9/8/13

I wrote a very long blog on Syria just the other day but it is an important enough subject to discuss the developments since, and those occur by the hour… The administration is using what pundits are calling a “full court press” to try and get Congress to approve the president’s request to use military force against Syria.

A Few Observations:

1. The Senate/House Foreign relations committee hearings:

Looking at the main “players” in these hearings from the least important to the most:

  • Members of the house: Unfortunately the hearing in the House was marked mostly by the ignorance and simple lack of understanding of the real issues facing the U.S. in the outside world. It is amazing to me that the members of this committee would not take it upon themselves to learn more and thoroughly understand the issues, the conditions, and the world. It was amateur time. Very unimpressive, indeed depressive.
  • Senators on their committee: much more impressive. Much more sophisticated. It is quite obvious that being a senator requires a much higher level of intellectual capacity than that of a house member. There was one senator on the committee who shamed the occasion by his presence, and indeed vote, on this matter unanimously considered as one of the most difficult decisions a senator will ever be faced with, by voting “present.” Not surprisingly, Senator Ed Markey just became a senator and was a member of the house until recently, and far from an illustrious member at that.
  • General Martin E. Dempsey: What a crock. What a non-inspiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What a political animal, as opposed to a good objective military leader. Ultimately, as I said before, the president gathered around him a group of appeasers. And Dempsey is at the top of the heap. With a CoJCoS like this, I would not want to go to war either!
  • Secretary Hagel: Given what I just said about the CoJCoS, one would hope that one would have a strong dominant and talented secretary of defense. Hagel’s performance was even worse than Dempsey’s, characterized mainly by being silent all the time. BOTH senators AND the even less consequential house members know that he is a total waste of time so they hardly ever asked him to say anything. He hardly ever volunteered anything. What a shameful performance. It calls to mind what he said at his nomination hearing that he will not be giving advice to the president. He will just carry out orders. It was a waste of time and again, I would not want to go to war with this team.
  • Secretary of State Kerry: I already gave him many compliments. He is eloquent and passionate. In these hearings he was shown as arrogant, dismissive of his ex-colleagues, and more so of House members, not listening to what they have to say or to their questions, and rudely interrupting them. Now I understand why he lost his presidential campaign.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu: Amazingly, Israel has become embroiled in this argument. Nearly every speaker, pundit, or politician mentions Israel to support his argument, both against and in favor of attack. It is time for Netanyahu to make a statement along the lines that Israel will respect any decision that the U.S. president will make. Should the U.S. decide to attack if Israel is attacked, as a result it will defend itself ferociously and with determination. No need to worry about Israel. Should the U.S. decide not to attack, Israel will deal with the consequences of such a decision also. It is OK for AIPAC to brief congressmen and give them background behind the scenes and not for attribution. I am pretty sure that they are doing it and that AIPAC is making it clear that Israel’s position is very much in favor of a strong U.S. action, only because the consequences of no action at this stage will be worse. But it is wrong for U.S. politicians and pundits to use Israel as a chip in this debate.
  • President Putin of Russia: Yes. Putin of Russia. He tried and keeps trying to effect the Congress’s decision by speeches and by action. Sending more and more Russian military power to the Mediterranean clearly is an effort to intimidate the USA. There is ZERO chance that the Russians will respond to America’s military action in Syria with their own military action against the U.S.—ZERO. This is just intimidation. And it is working. Even more interesting is his assertion that it is the rebels who used the chemical weapons on themselves. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you! But topping it all is his total Chutzpa in suggesting that a military action by the U.S. without Security Council authorization is an act of aggression and illegal. Just for the record, can someone please remind me of the Security Council resolution that authorized Russia’s aggressive invasion back in 2008 and continuing occupation of parts of Georgia? Oh, all right, there was not one. Just wanted to be clear on that.
  • President Obama: Clearly the big elephant in the room. His total lack of credibility, his isolationist tendencies for the last five years, his broadcasting of “the war needs to end” themes for five years, all that has come back to haunt him. You cannot just turn that on a dime as he is trying to do, or as he would like to say, “pivot” to being a militarists all of the sudden. Unfortunately, it just does not work like this. For people to support you, you need to earn their respect and Obama earned no one’s respect when it comes to his position as Commander in Chief. He has his job cut out for him.

2. Threading the Needle

The problem with what the president is trying to do is that in a typical fashion, he lacks resolve and is trying to stay dry in a rainstorm by walking between the drops. That never works. A leader needs to stake a claim, take a position on one side or another, but not to dither. In his effort to come as close to his nature to never make a decision, to vote “present,” the president is alienating both the Left who do not want any action, and the Right who want a decisive one. This whole notion of a pin-prick military action is ridiculous. Even the “wet” and weak Colin Powell understood that if you finally resort to a military action, do it with “overwhelming force.” It is likely that the president would have convinced the same number of his supporters on a much stronger and comprehensive strategy to win as he will for this narrow and weak action. After all, they support him mainly because they are his supporters. Yet he will gain much broader support on the Right for this type of sense-making strategy.

3. What the president needs to say in his speech and most likely will not say…

The president is appearing on Monday evening on all news networks and is giving a speech on Tuesday evening to the nation. His ONLY chance to change the dynamics of the congress resolution, which currently are moving resolutely against him, is, for a change, to be truthful and contrite. He made a mess of this thing; A HUGE mess. He was wrong not to intervene two years ago; he was wrong to dither regarding the reaction to prior smaller atrocities, and for sure on this larger one. He was wrong to try and shirk responsibility and blame others as he always does. His effort to push the responsibility away from him by saying that it is the world’s red line and that it is Congress’s credibility look pathetic. He should OWN it; he should admit to making many mistakes in the whole approach to the war against Islamists. He should promise to listen more to his political opponents and to learn from this mistake. He should also explain the total disaster it will be for America, for America’s interests and allies, for peace, for freedom, and for human rights if Syria is allowed to go unpunished and if his word is allowed to be made a joke of. The consequences of not acting are horrendous. Without contrition, admitting many mistakes and taking full ownership of the terrible choices facing America due to HIS navigation of events, without the president doing that, the consequences of inaction, horrendous as they are, will not be enough to sway congress.

4. The New Russian “Peace” Initiative…

In the last 24 hours, there have been noises coming from Assad, Kerry, and Russia that Syria will agree to surrender control of its chemical stock piles to an “international” force, in order to avoid a U.S. strike. It is funny how, in matters of foreign affairs, no one can really project what the next day will bring. I do not believe that this is a serious suggestion. I cannot believe that Syria will do that. I am sure that Iran will prevent them from doing it. However, I have to admit that it must be pursued to the end—quickly, aggressively, but thoroughly. If this will be the result, it will be a HUGE win for everyone concerned. Most of all to the POTUS! I always said that he is a very lucky politician but if he succeeds in pulling this off, he gets the title as the luckiest man alive! One thing is for sure, in order for there to be even a slight chance that this will be successful, Congress MUST support a strong military action. If (and it is a big if) this works, it is clear that even the weak threat of a pin-prick action frightened Syria into some form of negotiating table. I doubt that it will succeed but what it should do is improve the president’s chances of success in getting Congressional approval for his military strike plan. Hopefully even naïve and ignorant house members can see that the mere threat of military action can bring its own positive results—that is what deterrence is. Having said that, I am very surprised that Russia fell into this trap. It is so atypical of Putin to blink first. He must know that the mere raising of this as an option for a solution would strengthen the hand of Obama vis-à-vis Congress, a hand that until now seemed very close to being a losing hand. Why do that? Why help save and indeed strengthen his opponent? Well, the world of foreign affairs is weird…

5. Iran

It is obvious that the BIGGEST audience for all this drama that is being played here in the U.S. in front of our eyes, is in Teheran and Jerusalem. No action on the Syrian chemical weapon case will be interpreted rightly so by both Iran and Israel as giving Iran a green light to develop nuclear weapons. This in itself is going to lead to a terrible war. The president and his advisors could change ONE word, only ONE, in the proposed draft of the senate resolution to make this a huge win. It will help them convince Congress, and it will be a HUGE deterrent for Iran and a reassurance to Israel, and all in all can make lemonade out of a bunch of lemons.

In the text of the resolution when it states (the emphasis is mine):

Whereas the objectives of the United States use of military force in connection with this authorization are to respond to the use, and deter and degrade the potential future use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government;” they should add one word after the word “Syrian,” well actually two words: “and Iranian.” Check mate. That would be HUGE in all respects. That would be the text definition of “snatching victory from the Jews of defeat.”

Where is the visionary, courageous leader who will add those two simple words?