And three years of foreign policy missteps. 8:35 AM, Mar 15, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
Today marks the third anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian rebellion, a popular uprising that started as a protest movement and degenerated into a civil war that has already claimed more than 146,000 lives. As the White House has come to enumerate the various reasons why it has balked at arming the rebels—they’re fragmented, they’re farmers, they’re al Qaeda—it’s worth remembering that even before the opposition picked up weapons to defend itself against a regime shooting at unarmed protestors, it took Obama nearly half a year before he called for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
The administration’s Syria policy has been incoherent from the outset. Instead of pursuing actions calibrated to advance American interests while preventing a humanitarian disaster affecting not just Syrians but U.S. allies on Syria’s borders, the White House has engaged in a three-year long messaging campaign meant to protect the president’s flank. The question that three years worth of evasion and disinformation from the White House raises is simply this: why the lies?
If, as Obama says, the American people are war weary and want no further involvement in the conflicts of the Middle East, why not just leave it at that? After all, with the majority of the American public against any military action in Syria—a public that, from his perspective, has elected him president twice to extricate the United States from regional bloodshed and not further implicate us—why not just say that he won’t budge? Neither the torture of innocents can move him, nor the use of rape as an instrument of terror. The murder of children, killed by Assad’s barrel bombs in their sleep, cannot force his hand. Nor can the regime’s deployment of its chemical weapons arsenal force him to take action, as he showed in striking a deal with Vladimir Putin to get rid of Assad’s unconventional weapons. Nay, not pestilence, nor even the four horsemen of the apocalypse can move Obama. But if the president believes that the American public is in broad agreement to do nothing, why not just say plainly that he, in line with their way of thinking, is not going to do anything?
The history of the Syrian civil war is also a chronicle of White House mendacity. Taken as a whole, the breadth and audacity of the administration’s three-year-long misinformation campaign—waged against a U.S. public ostensibly friendly to its policy of non-intervention—is astonishing.
At first, the White House let on that things in Syria just weren’t that bad. As then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reasoned, unlike Libya’s Qaddafi, Assad wasn’t using planes to shoot his opposition. Clinton’s talking point on the use of fixed-wing aircraft was quietly dropped after Assad began to strafe and bomb civilian areas.
Then administration officials leaked to the press that it was the Israelis who stopped them. Jerusalem, said Obama aides, had warned the White House against toppling the devil they knew. Israel’s then-ambassador to the United States Michael Oren wrote to the Wall Street Journal on two occasions to correct the record—“I emphatically denied this the first time and categorically deny it again,” wrote Oren. “The violence [Assad] has unleashed on his own people demonstrating for freedoms confirms Israel’s fears that the devil we know in Syria is worse than the devil we don’t.” By May 2011 Israel’s top officials—the prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, and president—had stated publicly that they were eager to see Assad gone, three months before Obama did.
When the opposition picked up weapons in self-defense, the administration said it didn’t know who the rebels were and was reluctant to give them arms that might wind up being used against allies like Israel. And the White House didn’t need to arm the rebels anyway, officials argued, because Assad’s downfall was a matter of when, not if. He’s a dead man walking, said one of the administration’s Syria hands.
He’d be with McCain, not Obama, on Ukraine.Mar 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 27 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson was a congressman and then senator from Washington state from 1941 until his death in 1983. Jackson was a traditional Democrat: liberal on domestic policy, strongly tied to the labor movement, and a hawk on national security matters. He was very much in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson, with all of whom he worked closely—as he did with George Meany and Lane Kirkland at the AFL-CIO, who were also Cold War hawks.
The Ted Cruz-Rand Paul foreign policy split. Mar 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 27 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Ted Cruz is not in a fighting mood. The Texas senator is sitting in a booth at the Capital Grille, an upscale restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, about halfway between the Capitol, where Cruz works, and the White House, where many suspect he’d like to end up. His jacket is off, his light blue tie is tucked behind his crisp white dress shirt as he casually picks at the salmon filet on the dinner plate in front of him and sips a glass of Pinot Noir.
12:01 PM, Mar 13, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry made the point that his department is not just concerned with foreign affairs. The State Department tweeted the following comments of the secretary at the hearing:
11:31 AM, Mar 13, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Pollsters call it the “rally effect.” In a crisis, people tend instinctively, if abstractly, to support their leaders. The signature example being that, when the Bay of Pigs invasion ended in failure, John F. Kennedy’s poll numbers went up.
But blocked an Iranian information campaign.2:10 PM, Mar 11, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
If Israel believed that exposing an Iranian arms transfer to terrorists in Gaza was a public relations coup that might make the White House think twice about making a deal with the regime in Tehran over its nuclear weapons program, then Jerusalem has fundamentally misread the Obama administration. Perhaps just as ominously, it shows that the government of Israel doesn’t understand the new media environment.
It would send a message to Russia.4:15 PM, Mar 10, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
Who’s surprised that the Obama administration, evolved, urbane and forward-looking, is having a hard time dealing with Vladimir Putin’s unreconstructed Cold War mentality in Ukraine? “We’re hoping that Russia will not see this as sort of a continuation of the Cold War," John Kerry said last week. Even before the Russian invasion of Crimea, Obama was warning of the dangers of seeing the world in terms of Great Power conflict. “We’re no longer in a Cold War,” the president said at the U.N. General Assembly in September. “There’s no Great Game to be won.”
Mar 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 26 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
On February 23, five days before Russia invaded Ukraine, National Security Adviser Susan Rice appeared on Meet the Press and shrugged off suggestions that Russia was preparing any kind of military intervention: “It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence returned and the situation escalate.” A return to a “Cold War construct” isn’t necessary, Rice insisted, because such thinking “is long out of date” and “doesn’t reflect the realities of the 21st century.” Even if Vladimir Putin sees the world this way, Rice argued, it is “not in the United States’ interests” to do so.
Mar 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 26 • By LEE SMITH
From his place on the podium at AIPAC’s annual policy conference last week, Benjamin Netanyahu surveyed the Middle East. “On the one side stands Israel, animated by the values we cherish,” said the Israeli prime minister. And on the other side are Iran, Bashar al-Assad, and Hezbollah—“the forces of terror . . . steeped in blood and savagery.” There’s a “moral divide,” said Netanyahu, “that separates Israel from its enemies.”
11:07 AM, Mar 4, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
In a statement released this morning, House Speaker John Boehner pledged "to impose consequences on Russia for its hostile act" against Ukraine.
“The U.S. has a responsibility to stand up for freedom and democracy around the globe, and we have a responsibility to stand with the people of Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion. We will work with the Obama administration on measures to impose consequences on Russia for its hostile act," reads Boehner's statement.
Obama's scary interview.
11:35 AM, Mar 3, 2014 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
On the eve of the Netanyahu visit to Washington, President Obama gave a lengthy interview to Jeffrey Goldberg that shows a chief executive who has learned next to nothing about the world in his five years in office.
12:35 PM, Mar 2, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Florida senator Marco Rubio spoke about Ukraine, Russia, and American foreign policy this morning on Meet the Press: