War With Syria: (1) Kerry’s Blunder:

DSC_0541Never in our history has a secretary of state so undermined a president that he has placed him in an intractable dilemma that will lead him to an ignoble defeat or major war. Secretary Kerry, the Vietnam peace activist and the Syrian war advocate who gives credence to the old saw that “old men like to send young men off to die in war”, did this on Sunday. He played the Israel card.

You may recall Kerry made a fiery speech about the need to make Assad pay for having crossed the red line by using poisonous gas on his citizens murdering over 1,400. With that cry for action, we’d been assured by our president we would send a message to Assam with a limited missile strike. Expecting the strike this weekend, we had our expectations undermined when we heard the president decided to delay things until Congress had a time to consider it. Obama inexplicably left his decision whether to enforce his red line up to a not too friendly Congress.

On Sunday Kerry sailed forth not on his yacht from Nantucket into the calm of that sound but over the heavy seas of the network shows. His job was to support the president’s decision as wise and to assure Americans that Congress will support his idea of a nonsensical limited attack. To do the latter, he told our members of Congress that failure to give the OK to the vote would let Israel down.

On ABC’s George Stephanopolous : “I don’t think they will want to vote, ultimately, to put Israel at risk and not to enforce the message with respect to other interests in the world, . . .” and “I think if each Congress – member of Congress looks at this case carefully, as they will, and makes judgments about what has happened, and then measured it against the stakes for our ally Israel, against our interests with respect to Iran, our interests with respect to Hezbollah, with respect to North Korea, . . . “

On NBC’s Meet The Press: “I mean, Bashar al-Assad now joins a list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein who have used these weapons in time of war. This is of great consequence to Israel, to Jordan, to Turkey, to the region, . . . ” And, “Likewise, Israel. Israel is at risk, Jordan is at risk, Turkey is at risk, the region is at risk, . . . And, “but the challenge of Iran, the challenges of the region, the challenge of standing up for and standing beside our ally Israel, helping to shore up Jordan – all of these things are very, very powerful interests. . . . “ 

On Fox News Sunday he said: “I can’t imagine that the Congress of the United States will not recognize our interests with respect to Iran, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, . . . ” And, “I think to contemplate that the Congress of the United States would turn its back on Israel, on Jordan, on Turkey, . . . ”

Kerry is faced with the realization that Congress and the people are war-weary as well as wary of the unintended consequences of another attack on another Middle East country. The American people have seen their own treasured values impacted as we have engaged our enemies.

Kerry recognizes the members of Congress are highly supportive of Israel and fearful of doing anything that would appear as if they are not behind supporting it. Thus he pulled out the George Bush “you are with us or against us” mantra to challenge Congress by asking “are you with Israel or against it?”

Kerry throughout this crises has been in contact with Israeli officials who have behind the scenes been encouraging the United States to take action against Syria. He expected he would get the full support of the Israeli government and the Israeli lobby in America. With this he knew he was certain of achieving victory in Congress.

Kerry’s blunder is that prior to telling Americans we would be acting on behalf of our ally Israel in attacking Syria, he did not take the basic step to make sure the Israeli government was going to join him in his push. He did not get from Netanyahu a commitment that Israel would openly back his call. Apparently it doesn’t, at least not yet.

Kerry thus has turned over to Israel the power to decide what America does in relation to Syria. He needs Israel’s full support. The question is what will Israel demand for it.



11 thoughts on “War With Syria: (1) Kerry’s Blunder:

  1. Hi Matt et al.,

    Thank you all for carrying on this discussion.
    I’m reading it more than once, checking things, and think different things at different times.

    It’s hard for me to have an opinion on Syria when I can’t find out what happened in Waltham.
    Or on Boyleston.

    Thanks for opening my thoughts.

    1. Firefly:

      To figure out what is going on in Waltham it’s good to know when your country is trying to slip back into another war. That will affect everything around you if it doesn’t go well. It’ll be informative to understand how we slowly slipped back into our warring mode with 80% of our people wanting to stay out of these wars.

  2. “Old men like to send young men off to die in war”

    Matt, no one is talking about putting boots on the ground.

    The problem right now is not the possibility of strikes. It’s the lack of any strategic vision underlying the strikes other than preserving whatever credibility Obama has in the foreign policy front. Which is very little. He has no backbone at all and the world knows it. That does not bode well for us, nor does it bode well for our allies, nor does it bode well for peace.

    Again, no one is talking about another Iraq, Afghanistan, or anything that involves sending men off to die. This is a very limited option involving strikes against a horrific regime in order to, in part, uphold international norms against the use of chemical weapons, to preserve America’s credibility, and signal our support to allies. Now, I’m not even sure I support the strikes given that Obama is the one ordering them, given his lack of strategic vision, given the telegraphing, in short, because it’s like Grady Little afraid to take out Pedro in Game 7 against the Yankees in 2003. Nice guy, likeable guy, but not decisive in any way shape or form.

    I thought Kerry’s speech was excellent. Cogent and clear. It’s about time a Massachusetts fumbler was able to pull off a speech like that. It’s too bad it’s in support of a president for whom the Syria crisis is the consummate manifestation of his weakness, fecklessness, indecisiveness, and ineffectiveness in all matters international.

    1. Are Syrian soldiers and civilians men? Why should the US be planning to kill thousands of them. Why not single out the rogue general/colonel/major who ordered the use of the chemical weapons. The Syrian President “the Regime” as Kerry-Biden Dummies refer to it ordered any use of chemical weapons to stop immediately as soon as it was alerted what took place and then allowed UN inspectors in to investigate. How do you know the CIA wasn’t behind this? They were behind the assassination of Diem and the phony Tokin Gulf incident and the phony WMD in Iraq and the deposing of leaders in Vietnam, Iran, Egypt, Libya, etc, etc. We’ve been supplying the rebels for months and training them militarily in Turket for months. This chemical poisoning smells like a CIA-MOssad, British-French Intelligence trick, to garner more support world-wide for the rebels. Be skeptical of the FEDs and of your media. Colonel HUnt and Colonel Peters on FOX denounced this potential attack by the US on Syria.

      1. William:

        The US has no problem killing foreigners. We lose three people in the Marathon Terrorist Attack and are outraged that it would happen to us but we willy nilly plan to kill 1,000 times that number in the next couple of weeks in Syria. It’s a strange country we live in that we care little about foreign lives other than when we can use the deaths to advance our ability to go to war as we see when we hear about the 1400 Syrians who have been gassed and to show our outrage we are going to kill twice as many as that.
        You seem to be all over the bases on that gas attack. As I recall you said it was rogue generals which I did not dispute but said if that were so then Assad should take them out have them shot. If it were rogue generals then the CI was probably not behind it. Nor was it behind the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, that was not the CIA but LBJ.
        I’m not particularly interested in Colonel Hunt or Peters on Fox News since there are ten times that number of generals who support the attack. What I am interested in is the quixotic thinking of America that we can attack countries, the country must accept this attack since we have said it is limited, and that there is to be no response on us by anyone because of that attack.
        Don’t you see that we have become addicted to playing games with war, like many play games on the computers, where it is all done on screens and only the people on the screen get hurt but no one we know. It can’t go on forever. It’s too bad it hasn’t stopped by now.

    2. Jon:

      I’m a little confused when you say Obama’s lack of backbone does not bode well for peace. Inherent in your suggestion is that if he were more willing to go to war we’d have more peace. I don’t believe you achieve peace through war.

      You seem quite confident in the “no boots on the ground” or “not another Iraq, Afghanistan, or anything that involves sending men off to die.” You seem to think that we alone decide how these wars are to be fought and what the outcome will be. You suggest that we can bomb a nation and walk away and say, “that’ll show you.” and that’s the end of it.

      I’m not into the idea we have to “uphold international norms” when only one or two of the other nations believe we are doing it; I don’t buy into the “preserve credibility” or “signal support”reasons since those are loose words that have little meaning.

      I’m glad you are so confident that the limited strike will be limited and the Syrians will gladly accept the destruction of its military forces without complaint. I’m please you don’t see the war expanding. But I’d note many don’t think that is the case and that this “lesson” may be the prelude to a much wider war.

      And while you hae such harsh words for Obama, I’d like to know what your solution for Syria is. What do you propose that we do. And explain to me what have been the consequences of what you call Obama’s “weakness, fecklessness, indecisiveness, and ineffectiveness in all matters international.”

  3. Wow, you write on International politics, too. This piece really made me think and now I know what to watch for in this mess (what Israel says). Thanks for the analysis. A lot of us are war weary and don’t want to be the world’s police but, on the other hand, innocent people are dying. It is a dilemma.

    What I regret is the level it has turned up my anti-Obama friends (not the Republicans who always hated him but the progressives who started to hate him soon into his administration and now put him right up there with W). I still contend that he has done an admirable job, given the mess he has had to contend with.

    1. Margaret:

      Obama’s friends are turning on him which is not too good. Sometimes the progressives (and conservatives) expect too much purity and fail to accept that nothing gets done without a give and take. When your friends falter in their support ask them who they’d prefer to be in Obama’s position.
      You are exactly right. He has done a good job considering the many problems he has encountered. The Syrian problem is particularly difficult since there is nothing he can realistically do that will make a difference short of a full scale war.
      Obama’s instincts are to avoid war; Israel’s instincts are to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities; those are the starting points.


      1. William:

        The question isn’t if, on Saturday Obama committed to doing it. I’d say our initial attacks will take out about 3 to 6 thousand Syrians, about 15 to 30 people per cruise missile. Each cruise missile costs 1.5 million so the American taxpayer will pay 300 million if we only launch 200 millions of those missiles and if the deaths is on the lower range then the Americans will be paying about a thousand dollars for each Syrian we kill. Each American will have to decide if that is a well spent dollar.
        Then end result will be that we will diminish the ability of the Syrian government to fight. It may have many unanticipated consequences but should things break against us we may end up killing many multiples more to establish our will.

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