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Washington’s Prewar Politicking

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As Obama’s war cabinet takes its case for strikes against Assad to the House of Representatives, Eli Lake breaks down the political wrangling so far, from the Joint Chiefs chairman to Rand Paul stealing the show.

The president’s top general, top diplomat, and secretary of Defense on Wednesday will take the case for Syrian airstrikes to the House of Representatives, where they are likely to face a much tougher crowd than the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While the Senate appears to have the votes to pass the resolution, the Republican-controlled House is still very much a toss-up.Here’s what you need to know to get up to speed as the president’s war cabinet makes the case for intervention in Syria.

Say What?

This Could Backfire

Michael Dwyer/AP

The president was right to take a Syria vote to Congress. But why then say he might attack even without lawmakers’ approval? Michael Tomasky on Obama’s unwise rhetoric.

Far and away, the single most confusing thing about Barack Obama’s confusing Syria policy is the claim that the administration can and maybe will proceed with the bombing even if Congress votes against it. For the time being, I’ll hold my fire on the substance of the matter. Let’s wait and see what happens. Who knows? The House could defy my expectations and approve a resolution (the Senate almost surely will). But for now I’m stuck wondering why on earth, even if they do believe it, they would say it publicly.

Syria Hearing

Kerry Stumbles on 'Boots on the Ground'

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Appeared to equivocate.

Come again? At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to equivocate when asked whether there would be American boots on the ground in Syria. Kerry said at one point he wouldn't "take off the table" the idea, nor any other military actions. However, pressed on his answer—which contradicted previous public statements—Kerry clarified that he was only "thinking out loud." "Let's shut that door tight as we can," he insisted. Not acting at all on Syria, the secretary said in closing, would turn America into “spectators of slaughter.”

Read it at The Atlantic Wire

Syria Strike

Obama’s Weak Case

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By accepting public oversight of any military action against the Assad regime, the president did something both humble and wise. But his arguments for an attack aren’t strong enough, says Peter Beinart.

Everything about President Obama’s decision to ask Congress to approve military action in Syria is terrific—except for the action he’s asking it to approve.By going to Congress, Obama is doing something profound. He’s acknowledging that the rules of the foreign-policy game must change. Over the past 40 years, America’s presidents have gutted two key restraints on their ability to go to war. In 1973, Richard Nixon created an all-volunteer military, thus confining the direct burdens of war to a small subset of Americans who were legally barred from political protest and virtually ensuring that nothing as noisy and chaotic as the anti-Vietnam movement would occur again.

Up to Speed

Five Things to Know About Syria

Salah Al-Ashkar/AFP/Getty

Yes, Obama has asked Congress to approve a military strike on Syria. But what’s really going on? Christopher Dickey explains, from the factions involved to the U.S. objective and the real game changer.

One way or the other, the United States is about to take responsibility for what happens in Syria’s gruesome civil war.President Obama stopped the rush to military action by calling for Congress to preapprove an attack to punish the regime for using chemical weapons. But if Congress votes yes, the United States will be a party to the conflict, no matter how limited its actions. If Congress votes no, Washington will have walked away from what Obama called “a crime against humanity” and will be blamed for the carnage to come.

More and More

Obama to Send New Arms

Hamid Khatib/Reuters

That’s what John McCain says the president promised to do if it means getting support for an attack on Syria. Josh Rogin and Eli Lake report on Obama's quickening war campaign.

In a private meeting at the White House on Monday with Sen. John McCain, President Obama said he plans to give Syrian rebels more advanced weapons, according to McCain. If this happens, it would mark an expansion of Obama’s latest Syria strategy of possibly mounting a military response to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons.McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham met with Obama to discuss the plan, which, as currently outlined by the White House, involves a limited mission to punish the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, as the Syrian president did most recently on August 21, and deter future assaults.

Syria Strike

The Putin Factor

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Obama’s pause on Syria could help his cause—but it will also give Russia’s president a chance to make a mockery of justice at this week’s G20 summit in St. Petersburg, says Bernard-Henri Lévy.

Is Obama in retreat?Is François Hollande now isolated?At the present hour, with 110,000 Syrians dead and 2 million displaced, after the massacre of August 21 and those that led up to it, after two and a half years of shutting our eyes to a war against a civilian population that has gone from one atrocity to another, what was one more week to Syria? Maybe the American president is right after all to call for a little more time, to try to rally Congress behind his decision to strike Damascus and thereby to imbue the promised action with as much democratic legitimacy as possible.


The U.S. Wrings Its Hands Over Syria

Molhem Barakat/Reuters

Syrian rebels are pressing ahead with their fight against the government in the wake of a chemical attack left hundreds dead. Mike Giglio on how America’s hesitance to get involved is rattling rebels and U.S. allies alike.

Some Syrian rebels were frank in their frustration with the Obama administration as news came that a U.S. strike against the government—which had been expected over the weekend—would be put to a congressional vote. The surprise move delayed the strike until at least next week, and also raised the possibility that it might not come at all.“The Americans right now have actually made a big mess,” said a commander with the Jund Allah Brigades in Damascus who goes by the nickname Abu Tammam.


A Dark Future for Syria’s Children

Manu Brabo/AP

Despite heroic efforts by parents and teachers, there’s little education for millions of children amid the chaos and bloodshed. By Anna Therese Day

Amina Kamel will never forget her last day of school. In January, the 20-year-old pharmacy student was at Aleppo University preparing for an exam when two explosions rocked the campus, killing more than 50 people. Kamel recalls the cries of her classmates, and the pandemonium that erupted as the students tried to flee their classrooms.“We didn’t even know which way to run because of our panic, but when we reached the door to get outside that’s when I saw the blood … and the bodies,” she recalls, shaking her head and clenching her teeth.

Game On

The Odds of War

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Obama did the right thing, morally and constitutionally. Now the question is will Congress follow suit and approve a strike on Syria—or will they take the side of a murderous war criminal. Michael Tomasky runs the numbers.

Barack Obama did the right thing Saturday, on a number of levels. The first and most obvious one: The Constitution calls for it. Yes, we’ve got a history now of more than 50 years of presidents not going to Congress. One of them is named Obama (on Libya). But today he did the right thing by the Constitution: “Having made my decision as commander-in-chief based on what I think are our national security interests, I’m also mindful that I’m the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.


Obama’s Silly War

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The president’s fuzzy rationale for striking Syria should give us all pause. Is Obama going to war just so he can avoid getting mocked, as one U.S. official reportedly said?

As America slouches to war in Syria, top U.S. policy planners are preoccupied with calibrating our expected attack so that it is sufficiently muscular as to be above mockery—but not so muscular as to make any other powers angry. Literally. That’s how some officials explain what’s happening: they want to do something, but not too much.The Obamans don’t want to win. They don’t want regime change. They just want to make a point. Most of all, they don’t want to look silly.

Sectarian Crumbling

Is Syria Being 'Lebanized' or is Lebanon Being 'Syrianized'?

When Hezbollah made its fateful decision to intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war, it was only a matter of time before the war would follow them back home and ignite a fire in Lebanon. This month three car bombs went off in Lebanon, killing scores and injuring hundreds.The first bomb, which exploded in Dahiyeh, Hezbollah's stronghold in southern Beirut, killed 27 and injured many more. No-one claimed responsibility for the blast, but few Lebanese doubted that it was a message from supporters of the Al-Qaeda-like wing of the anti-Assad Syrian rebels.

It's Coming

Syria, Iraq, and Proof

The lead story in today's New York Times hits the right point. There is pressure on the administration on the question of proof, which it says it is going to produce for the world today. From the article:And yet the White House faces steep hurdles as it prepares to make the most important public intelligence presentation since February 2003, when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made a dramatic and detailed case for war to the United Nations Security Council using intelligence—later discredited—about Iraq’s weapons programs.

Map of Syria

Where Would We Bomb?

The U.S. administration believes the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on its own people and is considering ‘limited strikes’ against Syrian forces. This map displays key sites and potential U.S. targets.


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