Monday, September 09, 2013

Maybe A Way Out

The Obama Administration denies, I think credibly, that it aims for regime change in Damascus, Secretary of State John Kerry even cautioning action would consist of a “very limited, very targeted, short-term effort.” President Obama, less credibly, has denied that the threat of missile strikes against Syria involves his or the nation's credibility. Secretary of State Kerry, though, has avoided denying that saving face is an issue and last week told MSNBC's Chris Hayes

But if we don’t do this, Assad will have the message that he can use these weapons with impunity. We will have turned our back on the next batch of children, on the next batch of parents.  We will have turned our back on the international norm, we will have lost credibility in the world and I guarantee you, if we turn our backs today...

Today's news, consequently, may offer the Administration a way out.  Reuters reports

Syria welcomes a Russian proposal to place the nation's chemical weapons under international control, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Monday after talks in Moscow, praising the Kremlin for seeking to "prevent American aggression".

Moualem, who spoke to reporters through an interpreter after Russia expressed hope the proposal could avert military strikes against Syria, stopped short of saying explicitly that President Bashar al-Assad's government accepted it.

"I state that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the Syrian leadership's concern for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country, and also motivated by our confidence in the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is attempting to prevent American aggression against our people," he said.

There are more than a few ifs, ands, or buts attached but this might point the way toward preventing a big mistake by the Administration.   And it comes on the heels of further evidence that while government forces were behind the chemical attack outside of Damascus, it probably was not ordered by Assad.According to The Guardian yesterday

President Bashar al-Assad did not personally order last month's chemical weapons attack near Damascus that has triggered calls for US military intervention, and blocked numerous requests from his military commanders to use chemical weapons against regime opponents in recent months, a German newspaper has reported , citing unidentified, high-level national security sources.

The intelligence findings were based on phone calls intercepted by a German surveillance ship operated by the BND, the German intelligence service, and deployed off the Syrian coast, Bild am Sonntag said. The intercepted communications suggested Assad, who is accused of war crimes by the west, including foreign secretary William Hague, was not himself involved in last month's attack or in other instances when government forces have allegedly used chemical weapons.

Assad sought to exonerate himself from the August attack in which hundreds died. "There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people," he said in an interview with CBS.

But the intercepts tended to add weight to the claims of the Obama administration and Britain and France that elements of the Assad regime, and not renegade rebel groups, were responsible for the attack in the suburb of Ghouta, Bild said.

Representative Alan Grayson, in an op-ed in The New York Times Friday, suggested that he was unsure the attack had the approval of even the Syrian general staff.  He notes the documentary record includes only a four page unclassified summary and a ten page unclassified summary and explains

gaining access to just the classified summary involves a series of unreasonably high hurdles.

We have to descend into the bowels of the Capitol Visitors Center, to a room four levels underground. Per the instructions of the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, note-taking is not allowed.

Once we leave, we are not permitted to discuss the classified summary with the public, the media, our constituents or even other members. Nor are we allowed to do anything to verify the validity of the information that has been provided.

Nor are we allowed to do anything to verify the validity of the information that has been provided.  

This comes from the Administration of a President who upon taking office told his staffers "I will also hold myself as president to a new standard of openness .... Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."  And which President later issued a memo reading

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Congress, at this point, is in no mood to authorize military action opposed by the American people.  Even if (as is likely) Bashir al-Assad is not fully committed to placing all chemical weapons under international control, his apparent willingness to work out some kind of a deal gives President Obama a possible escape hatch from issuing an unpopular order whose stated aims are murky and weak.

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