SLAM Congress’ Phone Lines: Support the Troops by Keeping Them OUT of Syria

In 2013, the Obama administration was gearing up to launch an air war on the government of Syria. and other outlets responded by leading a campaign of Americans contacting Congress to say, “Hell no!”

The campaign’s overwhelming impact was reported by

“Americans are slamming at least 24 members of Congress with thousands of phone calls and emails, urging lawmakers not to approve a military strike on Syria—by a margin of as much as 499 to 1.

A national debate is raging on Twitter. Tweets and statements from members of Congress—both Democrat and Republican—show tremendously strong opposition to President Obama’s call for an air strike on Syria:

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., tweeted, ‘Calls and emails from my constituents is 100 to 1 AGAINST getting involved in Syria. The American people are speaking.’

Continue reading “SLAM Congress’ Phone Lines: Support the Troops by Keeping Them OUT of Syria”

They’re Baaack: Neocons Launch Push for Regime Change

In most Hollywood horror franchises we know that the villains – take your Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or your rakish Freddy Krueger – always come back. No matter what painful death or injury felled them in the previous romp, an endless string of potential victims means room for one more film. Make that 17 more.

The neoconservative war doctrine of aggressive military force and self-serving regime change did not die after the failed wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, which proponents pushed with an enthusiasm not equaled since the world tilted on its axis and Freddy met Jason in an epic hack-off.  No, the neocons went nearly dormant (there is a Bram Stoker trope here, somewhere), reduced really, to sniping at Obama, but more or less biding their time until the next opportunity to manipulate global affairs in the Middle East.

That time, it seems, has come. We’re seeing subtle signs already this week as President Obama takes the country one step closer to air strikes against Bashar Assad’s military assets. We know one thing: neither the administration or military seem particularly interested in pursuing regime change or nation building (their “punitive strike” strategy of course is a topic for another post). However, with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham as neocon spear points — push, push, pushing for military force, now! —  neoconservative voices, old and new, are starting to hint that “to do it right,” we might be in Syria for a long time afterwards, helping the “new” government find its way.

Take for instance, Elizabeth O’Bagy.

Fred and Kim Kagan consulting the military in Basra in 2008

Never heard of her? She is clearly a protégé of the Kagan Clan, representing Kimberly Kagan’s Institute for the Study of War. Kim Kagan, who is married to Fred Kagan (brother of Robert Kagan), is no doubt happy to put someone besides a Kagan to front her think tank, which frankly, is now aligned with the demise of Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, who turned to her and Fred as “consultants” in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the last several years, she’s written “The Surge: A Military History,” and numerous magazine articles and op-eds as panegyrics to General Petraeus and “his generals” and their now-discredited COIN pop-doctrine.

So sending out the signal for another regime change must be done carefully and with none of the old baggage.  O’Bagy has a Ph.D but this appears to be her first job. She says she has traveled extensively with the rebel groups in Syria to essentially prove that there are moderates out there who the U.S can work with.  But her recent appearances on FOX and other venues come across as bullet-point briefings with very little color. The bottom line for O’Bagy: the rebel groups can be parsed. We need not worry about the “extremists,” she insists, they are are outnumbered by the “more moderate groups” who will welcome American assistance (echoes of the Iraqi National Congress?).

Elizabeth O'Bagy
Elizabeth O’Bagy

And then for the capstone — “there needs to be more than just punitive measures” she charged on FOX Monday night. “These moderate forces .. could quickly be taken over by the ideology of these extremist groups,” if we don’t do more than just strike, she added. O’Bagy doesn’t say “regime change” is necessary, but she certainly suggests it.

This is fascinating because this is the second time, at least, that O’Bagy has been given over 5 minutes of coveted Special Report time on FOX to describe events in Syria, even though there is a city filled with more experienced foreign policy and military analysts and journalists outside [Note: Special Report gets about 1.9 million viewers each night]. She’s spreading the word at different think tank discussions in Washington, too, like here and here.

While O’Bagy appears to be a gentle enough scout for what will no doubt turn into a full-blown message-control and lobbying campaign, there are more strident neoconservative foot soldiers in the ranks. Like Charles Krauthammer, who all but dared Obama to take out Assad on Special Report tonight. Like former George W speechwriter Michael Gerson, who in Tuesday’s Washington Post laid it all on the line:

The best-case scenario is probably this: a negotiated outcome in which Assad departs and other regime elements agree to form an interim government with the non-extremist members of the opposition. The new government would then need to engage in a multi-year power struggle (aided by the United States) with the jihadists. But this approach would require convincing the regime it can’t win militarily. Which would probably only happen after a Kosovo-style, Western air campaign.

Wow. If I close my eyes and listen to this read out loud and replace “Assad” with “Saddam,” I can almost make out the contours of our failed war in Iraq. If I close my eyes long enough I may see Freddy Krueger, which to tell you the truth is a less scary prospect. Sorry Freddy, maybe it’s time to find another day job after all.


UPDATE: We cannot forget the notoriously neoconservative Washington Post editorial page, which on Tuesday warned that seeing “moderate forces prevail … can’t be achieved with one or two volleys of cruise missiles.” Here’s more:

The United States can’t dictate the outcome in Syria, and it would be foolish to send ground troops in an effort to do so. But by combining military measures with training, weapons supplies and diplomacy, it could exercise considerable influence. The military measures could include destroying forces involved in chemical weapons use and elements of the Syrian air force that have been used to target civilians, as well as helping to carve out a safe zone for rebels and the civilian populations they are seeking to protect.

Such military action should be seen as one component of a policy that finally recognizes a U.S. interest in helping to shape Syria’s future.

UPDATE II : The old gang, back together: The Weekly Standard publishes fatuous letter to the president offering assistance with Syria. Supposedly it includes signatories from “all over the ideological spectrum,” but that is a joke. Not when you are talking Bill Kristol, Elliot Abrams, Cliff May, Joe Lieberman, Robert Kagan, Martin Peretz, Karl Rove, Dan Senor …. you get the point. And not a true realist or anti-interventionist in sight. Not surprising, though, when you see the bottom line :

It is therefore time for the United States to take meaningful and decisive actions to stem the Assad regime’s relentless aggression, and help shape and influence the foundations for the post-Assad Syria that you have said is inevitable.

Statement of ComeHomeAmerica.US in Opposition to U.S. Intervention in Syria.

We in ComeHomeAmerica (www.ComeHomeAmerica.US) condemn our government’s war on Syria, prosecuted first with sanctions, then with covert support through “allies” like the dictatorial petro-monarchies of the Gulf and now with overt provision of arms for the anti-government forces and perhaps even a bombing campaign. We demand an immediate cessation of this bellicose policy by our government. Sanctions and military intervention in Syria are not in the interests of the American people; nor are they in the interests of the Syrian people.

We are far from alone in our opposition. Fully 70% of Americans are opposed to armed intervention in Syria – a number that has only increased over the months according to Pew polls. And yet the President and a majority in Congress favor intervention, revealing a crisis of our political institutions, which are far removed from the will of the people on this and many other issues.
Continue reading “Statement of ComeHomeAmerica.US in Opposition to U.S. Intervention in Syria.”

Call for Assad to Step Down Isn’t Much Change, Still Illustrates Washington Hypocrisy

The moral color of the Obama administration’s call for Syrian President Bashar al Assad to step down is a bit unnerving. First of all, today’s announcement is being hailed as huge news, but it barely differs from previous statements that Assad must reform or get out of the way, that he is “not indispensable,” that he has “lost legitimacy.” So, the rhetoric is about the same, and the policies are only slightly more pitted against the regime: an executive order with harsher sanctions and a suggestion that the International Criminal Court consider Assad for crimes against humanity. Again, not big changes, but the statement is being made out as if Washington is just fed up with Assad’s brutality, which they could have easily tolerated had politics dictated so, as other U.S.-supported atrocities clearly demonstrate.

The air of moral authority against such violence is giving Washington an opportunity also to shore up anti-Iran sentiment, singling out the Iranian regime as the only one still siding with Assad. Well, that’s actually not true: as far as has been reported at this point, Russia is still insisting on its right to continue its arms sales to Syria. Clinton did mention this too (although the media focuses on her more prominent Iran comment), but the virtuous call for Assad to go can’t exactly be couched in terms of stopping arms sales to the brutal regime. After all, the U.S. arms trade to Arab tyrannies actively suppressing pro-democracy protests is a favorite hobby of the Washington elite. (See overall facts and figures and some recent sales).

Update: Assad has reportedly told U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon that military operations against Syrian people have stopped, although Assad has previously made such comments, only to have people blink and go right back to shelling cities and towns.

Also, see Daniel Larison at the American Consertive on how such gestures as the U.S. is now making towards Assad can “pave the way for war.”

Showing Enemy Crimes, Ignoring Allied Crimes

CNN’s top-front story this morning is a disgusting video showing a dead girl from the al-Ranel neighborhood of Latakia. She was shot in the eye, and is sprawled out on the sidewalk. “Her mouth was frozen, slightly ajar. Her vacant face and lifeless head conjured the image of an alabaster bust,” the reporter described.

Left unsaid in the CNN piece is that al-Ranel hosts a large Palestinian refugee settlement, which has taken many of the hits from the Syrian navy as it shells Sunni neighborhoods. 2.5-year-old O’laa Jablawi could be one of another generation of Palestinians with less rights than even Syrians themselves, doomed to grow up in Syria as an outsider with few prospects — though they’re admittedly not as bad off as Lebanese Palestinians. They don’t have birthright citizenship in these places, of course. But I digress.

Such care to detail is taken by American reporters to describe everything down to the position of a senselessly slaughtered little girl’s hair — as long as she is the victim of an enemy dictatorship. If little O’laa had been born in, say, the West Bank with her possible kinsmen, felled by an Israeli bullet, she’d be a footnote. If she were an Afghan or Pakistani child killed by a US drone, not only would there be little evidence of her body left, we would have never known of her existence, let alone her name.

168 children have been murdered by US drones since 2004 just on the Pakistani side of the border. We have no idea how many have been killed on the Afghan side. And we don’t know the names of even one of them. Does CNN solemnly report on the shocking and revolting details of their deaths? Never.

We see this hypocrisy, this unequal view of the “other,” carried over into our own justice system. Members of the Afghan “Kill Team,” which killed innocent Afghans for sport, were given pathetically light sentences. But a US soldier who shot dead two colleagues in (possibly) self-defense was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The latter killed humans beings that matter. The former thugs did not.

It’s good that CNN is showing us, at least through leaked video — Assad has banned foreign journalists from Syria — the horrors of war, the terrible, heart-breaking human toll. But if American pride is on the scales opposite a gruesome truth, we can expect the Pentagon’s pet media to hold a finger on the side keeping Lady Liberty’s face unblemished.