When Did Chemical Weapons Become Red Line For US ??

DisturbingThe Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says U.S. now believes with some confidence that the Bashar al-Assad regime used small amounts of chemical weapons against rebel forces. Earlier this week Israeli intelligence had also said it believed al-Assad’s forces used chemical weapons, and the United Kingdom and France have both said they had strong suspicions. (source: Zachary Keck – The Diplomat – 27/04/2013) 

This is significant because President Barack Obama declared back in August that the U.S. had “communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region” that chemical weapons are “a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or use of chemical weapons. Would change my calculations significantly.” He and his administration have repeated this message on numerous occasions in months since. These statements have led some to rightly bemoan the setting of red lines in general. The casual setting of red lines should be concerning as it tries to impose a black and white solution on a very gray world. This was made painfully obvious a few weeks back when it briefly appeared the rebels may have used chemical weapons against the Assad regime’s forces.

But the larger question that was never really asked was when did the use of chemical weapons become a red line for United States, and should it be? In fact, initial criticism of Obama’s statement was almost solely that by making chemical weapons the red line the president was setting the bar for U.S. intervention too high, implicitly telling al-Assad any other coercive measures wouldn’t trigger U.S. action. Most people seemed to take it as a given that U.S. could not stand back in the face of chemical weapons use, whatever other interests it might have in remaining aloof. This seems extraordinary. After all, although U.S. explicitly warned Saddam Hussein against using chemical weapons against U.S. and coalition troops in 2 Gulf Wars, it has never intervened in a situation before simply because chemical weapons were used by one or both parties. Chemical weapons have been used on a number of occasions, especially before but also after the Geneva Protocol prohibiting their use came into force in 1928. Right around the time Protocol was being agreed upon, the Spanish troops used them against rebels in Morocco in the Third Rif War. Despite being a party to the Protocol, Italy used them against Ethiopians during 1935-1936 Second Italo-Abyssinian War. Japan also used them against Chinese forces during its brutal occupation of that country (the U.S. intervened but only because it had been attacked by Japan). Nazis of course used them against Jewish and other populations inside its concentration camps. Even after WWII they were used on numerous occasions. Egypt used chemical weapons (phosgene, mustard gas) during its war in Yemen (1963-1967). It is widely suspected that South Africa gave Rhodesian (now Zimbabwe) troops anthrax, which the latter used to great effect against rebels in 1979. U.S. and others like Thailand believed Vietnam was using chemical weapons in Cambodia and Laos during the early 1980s.

Perhaps most notably, Saddam Hussein used chemical agents extensively against Iranian troops and civilians during the bloody eight year Iran-Iraq war. Not only did the U.S. not intervene militarily to prevent Saddam’s sadistic use of the agents, it formed an alliance with him. Indeed, soon after Saddam’s forces began using mustard gas against Iran in 1983, Ronald Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad to help cement ties with Iraqi dictator. This alliance was maintained even when Saddam began using chemical weapons against his own Kurdish population later in the 1980s. None of this is to say that the U.S. shouldn’t necessarily intervene if Syrian forces have used chemical weapons. Among other things, doing so could set a powerful precedent against their use in the future, given NATO’s intervention in Libya has appeared to make Assad cautious about using aircraft against the rebels, which certainly can’t be said of his father. Rather, this history is just meant to highlight that the threshold for U.S. military intervention continues to drop, and for reasons that appear independent of the U.S. national interest.


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38 Responses to When Did Chemical Weapons Become Red Line For US ??

  1. Crises have flared abroad in the last several weeks, in North Korea and Syria, just as public opinion surveys have shown a dip in Americans’ approval of President Obama’s handling of foreign policy. Polls released in December and January found Mr. Obama’s net job approval on foreign policy (the percentage of Americans who approve, minus the percentage that disapprove) to be between plus-9 and plus-19 percentage points. In contrast, the last three major surveys asking about foreign policy, all conducted since late March, have shown Mr. Obama’s net approval on foreign policy to be barely above water, between plus-1 and plus-3 percentage points. There may not be a single cause behind that decline. Mr. Obama’s record on foreign affairs — including ending the Iraq War, killing Osama bin Laden and ousting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator — was considered a strength during the 2012 presidential campaign. But the current foreign policy landscape features more protracted problems: an unpopular war in Afghanistan, a stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program and an increasingly belligerent North Korea. In addition, an American intelligence assessment released this week found — “with varying degrees of confidence” — that chemical weapons had been used by the Syrian government, which President Obama had said would represent a “game changer” regarding United States intervention in the Syrian conflict. In the months immediately following the November election, these long-simmering issues had been on the back burner of American politics as Washington focused on domestic concerns like the budget, an immigration overhaul and gun control. With international issues out of the national spotlight, Mr. Obama’s ratings on foreign policy may have lined up with his overall job approval ratings, which have averaged 49 percent approve and 47 percent disapprove. His approval on foreign policy now averages 48 percent. His foreign policy disapproval averages 46 percent. But with the wider world forcing its way back to the forefront of American politics, the public’s evaluation of the Obama administration on foreign affairs may come into sharper focus, and may be influenced largely on how the situations in Iran, North Korea and Syria are handled.


  2. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Obama became a lame duck president earlier in his second mandate. His ambitious economic domestic agenda was DOA when presented in Congress. Foreign policy is the only area in which Obama can move without political restraint. The civil war in Syria and the use of drones have full bipartisan support in Congress. The domestic context faced by the Obama administration makes the use of military force more likely. The incentive at this point is for an aggressive foreign policy, despite a public opposition tired of war spending and unemployment.


  3. For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency. All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader. “We called it ‘ghost money,’ ” said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai’s deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.” The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing. Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan. “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.” The United States was not alone in delivering cash to the president. Mr. Karzai acknowledged a few years ago that Iran regularly gave bags of cash to one of his top aides. At the time, in 2010, American officials jumped on the payments as evidence of an aggressive Iranian campaign to buy influence and poison Afghanistan’s relations with the United States. What they did not say was that the C.I.A. was also plying the presidential palace with cash — and unlike the Iranians, it still is. American and Afghan officials familiar with the payments said the agency’s main goal in providing the cash has been to maintain access to Mr. Karzai and his inner circle and to guarantee the agency’s influence at the presidential palace, which wields tremendous power in Afghanistan’s highly centralized government. The officials spoke about the money only on the condition of anonymity. It is not clear that the United States is getting what it pays for. Mr. Karzai’s willingness to defy the United States — and the Iranians, for that matter — on an array of issues seems to have only grown as the cash has piled up. Instead of securing his good graces, the payments may well illustrate the opposite: Mr. Karzai is seemingly unable to be bought (…..)


  4. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: The US dollar enjoys a dominant position in the global economy. The greenback will get the US economy out of the current funk, no doubt. The dollar, however, cannot correct foreign policy mistakes. If the dollar were the solution, any military intervention since WWII would have been successful.


  5. (…..) Taken together, this cash stream has enabled Mr. Karzai to build a vast patronage network and secure his power base. Washington complained when Iran tried to buy the Afghans with cash payments in 2010. That practice has stopped, but the C.I.A. is still at it. There are many reasons to be outraged. Not the least of these is that the payments helped fuel corruption just when other agencies, including the White House and State Department, were pressing the Afghans to crack down on corruption and prosecute those responsible. American leaders have argued again and again that Afghanistan’s success, and America’s success in Afghanistan, including its ability to withdraw troops by the end of 2014, depended on a government in Kabul that could win the hearts and minds of its people and competently deliver services. A government riddled with corruption had little if any chance of achieving these objectives. Meanwhile, there are signs that Mr. Karzai will use state machinery to ensure the election next year of a handpicked successor, which would further discourage Afghans who had hoped that years of war would yield not just stability but some semblance of participatory democracy. Yet, as Mr. Karzai has shown many times, neither the C.I.A.’s millions nor the Pentagon’s billions, devoted to building his army and trying to keep his country safe, can buy more than minimal and erratic cooperation. The United States and other donors have warned the Afghans that continued international assistance — which the country is expected to need for years to come — will be conditioned on concrete steps to curb corruption. Now that the C.I.A. payments have been exposed, it will be harder to make that argument. Congress should publicly call the C.I.A. to account. Especially at a time of economic hardship at home, what possible justification is there for continuing to spend millions of dollars in ways that are at such cross-purposes with American principles and interests?


  6. The Ralph Lauren Corporation’s settlement of an investigation into whether it made illegal payments and gifts to foreign officials shows once again just how much a company’s cooperation can provide it with the benefit of a slap on the wrist by the government rather than the trumpeting of embarrassing details. Settling the case with the Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department through nonprosecution agreements – the mildest form of rebuke – is a powerful example of the incentive for companies to turn themselves in rather than even hint at fighting the government. As part of the settlements, Ralph Lauren paid more than $700,000 to the S.E.C. in forfeited profits and a criminal fine of $882,000 to the Justice Department. Although nonprosecution agreements are most commonly used by federal prosecutors, the S.E.C. highlighted the one in the Ralph Lauren case as the first to resolve violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This statute has become a particularly fertile field for pursuing companies over the last few years, with prominent investigations into companies like Walmart and Avon consuming hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate resources for internal investigations and bolstered compliance programs. It remains to be seen whether companies caught up in foreign bribery investigations will go to the same lengths as Ralph Lauren in the hope of receiving a nonprosecution agreement to settle their cases. The company paid $568,000 in bribes to customs officials in Argentina through a broker there to help expedite paperwork that allowed it to import products into the country, according to the government documents. The payments were hidden in the corporate records by creating false accounts for “loading and delivery expenses” and “stamp tax/label tax.” In addition, Ralph Lauren gave three Argentine government officials gifts that included perfume, dresses and handbags valued at $400 to $14,000 each. While the bribes and unlawful gifts were modest, the real problem was the absence of effective compliance measures to prevent such misconduct. As the S.E.C. noted in a statement of facts accompanying the nonprosecution agreement, the company did not identify a single instance of an improper payment during the four years in which the violations occurred. In February 2010, Ralph Lauren instituted a new policy to prevent violations of the foreign bribery law, and just a few months later the improper payments came to light. At that point, the company reacted swiftly, reporting itself to the Justice Department and S.E.C. only two weeks after learning of the problema (…..)


  7. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is another piece of US legislation with good intentions and null result. The legislation is neither effective to prosecute companies nor a deterrent to corruption involving US companies doing business overseas. Illegal payments asked by corrupt public officials, particularly in Latin America, can only be curbed by domestic anti corruption legislation. However, legislation in those countries are made by a political ruling elite protected from prosecution. In Brazil, a well known corrupt politician called Paulo Salim Maluf cannot leave the country because his name is in the INTERPOL wanted list. However, Maluf still holds political office and, despite many attempts of prosecution is still free as a bird.


  8. To hear Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tell it, the way forward on Syria is clear. The United States should be doing more — directly arming the rebels seeking overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, establishing a no-fly zone. This is not a new line for these two legislators and others in Congress who share their views. But it has gathered force since the Obama administration disclosed last week that it believes Mr. Assad’s forces have used sarin gas against Syrians. For all their exhortations, what the senators and like-minded critics have not offered is a coherent argument for how a more muscular approach might be accomplished without dragging the United States into another extended and costly war and how it might yield the kind of influence and good will for this country that the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have not. Mr. Graham and Mr. McCain to the contrary, the administration has not adopted a hands-off approach to Syria. Early on, it collaborated with the Europeans on a political solution, which failed. It is the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Syrians ($400 million), and it just doubled its nonlethal aid to the opposition to $250 million. With mixed success, Washington has also worked to organize fractious rebel groups into a more cohesive and effective whole, while delegitimizing Mr. Assad. Unlike Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham, who have also faulted President Obama for withdrawing troops from Iraq and tried to goad him into a more militaristic position on Iran, the president has been trying to disentangle the United States from overseas conflicts and, as a result, has been very cautious about military involvement in Syria. That may have to change now that Mr. Assad’s forces are accused of using chemical weapons. Mr. Obama backed himself into a corner when he warned the Syrian leader that using chemical weapons would constitute a “red line” and be a “game changer,” suggesting strongly and perhaps unwisely that crossing that line would trigger some kind of American action. The failure to act now could be misread by Mr. Assad as well as leaders in Iran and North Korea, whose nuclear programs are on America’s radar. But Mr. Obama should only act if he has compelling documentation that the sarin gas was used in an attack by Syrian forces and was not the result of an accident or fertilizer. The Financial Times reported the evidence is based on two separate samples taken from victims of the attacks. With the civil war in Syria now in its third year and the death toll at more than 70,000, the situation has deteriorated. Mr. Assad remains in power, sectarian divisions have intensified and fleeing refugees are destabilizing neighboring countries. Most worrisome, jihadis linked to Al Qaeda have become the dominant fighting force and, as Ben Hubbard reported in The Times, there are few rebel groups that both share the political vision of the United States and have the military might to push it forward. There have never been easy options for the United States in Syria; they have not improved with time. And Russia and Iran, both enablers of Mr. Assad, deserve particular condemnation. Without their support, Mr. Assad would not have lasted this long. Still, the country is important to regional stability. Mr. Obama must soon provide a clearer picture of how he plans to use American influence in dealing with the jihadi threat and the endgame in Syria. (source: The Editorial Board – NYTimes – 30/04/2013)

  9. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: What is going on in the US is not too complicated to understand. Right wing politicians — representing the interests of the industrial-military complex — are peddling again their product a.i., a costly war machine paid by US taxpayers. Those right wing politicians and the powerful support propaganda lobbying in DC find a friendly ear with a lame duck president. Foreign policy is the only area Obama can act freely with bipartisan support. A direct involvement of the US in the Syrian civil war is not if but when.


  10. The civil war in Syria is over two years old with no end in sight. As matters stand, the future holds either continued bloody stalemate or a successor regime dominated by anti-Western radicals. The time has come to force a more favorable decision. The humanitarian argument for intervention is strong. Somewhere over 1,200 civilians died in Libya’s 2011 civil war, when the White House declared a humanitarian crisis that triggered “responsibility to act” to prevent “violence on a horrific scale.” By contrast, 63,000 to 78,000 have died in Syria, and the refugee crisis is growing. The strategic case is even stronger. Syria under the Assad family has been a solid Iranian ally, a terrorist safe haven and U.S. regional adversary. And while it is arguable that the regime will fall at some point, the opposition movement has become increasingly radicalized, and potential United States influence over the post-conflict situation is rapidly declining. American credibility is also at stake. The Assad regime has apparently crossed the chemical weapons “line in the sand” but without even suffering a menacing statement from the administration, let alone the promised dire consequences. Effective military intervention would not have to involve conventional ground troops. It could be modeled on the interventions in Libya in 2011, Afghanistan in 2001, and the 1995 NATO bombing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Rebel ground forces could be assisted with critical capabilities like air and intelligence support. Special operations forces and C.I.A. paramilitaries could be used to coordinate assets on the scene. Support could be limited to rebel groups with pro- (or at least not virulently anti-) Western sentiments, and insurgent groups with ties to known terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda could be treated as targets along with the Assad regime. It would be a low-cost, low-commitment operation designed to end the fighting in Syria, relieve the humanitarian crisis, and give the United States and its coalition partners a chance the shape the post-Assad environment.


  11. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: The author position reflects the paid Washington lobby for the industrial-military-intelligence complex. That is, peddling the war machine paid by US taxpayers. Regarding the question posed for debate, the only practical solution is to help financially the UN to take care of hundred of thousands of refugees stranded in neighboring countries. The civil war can go on for years with Assad supported by Russia and insurgents supported by the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Great Britain. The law of unintended consequences is a big question mark. Israel may end up surrounded by even more radical regimes in its neighborhood.


  12. President Obama said on Tuesday that he would recommit himself to closing the Guantánamo Bay prison, a goal that he all but abandoned in the face of Congressional opposition in his first term and that faces steep challenges now. “It’s not sustainable,” Mr. Obama said at a White House news conference. “The notion that we’re going to keep 100 individuals in no man’s land in perpetuity,” he added, makes no sense. “All of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this? Why are we doing this?” Describing the prison in Cuba as a waste of taxpayer money that has had a damaging effect on American foreign policy, Mr. Obama said he would try again to persuade Congress to lift restrictions on transferring inmates. He also said he had ordered a review of “everything that we can do administratively.” But there is no indication that Mr. Obama’s proposal to close the prison, as he vowed to do upon taking office in 2009 after criticizing it during the presidential campaign, has become any more popular. Mr. Obama remarked that “it’s a hard case to make” because “it’s easy to demagogue the issue.” The plan for Guantánamo he proposed — moving any remaining prisoners to a Supermax-style prison in Illinois — was blocked by Congress, which barred any further transfers of detainees onto domestic soil. A spokesman for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and one of the leading opponents of closing the prison, said on Tuesday that “there is wide, bipartisan opposition in Congress to the president’s goal of moving those terrorists to American cities and towns.” Mr. Obama made his remarks following the arrival at the prison of more than three dozen Navy nurses, corpsmen and specialists to help deal with a mass hunger strike by inmates, many of whom have been held for over 11 years without trial. As of Tuesday, 100 of the 166 prisoners were officially deemed to be participating, with 21 now being force-fed a nutritional supplement through tubes inserted in their noses. “I don’t want these individuals to die,” Mr. Obama said. Both conservatives and civil libertarians said that under existing law, Mr. Obama could be doing more to reduce the number of low-level detainees held at the prison. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Howard P. McKeon, Republican of California, noted that the Obama administration had never exercised the power it has had since 2012 to waive, on a case-by-case basis, most of the restrictions lawmakers have imposed on transferring detainees to countries with troubled security conditions. “For the past two years, our committee has worked with our Senate counterparts to ensure that the certifications necessary to transfer detainees overseas are reasonable,” Mr. McKeon said. “The administration has never certified a single transfer” (…..)


  13. (NYT GOLDEN PICK) Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Pres Obama –with full support of public opinion — cannot get gun control legislation approved in Congress. How on earth can he close down the concentration camp in Guantanamo?


  14. Thinker: Simple. He just orders it. The key word in your phrase “gun control legislation” is “legislation.”


  15. In a SPIEGEL interview, former United States National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, 85, discusses President Barack Obama’s tepid response to the civil war in Syria and allegations that chemical weapons have been deployed in the country (…..) “Complex” is an understatement. It is an incredibly messy situation. Until the recent reporting by David Ignatius of the Washington Post, I have not read a serious analysis or description which would give you a breakdown of the nature of the various resistance groups. We know that some of them are Salafists who have the support of the Saudis. We know that groups from Iraq are involved, we know that the Kurds are involved, and we know that a significant number of Syrian refugees flee to Turkey. The point is that it is a comprehensive mess in the context of which you are not in the position to make good choices. Simply plunging into the unknown would not be all that wise. And if we did it anyway, who would be on our side?


  16. The Obama administration is placing a large bet on the ability of a Syrian former professor of military engineering to build a coherent rebel army that can defeat the regime of Bashar al-Assad, combat Islamic radicals and help build a stable new Syria. Gen. Salim Idriss, the commander of the rebels’ Supreme Military Council, is the centerpiece of the administration’s new strategy. He repeated in an interview Tuesday the sensible, moderate positions that have made him so attractive to the administration. He’s a solid ally, but a caution is needed: The United States is turning to Idriss late in the game and asking him to create a tight command-and-control structure from a ragged, factionalized force — which may be mission impossible. Idriss, a German-trained engineer who defected from Assad’s army last summer, voices moderate, nonsectarian views. He opposes the extremist al-Nusra Front and told me that he has ordered his fighters to stop cooperating with them. He repeated a February statement that he’s ready to negotiate a political transition with Syrian army commanders who haven’t ordered the deaths of civilians. Idriss also offered to meet “right now” with Russian officials. “If they have some interests, we will discuss the Russian role in the future. We will be very positive,” he said. This willingness to work with Russia and “reconcilable” Syrian generals is one reason the administration likes Idriss. President Obama continues to believe that a political settlement, brokered with Moscow’s help, is preferable to a rebel military victory, and he discussed Syria on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Idriss is emphatic about his break from the al-Nusra Front, which is an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq. “We don’t work with al-Nusra. We don’t share anything with them.” He said fighters from the extremist group had fought alongside some of his battalions, “but they were not invited.” A U.S. official agreed Tuesday that there was “a growing reluctance” among Idriss’s mainstream umbrella group to work with al-Nusra, especially after the jihadist front formally pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in Iraq a few weeks ago. “Al-Nusra’s gains haven’t been arrested, but their progress has been decelerated,” said the U.S. official. “Idriss says and does the right things,” a second U.S. official told me. “We believe he is genuine. Are there concerns? Yes, but what are the options?” (…..)


  17. (…..) Israel and Syria are in a technical state of war, but have maintained an uneasy calm since 1974 along the Golan Heights, which Israel seized in 1967 and much of the world considers occupied territory. With Syria now unraveling, Israelis are increasingly unclear about what outcome they are wishing for, with some privately suggesting the best circumstances might be for the conflict to continue so enemies including Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia, are occupied elsewhere. Israel is wary of many of the rebel groups challenging the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, because of their affiliations with Al Qaeda and jihadists, and worries that its vast neighbor will break up into fiefs far more likely to launch attacks than a centralized state. Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, invoked what he said was a Hebrew saying to sum up Israel’s options: “Between cholera and the plague.” And Dore Gold, a longtime diplomat who now heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said, “The choices facing Israel are not good.” “All you can do,” Mr. Gold said, “is make sure you make clear to all parties around you that you’ll do what’s necessary to exercise your right to self-defense.” The Israeli newspaper Maariv reported this week that a military post near the critical junction of Israel’s borders with Syria and Jordan was reopened after having been shuttered for years. General Hirsch, leading a border tour for journalists through closed military zones on Thursday, said troops have not only multiplied across the Golan, but heightened their levels of alert. Late last year, Israel also began building a 16-foot steel obstacle equipped with sophisticated sensors and intelligence equipment behind the rusted, sagging, chest-high fence along the 43-mile border. It is scheduled to be completed in August. “We want to make sure nobody will be able to penetrate from Syria to our territory for any purpose,” General Hirsch said as workers added circles of razor wire to the top two-thirds of the intimidating silver rebar wall and readied some areas for a concrete foundation. “The tanks were always ready behind,” he added, “but now they are along the line, ready to fire.” Despite the increased military activity and new soundtrack of Syrian bombing, life in the Golan Heights, a lush, hilly, 444-square-mile swath of vineyards and orchards that is home to 43,000 Israelis, about half of them Druse, has not changed much. The Golan Tourism Association said it has received numerous inquiries about the Syrian situation but has seen no drop-off in the three million annual visitors since the conflict began. Local Druse continue to export apples to Syria, some 7,000 tons so far in 2013, on pace with the 18,000 sent in recent years. In Alonei Habashan, the community of 57 religious Jewish families just behind the Israeli military post here that has been hit by Syrian shells several times, children continue to go to school and roam freely, according to Yael Saperia, a lawyer and mother of seven who has lived there 25 years. They have grown used to the sounds of war. “It’s sort of become the background noise; we don’t even pay attention to it anymore,” she said. “On Shabbat we hear it, mostly, because it’s quiet.”


  18. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Friends and foes of Netanyahu agree on one point. Israel’s Prime Minister works tirelessly to create conditions for the US get involved in another Middle East war. He may win eventually.


  19. Colorado Lily: I certainly hope not as we have financed them to the hilt militarily to defend themselves. Enough is enough!


  20. (…..) An Israeli airstrike in Syria on Thursday, apparently targeting advanced missiles bound for the Shiite Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, highlighted the volatile situation. With Syrians already dying by the thousands from conventional weapons, Mr. Obama now confronts the most urgent foreign policy issue of his second term, one in which he must weigh humanitarian impulses against the risk to American lives. After about two years of ineffectual diplomacy, whether or how he chooses to follow through on his warning about chemical weapons could shape his remaining time in office.

    The evolution of the “red line” and the nine months that followed underscore the improvisational nature of Mr. Obama’s approach to one of the most vexing crises in the world, all the more striking for a president who relishes precision. Palpably reluctant to become entangled in another war in the Middle East, and well aware that most Americans oppose military action, the president has deliberately not explained what his “red line” actually is or how it would change his calculus.

    “I’m not convinced it was thought through,” said Barry Pavel, a former defense policy adviser to Mr. Obama who is now at the Atlantic Council. “I’m worried about the broader damage to U.S. credibility if we make a statement and then come back with lawyerly language to get around it.” While Mr. Pavel favors a more active response to the killings in Syria, others worry that Mr. Obama may have trapped himself into going too far. Zbigniew Brzezinski, a national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, told Bloomberg Television that military involvement in Syria would risk “a large-scale disaster for the United States.” Further complicating the president’s choices is the murky nature of the evidence against Syria, a constant concern because of the lingering memories of mistaken intelligence on Iraq’s weapons a decade ago. American intelligence agencies have medium to high confidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, but it is not completely clear who was using them (…..)


  21. Professor Uziel Nogueira says:

    In Obama’s defense, he was pressured by Netanyahu to come up with the ‘red line’ policy statement on Syria’s civil war. After all, ending the costly Iraq and Afghanistan wars is Obama’s major foreign policy achievement. He is not ready to get the US involved in another Middle East war. Is he?


  22. Judyw:The Middle East is a dangerous and unstable place. Every intervention we have had their – Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya — have gone wrong. The result has not been drmocracy but civil war and more ethnic rivalies mixed with Jihadists and the Muslim Brotherhood. In these countries, they don’t fear us, they aren’t scared of, and they don’t care about our red lines. We need to stop drawing red line and stop shouting that Assad must go, or whoever the flavor of the month is. They want our money, our weapons and they want to kill us – don’t forget the last part. That is what is important about our involvement in the Middle East — no matter what side we are on – everyone hates us and wants to kill Americans. It is not up to us to say who goes or stays and if we try to enforce that it costs lots of blood and treasure and a humiliating failure. So we should simply stay out of it. Our foreign policy establishment loves to meddle – and the State Department is always sticking its fingers in to politics in the Middle East and getting them burned. It seems as if we are incapable of learning from our mistakes. And now we have another President – behaving just like George Bush – drawing red lines – talking about WMD and saying the dictator must go. And if we are not careful this President will get us into a similar mess – only this time it will be Syria, before it was Iraq. We know how Iraq ended – do we really think Syria will any different?


  23. michael chaplan: The difference is that Obama really doesn’t want to get involved in the middle east, but Bush wanted to get involved in Iraq.


  24. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: In his second mandate, Obama’s aggressive foreign policy is consistent with his political legacy strategy of a strong black leader in times of war. Any new development in Syria’s civil war can be used by the White House as a pretext to a direct US military intervention. The use of chemical warfare, the presence of Al Qaeda and Hezbollah fighters representing a danger to Israel can be used as preemptive strikes under the war on terror doctrine guidelines. Since Vietnam, public opposition from main street was never a deterrence against foreign military interventions and invasions. This time won’t be different. As a lame duck president in domestic affairs, foreign relations is where Obama can build his reputation as a strong black leader. As I understand, the project for construction of his presidential library is already under way.


  25. Pulseguy: I more or less agree with you, but my guess is in ten years the only close to stable Muslim regime in the ME will be Iraq.


  26. AN Arab friend remarked to me that watching the United States debate how much to get involved in Syria reminded him of an Arab proverb: “If you burn your tongue once eating soup, for the rest of your life you’ll blow on your yogurt.” After burning our tongues in Iraq and Afghanistan, and watching with increasing distress the aftermath of the revolutions in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, President Obama is right to be cautious about getting burned in Damascus. We’ve now seen enough of these Arab transitions from autocracy to draw some crucial lessons about what it takes to sustain positive change in these countries. We ignore the lessons at our peril — especially the lesson of Iraq, which everyone just wants to forget but is hugely relevant. Syria is Iraq’s twin: an artificial state that was also born after World War I inside lines drawn by imperial powers. Like Iraq, Syria’s constituent communities — Sunnis, Alawite/Shiites, Kurds, Druze, Christians — never volunteered to live together under agreed rules. So, like Iraq, Syria has been ruled for much of its modern history by either a colonial power or an iron-fisted autocrat. In Iraq, the hope was that once the iron-fisted dictator was removed by us it would steadily transition to a multisectarian, multiparty democracy. Ditto for Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. But we now see the huge difference between Eastern Europe in 1989 and the Arab world in 2013. In most of Eastern Europe, the heavy lid of communist authoritarian rule was suppressing broad and deeply rooted aspirations for democracy. So when that lid was removed, most of these countries relatively quickly moved to freely elected governments — helped and inspired by the European Union. In the Arab world, in contrast, the heavy lid of authoritarianism was suppressing sectarian, tribal, Islamist and democratic aspirations. So, when the lids were removed, all four surfaced at once. But the Islamist trend has been the most energetic — helped and inspired not by the European Union but by Islamist mosques and charities in the Persian Gulf — and the democratic one has proved to be the least organized, least funded and most frail. In short, most of Eastern Europe turned out to be like Poland after communism ended and most of the Arab countries turned out to be like Yugoslavia after communism ended (…..)


  27. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: “America, we all know, played that external referee role in Iraq — hugely ineptly at first. But, eventually, the U.S. and moderate Iraqis found a way back from the brink, beat back both Sunni and Shiite violent extremists, wrote a constitution and held multiple free elections, hoping to give birth to that Iraqi Mandela.” Really ??? Tom, do you believe what you write about Iraq in 2013?


  28. MNW: Well, don’t forget that ‘ole Tom supported the orchestrated war in Iraq by Bush/Cheney and the NeoCons – all that jazz group – and touted with sounding brass, tinkling cymbal, and the strumming of sonorous heart strings. For whatever obscure reasons I can no longer remember, except that part about bringing Democracy to that vast area of ethnic, tribal, Islamic, Kurdish, Sunni, Shiite, and all the whatever they could muster at the time, including the sly Condi Rice “mushroom cloud”. Tom is in his contemplative spooning the yogurt phase now, but he still thinks that there is fruit at the bottom. Let all of us not forget: http://www.costofwar.com; http://www.costsofwar.org


  29. THE REGIONAL sectarian war that has always been one of the greatest dangers of the crisis in Syria is alarmingly close to erupting. To the west of Damascus, Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah militia has publicly committed itself to defending the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and Syrian opposition sources say it has been instrumental in the regime’s recent battlefield gains. Apparent Iranian attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah have provoked at least one Israeli airstrike in Syria in recent days. Even more disturbing is what is happening to Syria’s east: the bloodiest confrontation between Iraq’s minority Sunni community and the Shiite regime since the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops nearly two years ago. According to a count by the Associated Press, at least 218 people have been killed in gun battles and bombings since the Iraqi army stormed a Sunni protest encampment near Kirkuk on April 23. The United Nations says 712 people died in political violence during April, the most since 2008. As former ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker wrote on the opposite page last Wednesday, these events “are reminiscent of those that led to a virtual civil war in 2006.” But there are two differences: There are no U.S. troops available to tamp down the violence, as happened during the Iraq “surge”; and the fighting could easily merge with that in Syria and spread to Lebanon. Already, the al-Qaeda organizations in Syria and Iraq have proclaimed a joint “emirate;” the strongholds of the two groups are adjacent to each other along the border. Shiite militiamen from Iraq are believed to be fighting on the side of the regime in Syria, and the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki has been turning a blind eye to shipments of Iranian arms and fighters to Syria, despite repeated demarches from the Obama administration. Much of the trouble in Iraq stems from the enduring failure of the country’s elite to overcome political and economic disputes grounded in sectarianism. The Sunni and Kurdish communities believe that Mr. Maliki and Shiite politicians have failed to deliver on promises to decentralize power and distribute resources fairly. Mr. Maliki has mostly moved in the opposite direction, consolidating his authority and targeting Sunni leaders for arrest and prosecution on often-dubious charges. Though Iraq held local elections last month, the vote in two majority-Sunni provinces was put off until July. Yet Mr. Maliki’s behavior has been driven in large part by Syria. The Shiite leader fears that a victory by the mostly Sunni opposition in Syria, with support from the Sunni regimes of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, would lead to an attempt to restore Sunni dominance in Iraq, as during the era of Saddam Hussein. Iraqi officials point out that groups preparing for war in Iraq’s Sunni areas include not just al-Qaeda but also an organization of former militants of Hussein’s secular Baathist party. The resumption of sectarian war in Iraq alongside that of Syria would be devastating for the Middle East — and for the interests of the United States. The fragile gains of the Iraq war — a nation at peace with its neighbors and a partner of the United States — would be wiped out, and committed U.S. enemies such as al-Qaeda and Hezbollah would surge. The situation demands, as Mr. Crocker put it, “a sustained, high-level diplomatic effort by the United States” in Iraq. But it also makes intervention aimed at ending the war in Syria that much more urgent (source: Editorial Board – The Washington Post – 06/05/2013)

  30. (…..) What you hear from the Obama team is that we know way too little about the internal dynamics of Syria, so we can’t predict how an intervention will play out, except that there is no happy ending; that while the deaths of 70,000 Syrians are tragic, that’s what happens in a civil war; that no one in the opposition can be trusted; and, most important, that we have no vital national interest there. Obama conceded that the use of poison gas would raise the stakes, because we cannot let the world think we tolerate spraying civilians with nerve gas. But even there, the president says he would feel obliged to respond to “systematic” use of chemical weapons, as if something less — incremental use? sporadic use? — would be O.K. This sounds like a president looking for excuses to stand pat. In contemplating Syria, it is useful to consider the ways it is not Iraq. First, we have a genuine, imperiled national interest, not just a fabricated one. A failed Syria creates another haven for terrorists, a danger to neighbors who are all American allies, and the threat of metastasizing Sunni-Shiite sectarian war across a volatile and vital region.

    “We cannot tolerate a Somalia next door to Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey,”

    said Vali Nasr, who since leaving the Obama foreign-policy team in 2011 has become one of its most incisive critics. Nor, he adds, can we afford to let the Iranians, the North Koreans and the Chinese conclude from our attitude that we are turning inward, becoming, as the title of Nasr’s new book puts it, “The Dispensable Nation” (…..)


  31. (…..) Advocates of doing more (a group that included Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus before they left the administration) do not agree on every detail of what “more” means, but it might look something like this: For starters, President Obama articulates — as he has not done — how the disintegration of Syria represents a serious danger to America’s interests and ideals. The United States moves to assert control of the arming and training of rebels — funneling weapons through the rebel Supreme Military Council, cultivating insurgents who commit to negotiating an orderly transition to a nonsectarian Syria. We make clear to President Assad that if he does not cease his campaign of terror and enter negotiations on a new order, he will pay a heavy price. When he refuses, we send missiles against his military installations until he, or more likely those around him, calculate that they should sue for peace. All of this must be carefully choreographed and accompanied by a symphony of diplomacy to keep our allies with us and our adversaries at bay. The aim would be to eventually have a transition government, stabilized for a while by an international peacekeeping force drawn mostly from neighboring states like Turkey. I don’t mean to make this sound easy. It might well be that the internal grievances are too deep and bitter to forestall a bloody period of reprisals. But that outcome is virtually inevitable if we stay out. The administration is now preparing contingency plans along those lines in the event that Assad’s use of chemical weapons forces our hand. Why wait for the next atrocity?

    “We have to change the calculation of the people around Assad, to have them figure out a deal is better than going down to the end,”

    said Anne-Marie Slaughter, the Princeton professor and former director of policy planning for Hillary Clinton’s State Department, who was an early advocate of intervention. “And the sooner we change that calculation, the more possibility there is for a political settlement.” “The challenge to this administration from 2009 has been how to move this country past the Iraq war into a sensible, viable foreign policy,” added Vali Nasr. “That hasn’t happened. We’re paralyzed like a deer in the headlights, and everybody keeps relitigating the Iraq war.” Whatever we decide, getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.


  32. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: The facts on the ground, Israel air assault, followed by a barrage of pro military intervention in the Syrian civil war such as the piece above signals one thing only. Is just a matter of time before the US gets involved in another major Middle East war. This time, it will involve a direct confrontation between US and Iran. Netanyahu always get his way in Washington DC.


  33. (…..) Few things are more ludicrous than the attempt by advocates of US and Israeli militarism to pretend that they’re applying anything remotely resembling “principles”. Their only cognizable “principle” is rank tribalism: My Side is superior, and therefore we are entitled to do things that Our Enemies are not (…..) One could say quite reasonably that this is the pure expression of the crux of US political discourse on such matters: they must abide by rules from which we’re immune, because we’re superior. So much of the pseudo-high-minded theorizing emanating from DC think thanks and US media outlets boils down to this adolescent, self-praising, tribalistic license: we have the right to do X, but they do not. Indeed, the entire debate over whether there should be a war with Iran over its nuclear enrichment activities, as Israel sits on a massive pile of nuclear weapons while refusing UN demands to permit any international inspection of it, is also a perfect expression of this mentality. The ultimate irony is that those who advocate for the universal application of principles to all nations are usually tarred with the trite accusatory slogan of “moral relativism”. But the real moral relativists are those who believe that the morality of an act is determined not by its content but by the identity of those who commit them: namely, whether it’s themselves or someone else doing it. As Rudy Giuliani put it when asked if waterboarding is torture: “It depends on who does it.” Today’s version of that is: Israel and the US (and its dictatorial allies in Riyadh and Doha) have the absolute right to bomb other countries or arm rebels in those countries if they perceive doing so is necessary to stop a threat but Iran and Syria (and other countries disobedient to US dictates) do not. This whole debate would be much more tolerable if it were at least honestly acknowledged that what is driving the discussion are tribalistic notions of entitlement and nothing more noble (…..)


  34. The apparent ease with which Israel struck missile sites and, by Syrian accounts, a major military research center near Damascus in recent days has stoked debate in Washington about whether American-led airstrikes are the logical next step to cripple President Bashar al-Assad’s ability to counter the rebel forces or use chemical weapons. That option was already being debated in secret by the United States, Britain and France in the days leading to the Israeli strikes, according to American and foreign officials involved in the discussions. On Sunday, Senator John McCain, who has long advocated a much deeper American role in the Syrian civil war, argued that the Israeli attacks, at least one of which appears to have been launched from outside Syrian airspace, weakens the argument that Syria’s air defense system would be a major challenge. “The Israelis seem to be able to penetrate it fairly easily,” Mr. McCain said on “Fox News Sunday.” He went on to say that the United States would be capable of disabling the Syrian air defenses on the ground “with cruise missiles, cratering their runways, where all of these supplies, by the way, from Iran and Russia are coming in by air.” Patriot missile batteries already installed in Turkey, he argued, could defend a safe zone to protect rebels and refugees (…..) On Sunday, a senior administration official said that “there are many options short of American boots on the ground, and there hasn’t been a lean in any particular direction to this point.” “If there’s a decision to intervene, it’s pretty darn easy to suggest airstrikes if U.S. troops aren’t going to jump in to the conflict,” he added. “But the reality is that any number of options — to include airstrikes — would probably be combined with other measures if more direct engagement is where we’re heading. This isn’t exactly a pick-one-from-the-menu scenario.” These issues are certain to come up on Secretary of State John Kerry’s two-day visit to Moscow this week, one that Mr. Burns said would be used to argue that Russia’s long allegiance to Mr. Assad is now turning against its government’s interests, with a prolonged conflict only worsening the chances that the Syrian conflict will widen and promote extremism, including in the Caucasus region. But Russia would almost certainly veto any effort to obtain United Nations Security Council authorization to take military action. So far, Mr. Obama has avoided seeking such authorization, and that is one reason that past or future use of chemical weapons could serve as a legal argument for conducting strikes, assuming they were limited to crippling Mr. Assad’s ability to drop those weapons on Syrian cities (…..)


  35. Professor Uziel Nogueira says:

    In the 60s was the Vietnam war. Today is total war on terror forever. The US ruling elite never changes. Reading this piece and the comments below, The Doors song came to my mind: Strange days have found us; Strange days have tracked us down; They’re going to destroy; Our casual joys; We shall go on playing; Or find a new town.


  36. (…..) The irony of the US and other western governments – let alone Israel – once again making common cause with al-Qaida, after a decade of a “war on terror” aimed at destroying it, is one factor holding Obama back. So is the risk of being drawn into all-out war (publicly raised by Britain’s chief of the defence staff); the hostility of American public opinion (mirrored in Britain and the Arab world); and the aftermath of intervention in Libya, where militias have been besieging government offices demanding the ousting of western-backed Gaddafi-era leaders. The reality is that what began in Syria more than two years ago as a brutally repressed popular uprising has long since morphed into a vicious sectarian war,

    manipulated by outside forces to change the regional balance of power and already dangerously spilling over into neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq.

    The consequences for Syria have been multiple massacres, ethnic cleansing, torture, a humanitarian crisis and the risk of the country’s breakup. The longer the war, the greater the danger of a Yugoslavian-style fragmentation into sectarian and ethnic enclaves. The Assad regime bears responsibility for that, of course. But so do those who have funded and fuelled the war, bleeding Syria and weakening the Arab world in the process. The demand by Cameron and other western politicians to increase the flow of arms is reckless and cynical. The result will certainly be to ratchet up the death toll and spread the war. If they were genuinely interested in saving lives – instead of neutralising Syria to undermine Iran – western leaders would be using their leverage with the rebels’ regional sponsors to negotiate a political settlement that would allow Syrians to determine their own future. That would be difficult enough to achieve and enforce on the ground. But an internationally and regionally backed deal now looks the only way to bring the war to an end. In which case, increased intervention is really about improving the west’s bargaining hand, at a cost of yet more Syrian suffering – and yet another backlash to come.


  37. Seeking to escalate pressure on Iran, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation on Wednesday that would deny the Iranian government access to its foreign exchange reserves parked in the banks of other countries, estimated to be worth as much as $100 billion, mostly in euros. The legislation, which has strong support, would be the first major new sanction confronting Iran since its inconclusive round of negotiations with the big powers last month on its disputed nuclear program. Despite Iran’s repeated denial, the West suspects it is aiming to be able to build nuclear weapons. The United States and the European Union have enacted a broad range of economic sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran in those negotiations, but sponsors of the legislation contend that Iran is not bargaining in good faith while it continues to enrich uranium. Part of the reason, they say, is that Iran has been able to work around the worst effects of the sanctions by tapping its foreign currency reserves overseas, which are largely beyond the reach of current restrictions. “Closing the foreign currency loophole in our sanctions policy is critical in our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability,” the sponsors, led by Senator Mark Steven Kirk, an Illinois Republican, and Senator Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat, said in a statement on the new legislation, which they called “the Iran Sanctions Loophole Elimination Act.” It would impose severe penalties on any foreign financial institution that conducts foreign exchange transactions on behalf of Iran’s central bank or other Iranian entity that is already blacklisted by other sanctions. It would also be retroactive to Thursday, regardless of the passage date. Supporters of the legislation contended it sent a significant message of bipartisan resolve to Iran at a time when the efficacy of the sanctions strategy has been increasingly called into question, largely because it has not dissuaded Iran from continuing to enrich uranium. “The strong support the bill enjoys from Senate Democrats demonstrates that Congress does not accept the argument advanced by some that pressure should be relieved,” said Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that has advocated for more sanctions. “It also demonstrates that the Obama administration understands that Iran cannot be allowed to exploit loopholes in international sanctions while it refuses to agree to a negotiated settlement over its nuclear program,” he said. Blocking Iran’s access to billions of dollars’ worth of its own money in foreign markets could cause significant complications for the country,

    where presidential elections are set for next month and the economy’s troubles are a major issue.

    Sanctions already in place have basically halved sales of oil, Iran’s most important export, contributed to surging inflation, caused shortages of imports and sharply reduced the value of the national currency, the rial. Foreign exchange reserves are considered an important pillar in keeping the rial from collapse. Critics said the new legislation risked further alienating Iranians who suspect that the sanctions’ true purpose is not to pressure Iran in the nuclear negotiations, but to cause an economic implosion that would lead to regime change. Instead of forcing leaders to be more flexible on the issue, critics say, the legislation could harden their positions. “When we’ve cemented a sanctions escalation path, we’re creating a trajectory toward actual confrontation,” said Trita Parsi, the founder of the National Iranian American Council, a Washington group that opposes sanctions. Some Iranian leaders, he said, see the sanctions “as a train that can only go in one direction and has no brakes.” Alireza Nader, an Iran specialist at the RAND Corporation, said the timing of the bill also could send the wrong signal to Iranian leaders, who he contended are already scrambling because of the sanctions imposed so far — despite their projection of defiance.


  38. (…..) Despite the spotlight on the visits by Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu, China is likely to remain a muted political actor in the Middle East, analysts of the region said. Beijing sees little to gain from being entangled in distant and often seemingly intractable disputes, said Yin Gang, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. “China is a long way from the Middle East, and it can’t even reach a good solution to its own regional problems: North Korea, the Diaoyu Islands, the Philippines, Vietnam,” Mr. Yin said. “Even if China becomes a superpower with an economy on par with the United States’, it still won’t play a major role in the Middle East.” China’s ideological flexibility on the Middle East and North Africa was evident during the recent Libyan revolution. China refused to support Western-led military support of the rebels fighting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, then intensified its relations with the rebels when it became obvious that Colonel Qaddafi’s government would fall. Mr. Netanyahu’s talks with Chinese leaders are likely to be dominated by bilateral issues, including economic ties. The positions of both sides on Iran’s nuclear program and on the bloodshed in Syria are too clear and entrenched to expect any shifts from the talks, said Mr. Yin and Mr. Guo, the two scholars. “Israel’s biggest concern is still Iran; it worries that Iran will develop nuclear weapons technology, and it’s looking for the international community to intensify economic sanctions and other pressure,” Mr. Guo said. “But China’s position is clear: it opposes military strikes against Iran and maintains that sanctions need to be measured.”

    Mr. Netanyahu’s trip to China is the first by an Israeli leader since 2007. In Shanghai, he visited a memorial to refugees who fled to the city from the Holocaust in Europe. Xinhua reported that in his meeting Tuesday with Yang Xiong, the mayor of Shanghai, Mr. Netanyahu said: “Israel-China cooperation in the fields of science, technology and manufacturing can result in a perfect partnership. The difference between cooperating with China and other countries is that the effect can be more than tenfold, rather than just one- or twofold.”



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