Syria: Obama’s Surprising (and Confusing) Latest Moves

1 Sep



            President Obama’s August 31st remarks from the White House Rose Garden will long be remembered for their strangeness, but the final interpretation of their significance will have to await months if not years. There are three dimensions, at least, that are worth pondering: (1) seeking Congressional authorization for a punitive military attack against Syria in support of the treaty prohibition on recourse to chemical weapons in an armed conflict; (2) reconciling any endorsement of an attack by Congress with United States obligations under international law and with respect to the United Nations and its Charter; (3) assessing the degree to which American war making prerogatives continue to operate within an unacceptable domain of American exceptionalism.


            In framing the issues at stake Obama set forth the fundamental policy choices in a rather incoherent manner:


            –first of all, he asserted that on the basis of evidence available to the United States Government, that the Assad regime was without doubt responsible for the massive chemical weapons attack of August 21st directed at the Ghouta residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus, and causing over 1,000 civilian deaths, including several hundred children. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, clearly articulated the grounds for skepticism about this American construction of the Ghouta atrocity. He put forward a strongly worded request that the allegations be confirmed by the release of convincing evidence. This is a reasonable demand. Many around the world have questioned why Assad would launch such a provocative attack to coincide with the arrival of UN inspectors, and when the battlefield balance was tipping in favor of the Damascus regime. All along such important figures in the Obama administration, especially John Kerry and Joe Biden, have arrogantly dismissed the relevance of any information provided by the UN inspection team. In light of the gigantic deception relating to Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) arsenal, which was more politely described long after the event as an ‘intelligence failure,’  it would have been appropriate for Washington to admit that it has a credibility problem in winning governmental and popular support for an attack on Syria. Its refusal to acknowledge such an issue merely deepens suspicions.


            –secondly, Obama informed listeners that “..after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.” He added that he made this decision “as Commander-in-Chief on what I am convinced are our national security interests.” This conclusion was explained to rest on the importance of punishing such a crime against humanity and deterring future recourse to chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction by Syria, as well as sending a message to Iran and North Korea about America’s readiness to use force to uphold such norms of international law.


            –thirdly, there was no effort in Obama’s remarks to show why, absent a UN mandate, the United States in coalition with a few other countries, had the legal authority to attack a sovereign state in a circumstance other than self-defense.


            –fourthly, although the decision against involvement by the British Parliament was noted, there was no consideration as to whether such an outcome should bear on American policy. Nor was the German or Italian

unwillingness to join in the attack noted, nor that of the Arab League. But the French support was duly appreciated, including a dig at the United Kingdom, by reminding his listeners around the world that it was France that was America’s “oldest ally.” (It is worth noting that the roles of these two European friends were directly reversed in the context of the Iraq War; then, it was the French more conservative led government that opposed participation, while now a socialist leader in Paris supports an attack against Syria).


            –fifthly, and in the most dramatic passage in the speech, Obama announces that because the United States is a proud democracy he has made “a second decision: I will seek the authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress” by calling for a debate and vote. No mention is made of a time frame, nor how he would react in the event

that authorization was not forthcoming. Such an eventuality would set up a potential tension between his duties to uphold national security and an obligation of deference to a decision by Congress on the vital matter of authority to wage war. Obama touched all the bases by saying, “Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective.” In effect, there is no constitutional legal requirement to obtain Congressional authorization, but doing so will create a more effective response. But what if authorization is withheld? Or Congress is split with approval by the Senate, and disapproval by the House?


            –sixthly, there is an implicit endorsement of American exceptionalism. After saying that the case for an attack will be made internationally, as well as domestically, Obama reaffirms a national prerogative of illegal unilateralism. He uses this phrase: “But we are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus.” That is no matter that others disagree, the United States alone has the duty to act as it sees fit. It is correctly presumed that such discretion is not vested in other sovereign states. Otherwise the world would be in flames. In effect, Syria, Iran, North Korea are bound by international law, as interpreted by the United States, while the United States and its closest allies are guided by assessments of their national security interests.

It is this double standard that is at the core of American exceptionalism, and also underpins the debate as to whether it is more instructive to view the United States as ‘global leader’ or ‘imperial power,’ or possibly some blend;


–there is something rather sinister about announcing an intention to strike a vulnerable country with which the United States is not at war, coupled with the announcement that the needed military capabilities are in place, but will not be used until convenient;  in effect, a lethal strike against Syria can take place at any point from now on until a time weeks or months from now, depending only on the workings of the internal American political process and the disposition of its Commander-in-Chief. If this is deemed to be in the interest of the Syrian people, I would like to know how.




Even if the controversy as to the facts is ignored, and the problems associated with double standards as to the relevance of international law to the use of force, there are some other reasons for concern about the approach adopted by President Obama:


–it denies constitutional status to the request for Congressional authorization, making it a discretionary presidential judgment call that is not necessitated by the Constitution, but is an expression of Obama’s belief in democratic procedures. To not rest this request on the Constitution itself is a missed opportunity, and thus amounts to yet another reassertion of excessive authority by the Executive Branch of government;


–it makes no effort to assess what would be of benefit to the people of Syria, and rather makes the case for a narrow strike as a combination of punishing (without intending to displace) the Assad regime and abstract American national security interests in its self-appointed role as preventing the use and spread of WMD;


–it fails to advocate in a serious manner a diplomatic approach to ending the violence of the conflict by calling for a second Geneva conference with the full participation of Iran that would deal with regional peace and security issues, as well as the war in Syria;


–it undermines the authority of the UN and international law by vesting in the U.S. Government the final word on when it is appropriate to use international force in non-defensive modes and fails to make war a matter of ‘last resort’;


–it draws an overly sharp a distinction between this incident involving chemical weapons and other massacres that have occurred during the course of two years of strife in Syria; regardless of the weaponry deployed both forms of violence are crimes against humanity that deserve a serious and effective response, if available.




It is as yet possible that Congress will rescue Obama from having to respect a red line he ill-advisedly proclaimed a year ago. It would be ironic if this one time the anti-Obama Republicans saved him from the worse foreign policy excess of his presidency!


It is possible that Obama will be pushed by pro-interventionists to override a Congressional failure to give  authorization. It is also possible that Congress will authorize, and public opinion strongly oppose. And we are left to wonder whether Congress can constitutionally authorize a use of force that violates international treaty law. Of course, we would be unlikely to find out given the passivity of the U.S. Supreme Court when it comes to challenges directed at legally dubious foreign policy and national security matters.


All of the above suggests that the revitalization of American republicanism requires, as a matter of urgency, a constitutional convention with an explicit mandate to restore the separation of powers and checks and balances in relations to war/peace issues. The U.S. Government has longed strayed from this vital pillar of republican democracy.


Nothing would do more to restore confidence in the United States as a global leader! Such a momentous event will not happen without massive grassroots pressure; it will never be decreed from on high.


A final word of blurred appreciation: CNN talking heads are very fond of referring to Obama as epitomizing ‘the reluctant warrior.’ And reluctant he is, but also warrior he has been, and continues to be, casting a rather dark shadow over the Nobel Peace Prize decision process. The reluctance is articulated over and over again in his words and sometimes reflected in his policies, and certainly seems sincere. And such reluctance may be credited, at least subconsciously, with this welcome move to broaden the domestic authorization process with respect to this non-defensive use of international force. Obama would deserve less ambiguous praise if he had recognized the role of Congress prior to the decision of the British Parliament. And prior the many demands from Congress for a greater role gathering political momentum.


20 Responses to “Syria: Obama’s Surprising (and Confusing) Latest Moves”

  1. john francis lee September 1, 2013 at 4:23 am #

    I don’t see Obama as in any way a ‘reluctant warrior’. He’s killed … had killed as of last January … more than 120 children in Waziristan and Yemen … you can read their names right here.

    Obama is a liar, a murder, and a war criminal … just like George XLIII. He is a neoliberal nihilist and a sociopath. I’m sure he sleeps well at night, and it’s obvious he has no problem lying again and again in the face of walls of evidence to the contrary. He ought to be in a secure hospital for the criminally insane.

    In fact your detailing his overt breakdown above adds weight to that last observation.

    But the thing to do now is turn this ‘authorization’ into a ‘prohibition’ before he kills again. Washington Post put up a draft of the legislation that Obama is asking the congress to provide.

    I rewrote that draft as a peoples’ prohibition … only the first ‘whereas’ needed changing, the word ‘authorization’ made ‘prohibition’, and some few further changes mutatis mutandis, as the lawyers like to say.

    Actually the ‘whereas’es are far more coherent as preliminary to prohibition of US military action.

    I sent my draft to my senators – Cruz and Cornyn – and to my representative – Blake Farenthold of TX 27th CD – and anyone else is welcome to do the same, or – better – to write your own draft prohibition of further criminal aggressions by the Corporate Lawyer in Chief.

    I think that people may finally have had enough of the murder and mayhem continuously dished out in our names around the world by our Nobel Peace Prize Laureate president.

    • Gene Schulman September 1, 2013 at 6:44 am #

      Apparently, Congress is a jump ahead of you, John Francis Lee, May it become a contagion and spread throughout the government.

      • john francis lee September 1, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

        Well, it is hard to keep up with the steepening gyre of decline as the center fails to hold, but that link has to do with the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate’s previous decision not to seek ‘authorization to aggress’ from the Congress. I agree that’s impeachable, and that so must be pursued.

        Because even though the NPPL is now going to Congress for ‘authority to aggress’ … which is what I am trying to address with my peoples’ prohibition … he’s also now declared that he doesn’t need to so, that the ‘authority to aggress’ inheres in his Unitary Executive Self the Congress regardless.

        So we are back to impeachment … although we may have to wait either

        (1) for Congress to prohibit Barack the NPPL Obama from bombing Syria and the NPPL to do so anyway (remember that’s what happened with Libya and everyone said – nothing) or,

        (2) for, more likely in my view unfortunately, the Demoblicans and some few Republicrats to gleefully authorize said aggression … so they can get out of jail, pass go, and collect $$$ from the AIPAC,

        before the impeachment proceedings begin.

        But begin they must, if we are to gain any semblance of control over our NPPL run amuk.

    • Kata Fisher September 1, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

      I feel that your anger is of a specific spirit: (are you in a defiled marriage—or anything like that?). Now, I understand that this is personal. Still, I am Church Charismatic, and I can do whatever I want? I am not a priest!

  2. Albert September 1, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    Dear Dr. Falk,
    Is it just coincidence, that America happens to pick on countries, that are not under the control of the international bankers?
    Saddam once threatened to not recognize the dollar as a means to pay for his oil and was going to switch to the euro. And Gaddafi went one step further and was going to demand payment in gold. Gaddafi also wanted to create the United States of Africa, which would have given Africans tremendous power and wealth. Is India planning to bypass the sanctions on Iran by paying for the Iranian oil in rupees? Is the US going to try and block that deal? It seems to me, that the US has bitten off more than it can chew and is now about to choke on its own greed.
    Who would still believe any expressed feeling of humanitarianism on the part of the US, after they have caused the deaths of so many untold thousands of innocent civilians around the world, starting with the Korean war, followed by the Vietnam war and several others since and I do not even mention them supporting the different cruel dictatorships around the world. And was their interference with the internal affairs of some south American countries based on humanitarian principles?
    Was the UN as a representative of all countries not meant to do the job, that the US now claims to do on its behalf? For what other reason do we have a UN?

  3. Megan September 1, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    It’s just amazing to me that Obama centers his argument on international order and agreements between “the governments of 98% of the world’s people” and in the same breath dismisses the need for Security Council approval or even results from the UN investigation.

  4. Emmy Godwin September 1, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    Woe to all War-mongers who want to put America on a war-path. Obama has made the right decision to refer the issue to the Congress. and that is democratic indeed.
    I seriously condenm the use of chemical weapons in Syria and suport the punishment of any sides in the conflict that used the dangerous weapon. The time is therefore ripe for combined efforts of the International community to prevent further suffering and bloodshed in Syria by peaceful negotiation. The big powers should use their influence to exert pressure on both Syrian government and the opposition to come to the table for dialogue.
    Air strikes will exacerbate the conflict and cause human carnage.
    The world should not be weary in seeking peace. For Blessed are the Peacemakers for the shall be called the son’s of God.

  5. Maggie Roberts September 1, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

    Thanks for some thinking people in this blog, esp. from John F Lee and Albert. US has been undermining the authority of the UN for decades, There IS a need to reinstate the ‘vital pillar of republican democracy’. And tell me where did the so-called intelligence come from? To me the q. is not whether chemical weapons were used, but WHO used them? Was the intelligence Israeli controlled/Mossad or other? We all see the results of zionist propoganda everywhere. Obama, give back the Nobel Peace Prize.

    • Kata Fisher September 1, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

      @ Maggie Roberts

      I am afraid that ‘vital pillar of republican democracy’ is not possible due to condition of US Christianity; meaning, Christianity scarcely valid. It is extremely radical (no base for democracy). In order to balance this out, the next generation (children) in this point in time would have to be in a humanitarian setting and oversight.

      Child abuse and neglects here in US are a topic for a humanitarian effort. Wicked Churches-charismatic demonise either one or both care takers, abuse Church orders and the mission of the Church. There is no democracy that comes from that; hardly any. There is limited understanding about these things, in public.

      I believe there is no significant thing to do, except, investing in the youth, all together. (It seems that people are pre-occupied with things that have no power to change anything in the land. Youth, however, does.

      This is valid for any other land.


  6. ray032 September 2, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    Richard, since talk of military escalation in Syria, I have been typing day and night in every online news discussion of the issue, from The Jerusalem Post, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The National Post, Al Jazeera, Raw Story and other places.

    I wrote the President, some key Senators, the Governor-General, The Prime Minister of Canada and other political leaders. I did so much writing, warning against this military escalation, I sprained my wrist or developed Carpal Tunnel which makes my right hand extremely disabled for now.

    On the positive side, in the past, newspapers said I have the “trademark” on the #13. It was more interesting to me than anyone else on earth on learning the British, who were the 1st to advocate escalating the military option in Syria, defeated that option by 13 votes.

    I edited, shortened and re-formatted the 1st article posted to my Blog February 23, 2011 titled, ‘From the Revolutionary Spirit of ’76 to the Revolutionary Spirit of ’11’ and posted it yesterday with the new title, ‘SIGNS OF THE TIMES’

    You will see my connection to the #13.

    Hopefully, it might move you to make a comment?


    • Gene Schulman September 3, 2013 at 12:36 am #


      A very interesting and entertaining narrative, Ray. If accurate, and I assume it is, you should feel very proud of yourself. But I would hesitate to take on the burden of carrying the “good news” to the people of Jerusalem. You know what happened to the last guy who tried that. Am not sure what Richard will think of your piece, but I’m sure Kata Fisher will love it: charismatic!

      Carry on,


      • ray032 September 3, 2013 at 4:55 am #

        Thank you for your comment, Gene, You saw the original 1976 newspaper reports from The Kansas City TImes yourself.

        It’s not a matter of pride, but with that experience and background, keeping it all in perspective. A man devises his ways, but the Lord directs his steps.

        Being a regular commentator in The Jerusalem Post, I may be as unpopular as Richard is over there.

        I still have the walking stick and the #13 jersey. It’s a real stretch to wear it. Despite all my efforts, with my 70 year old metabolism, it seems Nature wants me to be a Happy Buddha.

      • Gene Schulman September 3, 2013 at 5:23 am #

        No, no, I believe you, Ray. I remember those days.

        You’re really still commenting on the J.Post? I gave that up years ago, when the headaches wouldn’t go away from banging my head against that wall.

      • ray032 September 3, 2013 at 5:47 am #

        Gene, I was involved in the intense discussion of this article all day yesterday, calmly defending myself from all attackers. I do not mirror their hatred or reply in kind, but answer with reasoned arguments.

        Revisiting the discussion Today, I had to leave this message:

        I see many of my comments have been deleted by this Jerusalem Post, having an aversion to facing reality.

        How fearful is the JP of the Truth the God of Israel has given me to convey?

        The comments were deleted without the customary notice ‘This comment was deleted.’

        The LORD rebuke The EDITOR/CENSORS of The Jerusalem Post.

  7. Kata Fisher September 3, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    I have a reflection:

    Mr. Cormier I hope that you are feeling better today.
    I hope that you are doing good, Gene.

    Sometimes it is the best to avoid some strongholds. When one is only instructing in the Scripture, or when one is discerning for them—this can be ineffective, and one can be in a dead-end. The Spirit has to break those strongholds.

    When one is moved by Spirit/is directed to enter that area of principality, or anything like that; then, taking a vow by Spirit would be applicable. This is why: to reach these who are not in a frozen state of lawlessness, only.
    When I was @ LU, I have dealt with issues like that; it is a stronghold, and exactly one in nature that both of you are referencing to; It is impossible to yank that out. (Only by free fall of the Spirit they would be able to be healthy people). There were few pastors who headed by instruction, but hardly any.

    Sometimes, one cannot even apply Scripture; it is of no effect to them. It has to be active work of the Spirit. Because these are some of the things; specific to rituals (of spiritual warfare); It is impossible to learn all of that. One has to be equipped spiritually. When ever they dismiss/attack you–there is a demonic essence to the host keeping its catch. When there is/are small correction–that is no issue, at all. This is acceptable.

    Now, this is my estimate/understanding when comes to frozen spiritual state of individuals.

    When one is performing spiritual warfare, it is in a catatonic state, and psychically weak, often. Meaning; it is the Church Order, under work of the Spirit. It is no fun thing to do, and usually is best to avoid it; when not called.



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