Thursday the White House announced that the American intelligence community assesses, with a level of high confidence, that the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against the opposition multiple times, in a limited fashion. Now that it is clear Assad has crossed the Obama red line by using chemical weapons, the question is, has this changed the president’s “calculus,” as he said it might? The media is reporting that it has. According to the press, Obama has decided to arm the opposition.
The White House, writes the New York Times, will “begin supplying the rebels for the first time with small arms and ammunition, according to American officials.” USA Todayconcurs, quoting an unnamed official “knowledgeable about the plans” who “confirmed to USA TODAY that the new assistance would include arming the rebels.” The Wall Street Journal explains that “Obama issued a “classified order directing the Central Intelligence Agency to coordinate arming the rebels in concert with its allies.”
However, there are other administration officials who tell the press that the White House is not going to send weapons to the opposition. Josh Rogin at the Daily Beastwrites that his source “says that lethal arms are not part of the new items Obama has now authorized.” “The president,” says this official, “has made a decision to provide the Syrian opposition with military items that can increase their effectiveness on the ground, but at this point it does not include things like guns and bullets.”
So is the White House arming the rebels or not? There’s been confusion since Thursday afternoon when Sen. John McCain said on the Senate floor that Obama “will announce that we will be assisting the Syrian rebels by providing them with weapons and other assistance. I applaud the president’s decision.” Shortly after, McCain retracted his remarks, explaining that “the president has not made the final decision on arming.” Afterward, McCain’s spokesman, Josh Rogin reported, said the senator had been told by reliable sources that Obama was planning to arm the rebels.
A White House conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon hardly clarified matters. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes was asked several times whether the White House intended to arm the rebels, or if it was just going to provide more of the direct non-lethal military assistance (like vehicles and night-vision goggles) that was promised in April but still hasn’t reached the Syrian Military Council. “I can’t go through an inventory of the type of assistance that we’re going to provide,” said Rhodes. “But suffice it to say it’s going to be substantively different from what we were providing certainly before our initial [chemical weapons] assessment in April.” Responding to another request for details, Rhodes said, “I’m not going to be able to inventory the types of support that we’re going to provide to the SMC.” Later there was more of the same: “We’re just not going to be able to lay out an inventory,” said Rhodes, “of what exactly falls under the scope of that assistance other than to communicate that we have made that decision.”
What we know then from the administration’s public and on the record statements is this: the White House is going to do more than what it was doing before. But we don’t know if that includes weapons or just more non-lethal aid and equipment because the White House’s point man for strategic communications won’t say—he can’t inventory—what’s being sent. All of the reporting asserting that the administration is sending arms was sourced not to Rhodes’s public remarks but to officials who because they are unnamed have no reason to fear that their credibility is on the line should their information prove inaccurate or false.
Chinese president Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama doffed their ties, rolled up their sleeves (well, at least Obama did), and even took the now-obligatory stroll around the Sunnylands Estate in Rancho Mirage, California, in the manner of Eisenhower and Khrushchev at Camp David, and Reagan and Gorbachev in Switzerland. This enabled the leaders to “establish and deepen their personal relationship,” according to Tom Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser at the time of the meeting.
Over the past few weeks things cyber have blown up in our faces once again. While some of the media noticed, the gist of the reporting was on who was doing what to us now, not the growing scandal of our essentially supine reaction to it.
Jonathan Spyer explains how Syrian president Bashar al-Assad may have the upper hand right now in Syria’s two-year-old conflict. “Regime forces have clawed back areas of recent rebel advance,” Spyer writes in the Jerusalem Post. “The government side, evidently under Iranian tutelage, has showed an impressive and unexpected ability to adapt itself to the changing demands of the war.”
And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians? They were, those people, a kind of solution.
How many times in the last century have these concluding lines of C. P. Cavafy’s famous 1898 poem, “Waiting for the Barbarians,” been quoted? How many modern intellectuals have pondered the subversive implications of that sophisticated question?
Yesterday Syrian president Bashar al-Assad commemorated Syria’s independence day with a television interview where he described the Syrian civil war as a colonial plot. Western powers, said Assad, “never accepted the idea of other nations having their independence. They want those nations to submit to them.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked at today's press briefing, in the context of the Boston bombings, whether U.S. bombings in Afghanistan last month that killed civilians were "terrorism." Carney gave a long answer, but never says "no."
Nick Turse wants us to know that the killing of civilians during the war in Vietnam was “widespread, routine, and directly attributable to U.S. command policies,” that “gang rapes were a . . . common occurrence,” that the running-over of civilians by American vehicle drivers was “commonplace,” and that the American military visited upon South Vietnam an “endless slaughter . . . day after day, month after month . . .
Ten years ago today, the day Baghdad fell to American troops, I wrote that with the downfall of Saddam Hussein, I finally felt free as a journalist to criticize the Iraqi regime under my own byline without fear of reprisal from Saddam’s henchmen in Beirut, where I then lived.