Good evening everybody and welcome to In the News, your place for common sense commentary on politics, culture and current events. Glad you could be with us again today. We are going to talk today about the situation in Syria. Where we are and what the latest developments are and what we think the future holds for the situation. We are into week 2 of the crisis and the biggest development of the week looks as though it’s going to be the postponement of any possible military strike against Syria, at least for the time being. So let’s talk a little bit about how we got here and how the issue is likely to progress.
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So where do things stand right now with Syria? The week started out with the administration making a full court press to persuade Congress to vote to give the president the authorization to strike Syria. But then this week a curious thing happened. Word came from Russia that the Syrian government was willing to compromise and find a diplomatic solution to the problem by giving up control of its chemical weapons stock pile. Allowing it to be put under international control. Thereby giving all parties a potential way out. Syria would avoid being struck by the US and the white house would avoid having to take a military action that the American public clearly, did not want.
How did it all come about and where do things stand now? Well this past Monday Secretary of State Kerry was in London for meetings with his London counterpart on Syria. He was trying to drum up support for a military strike from the international community. During the ensuing press conference he was asked by one of the reporters if there was anything Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad, could do at this point to prevent a US strike. John Kerry remarked, rather offhandedly, that Assad could turn over every bit of his weapons to the int’l community within the next week. But he added that, he isn’t about to.
Well, it seems as though the Russians seized on that comment as a possible way to prevent the US from taking military action. As Kerry was in the air on the way back to Washington, he received a phone call from his Russian counterpart, the Russian foreign minister who told him that they had put forward a proposal to Syria based on Secretary Kerry’s statement.
Before Sec. Kerry had landed the Russians had made a statement saying that they had called on the Syrian government to agree to putting their chemical weapons stores under int’l control as well as joining the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Up until now Syria had not signed the international treaty on the ban on chemical weapons which as we mentioned in our last show dates back to 1925.
Later that day word came from the Syrian foreign minister, who happened to be in Moscow for talks at the time that Syria welcomes the Russian proposal and that they would be open to it. By Tuesday a new resolution was being drawn up in the United Nations that outlined the new developments. It was a stunning development. Not the least of which because in an interview conducted just a number of days before the announcement Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad had denied that Syria even possessed chemical weapons.
So it is that John Kerry finds himself kind of the accidental hero. If you heard him make the statement it was clear that it was an off the cuff the remark. As a matter of fact US officials have said that Sec. Kerry’s statement was a rhetorical statement and that it was not meant to be a diplomatic opening. But Russia, as well as Syria, seeking an opening, seized on the statement and it’s clear that it has been successful in at least delaying any possible military action for the meantime.
On Monday President Obama who had been previously scheduled for several interviews that day called the developments “a potentially significant breakthrough” but added that they would remain skeptical but pursue the proposal to “see how serious they are.” WH publicly remains skeptical, but behind the scenes you have to believe and indeed there have been some reports that they are secretly hoping that this is something that works out. By all estimates the vote to authorize force against Syria was heading toward defeat in Congress. And that was going to be potentially devastating for the President on a whole series of issues.
Now the president had been scheduled to go before the nation in a primetime address on Tuesday night to outline the issue in Syria and speak to the American people on why action in Syria was necessary. In light of all the new developments happening early this week, the president still chose to go before the nation on Tuesday night. It was one of only a handful of presidential addresses that he has given to the nation during primetime, one of 9 if I’m correct.
In the address he laid out the reasons for going into Syria. He talked about the alleged chemical attack and the reasons that it was up to the US to act. And the reasons it was important to enforce international norms against chemical weapons that have been in place since 1925. Now importantly, Pres. Obama mentioned the latest developments of the week, the Russian proposal and how this would be a welcome development. And he also mentioned that he has asked the Senate to delay a vote authorizing force. A vote had been scheduled to take place yesterday, on Wednesday.
It was a little strange because the first part of the speech laid out this heinous act, really an atrocity, that had been perpetrated by the Syrian regime on civilians, including women and children, and how there was a moral imperative on the part of the international community to act. And then at the very end there was the president speaking about how there should now be a delay to see if diplomacy can work. As many of noted, it was like half the speech was put together before Monday and the other half was put together after Monday, and the WH just stuck the two parts together on Tuesday.
Another point that the administration went to great lengths to make, both before and after the speech, was that the plan by which Syria would cede control of its chemical weapons has only been made possible by the US threat of military force hanging over them. Many around the president, including some in his national security team have argued that the threat of military force needs to be kept up on Assad, because that’s what is forcing him to act diplomatically. John Kerry has been dispatched to Geneva to work with the int’l community on this possible solution. Talks began today and will likely run through Saturday.
All in all most remain skeptical, but you have to believe that the White House is secretly thrilled with the developments this week. The President was increasingly finding himself in quite a bind over this issue. The vote in congress was becoming increasingly doubtful. Public opinion was not just against military action in Syria, but vehemently against. Congressman after congressman, Senator after Senator was reporting that phone calls, letters and emails to their offices were running not just against military action but overwhelmingly against. According to most in Congress the numbers were somewhere on the order of 95% against.
So not only was there opposition to military involvement, but it seemed as though despite the WH’s best efforts to “flood the zone” as they were saying they would do, and “flooding the zone” they were doing. In addition the president’s primetime address, he gave 6 network interviews on Monday, VP Joe Biden hosted republic senators for dinner on Sunday to discuss the situation, and sec’s Kerry and Hagel were giving classified and unclassified briefings to Congress all week long. Despite all of that, it seemed as though opposition to the strikes was not decreasing but was actually increasing.
Now, many critics panned the president’s speech. I personally disagree with most of those assessments. I don’t think it was bad. I think it was about as good as one could hope for under the circumstances, if you’re a supporter of the president’s. I thought it was fundamentally sound. The President sounded confident and laid out a coherent argument for why he believed military force was necessary.
But the main problem with the argument is the actual argument itself. The main goal of the speech was to persuade the American people that a military strike on Syria was a) vital to American national security interests and b) would not draw us into another unpredictable and unending military conflict in the Middle East. And with respect to the president I don’t think he accomplished that. The president laid out his arguments forcefully. I just don’t believe the American people believe those arguments. I don’t think they agree with them. And a good indication of that is that it looked as though the president was heading toward defeat in the Congress.
The Senate which had looked like it was going to be the chamber where the resolution passed was beginning to be in doubt. Latest counts in the Senate had the vote count at about 29 no/leaning no’s and 46 undecideds. Only 25 Senators were strong yeses. There was an even steeper climb to be made in the house. At last count there 195 no/leaning no’s and 128 undecideds. There only 31 yeses. A bill needs 218 votes to be defeated, and they were pretty much already at that point.
So the resolution looked like it was heading for defeat in congress. Far right republicans are opposed to the action and far left democrats were opposed to it as well. So it seems as though there is a partnership of sorts between those factions and they were combining to form a pretty formidable bloc for this resolution. The interesting part is that Congressional leaders have come out, and came out pretty early on in support of the president and the resolution.
John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid all came out in support of the president on the need to act. All of the leaders except Mitch McConnell who is the republican leader in the Senate. No surprise there. Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor on Tuesday and announced that he would vote no on the authorization. But that may have more to do with a tough Senate race in Kentucky than it does with Syria. Mitch McConnell is facing a tough re-election campaign in Kentucky and he’s being challenged in the primary by another Republican. So he may have decided that the best move for him politically was to come out against it as well.
So it looked as though the resolution was in serious jeopardy of failing. So this may have been exactly what the white house needed.
Another issue that I think doesn’t get as much attention in this matter as it probably should is that there are reports that senior military officials were expressing doubts about getting entangled in this conflict as well. It’s always hard to get a read about something like that. Military generals or chiefs of staff would never come out and appear insubordinate by letting their personal views be known on something like this. Which is what makes them great. But there have been reports that people at the pentagon were against this idea and opposed to getting involved in another conflict in the Middle East. They feel that the planning and the announcements being made were handled in an amateurish manner. And they feel that the operation did not have a clearly defined and obtainable objective.
I wonder if president Obama got that sense in his many discussions with his generals. And I wonder if those feelings have influenced any of his decisions on the issue. Such as his decision to go to Congress or to delay the strike altogether? I think we can only speculate at this point.
Now as far as the American people go and their hesitation on this issue, I think the American people are just war wary. I think that we are just tired of paying the price for war. Especially when it has become so muddled what the benefits are that we are receiving from all military activity. What have we gained for all this conflict that we’ve been involved in recent decades? Are we safer? Do we have more friends in the world? It certainly doesn’t feel that way. If these past couple of weeks are any indication we are even more isolated now than we have been in the past.
Are we better off? Certainly doesn’t feel that way. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions, on these operations when our bridges, tunnels and school buildings are crumbling here at home. These are things that the American public sees with its eyes every day. So it’s hard to convince people that they’re not true. It’s a case of do you believe me or your lying eyes?
I think what worries people the most is not that there will be a couple days of strikes in Syria, if that were to happen, but that we would open ourselves up to all of the unintended consequences of war. What if Syria retaliates? What if the situation explodes and we find ourselves in the midst of a regional war in the Middle East?
What compounds the problem is that we just don’t see what the vital national interest is in getting involved in this conflict. If we really want to help Syria, and I believe that we should, we should concentrate our efforts on bringing the war to an end. More than 100,000 Syrians have died in this conflict. Over 6 million have been displaced. Now that’s mass destruction.
A lot is being made of the chemical weapons attack and that was a terrible, horrific thing that happened. And it must be addressed. But if I’m a Syrian parent, I don’t want lose my children to anything. Not to chemical weapons, or a blast from a rocket, or a stray bullet. If this is about helping the Syrian people, then let’s really help them. And if it’s not about helping the Syrian people, well then maybe we need to question we’re involved in this issue at any level.
I believe we should help the Syrian people. I believe we should bring all of our influence to bear to help bring the civil war to an end diplomatically. But there is every indication that military action will be unhelpful. It would inflame the situation, it would have unintended consequences, and in the end, would cause more harm than good. It will have negative consequences both for Syria and for us.
That’s our show for tonight we hope you enjoyed it. We’d love to hear what you think about the subject and what your thoughts are. You can let us know by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s email@example.com. Remember that you can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook @itnshow. That’s itnshow, one word. Thanks again for being with us everyone and remember if it’s on your mind, it’s In the News. Until next time everyone, good night.