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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

Russia Trumps Obama War Plan

President Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013.(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

It’s tempting to enjoy the moment, that is, the humiliation of President Obama and the short-circuiting of his war push by a brilliant coup conducted by Vladimir Putin, that sly old dog and ju-jitsu expert, along with Russia’s ally, Syria. President Obama might as well not bother giving his Oval Office speech tonight, because the chances that Congress will approve Obama’s Authorization to Use Military Force are zero, and the possibility that the United States will go to war against Syria without congressional support are now less than zero.

But here’s the thing: the Russian proposal, now accepted by Syria, ought to be seized on by the White House enthusiastically, because it could open the door to, first, a political settlement of the war in Syria and then an accord with Iran.

Perhaps the signal failure of the Obama administration in the past five years has been its utter inability to achieve a decent working relationship with Moscow. Despite some successes, including limited success on arms talks and a cooling-down on NATO expansion and the placement of missiles in eastern Europe, Obama has allowed US-Russia relations to drift toward a Cold War–like hostility. That’s unfortunate, because a positive US-Russia approach toward issues such as the war in Syria, the confrontation over Iran, the struggle against Al Qaeda and Islamist extremism, and a whole range of disarmament and nuclear-weapons issues could succeed in making the world a better and safer place.

We’ll see if President Obama, stung now by Russia’s Syria plan, embraces a more intelligent strategy in regard to Moscow.

Meanwhile, the incompetence and bumbling of Obama and Secretary of State Kerry on Syria is staggering. Obama’s mistakes on Syria make a long list: first, calling for the fall of Assad in 2011, without any means to make it happen; second, drawing a “red line” on chemical weapons in 2012, thus boxing himself in when reports of Syrian gas use began piling up; third, promising to arm the Syrian rebels months ago, thus escalating the war and getting the rebels excited, with no real follow-up; fourth, oddly allowing Qatar and Saudi Arabia to take the lead in Syria policy, led by Prince Bandar and Saudi intelligence, while the United States took a back seat and the war was taken over by Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda types; fifth, opting for a military strike with no obvious strategic value; and sixth, tossing the whole mess into Congress’ lap.

Today, facing defeat in Congress—perhaps the first-ever rejection of the use of the American military by a president who sought the approval of those 535 experts on foreign policy on Capitol Hill—Obama finds himself bailed out by Putin.

Putin’s action wasn’t sudden, shocking or surprising. As I blogged last week, the Russians have been signaling for quite a while that they might be willing to join a United Nations–sponsored Syria effort centered on chemical weapons, but not if the United States insisted on a military strike. The idea of getting Russia’s constructive help on Syria didn’t seem to occur to the United States, and Kerry’s odd statement yesterday seemed more designed to undermine the Russian plan, not aid it. Said Kerry:

“Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week…without delay and allow the full and total accounting for that, but he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done, obviously.”

Well, not so obviously, I guess.

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Even more oddly, Kerry said that a US attack on Syria would be “unbelievably small,” a comment that is not only dumb, but wrong. As I wrote yesterday, the planned American strike on Syria is designed to be massive and tilt the balance of the fighting in favor of the Al Qaeda–dominated rebels. Even Obama, asked about the size of the strike, had to contradict Kerry, in an interview with NBC:

“The U.S. does not do pinpricks. Our military is the greatest the world has ever known. And when we take even limited strikes, it has an impact on a country like Syria.”

Conservatives and Republicans have justly had a field day slamming Obama and, oddly for them, praising Putin. (For some reason, Media Matters compiled all these quotes in a manner calculated to ridicule the right-wingers, even though most of what they had to say is absolutely correct.) For example, Fox’s Martha McCallum:

I mean, you know, what we’re seeing, it would appear, and you tell me if I’m wrong, is that Vladimir Putin is coming to the diplomatic rescue here or appearing to try to do that at least, to a president who told us when he ran for office that all you needed to do was sit down with everybody to work things out.

And Tucker Carlson, also on Fox:

The administration’s policy in Syria is ad hoc. The president implied this was all in the works, that at the G20 he and President Putin worked this out. That’s ludicrous. They’re making this up as they go along and that’s obvious, I think. The second thing that is clear is that this strengthens Russia and humiliates the United States. Putin is riding to President Obama’s rescue. He is entirely dependent upon the goodwill of Vladimir Putin, who does not [have] our interests at heart.

Well, Russia may not have America’s interests at heart, but their proposal might just work, and it appears that France—and here let me say that I am suspicious of France’s motives—is rushing to test Russia’s commitment to a deal by introducing a resolution at the UN Security Council in support of Russia’s proposal. But even John McCain, who’s been itching to bomb Syria for years, has admitted that the United States “can’t say no” to the Russian plan.

Take Action: Demand Your Reps Vote No on Military Intervention in Syria

Katrina vanden Huevel urges diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis on ABC’s This Week.

Obama Plans 'Shock and Awe' in Syria

President Barack Obama talks with bipartisan congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

President Obama’s plan to have Congress approve his ill-considered war on behalf of Al Qaeda in Syria will shock everyone, when it happens, with its sheer intensity. Those expecting a “limited” strike against a handful of Syrian military installations, including those involved in delivering chemical weapons, are in for a rude awakening. Instead, what the president will order will be a lot closer to President George W. Bush’s “shock and awe” bombardment of Baghdad before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

That isn’t to say that Obama is planning an invasion of Syria. He’s not. (Although if the state collapses, and Syria descends into chaos, the United States may very well end up with “boots on the ground” and body bags for American soldiers.)

In trying to market his war plans to Congress and the American public, Obama has repeatedly stated that he’s seeking authority for a limited war, and some officials have suggested—especially at the beginning of Obama’s war push—that “the strike,” as the belligerent Secretary of State John Kerry calls it, might involve only a couple of dozen cruise missiles. Don’t believe that for a second.

Even the drafts of resolutions being circulated in Congress suggest that Obama will get the “authority” to wage war against Syria for up to sixty days, with the possibility of an extension. That’s war, folks, not a “strike.”

No longer is the Obama administration arguing that it intends merely to punish President Bashar al-Assad for his alleged use of sarin gas. Instead, the talk in Washington more and more is about the need to “degrade” Syria’s core military apparatus. In Pentagon lingo, “degrade” means “destroy.” In other words, the object of Obama’s planned war on Syria is to tilt the balance of the conflict to the rebels, many of whom are radical Islamists, extremists of all kinds and Al Qaeda types.

As the Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend, even the initial list of fifty targets to be attacked—and fifty is a lot—has been expanded. And the United States is planning to use not only cruise missiles but other weapons, including bombers, based in both the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, at least. As the Los Angeles Times report, by veteran reported David S. Cloud, puts it:

The Pentagon is preparing for a longer bombardment of Syria than it originally had planned, with a heavy barrage of missile strikes followed soon after by more attacks on targets that the opening salvos missed or failed to destroy, officials said.…

Two U.S. officers said the White House asked for an expanded target list in recent days to include many more than the 50 or so targets on the initial list. As a result, Pentagon planners are weighing whether to use Air Force bombers, in addition to five warships now on patrol in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, to launch cruise missiles and air-to-surface missiles from hundreds of miles offshore, well out of range of Syrian air defenses.

Stephen Hadley, President Bush’s national security adviser, has officially been enlisted by the White House as an advocate for the war push on Capitol Hill. As The New York Times reported, in a lengthy piece on the White House’s all-out lobbying effort to rally Congress for war—in which the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been given a prominent role—Obama has asked Hadley and other hawks to rally Republicans:

Tailoring the pitch, the White House and Republican Congressional leaders organized another briefing just for Republican staff members to hear from Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser to Mr. Bush, and Eric S. Edelman, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Like the White House, Hadley argues that the real object of the war is to scare Iran by getting rid of its Syrian ally. (The title of Hadley’s op-ed in the Washington Post today is “To stop Iran, Obama must enforce red lines with Syria.”) And Hadley insists that the “strike” against Damascus be designed to topple Assad, not to punish him:

To protect these U.S. interests, U.S. military action in Syria must go beyond a few missile strikes designed to deter or degrade future chemical weapons use. It must be robust enough to erode the Syrian regime’s military advantage.… The goal is fracturing the Syrian regime so political and military elements of the regime can join with moderate and democratic elements of the opposition to establish an interim government that can begin to wind down the war, protect all Syrians (including Alawites and other minorities) and go after al-Qaeda.

Hadley, of course, has direct experience with “fracturing the…regime,” since that’s what his team did to Iraq in 2003, with catastrophic results. Hadley (and Kerry) warn that perhaps 100,000 Syrians have died—but they fail to mention that five times that many, at least, died in Iraq after the state, the army and all of Iraq’s institutions fell apart.

Last week, on September 5, The New York Times reported extensively on the administration’s war plan, noting (even then) that the list of targets was expanding, and adding:

So as the target list expands, the administration is creeping closer to carrying out military action that also could help tip the balance on the ground, even as the administration argues that that is not the primary intent.

And it added:

Among the options available are B-52 bombers, which can carry air-launched cruise missiles; B-1s that are based in Qatar and carry long-range, air-to-surface missiles; and B-2 stealth bombers, which are based in Missouri and carry satellite-guided bombs.

Part of this escalation is designed to win the support of super-hawks such as Senator John McCain, who has argued that it would useless to bomb Syria in a limited fashion, and that only a massive strike designed to topple Assad would be credible. That, of course, may push some fence-sitting liberals to oppose Obama’s war push in Congress, but it’s designed instead to win the backing of hawks and Republicans who’ve accused Obama of being too weak on Syria since 2011.

Thanks to McCain, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee-passed war resolution explicitly says that a strike ought to be aimed at getting rid of Assad, not punishing him. As The Wall Street Journal reported:

Unlike the House alternative, the version passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday also set a broader policy goal of tipping the civil war in Syria against the Assad regime—language sought by Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.).

At the American Enterprise Institute, which served as the unofficial headquarters for the neoconservative-led attack on Iraq a decade ago, the top US naval operations official boasted that the United States will deploy a “vast spectrum” of military capabilities against Syria:

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday that the U.S. ships are prepared for what he called a “vast spectrum of operations,” including launching Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Syria and protecting themselves in the event of retaliation.

Those in Congress who have to vote on war ought to keep all this in mind. An authorization to use military force (AUMF) is almost guaranteed to explode in their faces, just as the 2001 vote after 9/11 and the 2003 vote to authorize war against Iraq did.

Read The Nation’s editorial in opposition to intervention in Syria.

Obama's Syria War Is Really About Iran and Israel


President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The dirty little not-so-secret behind President Obama’s much-lobbied-for, illegal and strategically incompetent war against Syria is that it’s not about Syria at all. It’s about Iran—and Israel. And it has been from the start.

By “the start,” I mean 2011, when the Obama administration gradually became convinced that it could deal Iran a mortal blow by toppling President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, a secular, Baathist strongman who is, despite all, an ally of Iran’s. Since then, taking Iran down a peg has been the driving force behind Obama’s Syria policy.

Not coincidentally, the White House plans to scare members of Congress into supporting the ill-conceived war plan by waving the Iranian flag in their faces. Even liberal Democrats, some of whom are opposing or questioning war with Syria, blanch at the prospect of opposing Obama and the Israel lobby over Iran.

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Item for consideration: a new column by the Syria analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the chief think tank of the Israel lobby. Andrew Tabler headlines his piece: “Attacking Syria Is the Best Way to Deal with Iran.” In it, he says:

At first glance, the festering Syria crisis seems bad news for diplomatic efforts to keep Iran from developing nuclear capabilities. In actuality, however, achieving U.S. objectives in the Syria crisis is an opportunity to pressure Iran into making hard choices not only in Syria, but regarding its nuclear program as well. More U.S. involvement to achieve its objectives in Syria will inevitably run counter to Tehran’s interests, be it to punish the Assad regime for chemical weapons use or to show support for the Syrian opposition in changing Assad’s calculus and forcing him to “step aside” at the negotiating table or on the battlefield.

Many in U.S. policymaking circles have viewed containing swelling Iranian influence in Syria and preventing Iran from going nuclear as two distinct policy discussions, as the Obama Administration only has so much “bandwidth” to deal with Middle East threats. But the recent deepening of cooperation between Tehran, Hezbollah and the Assad regime, combined with their public acknowledgement of these activities, indicates that they themselves see these activities as furthering the efficacy of the “resistance axis.”

Like every alliance, its members will only make hard policy choices if the costs of its current policies far outweigh the benefits. U.S. strikes on the Assad regime, if properly calibrated as part of an overall plan to degrade the regime, would force Tehran to become more involved in Syria in order to rescue its stalwart ally. This would be costly for Iran financially, militarily and politically. Those costs would make the Iranian regime and its people reassess aspirations to go nuclear.

Needless to say, such a strategy is bound to be counterproductive, since—by slamming Syria, never mind toppling Assad—Washington is likely to undermine doves and bolster hawks in Tehran and undermine the chances for successful negotiations with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, who’ll be speaking at the UN General Assembly later this month.

In fact, both Russia and Iran have signaled recently, in the wake of Syria’s obvious deployment and use of sarin gas and other deadly weapons that they might be getting ready to join the rest of the world in condemning Syria’s chemical warfare, and that makes it far more likely that the much-postponed US-Russia “Geneva II” peace conference on Syria might work. The hawkish Washington Post today notes Rouhani’s new administration in Tehran is softening its tone on Syria, and it reports that the new Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has acknowledged the Syria has erred, saying: “We believe that the government in Syria has made grave mistakes that have, unfortunately, paved the way for the situation in the country to be abused.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, while issuing scathing denunciations of the coming U.S. attack on Syria, has dropped broad hints that he might be willing to join with other nations if and when the United Nations weapons team concludes that Assad used nerve gas, suggesting that Russia might not block a UN Security Council resolution against Syria. In his much-reported interview with the Associated Press, Putin insisted on waiting for the UN report:

“If there is evidence that chemical weapons have been used, and used specifically by the regular army, this evidence should be submitted to the U.N. Security Council. And it ought to be convincing. It shouldn’t be based on some rumors and information obtained by intelligence agencies through some kind of eavesdropping, some conversations and things like that.”

Then, according to the Washington Post, Putin declared that he might join a UN-sponsored coalition on Syria:

He said he “doesn’t exclude” backing the use of force against Syria at the United Nations if there is objective evidence proving that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons against its people. But he strongly warned Washington against launching military action without U.N. approval, saying it would represent an aggression. Russia can veto resolutions at the U.N. Security Council and has protected Syria from punitive actions there before.

But a change in tone on the part of Russia and Iran—the latter of whom the Obama administration still refuses to invite to Geneva II if and when it occurs—won’t mean a thing if the object of war with Syria is to send a message to Iran. As Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for Bloomberg, says, for Israel it’s all about Iran:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel would prefer that Obama enforce his red line on chemical weapons use, because he would like to see proof that Obama believes in the red lines he draws. From Netanyahu’s perspective, Israel isn’t unduly threatened by Assad. Syria constitutes a dangerous, but ultimately manageable, threat.

Netanyahu believes, of course, that Iran, Syria’s primary sponsor, poses an existential threat to his country, and so would like the Iranians to understand very clearly that Obama’s red lines are, in fact, very red. As Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me last night, the formula is simple: “If the Iranians do not fear Obama, then the Israelis will lose confidence in Obama.”

In his round-robin television appearances on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry—now the administration’s über-hawk—repeatedly said that bombing Syria would send a message to Iran. As he told Fox News on Sunday:

“The fact is that if we act and if we act in concert, then Iran will know that this nation is capable of speaking with one voice on something like this, and that has serious, profound implications, I think, with respect to the potential of a confrontation over their nuclear program. That is one of the things that is at stake here.”

Take Action: Demand Your Reps Vote No on Military Intervention in Syria

Obama's Strategically Incompetent, Useless and Nonsensical War Push

Smoke rises after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the village of Picture taken August 17, 2013. (Reuters/Khattab Abdulaa)

In the midst of President Obama’s reckless push for war—a strategically incompetent, useless and nonsensical attack on Syria—the International Crisis Group has put forth a useful counterpoint, namely, a path toward a diplomatic solution. However remote that might be, at this stage of the game, it’s the only way out, and it’s good that it’s been developed by an establishment organization whose leadership includes many former US and foreign diplomats

But it’s too late, since Obama—with the able assistance of the Israel lobby, pro-war neoconservatives, and hawks of all kinds (liberal and conservative)—is all but assured of getting Congress to approve his wrath-of-God strike. Obama assures the public and Congress that his aims in attacking Syria are limited, and that he isn’t seeking regime change in Syria, but I don’t believe that for a second. You’ll recall that in March 2003 President George W. Bush, who at least had the crazed courage to declare his intent of forcible regime change in Iraq, jumped his own gun by launching a strike at Baghdad a day or two before the war officially began because the United States had intelligence, faulty as it turned out, that Saddam Hussein was in a specific location in the Iraqi capital. I expect that today the crack US intelligence spotters are once again hoping that they can kill President Bashar al-Assad via a cruise missile strike, thus decapitating the regime.

For Assad’s sake, let’s hope that his elegant and sophisticated wife, who—before it was decided by the powers-that-be that Assad was worse than Hitler was profiled by Vogue—has squirreled away a secret cellphone on which to call her family, since undoubtedly if the CIA doesn’t have the number to trace her location using it, Vogue’s helpful, national security–minded editors will happily provide it to the agency.

Trying its best to remind Obama and the world that might-makes-right isn’t the best solution in Syria and that the top priority is to remember to do what’s best for the people of Syria, the International Crisis Group says:

Assuming the US Congress authorizes them, Washington (together with some allies) soon will launch military strikes against Syrian regime targets. If so, it will have taken such action for reasons largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people. The administration has cited the need to punish, deter and prevent use of chemical weapons—a defensible goal, though Syrians have suffered from far deadlier mass atrocities during the course of the conflict without this prompting much collective action in their defence. The administration also refers to the need, given President Obama’s asserted “redline” against use of chemical weapons, to protect Washington’s credibility—again an understandable objective though unlikely to resonate much with Syrians. Quite apart from talk of outrage, deterrence and restoring U.S. credibility, the priority must be the welfare of the Syrian people. Whether or not military strikes are ordered, this only can be achieved through imposition of a sustained ceasefire and widely accepted political transition.

The ICG outlines a six-step peace plan for Syria that centers on the idea of a Geneva II conference cosponsored by the United States and Russia, and including Iran. That, you’ll recall, was an idea that Secretary of State John Kerry, now a moralistic, screeching hawk, and his counterpart, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, developed in May. Says ICG:

Whether or not the U.S. chooses to launch a military offensive, its responsibility should be to try to optimise chances of a diplomatic breakthrough. This requires a two-fold effort lacking to date: developing a realistic compromise political offer as well as genuinely reaching out to both Russia and Iran in a manner capable of eliciting their interest—rather than investing in a prolonged conflict that has a seemingly bottomless capacity to escalate.

If Obama’s idea in bombing Syria isn’t to kill Assad and topple the regime, then it makes not a shred of sense at all, as Simon Jenkins says in The Guardian:

The reason a missile attack on Syria is proving so unpopular on both sides of the Atlantic has nothing to do with neoimperial hubris. The reason is that it is a bad idea. “Punishing” a dictator for killing his own people by simply killing more of his own people seems beyond cruel. It seems stupid. It leads nowhere.

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Well, actually it could lead somewhere, namely, to a widely expanded war.

Take Action: Demand Your Reps Vote No to Military Intervention

Congress Must Block Obama's War


President Barack Obama. (AP Images)

It’s up to Congress now to stop President Obama’s push for war. That ought not be encouraging, even though rogue Republican neo-isolationists and Obama-haters in the House might still vote no out of spite. The White House—not to mention the Israel lobby—will push hard for approval of a war resolution, and even staunch, liberal pro-Obama members of Congress, especially in the Senate, will probably go along.

But that doesn’t make the desire of the president and Secretary of State Kerry, who’s emerged as the administration’s über-hawk, to go to war any less insane. Striking Syria in a punishment-minded, wrath-of-God attack, driven by the president’s foolish announcement of a red line in the sand, with absolutely no strategic goal in sight—and now that Syria will have weeks to disperse its forces and its weapons—makes not a shred of sense. But as Obama said yesterday, “We do what we say.” And he’s said he intends to bomb Syria. My guess: he’ll do it even if Congress votes against the idea.

In the president’s statement yesterday, he asked: “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?” In response, I ask: “By what right does President Obama, any president, decide which dictator, strongman or bad guy anywhere in the world must be punished by the United States? Who made America the world’s policeman—not to mention the world’s judge, jury and executioner?”

Some might be willing to praise Obama for making a virtue of necessity and taking the case for his useless, strategically incompetent Syria plan to the Congress. In fact, without allies (except the French, who long for the long-gone “mission civilisatrice”), with public support, with the formerly puppylike UK, without backing from either the United Nations or the Arab League, Obama was naked before the world. So he wants congressional support for a mission that will kill civilians and accomplish, well, nothing.

As The New York Times reports in some depth, Obama is being ridiculed worldwide, and he deserves every ounce of mockery that he’s getting. No doubt, at the summit meeting of the G-20 in St. Petersburg later this week, Obama will get his head handed to him, and rightly so.

None of this means that Obama, who seems to approach every world conflict with Hamlet-like indecision—perhaps not a bad thing—is as bad as President George W. Bush. A Syrian resident of Homs, anticipating an attack, put it best when he told the Times:

“Man, I wish Bush was the president. He would have reacted right away. He may have invaded Cyprus or Jordan instead of Syria by mistake, but you know he would have done something at least.”

No, Obama isn’t Bush. But on Syria he created his own slippery slope, first by calling for the ouster of President Assad in 2011 without intending to back up his words—but, meanwhile, inciting Islamist fanatics of all kinds into an anti-Assad frenzy—and then by drawing imaginary red lines in the sands of the Middle East.

In his remarks yesterday—and in what will no doubt be the central focus of the Israel lobby’s support for Obama’s war plan in Congress—Obama made it clear that someone, perhaps Kerry, perhaps others, has convinced him that bombing Syria is really a message to Iran. As the president put it:

Make no mistake—this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms?

In fact, here’s what it says to Iran: We don’t care at all that you’ve elected a peace-minded new president, Hassan Rouhani, who might be able to work out a reasonable compromise on Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, Obama is saying, we’d rather bomb your ally Syria, bolster the hawks in Tehran, and go from there.

Gary Sick, a Columbia University professor and former top Middle East aide in Jimmy Carter’s White House, made an attempt to figure out Obama’s reasoning, if that’s what you can call it, and here’s what he came up with:

Imagine that you are a White House adviser and you have been asked to calibrate a military intervention that will send an unmistakable message to Assad that his use of [chemical weapons] was a serious error and persuade him that any such action in the future would be unacceptably costly to Syria generally and to the Assad government in particular.

However, the attack should not change the fundamental balance of power in the civil war—specifically it should not empower the radical Sunni opposition forces that are potentially worse than Assad. The strike should not be so great that it inspires reckless behavior by other states or parties in the region—specifically it should not provoke retaliation, for example, by either Hezbollah or Syria against Israeli targets.

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The attack should be time limited, so the United States should not be required to go back again and again—to “mow the lawn” in Israeli parlance. Above all, it should not require us to escalate, regardless of how Assad or his allies may respond.

Ultimately the strike should at best encourage a shift to a negotiating track or at least not place an insuperable obstacle in the path of a non-violent solution to the problem. Within Syria, the attack should not create a new wave of refugees or make the conditions of ordinary Syrians worse than it already is.

You may have up to ten days to present your plan (depending on the Congressional calendar), but your proposal really should be available tomorrow for proper vetting in advance and possible immediate use.

As Sick implies, it’s impossible to propose a plan of attack that can’t go wrong. Will Congress understand that? Unfortunately, both Obama’s war plan and the vote in Congress will be about politics, and there the balance of power likely rests with the White House, which will make its case for war again and again, as Kerry did on television today across the networks on four Sunday shows. Right now Americans are ambivalent about Syria: most of them are more concerned about football and twerking than foreign policy. A president who campaigns for war in the United States usually wins.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has a few cautionary words before we launch airstrikes in Syria.

Obama Plans War Without Allies, Support or International Law


President Barack Obama. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

President Obama will probably launch several dozen cruise missiles into Syria in the next few days—without allies (except France, which seems to view Syria as a lost colony), without public support (polls show lukewarm backing at best for an attack and overwhelming opposition to another Iraq-style war), without much congressional support, and without the support of NATO, the Arab League or the United Nations.

Like a pathetic schoolyard bully who’s drawn a line in the sand and beats up people who cross it, Obama is going to war in Syria simply because he drew a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and President Assad flouted it. (Needless to say, it isn’t even clear if it was Assad who ordered the attack using a nerve agent, since at least some of the leaked intelligence shows that it was a local commander who intended the use to have much more limited, local effect, not a mass killing of hundreds.)

In Obama’s case, as is the case with many other bullies, he’s going to find that bombing Syria won’t restore America’s collapsing prestige and clout in the Middle East.

Take Syria: in 2011, Obama called for President Assad to leave office. He was ignored. In 2012, Obama warned Assad: don’t use chemical weapons. He was ignored. In 2013, he urged the Syrian rebels to attend a conference in Geneva aimed at ending the conflict, and the rebels ignored him, too. There are plenty more points of data where those came from, and not only in regard to Syria. In Egypt, virtually everything the United States has done since the start of the Arab Spring in that country in 2011 has been ignored, rejected, laughed at, ridiculed or politely (and not so politely) dismissed. Even Saudi Arabia, whose kleptocratic rulers have depended on the United States to protect their oily throne, have pretty much done what they want: invade Bahrain, prop up President Mubarak and then oust Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, fuel the rise of Islamist fighters in Syria.

So now it appears that the president of the United States will bomb Syria—against the advice, apparently of some quarters of the US military—in what’s guaranteed to fail to improve America’s standing in the region.

Obama, who says that the attack is designed in some vague way to bolster the international treaty and convention against the use of chemical arms, is meanwhile flouting plenty of other parts of international law. He doesn’t care. The administration says that even if the British parliament votes against war, even if the head of the United Nations says don’t do it, even if the Arab League (which backed the bombing of Libya) says it won’t support an attack on Syria, well, who cares? We’re America! We do whatever the hell we want. Or as The Washington Post put it:

The administration insisted Thursday that President Obama has both the authority and the determination to make his own decision on a military strike against Syria, even as a growing chorus of lawmakers demanded an opportunity to vote on the issue and Britain, the United States’ closest ally, appeared unlikely to participate.

And Obama doesn’t care about Congress’s objections, either. Someone, perhaps Nancy Pelosi—the noted military strategist who apparently out-hawked the Republicans on last night’s White House telephone consultation with members of Congress—is telling Obama that the bombing of Syria can easily be limited and contained. Maybe that’s true, but there are plenty of reasons to think that it will have cascading ill effects: causing Assad to dig in, leading the rebels to believe that they have US support, leading Iran and Russia to escalate their aid to Syria, undermining or destroying the chance of US-Iran talks, sending US-Russian relations deeper in the Cold War–like chill, leading to a new flood of refugees, boosting Islamist radicalism across the entire region and more.

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And killing Syrian civilians. By telegraphing the attack, leaking details like crazy, Obama has given Assad plenty of time to disperse, decentralize and hide his chemical arms, evacuate likely targets such as command-and-control buildings, and prepare his defenses. But civilians have nowhere to hide.

Greg Mitchell documents the chorus of liberal hawks pushing for military intervention in Syria.

No War With Syria!

Missile strike in Syria
A man inspects a site hit by what activists said were missiles fired by Syrian Air Force fighter jets loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, in eastern Syria, on August 21, 2013. Reuters/Nour Fourat.

Here’s the core question now, in regard to Syria: If it’s true that President Bashar al-Assad’s government used poison gas in an incident that killed hundreds of people, at least, in the suburbs of Damascus, can the United States avoid military action in response? The answer is: yes. And it should.

That doesn’t mean that the United States ought to do nothing. The horrific incident, reported in detail by Doctors Without Borders, demands action. But the proper response by the United States is an all-out effort to achieve a cease-fire in the Syrian civil war. It’s late in the game, but it can be done. The first step would be for Washington to put intense pressure on Saudi Arabia, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, and Turkey, to halt the flow of weapons to the Syrian rebels, while simultaneously getting Russia and Iran to do the same. A concerted, worldwide diplomatic effort along those lines could work, but there’s zero evidence that President Obama has even thought of that.

Indeed, it seems clear now that the United States is about to launch a series of cruise missile strikes against Syrian targets, including military command centers, airports, and other facilities. A US naval buildup in the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Syria, is underway, including four destroyers carrying cruise missiles. Ominously, the United States yesterday rejected as “too late” a Syrian offer—which, indeed, may have been disingenuous—to allow United Nations inspectors to visit the site where the gas was reportedly used. Virtually the entire Obama administration national security team huddled in the White House yesterday to decide what to do about Syria.

Obama, meanwhile, is busy building a “coalition of the willing” to back an American attack on Syria, calling the leaders of Britain and France, rallying support in Eastern Europe, NATO and the Arab League, and of course getting strong support from Saudi Arabia and Israel. The latter two countries see an attack on Assad’s forces as a proxy for an attack on what they consider their main enemy, Iran.

The Wall Street Journal reported that, meanwhile, the Obama administration is crafting legal justifications for unilateral action, perhaps under the umbrella of NATO and Arab League support, a la Libya 2011 (or Kosovo in 1999):

Administration lawyers have been crafting legal justifications for an intervention without U.N. approval that could be based on findings that Mr. Assad used chemical weapons and created a major humanitarian crisis.

At this point, if the United States bombs Syria, it will be mostly an emotional and reactive attack designed to protect President Obama’s right flank, because ever since he said that a chemical weapons attack would be a “red line” that would “change [his] calculus,” he’s been pilloried for holding off. And in addition—at the exact wrong moment, given Iran’s newfound moderate tone and a new president, Hassan Rouhani, who appears to be looking for an end to the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program—Obama would be bombing Iran’s main ally, strengthening the hand of hardliners in Tehran and undermining Rouhani’s room for maneuver.

And to what end? As General Martin Dempsey has outlined at length, in a letter to members of Congress and in testimony and speeches, there’s no obvious alternative to Assad yet. There’s no government-in-exile, and Al Qaeda types and radical Islamists of all kinds dominate the rebel movement.

Lost in the apparent tumble down the slippery slope to war is the question of why Assad would use chemical weapons now, given the near-certainty that it would provoke US action, since his forces have made major gains in the last two months or so. That’s a point made by Assad himself, in an interview with Russia’s Izvestia:

“Would any state use chemical or any other weapons of mass destruction in a place where its own forces are concentrated? That would go against elementary logic. So, accusations of this kind are entirely political and the reason for them is the government forces’ series of victories over the terrorists.”

It seems clear that the weapons were used, perhaps—if not by Assad’s own decision, by a military commander who took it upon himself to do so. Maybe we’ll never know, and it will be lost in the fog of war.

But it’s clear that both Israel and Saudi Arabia want war, and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu says it’s all about Iran. Reports the Times:

“This situation must not be allowed to continue,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, referring to the Syrian civilians “who were so brutally attacked by weapons of mass destruction.”

“The most dangerous regimes in the world must not be allowed to possess the most dangerous weapons in the world,” he said.

Some Israelis have argued that international intervention in Syria would distract the world from the crucial effort to prevent a nuclear Iran. But there is a growing sense among Israelis that Syria is now a test of how the world might respond to Iran as it approaches the ability to make a nuclear weapon.

“Assad’s regime has become a full Iranian client, and Syria has become Iran’s testing ground,” Mr. Netanyahu added.

An attack on Syria could easily spiral out of control in full-scale war. As The Wall Street Journal reports, citing the apparently dwindling administration contingent still urging caution:

Officials cautious of intervening say targeted strikes to punish Mr. Assad for using chemical weapons risk triggering a bloody escalation. If the regime digs in and uses chemical weapons again, or launches retaliatory attacks against the U.S. and its allies in the region, Mr. Obama will come under fierce pressure to respond more forcefully, increasing the chances of full-scale war, the officials say.

And, of course, Russia—which has declared that it won’t support an American action against Syria—could up the ante, too, by backing Assad more powerfully in response.

Obama Should Resist Calls for War in Syria


A man inspects a site hit by what activists said were missiles fired by Syrian Air Force fighter jets loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, in Raqqa province, eastern Syria August 21, 2013. (Reuters/Nour Fourat)

The reports of poison gas use in Syria—with casualty estimates varying from a few dozen to more than a thousand dead—signal a new phase in Syria’s civil war, one in which President Obama will come under intense pressure to use military force.

Despite Obama’s countless mistakes and a series of bad judgments in Syria, which have had the effect of escalating the war, triggering the insurgency and creating a no-win situation for the United States, the president has resisted calls from hawks to get the United States directly involved. Now, however, with the usual suspects on the right calling for blood, expect the White House to come under heavy pressure from liberal imperialists and others—including Secretary of State Kerry, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice—to take aggressive action.

The president may also face pressure from his political team, despite the fact that polls show that Americans are strongly opposed to war in Syria.

In Europe, France—which seems not to have abandoned its fake-historic claim to Syria codified a century ago in the World War I–era Sykes-Picot Agreement—is calling for military action if the reports of gas use prove true. “There would have to be reaction with force in Syria from the international community,” said France’s foreign minister. Turkey, too, which once “owned” Syria in the days of the bygone Ottoman Empire, is thumping for war. Said its foreign ministry: “If these allegations are found to be true, it will be inevitable for the international community to take the necessary stance and give the necessary response to this savagery and crime against humanity.”

Members of Congress, including many Democrats, want war, too. So far, the Obama administration has limited its response to a call for a United Nations investigation of the allegations.

The Washington Post, which long ago became a bastion of neoconservative thought, is editorializing for war:

The United States should be using its own resources to determine, as quickly as possible, whether the opposition’s reports of large-scale use of gas against civilians are accurate. If they are, Mr. Obama should deliver on his vow not to tolerate such crimes—by ordering direct U.S. retaliation against the Syrian military forces responsible and by adopting a plan to protect civilians in southern Syria with a no-fly zone.

The Post, along with The Wall Street Journal and other neocon outlets, criticizes President Obama for his apparent refusal, once again, to act forcefully on the “red line” that he declared last year in regard to Syrian use of chemical weapons. That statement by Obama, which stupidly boxed him in and allowed hawks an opening to demand action, is one of the president’s major errors since the uprising began in 2011. Indeed, the White House statement on Syria yesterday makes no mention of any “red lines.” Here it is, in full:

The United States is deeply concerned by reports that hundreds of Syrian civilians have been killed in an attack by Syrian government forces, including by the use of chemical weapons, near Damascus earlier today. We are working urgently to gather additional information.
The United States strongly condemns any and all use of chemical weapons. Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable. Today, we are formally requesting that the United Nations urgently investigate this new allegation. The UN investigative team, which is currently in Syria, is prepared to do so, and that is consistent with its purpose and mandate. For the UN’s efforts to be credible, they must have immediate access to witnesses and affected individuals, and have the ability to examine and collect physical evidence without any interference or manipulation from the Syrian government. If the Syrian government has nothing to hide and is truly committed to an impartial and credible investigation of chemical weapons use in Syria, it will facilitate the UN team’s immediate and unfettered access to this site. We have also called for urgent consultations in the UN Security Council to discuss these allegations and to call for the Syrian government to provide immediate access to the UN investigative team. The United States urges all Syrian parties including the government and opposition, to provide immediate access to any and all sites of importance to the investigation and to ensure security for the UN investigative team.

A news analysis in the Journal goes farther than the Post, comparing Obama unfavorably to George W. Bush:

In just a few years, the U.S. has executed a 180-degree strategic turn in the Mideast, from President George W. Bush’s muscular interventionism to President Barack Obama’s more backseat approach. That, according to some regional diplomats and experts, has disoriented Arab governments and Israel, who have become accustomed to extensive U.S. leadership in their region. …

But while the Pentagon and White House have continued to debate what steps to take in Syria, Iran and Russia have mobilized to prop up Mr. Assad. In recent months, Tehran has facilitated the flow of thousands of Shiite fighters from Lebanon and Iraq to join the fight with Syrian forces, according to U.S. and Arab officials.

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Naturally, The Weekly Standard and other hawkish outlets are in full battle cry:

And what about Syria? In defending intervention in Libya, President Obama boasted that he had “refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.” The world has been seeing those images out of Syria for months. Isn’t the slaughter there a challenge that threatens our common humanity and common security? Does the president now find it acceptable, as he did not 18 months ago, for the United States “to turn a blind eye to the atrocities in other countries?” To abide “violence on a horrific scale?” Were the red lines and calls for Bashar al-Assad’s ouster merely “empty words” that threaten the future credibility of those who voiced them? Is our willingness to “brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and—more profoundly—our responsibilities to our fellow human beings” in the face of mass killings no longer a “betrayal of who we are?”

Leave it to General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to oppose war. Dempsey, who’s been critical of intervening in Syria before and who has expressed disdain for the various options open to President Obama, this week suggested that Syria’s Islamist rebels and ragtag fighters aren’t ready for prime time:

“Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides. It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.”

Why the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs opposes military intervention in Syria.

The IPCC Report and Nuclear Energy


The cooling towers of Three Mile Island’s Unit 1 Nuclear Power Plant pour steam into the sky in Middletown, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, March 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

A horrifying account written from America’s largest coal mine in Wyoming and a leaked report, published by The New York Times, of the upcoming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ought to convince some, at least, that nuclear energy should be a major part of the solution to the world’s greatest crisis.

The vast coal mine, which produces 10 percent of the coal that the United States burns, coughs up 108 million tons every year:

Scott Durgin, who manages the mine for Peabody Energy, tries hard to communicate its enormous scale.

In a typical day, Mr. Durgin tells me, 21 trains depart the mine, pulling 135 cars each. Each car bears 120 tons of coal. At this pace, he says, there is more than 20 years’ worth of coal ready to mine under my feet.

That puts an exclamation point on the Times’ report on the IPCC report, scheduled for release next month. The report, which is issued roughly at five-year intervals, raises from 90 to 95 percent the certainty that human activity is responsible for observed rises in world temperatures. Says the report:

“It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010. There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes in the second half of the 20th century.”

Politico, reporting on the leaked IPCC report—which was first reported by Reuters—notes the significance of the change in certainty:

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report due out next month will say there’s at least a 95 percent chance that human activities (mostly burning fossil fuels) have been the main cause of global warming since the 1950s, according to a draft version of the report seen by Reuters. “That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame. That shifts the debate onto the extent of temperature rises and the likely impacts, from manageable to catastrophic. Governments have agreed to work out an international deal by the end of 2015 to rein in rising emissions.”

And the Times summarizes the range of outcomes like this, citing the IPCC draft report:

Regarding the likely rise in sea level over the coming century, the new report lays out several possibilities. In the most optimistic, the world’s governments would prove far more successful at getting emissions under control than they have been in the recent past, helping to limit the total warming.

In that circumstance, sea level could be expected to rise as little as 10 inches by the end of the century, the report found. That is a bit more than the eight-inch increase in the 20th century, which proved manageable even though it caused severe erosion along the world’s shorelines.

At the other extreme, the report considers a chain of events in which emissions continue to increase at a swift pace. Under those conditions, sea level could be expected to rise at least 21 inches by 2100 and might increase a bit more than three feet, the draft report said.

Eduardo Porter, in his account written from the Wyoming mine, strongly advocates a boost for nuclear energy, making the argument that solar and wind energy can’t supply enough power to allow nations to sharply reduce coal, oil and natural gas. That’s a view that has been embraced by increasing numbers of environmentalists, especially younger ones, he notes, citing the controversial film Pandora’s Promise:

Robert Stone, a documentary filmmaker who directed “Pandora’s Promise,” about the environmental case for nuclear power, argues that atomic energy’s time is coming. Younger environmentalists don’t associate nuclear power with Chernobyl and the cold war. Studies have revealed it to be safer than other fuels.

In the movie, Michael Shellenberger, an environmental activist whom Time magazine once named a Hero of the Environment, argues that beliefs that solar and wind power can displace fossil fuels amount to “hallucinatory delusions.”

Still, the hurdles are substantial. There are fewer nuclear generators in the United States than in 1987. Just maintaining nuclear energy’s share of 19 percent of the nation’s electricity generation will require adding several dozen new ones. Each will take some 10 years and $5 billion to construct. If nuclear power is to play a leading role combating climate change, it should start now.

In an editorial today, the Times praises a recent court decision aimed at compelling the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to move ahead with studies of the long-running—and long-stalled—Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository in Nevada. Concludes the editorial:

After spending decades and billions of dollars in studying Yucca, Congress ought to appropriate enough new funds to complete the overall licensing evaluation to determine whether or not Yucca would make an acceptable repository. Meanwhile, as a step in that process, we urge the commission not to appeal the court decision but instead use its remaining money to publish an unredacted safety evaluation. The information would be useful because underground burial, if not at Yucca then elsewhere, remains the preferred option for permanent disposal.

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Liberals and the left are frequently critical of Republicans and the right for the manifest hostility to science, including of course their stubborn refusal to recognize the reality of human-caused global warming (not to mention, say, their denial of evolution). In the case of nuclear power, however, the left and many environmentalists have too often allowed themselves to be caught up in an almost superstitious fear of nuclear energy. Vast problems accrue to nuclear energy, of course, as with all technologies. But they can be solved.

Mark Hertsgaard and Terry Tempest Williams debate Pandora’s Promise ,its provocative claims—and the facts it leaves out.

Is the US Powerless in the Egyptian Crisis?


Members of the Republican Guards stand in line at a barricade blocking protesters supporting deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo July 9, 2013. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

It’s not a good sign that the ruling military council in Egypt and its holdover judges are mooting the release of the imprisoned former president, Hosni Mubarak. Having crossed the line of no return, however, by killing as many as a thousand pro–Muslim Brotherhood protesters in a series of mass shootings, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and his cohorts are all in. It’s almost inconceivable that the military will seek to reconcile with Egypt’s Islamists, nor is the Muslim Brotherhood likely to respond to any overtures from the army.

President Obama has criticized the military, halted the delivery of four F-16s, canceled US-Egyptian military exercises, and may cut back on economic aid. Given the situation, a complete halt to US military support to Egypt is called for—but it will be useless, and it will likely backfire as happened in Pakistan after Washington broke with Islamabad over Pakistan’s nukes. Egypt’s military seems to know what it wants, and it won’t be deterred.

There are scenarios aplenty: a spiraling descent into Syria- or Algeria-1990s-style civil war; a long-running standoff with sporadic violence between the ruling military and Islamist radicals; the return of a veneer of democracy, if the military can coopt some civilians into serving as the face of what will be an authoritarian, army-backed government. For the United States, however, there are no good choices, no good options and almost no useful leverage.

Egypt’s new military government will probably be in power for the long haul, and it’s very likely that the Muslim Brotherhood will be dissolved and banned, returning to the underground status it maintained from 1954 to 1970. Whether it can survive without a major foreign patron is a question, since during the 1954–70 period the Brothers had the backing of Saudi Arabia, which, like them, bitterly opposed the government of then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Now, Saudi Arabia—like Israel—is strongly backing the armed forces. As The  Wall Street Journal reported:

In a comparatively rare public foreign-policy statement read Friday on Saudi television, King Abdullah declared that what was happening in Egypt was an Arab affair. “Let it be known to those who interfered in Egypt’s internal affairs that they themselves are fanning the fire of sedition and are promoting the terrorism which they call for fighting,” he declared, without mentioning any country by name.

That’s almost precisely the language that Saudi Arabia used when it accused the United States of interfering in Egypt’s “internal affairs” back in 2011, when Riyadh blamed Washington for supporting the fall of Mubarak.

Israel, too, is planning a global campaign to convince the United States and the West not to abandon Egypt’s generals. As The New York Times reports, quoting an Israeli official:

“We’re trying to talk to key actors, key countries, and share our view that you may not like what you see, but what’s the alternative?” the official explained. “If you insist on big principles, then you will miss the essential—the essential being putting Egypt back on track at whatever cost. First, save what you can, and then deal with democracy and freedom and so on.

“At this point,” the official added, “it’s army or anarchy.”

Indeed, it may now be exactly that: the army or anarchy. Or, it could be the army and anarchy.

It’s interesting, of course, that while Israel and its American allies, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, lobby Washington to maintain its support for the generals, key conservative hawks such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham—who were dispatched to Cairo last week in a failed effort to prevent the crisis that has emerged full-blown—have chosen to veer off from the AIPAC line and argue that the United States has no choice but to condemn the coup, halt American support for Egypt, and renew a push for a restored democratic government in Cairo.

But the McCain-Graham view won’t have the effect they want, and it’s likely that Israel has figured that out. The Israelis are concerned that an American break with Egypt now will simply mean that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates—possibly with a chagrined Qatar in tow—will replace US financial aid and that Egypt will drift toward Russia and China for arms and political support.

The startling inability of the United States to talk sense to Egypt’s generals was recounted in two very important pieces in The New York Times and The Washington Post over the weekend. Most startling of all is that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who had convinced himself that he had established a rapport of sorts with Sisi and the generals, made no less than seventeen phone calls to Sisi aimed at convincing him not to move violently against the Muslim Brotherhood encampments in Ciaro and elsewhere, and he was rebuffed. Not only that, but countless US officials called and met with Egyptian military officials and others—including Mohammed ElBaradei, the foiled civilian leader, who resigned after the massacre—to no avail. None. As the Post reported:

Two weeks before the bloody crackdown in Cairo, the Obama administration, working with European and Persian Gulf allies, believed it was close to a deal to have Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi disband street encampments in return for a pledge of nonviolence from Egypt’s interim authorities.

Added the Times:

All of the efforts of the United States government, all the cajoling, the veiled threats, the high-level envoys from Washington and the 17 personal phone calls by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, failed to forestall the worst political bloodletting in modern Egyptian history. The generals in Cairo felt free to ignore the Americans first on the prisoner release and then on the statement, in a cold-eyed calculation that they would not pay a significant cost—a conclusion bolstered when President Obama responded by canceling a joint military exercise but not $1.5 billion in annual aid.

While the United States was working with the UAE in the two weeks before the massacre, it appears that the UAE—which is aligned with Saudi Arabia—simply double-crossed the United States, says the Times:

But while the Qataris and Emiratis talked about “reconciliation” in front of the Americans, Western diplomats here said they believed the Emiratis were privately urging the Egyptian security forces to crack down.

Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Emirati foreign minister, went to Washington last month and urged the Americans not to cut off aid. The emirates, along with Saudi Arabia, had swiftly supported the military takeover with a pledge of billions of dollars, undermining Western threats to cut off critical loans or aid.

Hagel’s calls to Sisi were especially ineffective:

Mr. Hagel tried to forge a connection with General Sisi, the defense minister who has become the country’s de facto leader. Mr. Hagel, a 66-year-old decorated Vietnam War veteran, felt he and General Sisi, a 58-year-old graduate of the United States Army War College in Pennsylvania, “clicked right away” when they met in April, an American official said.

In a series of phone calls, Mr. Hagel pressed General Sisi for a transition back to civilian rule. They talked nearly every other day, usually for an hour or an hour and a half, lengthened by the use of interpreters. But General Sisi complained that the Obama administration did not fully appreciate that the Islamists posed a threat to Egypt and its army. The general asked Mr. Hagel to convey the danger to Mr. Obama, American officials said.

“Their whole sales pitch to us is that the Muslim Brotherhood is a group of terrorists,” said one American officer, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the dialogue.

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Both the Post and Times articles ought to be read in their entirety, as evidence of America’s near-total lack of influence over the course of events in Egypt.

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