary, the world was and is watching for our response, but after almost a year of not bringing anyone to justice in Benghazi, they are watching our response.
Mr. Kerry, your predecessor asked “What difference does it make now?,” well this is the difference, Mr. Secretary. These issues call into question the accountability of this administration. It’s commitment to the personnel on the ground and the judgement that it uses when making these determinations. The American people deserve answers before we move forward talking about Military involvement in Syria.
Section 4 of your testimony today said this is about accountability. Sure it is. The American people deserve questions about Benghazi before we move forward with Military involvement in Syria’s civil war.
Here is a video of the exchange between Congressman Duncan and Secretary Kerry.
Whose side(s) are we on and who used chemical weapons?
Even if, as Secretary Kerry appears to contend, none of that “made a difference” now, it would be easier if the “freedom fighters” whom President Obama seeks to help were less bloodthirsty or at least intended to confine their slaughter to other Islamists.
While U.S. leaders continue pushing for war against the Syrian government, today “Al-Qaeda-linked rebels,”reports AP, “launched an assault on a regime-held Christian mountain village in the densely populated west of Syria and new clashes erupted near the capital, Damascus, on Wednesday… In the attack on the village of Maaloula, rebels commandeered a mountaintop hotel and nearby caves and shelled the community below, said a nun, speaking by phone from a convent in the village. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.”
Arabic news agency Al Hadath gives more information concerning this latest terror attack on Syria’s Christians, specifically how the al-Qaeda linked rebels “terrorized the Christians,threatening to be avenged on them after the triumph of the revolution.”
Thus al-Qaeda terrorists eagerly await U.S. assistance against the Syrian government, so they can subjugate if not slaughter Syria’s Christians, secularists, and non-Muslims — even as the Obama administration tries to justify war on Syria by absurdly evoking the “human rights” of Syrians on the one hand, and lying about al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria on the other.
If you want a pertinent analogy to the situation that faces us now in Syria, rather than look to World War II or the beginning of the Cold War, you’d do far better to look to the situation that faced us just a year or so back in Libya. John McCain’s and Lindsay Graham’s very good friend Muammar Gaddafi was, no doubt, a very bad guy. So we helped the “freedom fighters” who opposed him, thus (or so we thought) watering the tender shoots of the “Arab Spring.”
That sounds odd now, doesn’t it, the phrase “Arab Spring”? You don’t hear it much anymore, and with good reason. Libya, for example, has descended into “lawlessness and ruins,” thanks in no small part to our meddling. It turned out to be a bad case of Spring Fever, not the beneficent outbreak of freedom and democracy we were all promised.
Actually, that’s a promise — or perhaps “fantasy” is a better word — that we made to ourselves. Any candid look at those “freedom fighters” would have discerned not budding James Madisons, but embryo Osama bin Ladens.
And so it is in Syria. I am deeply hesitant about Obama’s plan — or half-plan, or swaggering non-red line in the sand that he never drew anyway. I am deeply hesitant about the spasmodic lurch Obama is threatening partly because I believe he is a bumbling incompetent who is vastly more likely to make things worse, not better, but also partly because I don’t trust the administration’s narrative about what happened in Syria. [Emphasis added.]
This is what Sarah Palin had to say recently:
* President Obama wants America involved in Syria’s civil war pitting the antagonistic Assad regime against equally antagonistic Al Qaeda affiliated rebels. But he’s not quite sure which side is doing what, what the ultimate end game is, or even whose side we should be on.
* We have no clear mission in Syria.
* Bottom line is that this is about President Obama saving political face because of his “red line” promise regarding chemical weapons.
* As I said before, if we are dangerously uncertain of the outcome and are led into war by a Commander-in-chief who can’t recognize that this conflict is pitting Islamic extremists against an authoritarian regime with both sides shouting “Allah Akbar” at each other, then let Allah sort it out.
Here’s a pretty good analysis at PJTV’s Trifecta.
P.S. Don’t forget the Keystone Kops.
Some Syrians say no to US intervention.
Oh well, if President Obama has His way this might be the extent of it:
I believe the concentration on chemical weapons, including President Obama’s credibility-crippling recklessness in labeling their use a “red line,” misses the point — at best. It diverts attention from the issue the interventionists do not want to discuss: the fact that al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood would be the chief beneficiaries of U.S. attacks against Assad’s regime, the fact that the toppling of Assad could very well be even worse for American national security than Assad himself has been. [Emphasis added.]
But if we are going to make this a debate about chemical weapons, is it not worth factoring in that Assad’s opposition includes elements that have been seeking to use chemical weapons against the United States for more than two decades? That al-Qaeda recently and repeatedly used chemical weapons in Iraq? And that — as Bill Roggio notes — al Nusrah, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is suspected of using chemical weapons in Syria just six months ago?
Russia’s Putin has claimed that Secretary Kerry lied about the nature and extent of Al-Qaeda involvement in Syria.
In remarks that could raise tension further before he hosts President Barack Obama and other G20 leaders on Thursday, Putin also said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lied to Congress about the militant group al Qaeda’s role in the Syrian conflict.
“They lie beautifully, of course. I saw debates in Congress. A congressman asks Mr Kerry: ‘Is al Qaeda there?’ He says: ‘No, I am telling you responsibly that it is not’,” Putin said at a meeting of his human rights council in the Kremlin.
“Al Qaeda units are the main military echelon, and they know this,” he said, referring to the United States. “It was unpleasant and surprising for me – we talk to them, we proceed from the assumption that they are decent people. But he is lying and knows he is lying. It’s sad.” [Emphasis added.]
The Brits also appear to be concerned that Islamists are among the “freedom fighters.”
The British intelligence community has assessed that al Qaeda and other jihadists in Syria have become “the most worrying emerging terrorist threat to the UK and the West.”
This assessment was revealed in the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which was released in July. The committee, chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has oversight over all British intelligence agencies as well as Britain’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC). The report covered the committee’s work and conclusions from July 2012 through June 2013.
“The Agencies and JTAC assess that Al-Qaeda elements and individual jihadists in Syria currently represent the most worrying emerging terrorist threat to the UK and the West,” said the report in a section titled, “The Agencies’ Assessment of the Threat.”
“There is a risk of extremist elements in Syria taking advantage of the permissive environment to develop external attack plans, including against Western targets,” the report continued.
“Large numbers of radicalized individuals have been attracted to the country, including significant numbers from the UK and Europe,” the report said. “They are likely to acquire expertise and experience which could significantly increase the threat posed when they return home. Furthermore, there is growing concern about the risks around extremist groups in Syria gaining access to regime stocks of chemical weapons.”
Barbarity is bad
It is apparent that someone used chemical weapons in Syria, a barbarous act. Who did it is far less apparent. Barbarous acts are bad, whether undertaken by governments, government supporters, individuals or “freedom fighters.” Acts of barbarism are no less evil when they do not involve the use of chemical weapons. Why should the slaughter of perhaps two thousand Syrians by chemical weapons be far worse than the deaths of well over one hundred thousand, by both the Assad Regime and the “freedom fighters?” I have discovered no basis for the distinction in reason, only in emotion, an inadequate basis for military intervention.
There is less than convincing proof that the Assad Regime committed the barbarous act of murdering thousands with chemical agents and there is substantial evidence that it may have been done by “freedom fighters” or others.
The United States lack a sterling record of responding to “barbarous acts.” The Kim Regime in North Korea has prisons where political enemies and their families are used as slaves under extraordinary harsh conditions, generally until they die.
The total number of prisoners is estimated to be 150,000 to 200,000. Yodok camp and Bukchang camp are separated into two sections: One section for political prisoners in lifelong detention, another part similar to re-education camps with prisoners sentenced to long-term imprisonment with the vague hope of eventual release.
North Korea is known not only to have developed nuclear weapons but to have chemical weapons, perhaps up to five thousand tons. Yet there has thus far been no official suggestion that the United States will respond militarily for any of those reasons. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere has indulged in many barbarisms, and the Obama Administration — far from threatening military action against it — has been urging the interim government of Egypt to welcome the Brotherhood as part of its government.
An analysis from Stratfor
“Iran: Managing U.S. Military Action in Syria is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
Iran: Managing U.S. Military Action in Syria
Conventional wisdom says that a weakened Syria would undermine Iran’s regional influence, but a U.S. military intervention in the country could actually benefit Tehran. The government there has devised a sophisticated strategy for responding to a U.S. attack. Of course, Tehran would activate its militant proxies in the region, including Hezbollah, in the event that the United States launches an attack, but it would also exploit Washington’s visceral opposition to Sunni jihadist and Islamist groups to gain concessions elsewhere. [Emphasis added.]
Iran already has engaged diplomatically with many of those involved in the Syrian conflict. Over the past weekend, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the foreign affairs and national security head for the Iranian parliament, led a delegation to Damascus, presumably to discuss the potential U.S. attack. Earlier on Aug. 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the phone. Their conversation followed U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman’s visit to Tehran, where he and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif likewise discussed Syria. Even the Omani sultan paid a rare visit to Iran, reportedly carrying with him positive messages from the Obama administration for Iran’s new government.
Notably, the rhetoric from Tehran — particularly from its military leadership — has been relatively tame. Typically the government antagonizes Washington when U.S.-Iranian tensions heat up, and indeed the Syria situation has aggravated tensions. Syria is a critical Iranian ally, and the survival of the al Assad regime is a national security interest for Tehran. Iran cannot afford to directly retaliate against the United States, but it is widely expected to retaliate indirectly through militant proxies. [Emphasis added.]
Iran’s strategy involves more than just activating these proxy groups. It entails the kind of skillful maneuvering it displayed as the United States sought regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. Tehran cooperated with Washington, and it benefited greatly from the downfall of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein accordingly. The Iranian strategists who helped devise those approaches are once again in power. Zarif, for example, was Tehran’s point of contact with the George W. Bush administration in the early days after 9/11.
However, the Syria situation differs from those of Afghanistan and Iraq. This time it is Washington’s aversion to regime change that Tehran is trying to exploit. In fact, the only real reason the United States would want to replace al Assad is to curb Iran’s regional influence, which grew considerably after Saddam’s ouster. But Washington does not want to supplant al Assad only to see Damascus come under al Qaeda’s control. This partly explains why Hossein Mousavian, a close associate of Rouhani, wrote an op-ed Aug. 29 that said regime change in Kabul is “a blueprint for new collaboration” between Washington and Tehran. Mousavian called for U.S.-Iranian cooperation to extend beyond Syria to better manage the crisis-ridden region.
While the potential exists for U.S.-Iranian cooperation on Syria, U.S. military action undoubtedly would weaken the country. This carries serious risks for Iranian interests. An unfriendly Syria could cut Tehran off from Hezbollah, its pre-eminent non-state Arab ally, and jeopardize the position of its Iraqi allies.
However, limited airstrikes on Syria that do not undermine the al Assad regime could actually work in Iran’s favor. Such airstrikes could divide the rebellion between factions that oppose military intervention and those that favor it. Through their Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqi allies, the Iranians would then be able to better manage the rebellion, which includes radical Islamist elements.
Because these elements have been gaining more territory, the United States may need Iranian cooperation in forging a new Syrian polity. Washington is currently preparing to speak directly to Tehran over the controversial Iranian nuclear program. The Iranian government has already linked these two issues, and it believes it could use Syria to its advantage as it negotiates the nuclear problem. [Emphasis added.]
Iran cannot rule out the possibility that even limited U.S. action will weaken the regime. Nor can it conclude that Washington does not intend to conduct a more extensive, less symbolic air campaign against al Assad. But it can, however, prepare for either outcome. Strategists in Tehran know that the Americans have air superiority, but they know Iran has the advantage on the ground in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
Iran is thus positioned to foment an insurgency. (And the U.S. invasion of Iraq enhanced Iran’s experience in fomenting insurgencies.) Any insurgency would worsen sectarian tensions in Syria and throughout the region, in turn further radicalizing Sunni militias. Jihadists gaining ground would force the United States to work with Tehran to contain Sunni radicalism.
In the unlikely scenario that the United States becomes embroiled in another major war, extricating itself from that war would necessarily require Iran’s cooperation. But what really gives Iran leverage is the fact that since 9/11, jihadists and Islamist groups have had the opportunity to gain power when Arab regimes collapse.
Unlike Syria’s Arab neighbors, which want stability in the region, Iran welcomes disruption. It is reasonably secure internally, and it knows its spheres of influence may weaken but ultimately will not dissolve. Strategists also believe that having lived under sanctions for decades, Iran has grown accustomed to suffering. So while chaos in Syria would threaten inherently weak Arab states, it would not affect Iran quite as much. Tehran could then exploit Arab chaos to its advantage. [Emphasis added.]
In light of these risks, it is unlikely that the United States would deliberately engage in a large-scale military intervention in Syria. But Iran can never be too sure about U.S. intentions, and it has to account for the unintended consequences of even minimal military action. It is for this reason that Tehran has planned for multiple contingencies.
A lot can go wrong when plans are executed, especially when the situation is as fluid as it is in Syria. For Iran, this fluidity offers some risks, but it also offers some opportunities. The commonly held belief that a post-al Assad Syria invariably would be bad for Iran is not a guarantee.
Read more: Iran: Managing U.S. Military Action in Syria | Stratfor
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My further comments
Aside from more instability in the Middle East, Iran could get useful “brownie points” with the United States during negotiations on President Obama’s alleged nuclear armament “red line.” Perhaps that line might be redrawn, not at ninety percent enrichment or even at possession of a nuclear bomb, but at its use. Were Iran to use a nuclear weapon, President Obama and his colleagues would likely find it necessary to dither trying to decide on a “proportionate” response, with international support. I fail to understand how that might be in the best national interests of the United States.