POTPOURRI ON SYRIA
September 7 2013
President Obama Should Listen to Old Man Clanton
In the movie My Darling Clementine, Old Man Clanton, well-played by Walter Brennan, tells his sons after a bloodless encounter with Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda), “When you pull a gun, kill a man.” This 1946 John Ford film, perhaps the least accurate version of the gunfight at the OK corral, could be seen as an object lesson for Obama regarding the proposed bombing of Syrian chemical facilities.
After the previous week’s “red line” warning, the Administration literally unholstered its gun, and asserted the President’s unilateral authority to conduct the strikes, which seemed to be imminent. Syrians fled the capital and the world braced for any number of possible consequences. But, Obama deferred action, saying he wanted (but didn’t need) Congressional authorization. There is no certain timetable for the end game. With Congressional approval much in doubt, the parallel question is whether Obama will go ahead with the strikes in the face of such a rebuff and mounting public opposition.
Now, the US press has published maps showing where the chemical factories are located, and the belief of many observers is that the Syrians, given the delay, are moving all that can be relocated.
There is a good example from our drug wars about tipping your hand too soon. In 1988, a decision was made to engage US military on the ground in Bolivia to curb coca cultivation and cocaine processing by destroying cocaine laboratories. The idea was to descend on the so-called labs from helicopters. The plan was fraught with problems. These so-called labs consisted of a few large tubs, and makeshift huts where the coca paste was dried under bright fluorescent lights. The concept relied on an element of surprise — -n a country where corruption was pervasive and every anti-narcotics effort was leaked to the narcotrafficantes. Peru would not grant permission to base the US helicopters on its soil, so the planners decided to transport disassembled helicopters to Bolovia in C5A transports. The C5As were the largest airplanes ever seen in that part of the world. Moreover, each chopper required a crew and support personnel, who totaled over 250 American military. Newspaper and radio commentators throughout the hemisphere had a field day, making fun of the Americans. Crowds gathered to watch US personnel reassembling the helicopters. By the time this Rube Goldberg plan was airborne, the labs were no longer where they had been seen weeks before. Indeed, it became apparent that the cocaine dealers, and their supporting cast of farmers and distributors, realized the US could not afford to keep this contingent on the ground for a long period – and decided to wait us out. The US had lost the element of surprise.
There is precedent for taking an action quickly, then letting history argue the verdict.
Associated Press reports the possibility of a Plan B
President Obama’s “Plan A” for a military strike on Syria could be in danger just one day before he makes his case to the American people as Russia, the U.N. and some in Congress push for a newly emerging “Plan B.”
Gaining traction is a push to compel the Assad regime to turn over its chemical weapons.
The idea caught fire unexpectedly on Monday after Secretary of State John Kerry made an off-hand comment that Syria could resolve the stand-off by relinquishing its chemical weapons within a week. Kerry claimed that Assad “isn’t about to do it” — and an aide suggested the secretary was not being serious.
But within hours, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would push Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control.
Officials with the State Department and the White House have since said they’ll take a “hard look” at the Russians’ proposal.
“We would welcome Assad giving up his chemical weapons. … That would be terrific,” White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said, while stressing that Congress should still vote to authorize the use of force in order to keep the pressure on Syria.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and British Prime Minister David Cameron also reportedly indicated support for the plan to have Syria turn over chemical weapons to international control. And a pair of U.S. senators is already pushing an alternative resolution in Congress that would achieve similar goals.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D, who are opposed to a strike on Syria at this time, are pushing a resolution that would give Syria 45 days to join the international convention against chemical weapons and take “concrete steps” to comply with it.
In a written statement, Heitkamp said this would have Bashar Assad “begin the process of turning over its chemical weapons.”
“If, after 45 days, the Assad regime mistakes our deliberate and careful democratic process for lack of will and immunity, it does so at its own peril,” she said.
Manchin and Heitkamp have been promised a vote on their proposal, Fox News is told.
It’s unclear whether the Obama administration, which is pushing a military strike in response to an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack blamed on the Assad regime, will seriously consider these offers.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki seemed to walk back Kerry’s original remark, clarifying that Kerry “was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used.”
She added: “His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons otherwise he would have done so long ago.”
But the State Department said later in the day that it would take a “hard look” at the proposal.
Lavrov said he has already handed over the proposal and expects a “quick, and hopefully, positive answer.”
“We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons,” he said.
Syria’s foreign minister said the country welcomes the Russian proposal.
The alternative plan could offer Obama, who is planning a national address on Tuesday, a lifeline as he prepares for a tough set of votes on Capitol Hill. The Senate could hold a key test vote as early as Wednesday. However, with the defection of Heitkamp and many others, it will be a tough climb to corral the 60 votes that are likely necessary to advance the use-of-force resolution. The House is an even tougher sell.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid was expected to formally tee up the test vote on Monday.
Lavrov’s statement followed media reports alleging that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who discussed Syria with Obama during the group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg last week, sought to negotiate a deal that would have Assad hand over control of chemical weapons.
Speaking earlier in the day, Lavrov denied that Russia was trying to sponsor any deal “behind the back of the Syrian people.”
SPY Note: As Bobby Kennedy famously said “we can always go back to killing people.”