Obama’s threat of a military strike against Syria seems to have worked


Nicholas Kristof NAILS IT:

For decades, Syria has refused to confirm that it has chemical weapons. Now, facing a limited strike, its position abruptly changed to: Oh! We do have them after all! And we want to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention! We want to show them to United Nations inspectors.

In short, the mere flexing of military power worked — initially and tentatively. And while it seems that neither Congress nor the public has any appetite for cruise missile strikes on Syria, it will be critical to keep the military option alive in the coming weeks or Russia and Syria will play us like a yo-yo.

Frankly, I’m skeptical that a deal can be worked out in which Syria hands over its chemical weaponry, and President Obama may have exchanged a losing struggle with Congress with a Sisyphean struggle with Russia. But it’s not impossible. And even if Syria cheated and stalled and eventually handed over only half of its chemical arsenal and none of its biological arsenal, that would still be a huge win for global security.


We think of warfare in binary terms, as if our options are invasions or nothing at all, but that’s misleading. All-out wars have a poor record, but modest interventions of the kind President Obama is talking about in Syria have a more successful (though still mixed) history.

That’s even true in Iraq, although I hate to mention the word because it sends a shudder up every reader’s spine. While the war that began in 2003 was a disaster, two limited interventions succeeded in Iraq. One was President Clinton’s 1998 bombing of Iraqi military sites for a few days (maybe the closest parallel to Obama’s plan for Syria); it may have convinced Saddam Hussein to abandon W.M.D. programs. The other is the no-fly zone over Iraq’s Kurdish areas in the 1990s to prevent a genocide there. They were limited uses of force that proceeded so smoothly that they are hardly remembered…

In Syria, for two-and-a-half years, we’ve given the regime a green light, and the killing has escalated from 5,000 a year to 5,000 a month — and, last month, to a poison gas attack that was perhaps the biggest massacre in the war. Now Obama’s threat of military strikes has turned the light yellow, Syria is scrambling to adjust, and there is some hope of a diplomatic solution.





  1. http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2013/09/12/Assad-says-chemical-handover-not-result-of-U-S-threat-.html

    Syria’s decision to cede control of its chemical weapons was the result of a Russian proposal, not the threat of U.S. military intervention, Interfax news agency quoted President Bashar al-Assad as saying in a Russian television interview.

    “Syria is placing its chemical weapons under international control because of Russia. The U.S. threats did not influence the decision,” Interfax quoted Assad as telling Russia’s state-run Rossiya-24 channel in the interview.

  2. It seems like the real political winner in the “red line” debacle might be this guy.


    If Vladimir Putin wanted to get Americans’ attention, he seems to have done a pretty good job.

    The Russian president’s op-ed article arguing against military intervention in Syria, published on The New York Times’ website late Wednesday, set off a flurry of reactions — some outraged, some impressed, and some just plain bemused.

    Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez said the piece made him almost want to throw up.

    Putin said he had written the opinion piece “to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders.”

    Vladimir Putin’s call for peace But he appeared to have raised some peoples’ hackles with the last paragraph in which he disputed the idea of American exceptionalism.

    It was a reference to President Barack Obama’s address Tuesday night, in which he said that while America can’t be a global cop, it ought to act when in certain situations.

    “That’s what makes us exceptional,” Obama said. “With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

    Putin’s answer to that?

    “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,” he wrote.

    He concluded with the line, “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

  3. Assad says he hasn’t been influenced by threats of U.S. attacks — and doc apparently agrees with him.

    Putin disputes the idea of American exceptionalism — and doc apparently agrees with him.


  4. Hmm? Apparently agrees in what sense?

    I apparently agree that for the moment Obama has weakened his(and our) stature on the foreign policy stage and Putin is soon to be asking to be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. Who knows, he may actually deserve it.

  5. thehereandnow1

    Oh my goodness Pat, drink the kool-aid much? Assad was not influenced by Obama at all. Any attempt to think that Obama’s (and Kerry’s for that matter) actions had anything to do with Assad’s current course of action is just more proof of how much you have lost your touch with reality.

    Uncle Vlad is taking full advantage of the fact that the Obama administration has screwed the pooch when it comes to Syria. Russia’s going to ‘take’ Syria’s chemical weapons (but will either secretly give them back or wait a little while), Russia and Syria get their goal of making the U.S. seem weak and without teeth, and Obama and his mindless drones will go on about how they’re righteous because they were able to solve this diplomatically.

    From the red line that Obama drew/didn’t draw to coming across as an ineffective commander-in-chief, unable to even rally his own party, Obama continues to show that he is all smoke and mirrors. No substance.

    If he really cared about all those innocent children in Syria he should have done something oh, I don’t know, 100,000 people earlier.

  6. Craig Knauss

    To our two foreign policy experts,

    To me it looks like Obama’s bluff worked. He threatened action, with or without Congress’s blessing, and al-Assad backed off. It’s Assad who has the weakened position. Assad “voluntarily” accepted Putin’s proposal to save face and his own ass. So far, we haven’t had to bomb Syria, which would have created a lot of collateral damage and made a great recruiting poster for al Qaida. If Putin gets the credit, who cares?

    BTW, Reagan “won” the Cold War by bluffing too. He threated to deploy weapon systems that weren’t even functional, but the Russians didn’t know that and bankrupted their country trying to develop countering systems. So, did Reagan weaken our foreign stature?

  7. So Obama really wasn’t all that outraged and vengeful after all, regarding the deaths of those 1400+ people by nerve gas, particularly the woman and children, because it was a bluff? Wow.

    As I posted in a different thread on this blog, “I’m confused, if the potential remedy is that Assad allows his chemical weapons to be under international control, isn’t there still a lagging question of who will be held accountable for the deaths of those 1400+ people?”

    Apparently, nobody will be.

    By the way, I like how the UN is claiming circumstantial evidence that the nerve gas bombs came from the Assad military in the words of the article “But it will provide a strong circumstantial case — based on an examination of spent rocket casings, ammunition, and laboratory tests of soil, blood, and urine samples — that points strongly in the direction of Syrian government culpability. ”

    If I recall correctly, the USA was claiming that Assad wouldn’t let the UN in for 4 days because they kept bombing that area to cover up the evidence. I would think bombs of all types would leave rocket casings and being a war zone, there would be spent/unspent? ammunition in those areas. I look forward to further reports on how this evidence links Assad’s military, when it seems like normal stuff you would find in a battlefield and since nerve gas was used in that area, to which nobody really has definitive evidence of who did it, I would think that nerve gas remnants would have contaminated just about everything. Maybe there’s some genetic markers in the nerve gas that will be able to show who owned it based on sales records?


  8. Craig,

    Bluff? In what sense? This isn’t a poker game, Assad used the chemical weapons and killed at least a thousand people, many of them women and children.

    Are you saying Obama drew a “red line” knowing that if Assad crossed it and used chemical weapons he wouldn’t do anything about it anyway? That doesn’t seem very smart.

    Or are you saying that he “bluffed” knowing all along that if Assad crossed the line then Putin would come to the rescue and broker a solution? I doubt it.

    The going consensus seems to be that Obama “bluffed” thinking that would be enough to scare Assad into line and Assad called his bluff and used the chemical weapons anyway. Then Putin took complete advantage of the fact that Obama had painted himself into a corner, and made him (and us) look weak and ineffective.

    I wonder if the Syrian people are so very proud of the President’s poker skills?

  9. thehereandnow1

    Obama bluffed? Really? Assad backed off because of said bluff? Oh my, sir, you need professional help. Obama couldn’t even get England, who with probably the exception of the U.S. Revolutionary War has been on America’s side when it comes to international conflicts on his side. The only people he could get were the French, who pretty much since Napoleon have a reputation as being cheese eating surrender-monkeys. The only reason Assad is going along is because his good pal Vlad has shown him a way to humiliate America and Obama without firing a shot. This thing goes through and chances are even better that no one in the region, if not the world will take America seriously, at least while Obama’s still in office.

    From your comment and basic love for everything Obama, I’m guessing you are a Bush-hater. Probably hate everything he did in his 2 terms. People like you, Pat (I’m guessing), now Sec. of State Kerry, presidential wannabe Hillary, and a then failed community organizer turned present-voting state senator turned U.S. senator turned current president bashed Bush for his actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here’s the thing, in both of these cases Bush had approval from Congress, including yes votes from the aforementioned Kerry and Clinton, as well as approval from a large group of the international community. Obama couldn’t even get that. So apparently going in with guns blazing and no congressional approval is only ok if you’re a democrat.

    Yeah, I bet the big B.O. is thrilled Vlad stepped in. Obama would have been foolish enough to have had a military strike, yet like such other things as his green agenda, Obamacare, his comments in the Martin case, and his attempt to help Chicago win the 2016 Olympics, he would do it and it would have been a miserable failure. The international community would have been outraged, America would’ve have been dragged into a situation where boots would have been on the ground (despite what he said). If Assad’s threats were true Israel would’ve been attacked (not that that seems like a big deal to Obama).

    Pretty sad when America’s biggest diplomat in a tense standoff is Vladimir Putin. No, Obama’s threats didn’t work. He’s the little kid trying to act tough in front of the big kids, and coming away looking like a grade A doofus.

  10. The commenter previously known as Possum Jenkins trots out that tired old reference to the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”

    Typical wingnut rhetoric.

    And the rest of his analysis of the Syrian situation is no better.

  11. thehereandnow1

    Pat, please explain to everyone how my analysis of the Syrian situation is no better, or “Typical wingnut rhetoric”? Obama was facing a losing battle. He made the red line comment then tried to say he didn’t make it. He plead his case for taking the same actions he deemed so evil about Bush (never mind they were nothing alike).

    Please, explain to us all how this is not a case of Russia seeing how weak and ineffective Obama is and taking full advantage of it. Tell us all how, despite not being able to get the man to talk to him about substantive issues at large gatherings Obama was able to use the threat of force to partner with the Russians. Tell us all how Assad would not see this as a potential to strengthen his alliance with Russia while at the same time giving Obama a huge black eye (the injury) when it comes to image in the Middle East. Please tell us why Obama’s outrage and threats of military action are justified after killing 1400 people, yet not present for the 100,000 killed before this.

    Obama backed the wrong side in Egypt. His handling of the Benghazi attack is an embarrassment. And now Syria. Obama’s 0 for 3 now.

  12. Craig Knauss

    So, doc, what would YOU have done if your were president?

    If Obama did nothing, you righties would bitch and whine about him being weak and spineless and letting Assad get away with murder.

    If Obama bombed Syria, you righties would bitch and whine about him getting us into another endless war or starting WWIII. (Remember Iraq and Afghanistan?)

    If Obama armed the rebels, you righties would bitch and whine about him arming terrorists. (Like when Reagan gave Stingers to the Mujahedeen ( who became Taliban and al Qaida).

    So, what would YOU have done? Please tell us so WE can bitch and whine about it, while you sit in your armchair commanding the universe. Maybe you can get some hints from your buddy, thebignothing.

  13. thehereandnow1

    Well I can’t speak for doc, but I’m guessing he’d be smart enough to not draw a red line, then when it is crossed not do anything at first, then claim he never drew it. And I’m guessing he’d have an administration that wasn’t a group of lab rat rejects and would’ve handled it a whole lot better than this administration of idiocy is doing.

    Apparently Obama’s discovered that there are people in the world who don’t turn belly up and ask for a tummy rub when Obama speaks. Not everyone’s like you Craigy.

  14. Who is the big nothing and why would I take hints from him, particularly when I have never heard of him?

    As for what I would have done? I would not have drawn a red line unless I intended to act immediately when the line was crossed.

    If I had drawn a red line I would have in fact acted, immediately, with allies who would back me, because I would have talked to them in advance about the red line I was going to draw.

    And I wouldn’t have cared what arm chair quarterbacks like me thought or even those in Congress who were not fully informed of the facts thought. After all, if I am drawing red lines it is because I am the commander in chief and I have been elected to lead not protect my legacy or ego.

  15. Craig Knauss


    I didn’t see one thing about assessment of the ramifications, concurrence of Congress, concurrence of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, etc. You’d make a great Loose Cannon in Chief. And the righties, including you, would be bitching and whining their heads off.

    If things were as simple as you think they are, any idiot could run the country – for a few minutes.

  16. Craig Knauss

    PS, doc,

    I bet you think Reagan should have used nuclear weapons in Grenada too.

  17. You still didn’t tell me who this guy big nothing is.

    It’s OK, if you are half as smart as you think you are, I am sure he is a great guy.

  18. This is the kind of savagery that’s occurring in Syria. Religion plays a big role in determining who is the enemy. War is ugly enough but this kind of savagery shows what we’re getting ourselves involved in. And somehow gassing people is supposed to be more heinous than beheading. I wonder which one hurts less?

    Changing the subject kind of but not really – If I recall right, the main reason Russia withdrew from Afghanistan back when that battlefield was theirs to lose, was because the young Russian soldiers would be disemboweled while still alive. The Russian mothers banded together and said enough when they saw their boys bodies coming home by the thousands in mutilated form. I’m surprised that we didn’t hear about that kind of savagery happening to our soldiers who’ve been killed in battle over there. I can’t imagine that tactics would change that much from when the Russians were there and we arrived. For basically a primitive type lifestyle, those natives sure know how to fight back. Our superior weaponry still hasn’t brought about the change the PNAC was hoping for. Look at how the religious factions kill each other in Iraq to this day. That didn’t happen when Saddam was in place and when he was our nations leaders friend.

    I hope people realize that our involvement in the Middle East isn’t about retribution for 911. It’s about modernizing that region and making them become a democratic, capitalist driven economy and all because they have our crude oil under their sands. If that oil wasn’t there, we’d pay about as much attention to the plight of the people in the ME as we do to the native Africans who are massacred daily by the same kinds of brutal leaders we see in the ME. It might be that brutality is what kept the opposing factions under control. When Saddam was in place and when he was our friend (we’ve got famous pictures to show that), we didn’t have a problem with his style of leadership. But when he decided to take the oil in his country’s ground and trade it with a different currency than the dollar, is when he crossed the line and we heard the plea that he gassed his own people.. Yup he did, and well before that famous picture of him and Rumsfeld shaking hands 15 months after the gassing of the Kurds. And still many Americans fall for the battle cries of our leaders.

    Let me remind you all once again of that famous quote from a Nazi war criminal that holds true to this day.

    “Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, IT IS THE LEADERS of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY.”

    How many times have we heard Obama mention “national security” as his reason for seeking involvement in the Syrian matter? Same schpeel, different president.

    Change? Really? I guess it depends on how you define change.


  19. I wonder if HRW was around during the Viet Nam war, if they would have stated, Viet Nam executions – USA government forces – ? Using the word executions is a very inflammatory choice of words by the news media meant to bring about visuals that will affect public sentiment here in the USA.

    These people are in a civil war. It’s ugly. It’s either shoot or be shot. And in some cases, get beheaded. There’s lots of bad guys on both sides of the battle. The rebels are no more angels than the Syrian soldiers. Even John Kerry has admitted that the rebels have been infiltrated by Al Qaida and Hamas sympathizers if not actual members. We are providing weapons to the rebels who in other times would have been the very warriors we would be taking up arms against. Just like the Muja Hadin was back in the 80s that Osama Bin Laden was affiliated with and was an ally of the USA at that time when Russia invaded Afghanistan. We saw how that turned out for all involved and how the roles have changed.

    Like I’ve said earlier, if these people and the others in the Middle East weren’t sitting on some very energy rich landscapes and or land that was good access points for the transportation of those energy products ( did I also mention a threat to Israel’s survival), our nations leaders and the corporations they shill for wouldn’t give a damn.

    Doesn’t anybody find it odd that there’s so much civilian destabilization going on within the Middle East communities? If you’ve looked at recent historical comparisons, the same thing happened in many South American countries in the 80s. Much of it was attributed to the CIA covert activities that does such things to bring about change (no conspiracy there, it’s all out there for you read about and been the subject of many a conversation on the TV). Change that favors the trans-national corporations. Doesn’t it even just a little bit, make you wonder how this kind of destabilization could be so prevalent and hitting so many of the Middle East countries? And who and what organizations might be behind it as part of a bigger agenda (hint – PNAC)?


  20. Why doesn’t Christine call on the Arab League and Saudi Arabia to step in. Why is it always American troops that must be called to action? Isn’t there a moral imperative in Saudi Arabia and other supposed ME allies to be called on too, Christine?


  21. I guess I get to hog the blog today.

    Sometimes I think Obama and his policy team are listening to me. I hope that doesn’t get me labeled like that mentally ill woman they just shot in our nations capital. Because I mean in a different way.

    I’ve been critical of the Neocons, of which I believe Obama is one, because they seem so concentrated on the Middle East and the liberation of those people over the liberation and protection of the people in the African states that suffer from the ongoing brutal slaughter, often times from the very same terrorist affiliated groups as the ME is experiencing. But in the past, the USA has sought very little intervention.

    Apparently, that changed with this breaking news story.


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