Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Huffington Post: Two Leading Iraqi Kurdish Groups Fighting The Islamic State To Be Taken Off U.S. Terror List

Posted: 12/16/2014 11:03 am EST Updated: 12/16/2014 11:59 am EST
Akbar Shahid Ahmed: akbar.ahmed@huffingtonpost.com
Sophia Jones: sophi.jones@huffingtonpost.com

WASHINGTON — Two of the leading political parties representing the Middle East’s stateless Kurdish population will soon be removed from a U.S. list of potential terrorist groups, in a move that U.S. and Kurdish officials say will resolve a long-standing dispute between Washington and a community that has proven to be one of its favored partners in the region, most recently in the fight against the militant group known as the Islamic State . . .

Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. diplomat and adviser to the Iraqi Kurds, criticized what he called the Obama administration’s “lack of courage” for not acting to make the fix sooner through executive action.

Click the link to read the article in its entirety.


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The New Yorker: The Fight of Their Lives

The White House wants the Kurds to help save Iraq from ISIS. The Kurds may be more interested in breaking away.

By Dexter Filkins
September 29, 2014 Issue

The history of the Kurds’ relationship with the United States is a series of swings between rescue and abandonment, and, as a consequence, between gratitude and distrust. In early 1987, when Peter Galbraith was a young staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he and a group of colleagues went on an official visit to Iraq. The itinerary, Galbraith recalled recently, took him to Iraq’s Kurdish region. As he and a government escort drove through the countryside of northern Iraq, Galbraith was struck by a string of empty villages, some of which were being bulldozed. Other villages, designated on American military maps, had vanished. Galbraith wasn’t allowed to get out of the car to investigate. “It was shocking,” Galbraith said. “Nobody knew what was happening.”

Link to read the entire article.

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House of Kurds

Only an independent Kurdistan can save what’s left of Iraq from becoming a terror state.

June 17, 2014


The Iraqi Army is not a plausible partner. Providing more weapons to a disintegrating army that turned over U.S. military equipment worth hundreds of millions of dollars to radical Islamist terrorists does not make sense. The Obama administration has indicated that it would like to talk to Iran about a possible joint response to the threat from ISIS. Since the United States spent north of $1.5 trillion on a war that installed Iran’s closest allies as Iraq’s leaders, there is poetic justice in having Iranian troops fight to save them. But expanding Iran’s influence in Iraq clearly is not a preferred course of action for any American administration.

Obama does, however, have one potential ally with boots on the ground in Iraq. It is one of the most pro-American places on the planet and its soldiers are well-disciplined, highly motivated and prepared to die for their country. That place is Kurdistan, nominally part of Iraq but with no love for that country. Kurdistan is not yet independent but may soon be.

Kurdistan’s military, called the peshmerga, is ideally situated to combat ISIS. The Iraqi Army—or what is left of it—is hundreds of miles from Mosul; the peshmerga hold the Kurdish eastern half of the city. Although ISIS readily routed the Iraqi Army from the west bank, it chose not to tangle with far more formidable Kurds. President Obama can only order air strikes if he has good intelligence, controllers who can identify targets and troops who can follow-up on the ground. Only the Kurds can do this.

Over the past two decades, I have talked to Iraq’s Kurdish leaders about ways to maximize their autonomy, including offering advice in connection with the negotiation of the 2005 Iraqi Constitution. But, however much autonomy the Kurds enjoy, their real dream is to have an independent Kurdish state.

Three factors have kept Kurdistan in Iraq to date: a lack of sufficient financial resources, an unresolved dispute with Baghdad over territory and international opposition to the break up of Iraq. Since 2004, Kurdistan has been developing its own oil resources (I also had a role in bringing in the first oil companies) and has now built a pipeline to Turkey through which it exports Kurdish oil, over Baghdad’s opposition. Until last week, Kurdistan’s production was not adequate to finance the operations of an independent state. But then the Iraqi Army fled the disputed city of Kirkuk and the adjacent super-giant Kirkuk oil field. The peshmerga, who had co-existed uneasily with the Iraqi Army in Kirkuk for a decade, now fully control the city and the Kurdish parts of the province. As a result, there is no longer a territorial dispute with Baghdad. For the first time, a Kurdish government controls all Kurdish territory in Iraq. And with the Kirkuk oil field, Kurdistan now has the financial resources for independence.

Ten years ago, the United States and Turkey opposed Kurdistan exercising even a fraction of the autonomy it has today. Bush administration plans for postwar Iraq (to the extent that there was any planning at all) envisioned Iraq as a centralized federal state of 18 governorates—where there would be Kurdish majority provinces but no Kurdistan government. Turkey had long opposed Kurdistan’s autonomy for fear of the example it might set for Turkey’s 15 million Kurds.

Today, Kurdistan and Turkey are the closest of allies. Turkey is Kurdistan’s most important trading partner and Turkish companies are the largest investors in Kurdistan. Turkish intelligence and military officials consult regularly with their Kurdish counterparts. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a close personal relationship with KRG President Massoud Barzani and a poisonous one with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In advance of Turkish elections, Erdogan and Barzani jointly addressed a large public rally in Diyabakir, the largest city in Turkey’s Kurdish southeast and Kurdistan is playing a constructive role in support of Erdogan’s effort to make peace with Turkish Kurdish rebels.

Until last week, Turkey clearly preferred that Kurdistan remain part of Iraq, although in recent years the Turkish Foreign Ministry has changed its language on the subject. Ten years ago, Iraq’s unity was “a red line” for Turkey; in recent years it has been “preferable.” Today, Turkey may well see an independent, secular and pro-western Kurdistan as a far better neighbor than an Iraq comprising an ISIS-dominated Arab north at war with a sectarian Shiite regime in the south.

Similarly, U.S. views on Iraq’s unity have evolved. While the State Department takes the official line that it wants reconciliation among Iraq’s leaders, senior officials are, more and more, acknowledging privately that the independence of Kurdistan is inevitable. In fine bureaucratic manner, they simply prefer it not happen on their watch.

Nonetheless, Kurdistan’s independence is probable in the near future. Should ISIS take Baghdad, Kurdistan will declare itself independent the next day. The mostly secular Kurds would have no truck with a fanatical Islamist regime.

Even before ISIS emerged as a major threat, the Kurds doubted they had partners in Iraq. Prime Minister Maliki has for years refused to implement constitutional provisions giving Kurdistan control over its own oil and requiring a referendum on the status of Kirkuk and other territories disputed between the Kurds and the central government. Maliki’s decision earlier this year to withhold Kurdistan’s constitutionally guaranteed share of the Iraqi budget enraged the Kurds, who started discussing holding a referendum on Kurdistan’s future. Even if ISIS advances no further than the Sunni parts of Iraq, the Kurds do not see a future for Iraq or for themselves as Iraqis.

Until last week, the Obama administration’s Kurdistan diplomacy focused mostly on trying to patch up—or at least paper over—the quarrel between Erbil and Baghdad over oil and the budget. But if the United States is to roll back ISIS, it needs Kurdish help. Kurdistan has an obvious interest in staying out of a war between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites and, so far, ISIS has mostly refrained from attacking the Kurdish areas.

If the United States wants the peshmerga to join the fray, it will have to pay a price. Operationally, the Kurds need humanitarian assistance for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who fled to Kurdistan the last week as well as for the quarter-million Syrian refugees already on Kurdish territory. The peshmerga will need sophisticated U.S. weaponry of the type provided to the Iraqi Army (and now in the hands of ISIS).

Kurdistan will also want something to fight for, and that is independence. To convert their current de facto independence into full independence, the Kurds need diplomatic recognition. And this the United States can provide.

So, here is the basis of a bargain: U.S. recognition of an independent Kurdistan in exchange for peshmerga troops joining a U.S. air campaign against ISIS and helping to stabilize what used to be Iraq. While there will be hand-wringing within our foreign policy establishment (a group professionally committed to the perpetual existence of every country on the map), the United States would in fact be giving only a little to get a lot. Iraq has broken apart and is no more capable of being put back together than Yugoslavia was in 1991. President Obama gamely talks about reconciliation among Iraqis, but this will not happen. There are no changes that Maliki—or any successor Shiite leader—can make that will satisfy the Sunnis. The Sunnis don’t want a more friendly Shiite leader; they want the Shiites out of power altogether. ISIS wants to exterminate the Shiites.

The United States should stop asking the Kurds to help save Iraq because Iraq is not saveable, and, if it were, the Kurds would not want to save it. Instead, the critical U.S. interest has now become stopping ISIS. If ISIS is not defeated, there will be in western Iraq and eastern Syria a transnational terrorist state controlling large cities and with vast recruiting potential. Seen in this context, U.S. diplomatic recognition of an independent Kurdistan has become a very small price to pay.

Peter W. Galbraith, a former US Ambassador to Croatia and Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, is the author of The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End, first published in 2006. He has been an advisor to the Kurdistan Regional Government and has previously had business and financial interests in Kurdistan.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/iraq-independent-kurdistan-107958.html#ixzz351luw6XN

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The Phnom Penh Post: Big Brother is watching closely

Peter Galbraith is quoted in this article. Please go to The Phnom Penh Post to read the article.

As Peter Galbraith, a former US ambassador, wrote in The Guardian: “How serious is the invasion of privacy? The NSA can vacuum up huge quantities of data, but that does not mean it is useful.”

He added: “Most of us lead lives that are of no interest to any intelligence agency and, even for people of interest, most conversations and email are of no intelligence value.”

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Lithuania Tribune: Opinion: From debacle to diplomacy

Opinion: From debacle to diplomacy

Friday, September 27, 2013 1:48 pm, Posted by Managing Editor

The Lithuania Tribune presents an opinion article by Peter Galbraith, former United Nations’ Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, argues that in the light of the ongoing conflict in Syria, President Obama’s diplomacy has the momentum to transform the Middle East.

Peter W. Galbraith | Photo courtesy of The Mark News

US President Barack Obama has converted a looming foreign policy fiasco into a potential diplomatic trifecta. Three weeks ago, he was seeking Congressional approval for air strikes on Syria that might not have even accomplished his goal of deterring further use of chemical weapons. Now, thanks to Obama’s threats, Syria has reversed course: It has admitted to possessing chemical weapons and agreed to get rid of them.

Already, Syria has signed up to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention banning these weapons and, in a first step toward dismantling them, provided the United Nations with a list of its chemical weapons facilities.

Critics of Obama’s diplomatic track point out that the UN Security Council has yet to pass a resolution enforcing Syrian disarmament, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could cheat, and that, in any event, it is impossible to disarm a country in the midst of a civil war.

These concerns, while valid, miss the point. At best, air strikes might have deterred Syria from using chemical weapons, which is the same result we’re seeing today: Having agreed to give up its chemical weapons, Syria can hardly use them. Weapons concealed from inspectors have almost no military value, as American and other intelligence agencies would quickly detect any effort to deploy such weapons, and a swift military response would follow.

Syria has nothing to gain by cheating on its disarmament obligations, and even if it does not fully disarm – due to war or deceit – it will still have to give up a large part of its arsenal.

From a Western perspective, Iran’s nuclear program constitutes a far greater threat to global security than Syria’s chemical weapons. The good news is that, despite decades of hostile rhetoric, the United States and Iran have more in common than many would think. Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have both expressed a desire to resolve the nuclear dispute, and while there is no certainty that they can reach an agreement, there is reason to be hopeful. Iran has repeated that it does not want nuclear weapons, and has issued a fatwa against them.

It is unlikely that Rouhani would have reached out to the United States on the nuclear issue had the United States attacked Syria, Iran’s ally.

Despite possible progress on chemical and nuclear weapons, however, there is still the larger issue of Syria’s civil war. The opposition has been losing ground in the past few months, and there is no reason to doubt the conventional assessment that recent diplomacy has strengthened Assad.

Syrian opposition leaders complain that the Obama administration has been late and stingy in providing weapons and other support. The problems of the Syrian opposition, however, are largely internal. The moderate elements have been unable to contain the Sunni extremists, whose atrocities turn off other Syrians and outside supporters. The opposition has also turned a deaf ear to the 35 per cent of Syria’s population that are not Sunni Arabs: the Alawites, Kurds, Christians, and Druze.

The Alawites fear genocide if the regime they supported for decades falls. From the uprising’s beginning, rebels have shouted “Christians to Beirut; Alawites to the grave,” and atrocities committed by Alawite soldiers and militiamen in defense of Assad make retribution ever more likely. The opposition has done nothing to assure the Alawites of a place – or even survival – in a post-Assad Syria.

The Kurds, who were long denied recognition and even citizenship, now run much of northern Syria. They have claimed their own region and want autonomy similar to that enjoyed by Iraq’s Kurds. The regime has acquiesced, while the opposition insists that the future of Syria must be decided democratically – meaning by the Sunni Arab majority.

Christians and Druze likewise fear they will have a smaller place – or no place at all – in a post-Assad Syria.

Searching for a solution to Syria’s civil war, the United States and Russia plan to co-host a conference in Geneva. The Obama administration wants to bring together the Assad regime and a single opposition delegation to negotiate a transfer of power. Of course, the Assad regime and its backers are unlikely to agree, and the minority groups, particularly the Kurds, want their own place at the table – they don’t want to be lumped with an opposition whose agenda they don’t share.

A conference with all Syria’s factions – the regime, the Sunni Arab opposition, and the minorities – that focuses on power-sharing rather than simply regime change offers the most realistic chance to end Syria’s bloody civil war.

If the Obama administration can sustain its momentum – from a Syrian chemical weapons deal to an Iranian nuclear deal to a successful Syrian peace conference – it will pull off a diplomatic triple crown that could transform the Near East.

*** Peter W. Galbraith is the former United Nations’ Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan (2009) and the first U.S. Ambassador to Croatia (1993-1998). He is also the author of two books on the Iraq War and its consequences.

*** The original article can be accessed here.

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CNBC: Does Syria’s weapons pledge match Obama’s goal?

Does Syria’s weapons pledge match Obama’s goal?  
Thursday, 12 September 2013 9:05 PM ET

Peter Galbraith, Senior Diplomatic Fellow at Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, notes that the threat of U.S. military action was to deter Syria from using chemical weapons again, but by acceding to the global treaty, Syria will have to destroy their stockpiles

Watch the video here by clicking this link to CNBC.

Source: CNBC.com

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Bloomberg: Syria Toe-Dipping and Revisiting the Dream

Peter is mentioned by Ramesh Ponnuru, a Bloomberg View columnist when we was chatting with his peer Margaret Carlson about Syria. Read the whole article at Bloomberg: Syria Toe-Dipping and Revisiting the Dream

Syria Toe-Dipping and Revisiting the Dream

By Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru – Aug 29, 2013

Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about Syria, the commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington and Senator Tom Coburn’s comments on impeachment. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

Margaret: To add to all the reasons I’m glad I cover domestic politics: Syria. Is there a harder foreign-policy question? I know a few things: The lower in the chain of command the order to use chemical weapons goes, the more we need to attack Syria, not less. More than 1,000 people were gassed to death, and if a rogue general did it, Bashar al-Assad did it.

Are we so spooked by George W. Bush’s precipitate attack on Saddam Hussein that we are now going to hem and haw about WMDs that do exist and have been used? No rebel group did that. Secondly, let’s not pooh-pooh a limited attack when we have absolutely no one to fill the vacuum that would be created by Assad’s removal. Look where regime change has gotten us in Egypt? Democracy does not flower in the sands of the Arab world, no matter how many Arab Springs. And thirdly, could the Barack Obama White House stop telling Assad what they’re going to do and not going to do?

Ramesh: Agreed on the telegraphing of the administration’s intentions. But just because regime change is not working well in Egypt — and would not be likely to yield good results at an acceptable cost in Syria — does not mean that limited intervention makes sense. I just don’t see what that limited intervention will accomplish, and can easily see how it could become less and less limited. It is a tragic situation, but I don’t think it’s actually a hard call to stay out.

Margaret: Along with any rape or Holocaust comments, politicians have to stay away from talk of red lines. Don’t threaten your children — or mass-murderers — with something they know you don’t want to carry out. It’s easy to say now coulda, woulda, shoulda, but there’s never been a good time to arm the Syrian rebels because there has never been a rebel group good enough to trust — or strong enough. The few good guys there are too weak. Ramesh, if you don’t do anything, is that a message to Assad to keep gassing his people? Doesn’t attention have to be paid? Or are you an all-in person?

Ramesh: It says that there are terrible wrongs in the world that it does not make sense for the U.S. government to try to rectify. All-in would make more sense than a symbolic strike. There’d be a real argument for it. But given the absence of a friendly and decent opposition, it doesn’t make sense, either. Maybe we could have done more to shape the opposition if we had intervened earlier, as some people argue, but in the current circumstance I don’t see that there is anything good for us to do. And I take seriously a point that Peter Galbraith makes in the New Republic: the fact that Syria’s persecuted religious minorities don’t want this intervention is a good sign that it does not make sense on humanitarian grounds.

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latimes.com: Obama’s speech on Syria: Why our analysts are mostly hopeful

latimes.com: Obama’s speech on Syria: Why our analysts are mostly hopeful

By Alexandra LeTellier

8:31 PM PDT, September 10, 2013

President Obama addressed the nation Tuesday evening about the escalating crisis in Syria and whether the U.S. will take military action to punish President Bashar Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons on his own people.

“Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them,” Obama said.  “On Aug. 21, these basic rules were violated, along with our sense of common humanity.”

Failing to hold Assad accountable for violating these international norms, Obama warned, would be a “danger to our security.”

TRANSCRIPT: The argument for action on Syria

Still, we didn’t get a definitive answer from our war-weary president, who reminded the American people that he’s “spent 4 1/2 years working to end wars, not to start them.” Instead, he left us in a state of limbo. Yes, he’ll push for limited military strikes if necessary, but he said he’d rather find a diplomatic solution that would align with his “deeply held preference for peaceful solutions.”

Here’s what a few of our Op-Ed contributors had to say in response to Obama’s speech.

Peter Galbraith, author of “A dilemma for Syria’s minorities”:

Obama may be on the verge of converting a foreign policy fiasco into a stunning diplomatic triumph. Last week, the president appeared isolated internationally (not even the British would go along with airstrikes on Syria) and in danger of losing a congressional vote on the use of force that he didn’t need and that would tie his hands. And, disconcertingly for his base (me included), he sounded a lot like President George W. Bush when he said we wouldn’t wait for the U.N. inspectors to complete their work and that the United States did not need to go to the United Nations to authorize a military attack.

In his speech, Obama began by making the case for airstrikes but ended by talking about a diplomatic solution through the United Nations.

Now, instead of trying to avert a losing vote in Congress, the president can pursue a winnable resolution in the United Nations Security Council to implement the Russian proposal to place Syrian chemical weapons under U.N. supervision. As a practical matter, it may be difficult to have full supervision of Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles that are dispersed around a country in the midst of a civil war. But the Russian proposal, which Syria has accepted, would seem to offer a much better chance of preventing the Assad regime from again using these weapons.

While the administration’s maneuvering since the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack has not been elegant, it appears to be working. Obama rightly took credit for the threats that produced the Russian proposal, and the success — if it materializes — reflects well on his new foreign policy team, especially Secretary of State John F. Kerry and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power.

Peter W. Galbraith is a former U.S. ambassador and the author of two books on the Iraq war.

Tom Hayden, a regular contributor to our Op-Ed pages:

The dominant mantra we heard from the president’s allies Tuesday was that it was the credible threat of American military force that caused Russia, Syria and Iran to agree to dismantle Assad’s chemical weapons. If that argument keeps us out of another war, it deserves some credit, even if it’s only partly true.

But it could also be said that it was the “credible threat” of democracy — a defeat of his war plan in Congress and in public opinion polls — that caused the Obama administration to back away from the military brink and seek an honorable way out.

Interestingly, however, Obama may have been leaving himself an exit by asking Congress to authorize the vote, knowing that the prospects were dim. His traditional allies at MoveOn, for example, have gathered hundreds of thousands of petitions to rein him in too.

If diplomacy is successful, Obama will be able to claim victory against the chemical threat without a massive intervention. Assad can sit on his throne a bit longer, shorn of some dangerous weapons. Syrians can be protected from gas attacks. Russia, Iran and China can disavow chemical warfare while claiming to prevent regime change. A peace conference is in sight.

Brilliant if it happens.

Tom Hayden, a former state senator, is the author of “Street Wars” and is a longtime advocate of prison reform.

Robin Wright, author of “The risk of taking on Syria”:

There is now a glimmer of hope on Syria, with the emphasis on “glimmer” because of huge questions for which there are still no answers.

The first basic issue is how to find, contain and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons — and ensure they are indeed all found. This is a hugely time-consuming and logistical challenge. It’s Iraq déjà vu from the 1990s, which dragged on for years — without a war going on in the background.

Second, the latest Russian gambit to get the U.S. to renounce any future use of force in exchange for Assad turning over his chemical weapons is unlikely to fly in Washington. It may even rally Congress behind Obama a bit.

Third, we all hope for renewed diplomacy to settle the bigger crisis — the civil war itself — but the political realities and divisions among the opposition forces won’t change as a result of any deal on chemical weapons. The Russians might actually get Assad to send a delegation to Geneva. But even if the West can prod some artificial faces-of-the-month to attend on behalf of the divided opposition, there’s no guarantee that the opposition could actually deliver anything from folks fighting inside. The growing factionalization of Syria’s opposition has put peace further away than ever.

Fourth, 99% of deaths are due to conventional weaponry. So a deal on chemical weapons is, unfortunately, unlikely to change the realities or fatalities on the ground. The fighting may still rage, with Assad actually getting a psychological boost at home from his deal with the outside world. Tragic but true.

Finally, I’d love to be wrong about all of this.

Robin Wright, the author of “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World,” is a distinguished scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Charles A. Stevenson, author of “Congress and the power to declare war”:

The president obviously wants to back the push for a U.N.-authorized removal of Syrian chemical weapons with the threat of force. For that threat to be credible, however, Congress would actually have to pass a law authorizing airstrikes if the diplomatic effort fails within some limited time period. It’s unclear what the president’s timetable is, and also unclear whether lawmakers are willing to give that conditional approval, so we may be slipping into a confusing situation where neither friend nor foe knows what America might do.

I still believe it’s important for Congress to act, and the bipartisan measure being crafted in the Senate might be the best vehicle. For what it’s worth, previous Congresses have enacted contingent authorizations of the use of force: in 1955, to defend Taiwan if attacked; in 1957, to defend Middle Eastern nations if attacked by a communist nation; in 1991 and 2002, to attack Iraq if U.N. efforts failed. Congress doesn’t have to do exactly what the president proposes, but it owes it to the country to find some way of limiting both any use of chemical weapons and a wider war in the Middle East.

Charles A. Stevenson teaches at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and is the author of “Congress at War: The Politics of Conflict since 1789.”

Rajan Menon, author of “Don’t use U.S. credibility as a reason to attack Syria”:

Even Obama’s opponents agree that he is a gifted speaker; he proved that again Tuesday. The rhythm, pace, cadence — all were, once again, executed effectively, and Obama appealed movingly to Americans’ ideals and to their humanity.

But even exceptional orators can fail when their case is substantively shaky. And the administration’s case — witness the uphill battle it faces in persuading Congress and the public — has been shaky. It remains so after the president’s speech.

Obama and his foreign policy team have tried to have it both ways. On the one hand, they insist that Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons to kill more than 1,000 people on Aug. 21 presents a grave threat, not just to the Unites States but also to the laws and norms that help constitute the international order. Secretary of State Kerry, who has engaged in several rhetorical flights of fancy lately, warned on one occasion that we faced a “Munich moment.”

On the other hand, Obama and Kerry insist that they envisage a limited, “targeted” strike that wouldn’t change the arithmetic on Syria’s battlefield — which favors Assad — let alone drag war-weary Americans into yet another conflict. But such an attack would allow Assad to continue the killing. So much for the Munich analogy.

The public sees the contradiction; that’s clear from recent opinion polls. So does Congress. Nothing the president said, though he said it well, will put to rest Americans’ deep, pervasive doubts about what precisely he proposes to achieve by attacking Syria.

Obama painted a poignant picture of innocent Syrians suffering horribly and then dying after being gassed. Chemical weapons do, as the president said, kill indiscriminately. But for more than two years the Syrian tyrant has used various other weapons that have also inflicted enormous suffering on Syrians, killing more than 100,000 people. Yet the same ideals that he invoked did not prompt Obama to order an attack on Assad. Why? It’s not for us to resolve other people’s civil war, said the president.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has thrown Obama, whom he doesn’t much like, a lifeline, possibly saving him from an embarrassing repudiation by his own legislature. The congressional vote will be delayed until it’s clear whether Assad intends to make good on the Russian proposal to gather, tally and destroy his chemical weapons (which his government has long insisted it does not have). The action now shifts to the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S., Russia and China will be the decisive players.

The day of reckoning for Assad, and Obama, appears to have been delayed. Stay tuned.

Rajan Menon is a professor of political science at the City College of New York/City University of New York and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Chris Edelson, who wrote “Obama and the power to go to war”:

Less than two weeks ago, the Obama administration appeared determined to take military action against Syria. A familiar pattern seemed to be playing out. Since World War II, presidents have claimed unilateral power to use military force without authorization from Congress. Obama had already followed this precedent himself when he ordered military action in Libya in 2011 without seeking approval from Congress.

Despite the fact that unilateral presidential military action can only be justified under the Constitution when the president is responding to an attack or imminent attack against the United States, presidential practice has stubbornly asserted itself as precedent — in part because Congress has consistently failed to check presidential authority.

This time, surprisingly, it was different. In the speech Obama gave Tuesday, he acknowledged that, given the fact that the United States faced and faces no imminent threat from Syria, the better course was for him to go to Congress. Congress deserves credit for asserting itself — more than 100 legislators signed on to letters insisting that the president not act alone, creating mounting pressure on Obama to rethink his approach. The president also deserves credit for recognizing that going to Congress was the right thing to do.

The speech showed why Obama was right to go to Congress — as he emphasized, diplomatic efforts have begun to show promise. When he announced his decision to seek legislative approval, critics argued that he was undermining the power of the presidency. John Yoo, a Department of Justice lawyer in the George W. Bush administration who has championed broad, essentially unchecked, presidential power, insisted that only the president could take the quick, decisive military action required. As Obama observed Tuesday, though, speedy action was not what was needed. Sometimes, it is better not to act. The benefit, in this case, was that diplomacy has been given a chance to work. If nothing else, the chain of events over the last 10 days should put to rest the argument that presidents are best positioned to make decisions about the use of military force because they have the ability to act quickly.

As Congress has begun to consider a use-of-force resolution authorizing military action in Syria, some have asked what Obama would do if lawmakers said no. He has said — and he said again Tuesday night — that he believes he has the authority to act alone (though he is wrong about this, in my view). However, Obama said that he has asked Congress to postpone voting on the pending legislation. This is a wise move that ought to divert attention from the question of what he might do if Congress votes no. As the president suggested, putting off voting in Congress gives more time for diplomatic efforts to play out. It also provides additional evidence that those like Yoo who insist on the value of speedy presidential action in the context of war are wrong. Outside of the emergency context, unilateral presidential military action is neither wise nor constitutional. Sometimes, immediate military action isn’t the right choice.

Chris Edelson is an assistant professor of government in American University’s School of Public Affairs, where he teaches classes on the Constitution and presidential power. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror.”


The road to Damascus

To strike, or not to strike, Syria?

Five reasons not to attack Syria, and one elegant solution 

Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier and Google+
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

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