David Dayen: Arm-Twisting Season in Washington Before Syria Strike Vote

By David Dayen, a lapsed blogger, now a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, CA. Follow him on Twitter @ddayen

Sure, this is an economics blog, but the story of the week is unquestionably the imminent Congressional vote on authorization for so-called “limited” military strikes on Syria. And there are a variety of significant economic by-products. So let’s take a look.

Today, Secretary of State Kerry and Defense Secretary Hagel appear at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to make the case for authorization, part of a full-court press on the part of the White House. The Administration held a classified in-person briefing on Sunday, among other unclassified briefings, and the President personally held an audience with Wondertwins John McCain and Lindsey Graham yesterday. McCain, whose initial statement on the authorization vote was skeptical, said after the Obama meeting that “a vote against that resolution by Congress, I think, would be catastrophic because it would undermine the credibility of the United States and of the president.”

Developments like these make me think that I don’t think the Administration will have much of a problem getting authorization, even though members of the House, at least, were adamant that the resolution wouldn’t pass if the vote were held today. First of all, I think the Democratic caucus will largely stand behind Obama. The Keith Ellison endorsement is significant; he’s a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. Sure, there will be holdouts like Charlie Rangel, who called Obama’s “red line” warning on chemical weapons use embarrassing. But party unity will get the lion’s share to fall in line, and the McCain/neocon faction of Republicans will vote yes as well, though this vote will signify the divide. If you want a more granular whip count, my old pals at Firedoglake have you covered.

Shrewdly, the initial ask from the White House in their authorization for military force asked for the moon, allowing the President “to use any element of the U.S. Armed Forces and any method of force,” and even granting force to be used on places other than Syrian soil, as long as there was a tenuous connection to Syrian WMD. That means the White House could theoretically attack Iran or Hezbollah under this AUMF, as long as they found some connection to Syrian weapons (say, attacking Tehran to stop them from supplying Syria with the means to commit chemical weapons attacks). Ground troops would theoretically be allowed as well. Congressional leaders are already talking about amending the authorization, and that’s where much of the opposition will melt away. By asking for just about everything, the Administration put themselves in the position to “give” something back to Congress and make a deal on those terms; maybe it will prevent ground troops, or something. So all these lawmakers intoning about a “tough sell” will suddenly deem themselves satisfied after their “tireless work” changing the resolution text.

What’s more, the Israel lobby will be in full force; you saw hints of this in how Joe Lieberman got dredged up the other day to lambaste the very idea of a vote. In general, Israel gets anything it wants on Capitol Hill, and since this entire exercise is a stalking horse for a future Iran confrontation, they want an attack. DoD didn’t put the USS Nimitz carrier group into position for no reason. I’d guess at 75 votes-plus in the Senate, and a closer but comfortable margin in the House.

That’s not to say that Congressmembers couldn’t access a number of arguments against military force. The International Crisis Group statement on the situation caused a stir Sunday, mainly for speaking largely untold truths about what, outside of theoretical messages, an attack would accomplish:

Assuming the U.S. Congress authorises them, Washington (together with some allies) soon will launch military strikes against Syrian regime targets. If so, it will have taken such action for reasons largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people

Ultimately, the principal question regarding a possible military strike is whether diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict can be reenergized in its aftermath. Smart money says they will not: in the wake of an attack they condemn as illegal and illegitimate, the regime and its allies arguably will not be in a mood to negotiate with the U.S. Carefully calibrating the strike to hurt enough to change their calculations but not enough to prompt retaliation or impede diplomacy is appealing in theory. In practice, it almost certainly is not feasible…

Debate over a possible strike – its wisdom, preferred scope and legitimacy in the absence of UN Security Council approval – has obscured and distracted from what ought to be the overriding international preoccupation: how to revitalise the search for a political settlement. Discussions about its legality aside, any contemplated military action should be judged based on whether it advances that goal or further postpones it.

Even more interesting was the take of old Kennedy State Department hand William R. Polk (a descendant of our 11th President), who wrote a magnum opus on all aspects of the crisis. It’s impossible to properly excerpt (the stuff on Kerry discrediting the UN inspection process, the assessment of the evidence, Assad’s lack of motivation for the attack and the recent US use of chemical weapons are all interesting), but the role of global warming is particularly acute:

Syria has been convulsed by civil war since climate change came to Syria with a vengeance. Drought devastated the country from 2006 to 2011. Rainfall in most of the country fell below eight inches (20 cm) a year, the absolute minimum needed to sustain un-irrigated farming. Desperate for water, farmers began to tap aquifers with tens of thousands of new well. But, as they did, the water table quickly dropped to a level below which their pumps could lift it.

In some areas, all agriculture ceased. In others crop failures reached 75%. And generally as much as 85% of livestock died of thirst or hunger. Hundreds of thousands of Syria’s farmers gave up, abandoned their farms and fled to the cities and towns in search of almost non-existent jobs and severely short food supplies. Outside observers including UN experts estimated that between 2 and 3 million of Syria’s 10 million rural inhabitants were reduced to “extreme poverty.”

The domestic Syrian refugees immediately found that they had to compete not only with one another for scarce food, water and jobs, but also with the already existing foreign refugee population. Syria already was a refuge for quarter of a million Palestinians and about a hundred thousand people who had fled the war and occupation of Iraq. Formerly prosperous farmers were lucky to get jobs as hawkers or street sweepers. And in the desperation of the times, hostilities erupted among groups that were competing just to survive.

USAID did absolutely nothing to help with this when asked, at least partially leading to the chaotic situation we see today. In the end, it’s another resource war, which we threaten to stumble into while acknowledging at the outset that our actions would do nothing. Maybe arresting anthropomorphic climate change is a more urgent national security priority, perhaps?

Meanwhile, to put a small economic gloss on this, the potential for a strike to expand this into a regional conflict should concern anyone looking at the trajectory of the price of oil over the past few weeks. Much of it has nothing to do with Syria, which only produces 350,000 barrels a day normally (that has fallen to 50,000 a day). Oil output in Libya has fallen six-fold in recent weeks, due to strikes and militia activity. While Libyan oil amounts aren’t enormous, the light sweet crude it produces is highly prized. Iraq’s sectarian violence has worsened of late, threatening its productivity as well. Nigerian oil has fallen victim to theft. And of course, with Vladimir Putin feeling international pressure over Syria, and wanting to send a delegation to the US to whip lawmakers before the vote, it’s not inconceivable that a de facto embargo would be one of the sticks he tries to use to stop military action.

All of this points to higher prices in the near future, and we’ve seen the oil price ratchet have a profound effect on hydrocarbon-dependent economies like the U.S. (in fact, the half-decent performance of the first half of the year has to be seen in context of what were falling energy prices.) With trillions spent in Afghanistan and Iraq, the domestic costs of war haven’t seemed to move policymakers in the past. But when faced with the economic consequences of a “message-sending” strike with no real military objective, maybe it will resonate.

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About David Dayen

David is a contributing writer to Salon.com. He has been writing about politics since 2004. He spent three years writing for the FireDogLake News Desk; he’s also written for The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Guardian (UK), The Huffington Post, The Washington Monthly, Alternet, Democracy Journal and Pacific Standard, as well as multiple well-trafficked progressive blogs and websites. His has been a guest on MSNBC, CNN, Aljazeera, Russia Today, NPR, Pacifica Radio and Air America Radio. He has contributed to two anthology books, one about the Wisconsin labor uprising and another on the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act in Congress. Prior to writing about politics he worked for two decades as a television producer and editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @ddayen.


  1. kimsarah

    I hear so little about the long-term objectives in dealing with Syria. At least McCain and Graham have the courage to openly promote their hawkish neocon agenda of taking Syria, then Iran, then who knows after that.
    Even fewer are questioning the big picture. Is our goal to control all of the Middle East? At what length are we willing to go — both in terms of bodies and dollars?
    If we agree that agression is our objective, then we can go about it step by step. The way it is now, we’re blindly doing it step by step without being told our long-term objective.
    Wars could break out in both parties.
    Meanwhile, I have to hope the intelligence we are being fed is good. I am skeptical.
    I don’t normally pass along wild rumors and heresay, but I like and respect Zero Hedge, which has just posted this account that could show that the chemical attack was staged:

  2. Maju

    The farce is over: hacked Pentagon emails show that it was the USA who organized the farcical “chemical massacre”:




    The video of the “corpses” was actually in the past signaled as highly doubtful, as in an accidentally (???) uploaded version a woman was administering drugs to the kids with a syringe while a man talked in the background (in Arabic) on how good that would look in Al Jazeera and CNN:


    It was already very doubtful that the attack would go ahead, as opposition is very strong in the three coalition members, Russia was already grunting loud and Damascus had threatened to bomb Israel (which is too close and too small to defend in any effective way), but this seems to be the last nail in the coffin.

    This in turn means that the Syrian Civil War is nearly over, as Damascus was already winning very clearly, excepted maybe for some border “beachheads” like the one the USA keeps with Jordanian help in Deraa and a few others that Turkey feeds in the North. But what’s their use now? The “rebels” are more and more only foreigners with a totalitarian and terrorist Islamist agenda and the majority of Syrians are fed up with them and their gratuitous and useless sectarian violence. By comparison Assad appears almost as a good leader, especially now that he’s much more open to dialogue and democratic participation.

    1. Banger

      You know, I hope you’re right but I suspect you’ve misjudged the situation. It has always been obvious that this is a false-flag event but false-flag events are meant to achieve an objective–and that objective, as near as I can see has been achieved. If the U.S. was populated by reasonable people who form their opinions based on evidence and reasoned debate then you’re right. But let’s be clear, in the U.S. the major sources of news are all radically pro-war. On the whole, they assert that the evil Assad (the new Hitler) attacked his own people with chemical weapons and that the U.S. has to save the Syrian people from a cruel dictator–essentially the line of CNN and MSNBC and other outlets. Should this begin to change, which would be unprecedented (the U.S. media is always unanimous about going to war), then the reality of the Syrian Civil War will sink in but otherwise I don’t see how Congress can do anything but cave to the Executiry (as it always does in matters of war).

      Truth, mon ami, has nothing whatever to do with anything in U.S. politics.

      1. from Mexico

        Banger says:

        But let’s be clear, in the U.S. the major sources of news are all radically pro-war. On the whole, they assert that the evil Assad (the new Hitler) attacked his own people with chemical weapons and that the U.S. has to save the Syrian people from a cruel dictator–essentially the line of CNN and MSNBC and other outlets.

        I think you’re conflating two wings of the war party, the “national interest” (conservative) wing and the “humanitarian” (liberal interventionist) wing.

        There are two different arguments being made which are tailored for two different constituiencies. You have to remember that we did not enter WWII due to any humanitarian calling, but because we believed Hitler posed an existential threat to the life of the nation. It was about national interest, not about playing global policeman.

        Greg Shupak’s post in today’s links, “Libya and its contexts,” was instructive on this point:

        To the extent that the enduring conservative justification for militarism is that every world leader opposed to Western interests is another Hitler, the equivalent for liberal interventionists is the notion that any party to a conflict that they both side with, and deem likely to lose, are the next Rwandan Tutsis. The latter group is cast as an innocent, helpless and defenceless people who can only be saved by the might of benevolent and disinterested Western militaries. Thus the residents of Benghazi were put forth as the Tutsis in the Western imaginary – a claim with little basis in fact.

        Hysterical claims that Qadhafi was on the verge of carrying out a genocide rang out in the Western press. However, these had little basis. Forte quotes Alan J. Kuperman, noting that, “The best evidence that Khadafy did not plan genocide in Benghazi is that he did not perpetrate it in the other cities he had recaptured either fully or partially — including Zawiya, Misurata, and Ajdabiya.” During his 42 year rule, Qadhafi faced numerous coup attempts and armed revolts. Though he typically dealt with the alleged perpetrators in a brutal fashion, at no point did his regime behave in a genocidal manner.

        Furthermore, the ground for instituting a no-fly zone over Libya through UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was the assertion that Qadhafi was bombing protestors from the sky. Yet, as Forte demonstrates, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that he had no confirmation that Qadhafi fired on Libyans from the air. Similarly, Al-Jazeera English, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton circulated the claim that Qadhafi had fed his military Viagra so as to facilitate mass rape. While it is clear that Qadhafi’s forces committed acts of sexual violence, Forte draws on Amnesty International and other sources to demonstrate that the dissemination of Viagra no more took place than did the Iraqi military’s killing of babies in Kuwaiti incubators in 1991.
        – See more at: http://jacobinmag.com/2013/09/libya-and-its-contexts/#sthash.6Zbh4gk5.dpuf

        1. Banger

          As always, excellent post and I agree with most of what you say. I slightly disagree on me conflating the Humanitarian Authoritarians with the National Interest Authoritarians. They are one and the same and agents, to be crude, of the deep state–these factions are in the positions they are in because of that “state” whether they are politicians or “journalists.” You rightly point out that they address a somewhat different demographic but they work for the same basic group.

          Interestingly, the Humanitarians have the best argument though the National Interest people are making the following case: if we don’t attack Syria we are encouraging rogue states (Iran and North Korea) to use CW. Iran, of course is a rogue state because the U.S. says so–interestingly they did not mention Cuba which is interesting in itself and, I find that both conservatives and liberals are making the same arguments–the rogue state argument and the humanitarian argument.

          1. Lambert Strether

            The “deep state” appears to me to be a rediscovery of Gramsci’s recognition that “the state” and “civil society” are methodological constructs, two aspects of the same, er, ruling class.

        2. Massinissa

          I agree with Banger. The Humanitarian Imperialists and the Nationalist Imperialists are speak for the same interests, but to two groups. To put too much distinction between them is like trying to distinguish Geico’s different advertisements into different audience targets. Theres almost no real point, since they all adverteise for Geico. The product is the same regardless of the package and the intended demographic. At the end of the day Geico just wants to sell more insurance.

          1. Lambert Strether

            I would say “faction” rather than “group,” to highlight the ideas that there are interests involved, and also networks of personalities, thought leaders, talking heads, think tanks and so forth, connected to funding sources.

    2. docg

      “I saw it either and got afraid much . . “??????

      WHO is supposed to have written this? Not a native English speaker, surely!

    3. charles sereno

      I woke up this morning to someone on NPR (!) saying that 5 million (mostly civilians) in central Africa have been killed over 12 years in the rush of outsiders for resources. Just another, albeit disorganized, Holocaust and just as quiet. Goes to show that auctioning victims (as in Syria) is only a high stakes game played by rival tyrants.

      Rephrasing from Mexico — If only “conservative nationalists” were more “humanitarian” and “liberal interventionists” more “conservative,” what a wonderful world it would be.

  3. ambrit

    The semi hidden argument here seems to be; prepare for civil unrest. Unlike the ’73 Arab Oil Embargo, there is no obvious foreign devil to blame it all on today. When the domestic public catches on, the economic dislocation will be as nothing compared to the political one. Earlier posts have highlighted the correlation between upsurges in food prices and foreign ‘popular uprisings.’ A major oil price hike will have a trailing effect of driving up domestic food prices. Almost everything edible we assume to be basic has a huge hydrocarbon footprint; fuel for the farm machinery, the irrigation systems, processing plants, and distribution networks. Lamberts earlier post about his garden is of a piece with this post. Both point the way as it were.

  4. Conscience of a Conservative

    Syria has been a disaster from a White House perspective. First we ignored the situation at the most critical moments when simply supplying weapons could have made a huge difference. The U.S. had no problem with Libya but Syria somehow is different.

    Then we move to Obama who drew repeated red lines only to do nothing, then when he announces that he’s ready to act at the 11th hour he gets cold feet and punts the decision to Congress. Obama had full authority to act , this was not a war, no feet would have been put on the ground. In taking this mis-step he has weakened the Presidency.

    If Obama had wanted a dialogue with Congress it should have occurred months ago and before making public statements about the U.S. being ready to act.

    And as far as the Israel lobby, this is Obama trying to seek allies in Congress.

    1. from Mexico

      • Conscience of a Conservative says:

      Syria has been a disaster from a White House perspective. First we ignored the situation at the most critical moments when simply supplying weapons could have made a huge difference. The U.S. had no problem with Libya but Syria somehow is different.

      But didn’t Russia threaten to arm the Syrian government with some pretty nasty weapons if the US and Europe began arming the rebels? I think the situation might be a little bit more complicated than you would have us believe.

      • Conscience of a Conservative says:

      Then we move to Obama who drew repeated red lines only to do nothing, then when he announces that he’s ready to act at the 11th hour he gets cold feet and punts the decision to Congress. Obama had full authority to act , this was not a war, no feet would have been put on the ground. In taking this mis-step he has weakened the Presidency.

      So moving more quickly to involve the US in yet one more quagmire in the Middle East would have strengthened the presidency? How did that sort of “logic” work out for the Bush II presidency?

      And anything short of boots on the ground is not war? Geez, somebody should have told the American people that after the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

      • Conscience of a Conservative says:

      If Obama had wanted a dialogue with Congress it should have occurred months ago and before making public statements about the U.S. being ready to act.

      I do not know why making war on Syria all of a sudden got put at the top of the agenda. It certainly is not for the stated reasons, because these are so irrational as to be nonsensical. What is the real reason? My suspicion is that this is just another irrational, diversionary war to distract the American people from happenings at home.

      • Conscience of a Conservative says:

      And as far as the Israel lobby, this is Obama trying to seek allies in Congress.

      This I agree with.

      Here in Mexico I have encountered far more anti-Jewish animums than in the US. If a Catholic is an SOB, well it’s just because he’s an SOB. But if a Jew is an SOB, it’s because he’s a Jew.

      I see the same thing in the US. If Obama, Kerry, and Biden, or for that matter Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, are war-mongering SOBs, it’s not because they’re just SOBs, it’s because the Israeli lobby (read Jewish conspiracy) caused them to be SOBs.

      1. Tom Allen

        My understanding is that attacking Syria got “put at the top of the agenda” because Assad was in danger of winning. DC would prefer that neither Assad nor the rebels come out on top, as neither favors the US or its allies. So the goal is to continue the civil war indefinitely, hence the desire to tip the scales against Assad just enough to hurt him but not badly enough to take him out immediately.

        1. ian

          This only makes sense to me if you are trying to sell lots and lots of small arms – make sure neither side ‘wins’ and that a low grade conflict goes on forever.

          1. Dominic

            Ian, keeping Syria in chaos and civil despair keeps it from being a strong ally to Iran, who’s government is next on the Saudi/Israeli/western bucket list. Just let Iran come to Syria’s defence too, and presto, you have another reason to villify Iran an start a conflict with them.

      2. Maju

        Let’s not mix being Jewish with being part of the Israel or Zionist lobby. There are a lot of non-Jews in this international network (for example Obama, Clinton, etc.) and there is a growing number of Jews everywhere against it. While Zionism uses Jewish identity and mythology as their battlehorse in their colonial genocidal project in Palestine, that does not make it (not at all!) identical with Jews. The project has much more to do with British and French colonial imperialism in the Mediterranean (interests inherited by the USA) and before WWII (i.e. the Holocaust) most Jews were rather hostile to it. Today after half a century of genocide of Native Palestinians, apartheid, racism, religious fundamentalism, etc. the Zionist project has a huge legitimacy problem and more and more Jews are stepping out of it, as do most people of other ethnic identities.

        The Israel Lobby is not acceptable as it is not acceptable the genocidal project known as Israel. And it has nothing to do with their use and abuse of the Jewish identity and the “antisemitism” card. Recently the (“Anti”-)Defamation League, which is the worse blackmouth of the Lobby had the arrogance of “sitting” progressive Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff side by side with true antisemites neo-nazis like Golden Dawn or Jobbik just for being critical (as we must) of the genocidal policies of Israel. He took it with humor but we must be most wary of that dangerous mafia which is the Israel Lobby because they are quite obviously pretty bad guys.

        Now, which exactly is the role of the Israel Lobby in the planned aggression against Syria? While there were some doubts initially (Israel has taken a low profile, letting the Sunni Islamist forces do the dirty job), it is becoming obvious thanks to Obama’s, Cameron’s or even more clearly Lieberman’s stand. They would not mobilize all their might, as they have just because Saudi Arabia and Turkey want it.

        On the other hand Russia, which was for a time quite friendly to Israel and has its own pretty numerous and influential Jewish networks, fell apart with it on the Georgian conflict, as Israel had been training the Georgian army in a clear act of defiance to Russia (but to no avail, as Russia clearly won the day). In this sense we can ratify that Israel is more a Western than a truly Jewish colonial project and, much as the Western bloc supports Israel almost inconditionally, Israel serves the geopolitical interests of the Western bloc in the region very faithfully, even to the point of directly antagonizing a major (and mostly friendly) power like Russia.

        I see Syria as Georgia II. Back in the day it was said that Israel had lost two wars in a row: the one of Georgia (2008) and the attack against Lebanon (2006), which evidenced its vulnerability to Hizbollah’s rockets. The Syrian civil war has a bit of both, with the novelty that in Syria it was Sunni Islamist terrorist groups which were used as cannon fodder in the context of a renewed and unspoken Tel Aviv-Riyadh axis, which was already apparent in the murderous attacks against Gaza of 2008-2009, to which Ankara has joined happily.

        We should see all this as Western imperial policies in which the local puppet states, be them Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar or Israel, play their roles concertedly against the independent powers like Syria, Iran and Russia. Not that I like these either but that’s what is going on (and of course choking China is also part of all these wars’ objectives, beginning with Afghanistan).

        1. Banger

          The situation is extremely complicated and multi-faceted. We are like the blind men and the elephant but with a certain amount of discernment we can arrive at something basic. Good comments.

      3. Banger

        If you think that there is any conceivable scenario where anything more than a small faction of Americans would attack Jews as being responsible for ME problems you don’t understand U.S. society or U.S. political realities. Lot’s of things are possible here but not that. It is simply not allowed to attack Jews as a group in the media and not allowed in polite conversation in any but the most racist circles and then Jews are only an afterthought.

        1. from Mexico

          I like John J. Mearsheimer’s and Stephen Walt’s take on the Israeli Lobby:

          …they emphasize that the lobby is not a cabal or a conspiracy but simply a powerful interest group like the National Rifle Association or the farm lobby. Their core argument is that the policies that the lobby pushes are not in the United States’ national interest, nor ultimately that of Israel.

          I’ve noticed plenty of people who believe the Israeli Lobby is all powerful, and that the blame for American militarism can be laid at its door. And of course the Israeli Lobby itself claims to be all powerful, and to speak for all American Jewry.

          Me? I believe it is just one of many constituencies that make up the War Party. And I’m not even sure it’s support in the Jewish community is that broad or deep.

          1. Lambert Strether

            I think you are right that the Israeli Lobby’s support in the Jewish community is not that deep. However, its support in the national security class is surprisingly deep, and I’m not sure why, since surely Israel’s empire and imperial apparatus are minuscule compared to our own.

            1. Banger

              How has Israel gotten such a powerful hold of U.S. Middle East policy? Cultivating the U.S. was the chief object of Israeli intelligence from very early on. Without going into a lot of details, any truly dedicated and coherent group that goes to Washington with a lot of money and smart operatives willing to do “anything” can succeed in gaining considerable power in Washington. Israeli lobby is the most successful because there are networks of Jews in Washington within the bureuacracy that will act in the interests of Israel if called upon to give Israel sensitive information or just do a favor or look the other way. This was true also of the China lobby in the 50s and 60s who came to dominate Washington’s Asia policy and the Miami Cuban exile community who dominated Cuba policy and, to a degree, American policy in Latin America. Washington us much more porous that people think and open to any truly determined group that is willing to for the long haul as Israeli intel clearly has. Israeli agents are deep within all levels of the national security state–try talking to one of these true-believers in Israel uber alles–I knew a senior Pentagon bureaucrat, brilliant, and fanatically pro-Israel but he also saw himself as an American patriot and he’s a man I liked very much.

    2. Banger

      First of all, the situation has not been ignored–rather there has been a struggle for power concerning the direction of U.S. foreign policy in the region and the result has been stalemate just as there has been a stalemate in Congress about domestic affairs. Second, Obama does not have full authority to act, attacking Syria would be against international law and U.S. law–that didn’t stop him from attacking Libya but that doesn’t make this attack legal and the stakes are very, very, very high here unlike Libya which was a turkey shoot without consequences other than for the Libyan people. Besides, Obama knew as well as anybody that without a strong causus belli a war weary public and the media would never go for yet another war in the region.

      Obama and the War Party who seems to now dominate him, did not have a really clear causus belli until CW started being used–that was the pretext they were waiting for. I believe this is a false-flag event since Assad gains nothing for using these weapons and the only chance for the rebels to prevail is to get the U.S. directly involved. The smaller attack did not work when a U.N. official debunked the affair so they carried out a larger attack–that is the classic way to get U.S into war whether it is “remember the Maine” or the Gulf of Tonkin affair or the WMDs in Iraq or many other larger and smaller operations false-flag attacks have proven, at different times, different places, different countries to be highly effective in galvanizing public opinion. The U.S. public is extremely gullible and when the mainstream media is fully mobilized they are easily stampeded into war.

      1. from Mexico

        Banger said:

        Libya which was a turkey shoot without consequences other than for the Libyan people.

        I too am wondering why Libya was treated so differently than Syria.

        Could it be that Qadhafi, just like Saddam, was one of our own? The NATO/US taking him out was more like a godfather doing some housecleaning inside his own Mafia.

        Assad, on the other hand, hails from the other major crime family. So to attack him would risk provoking a Mafia war, a high-profile conflict between Mafia clans.

        1. Montanamaven

          I think you just came up with something kinda brilliant. I have been asking the question about Libya for days now. This is the first idea that makes sense. Oh, and Clinton is craftier than Kerry.

        2. Banger

          Something like that–mafia terminology, btw, is the best way to understand politics. Real politics, as opposed to the usual fantasies Americans seem to have about politics, operates on mafia principles (tight knit “families”)–which is why Americans love movies and shows about the mafia there is such a strong smell of truth to them unlike most of what passes for political coverage.

          Politics is always the same–it is about communities and the application of force–you reward your friends and punish your enemies and you stop at nothing to get what you want.

        3. Crazy Horse

          Speaking of censoring one of our own—-thinking back to the US invasion of Panama. Seems that Noriega had to go because he demanded too high a cut of the drug profits that rightly belonged to the CIA. (Back before there were ten black organizations squabbling over who receives the largest off-the-record budget.) And it did open the door for the creation of the largest banking/money laundering operation in the hemisphere.

          And speaking of criminal organizations, Putin does seem determined to support Syria at almost any cost. Perhaps Russia has a real item of national interest at stake, namely the preservation of its natural gas monopoly over Europe. As contrasted to the US desire to complete the mad game of dominoes dreamed up by Rummy and the Neo-Cons with the goal of leaving Israel the only surviving state in the region. And the Obama need to shovel any actual opposition to the Surveillance State under the rug.

          Playing poker with Putin could lead to some nasty consequences that a brilliant leader like Obummer hasn’t foreseen—.

  5. PaulW

    Excellent piece. I was not aware of the drought in Syria and its effect. Makes one wonder how good or bad the Assad government really is. Certainly its rule of law is preferrable to endless chaos. Granted Syrian rule of law, like in many nations, is not as strong as what we have in the West. Though ours is currently under massive assault and a significant roll back appears inevitable. Put away the party crackers. we can’t make time stand still, therefore no celebration yet.

    As for Assad’s government, in the overall scheme of things is it really any worse than any other government the area has ever seen? From the Assyrian Empire to the Ottoman Turks it’s been a rough area. Likely modern Syria has provided the best government yet. Perhaps peaceful progression could have seen further improvements. Undoubtedly destabilizing the country is no way forward. Shame on those troublemakers in Arabia, Qatar, Israel and the West for enacting another Iraq blueprint.

    1. Banger

      Look more deeply into history. That region has mainly done rather well under various empires particularly the Ottomans and certainly under most of the Caliphates where life was infinitely better there than in primitive and constantly warring Europe. There was relative peace and prosperity except toward the end of their rule, which made the shock of domination of Western Powers after WWI all the more shocking and disruptive and explains the growth of radical Islam from a rather moderate religion to something quite different.

  6. Banger

    I think you are right. Indeed the whole apparatus of the War Party is in full flight calling in all the chips. The other day I monitored CNN and MSNBC as they are good indicators of USG attitudes and they were radically pro-war and Amanpour was practically foaming at the mouth–and Engle at MSNBC was in full dudgeon (the Syrian people have been let down blah blah) at the announcement that Obama would delay a strike and wait for Congress. Goebbles lives on in those two journos for sure.

    If the mainstream media is solidly behind war then there is no hope to avoid military action. If, however, there are significant holes in the media and alternative voices like Ron Paul of Rep. Alan Grayson are allowed to speak freely and regularly then there could be trouble for the War Party.

    The good part, military action or not, is that we will see more clearly the real division between the de-facto ruling party (the War Party) which is an amalgam of Wall-Stret, pro-war, pro-Empire, pro-National Security State, anti-labor but socially progress ive Democrats and their counterparts in the Republican Party who have identical positions except in being more culturally conservative and even more anti-labor and anti-minorities to boot. This real party that agrees on the vast majority of issues includes the major corporations, the FIRE and MIC sectors and of course Big Medicine. On the other side is the miniscule anti-authoritarian left and the much larger anti-authoritarian right. This movement is more grass-roots and is the only movement, to my mind, that counts as opposition. The more these forces unite and make common cause, the better. Hopefully this might encourage pro-Obama progressives to question their support of this Center-right President.

    1. from Mexico

      This confrontation between Grayson and MSNBC’s Alex Witt goes to show just how unabashedly biased the media is:


      Grayson, much to his credit, keeps his kool in the face of all Witt’s histrionics, and despite all the intimidation manages to get his point across.

      1. Banger

        This “attack mode” is meant to be a message to members of Congress that this is the treatment they’ll get if they don’t toe the line. We have to remember that, at this point in history, the mainstream media in the U.S. is virtually State-controlled.

      2. Malmo

        Grayson did a marvelous job in explaing why the US has no business embarking on military action. However, for every Grayson there are hundreds of war hawks in the establishment media and in congress in a never ending propaganda stream of misinformation. The primamry meme floating on televison from these hawks is that America’s credibilty would be irreparably damaged if congress votes down Obama’s authorization to strike Syria. But does any reasoanble person belive that? If anything, a vote against military intervention would endear the US to most of the world, and also most Americans.

        Like Grayson said, military intervention is clearly uncalled for here. It is so self evident that I can’t belive this needs to be debated. Like Yves said last week, the feeling of frustration and powerlessness over these matters really becomes acute in situations like this where the vast majority of nations/people say no intervention and yet the supposedly democratic body that represents them, again seems on track to turns a blind eye to their desires. Shame of all shames.

        And one more thing. This has all the earmarks of a false flag. In fact I have not seen one bit of compelling, objective evidence brought forth implicating Assad or his minions other than the words of self serving politicians, especially that blowhard Kerry. Given the sordid track record of our hyper surveillance state agents, I’m sorry, but I don’t believe a goddam thing they tell us. In fact I’m inclined to conclude they’re lying as soon as their collective mouths start moving.

        1. Crazy Horse

          In the age of the Imperial National Security State there is one fairly reliable means of ascertaining truth.

          If the Government and the MSM both assert it forcefully it is likely a lie. Works 99% of the time. On that basis I conclude that until it is concisely proven otherwise the chemical attacks were either largely fabricated or carried out by our AL-Qaeda allies as a false flag exercise to provide an excuse for enlarging the war.

          Using the same logic, if I’m told that Assad is an evil monster far worse than Hitler I suspect that he is just another strongman no worse that many we have praised as allies in the past.

          Using the same smell test does provide a good starting point for replacing the official account of 911 with one that is in accord with the laws of physics and probability—.

          1. Banger

            It’s more than that. The statements and assertion made by American officials and echoed by everyone in the State including the courtier class (“journalists”) are false because they are totally unreasonable and Orwellian lies in almost every detail. The shocking part of all this is that it isn’t a question of nuance–these are gross distortions of the truth and this is routine. The assertions of the State are utterly impossible to defend yet the American intellectual class will not attack the state, not on matters of politics, but on matters of the truth.

  7. Montanamaven

    This is perhaps the best article I’ve read on Syria and the one that made the most sense to my rancher husband. We understand the ramifications of drought here. Just last night we were talking to a sheep rancher that was contemplating selling more sheep if we don’t get any rain this month.
    All of our meddling has thrown thousands of refugees into Syria as farmers are driven from the land into cities due to drought. Every where in this area the people like people here are questioning spending money on war instead of on the people. They are ahead of us in taking the discussion to the streets. What could have been an attempt at a more peaceful revolution has turned into another nightmare like Iraq and Libya due to our stupid military meddling. This foolish idea of humanitarian imperialism must be called out. Start with demanding resignations.

    1. Lambert Strether

      +1000. Kudos to Dayen for teasing the drought/climate thread out of the mass of mis- and disinformation (and the article it comes from is a massive though genteel shredding, too).

  8. diptherio

    By asking for just about everything, the Administration put themselves in the position to “give” something back to Congress and make a deal on those terms…

    So Obomba does know how to negotiate, go figure! Gee, I wonder why he didn’t use this strategy with healthcare or the recurring debt debates? It’s almost like he doesn’t want to win those ones. But that’s probably just me being cynical…

  9. allcoppedout

    Parliament voted against our full participation. What has surprised me is the Government line on a further vote – which seems to be no. Could it be that Cameron and his oily friends know something they can’t make public and are privately relieved to have an excuse to give to those who must be obeyed?

    We seem to be fighting for the very stuff we burn that causes the climate change coming to screw us and already screwing some. There are fewer filthy-rich than people already killed in Syria. They claim expertise in running the show. I’ve come to think Tank Man from Tioman Square had less reason to be scared of the driver of that Chinese tank than we are of our own.

    I’d say to David that this is a more economics-based post than anything in the BoE archives. It’s time to sequestrate wealth and put it into a new modular economy based on new forms of energy.

    1. Banger

      Interesting. I found Cameron’s stance on giving up so easily after being obnoxiously vociferous particularly since the vote was so close. What gives? I find UK politics confusing.

      What is the media saying there? In the U.S. it is 24/7 highly vociferous and even hysterical pro-war propaganda. I’m stunned at the edginess of the attitudes reflected on our cable news channels–very much in the Goebbles tradition.

      1. ian

        Camerons stance is easily explained. He is the one who really is smart, as opposed to someone who plays smart on TV. He was in the same bind as Obama with his red line – he saw which way the British public felt. He got his out when parliament voted against it and is probably privately breathing a sigh of relief.

      2. NotTimothyGeithner

        I think the final vote may have reflected coalition voting with a significant defection from the Tories, and the Lib Dems are largely in a position to form a coalition because Labour didn’t denounce Tony Blair.

        I don’t know much about the Lib Dems themselves who strike me as largely being happy to be in office, but MPs don’t have the phalanx of staff, reality tv, and well-wishers between them and the constituents that Congressmen have. My guess is Cameron was forced into a situation where the coalition would appear stable but provide him with sufficient embarrassment to keep him away from the Syrian non-sense. The Labour whip tweeting his whip count seemed stunned at the Tory support for non-intervention.

      3. Synopticist

        The UK media is overwhelmingly pro-intervention, even more than in the US.

        The BBC and the Guardian are probably the very worst. The contrast in their coverage between Syria and the war in Iraq is so stark and surreal that I have difficulty in discussing it without getting angry.

  10. barrisj

    In the modern era, US presidents ask for and treat an “AUMF” as an a priori equivalent for prosecuting a war as defined by international law, despite complete and total failure to obtain UNSC resolution or approval of such actions, and no matter how much a violation of the established order such a response would be.
    It is telling that the hard-sell for attacking Syria is now being directed at Congress and the (US) public, NOT the UN or even Nato, because Obama knows that to gain his “AUMF” from Congress simply frees him from international constraints, and he can send in his drones, Special Ops, Cruise missiles, etc., the Full Monty of US military capability, without hesitation and with “moral clarity” and “adherence to the Constitution”, sod world opinion. “Rogue Nation” indeed.

  11. rich

    Obama Has Decided That It Is Safer To Buy Congress Than To Go It Alone — Paul Craig Roberts
    September 1, 2013 | Categories: Articles & Columns | Tags: craig roberts, | Print This Article Print This Article

    Obama Has Decided That It Is Safer To Buy Congress Than To Go It Alone

    Paul Craig Roberts

    While still claiming dictatorial powers to start a war on his own authority, Obama put his unilateral attack on Syria on hold when he received a letter from more than 160 members of the House of Representatives reminding him that to take the country to war without congressional approval is an impeachable offense and when he saw that no country that could serve as cover for a war crime, not even the puppet British government and the NATO puppet states, would support America’s announced military aggression against Syria.

    Obama got away with attacking Libya without an OK from Congress, because he used Washington’s NATO puppets and not US military forces. That ploy let Obama claim that the US was not directly involved.

    Now that the lack of cover and the challenge from Congress has caused the would-be tyrant Obama to put on hold his attack on Syria, what can we expect?


    1. Crazy Horse

      As if the approval of a pack of Congresswhores changes the morality of the use of weapons of mass destruction against a nation and people who have not threatened or attacked the USA.

      1. Lambert Strether

        Please don’t compare politicians to whores; it’s insulting to whores. (Too lazy to find the link to the TV interview with the Lady of Negotiable Affection in the now-long-forgotten Secret Service scandal in Cartagena, but she was way smarter and more sensible than any of the officials or politicians involved. I didn’t see then, and don’t see now, why she shouldn’t run for President of Columbia.)

  12. Kim Kaufman

    Great piece. Information and analysis I haven’t seen anywhere else. I agree, Congress will tweak the authorization and then feel really important and useful – and vote for it. This is just another disaster foisted on the world by the corrupt morons running this country. Could John Kerry sound more idiotic?

    1. charles sereno

      Latest news: Congressional leaders support President
      TINA. OK guys, get a good night’s sleep, and remember, when we enter the arena, we’re competing with the Falklands for top ranking.

  13. Timothy Gawne

    Kudos for mentioning demographics.

    According to wikipedia, in 1994 the population of Syria was 13.7 million. In 2011 it was 21.1 million. Does adding more people automatically increase the water supply in arid countries?

    We should be careful when we blame droughts. There has always been weather, and there will always be years with more rain than others. When population is modest and well below the carrying capacity of the land, such normal variations in the weather will be at most a minor inconvenience. When population pushes up against the limits, any downturn is a catastrophe. Blaming the weather for not always being perfect seems, perhaps, somewhat disrespectful of reality…

    “The spirit of benevolence, cherished and invigorated by plenty, is repressed by the chilling breath of want. The hateful passions that had vanished reappear. The mighty law of self-preservation expels all the softer and more exalted emotions of the soul. The temptations to evil are too strong for human nature to resist. The corn is plucked before it is ripe, or secreted in unfair proportions, and the whole black train of vices that belong to falsehood are immediately generated. Provisions no longer flow in for the support of the mother with a large family. The children are sickly from insufficient food. The rosy flush of health gives place to the pallid cheek and hollow eye of misery. Benevolence, yet lingering in a few bosoms, makes some faint expiring struggles, till at length self-love resumes his wonted empire and lords it triumphant over the world.” – Thomas Malthus.

  14. TC

    To the Congressional caucus representing al Qaeda:

    That quaint relic we call the Declaration of Independence? Well, it served to unite a diverse American opposition to British colonial tyranny and in fact has been instrumental to the United States taking the moral high ground at several critical moments for well over 200 years now. So, before any of you choose to be subversives to the proven means by which an opposition gains “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” and throw your support behind bearded fundamentalists who couldn’t fly a kite, let alone jet aircraft crashed in coordinated military fashion into buildings located in the two most protected cities on the planet (and this for at least the last 50 years), why don’t you grow a pair and insist this so-called “opposition” in Syria first produce a declaration any American could respect, and do this because this newfangled internet thingie has made many of your constituents well enough informed to reasonably suspect the Saudis, not Assad, launched the chemical attack of August 21, 2013.

    Sans this, the “bail in” of hopelessly insolvent casinos masquerading as banks that the escalating war in the Middle East intends to provide smokescreen for is sure to end your political life, that is if your treason backing the CIA’s Arab Foreign Legion in Syria (i.e. al Qaeda) does not.

  15. Doug Terpstra

    AIPAC-sponsored hearings are currently in progress in the US Knesset. The foregone conclusion will be announced after careful deliberation.

    1. Malmo

      Couldn’t watch them but for a few minutes. This is an absolutely nauseating display. This will be a salm dunk, period. I am beginning to think these tools really do want WWIII.

      1. Doug Terpstra

        Same here. It’s like watching a travesty of a farce of a mockery of a sham of a charade.

        This is the neo-Roman Senate inaction, a rubber-stamp committee like FISA and the Supine Court, ostensibly obeisant to a puppet emperor, who ultimately subservient to the oligarchy represented by AIPAC. It is democracy theater, hot-air lip service. The Unholy Trinity of Israel, USA, and Saudi Arabia is attempting to manufacture consent, but in the end, they’ll get their war for the gas pipeline and Eretz Israel regardless. Furthermore, if against all odds, the US Knesset does not authorize war crimes to proceed, then additional atrocities will be staged as necessary. It is disgusting and despicable.

  16. ian

    Excellent comments on the strategy adopted by the administration in the draft legislation. The moment I heard members of congress make noises about amending it, I figured it was in the tank for Obama. Its a given that he will get his little war.
    I can’t wait to see the amended legislation – I’m sure it will have funding for a couple of libraries named for congressmen, studies on the love life of ants, etc…
    I can’t recall ever being this disgusted.

  17. Malmo

    Are we relying on foreign intelligence exclusively or is this US generated intelligence in part? I’ll answer. We are being fed most of this intelligence from other entities and our intelligence agencies are sythesizing it to make its case for military action. I want to see with my own eyes exactly what the evidence consists of, and how it was gathered. I want an independent’impartial analysis. I don’t want to rely on our imperial military industrial complex whores. They are shameless liars, no? But no matter how it shakes out I don’t want to see military action. Enough.

  18. NotTimothyGeithner

    Since the lunatic in the White House has already made it clear he doesn’t care about Congressional approval and Congress will not defund the military, I think its almost better Congress does this so there is a practical demonstration of how corrupt and rotted Washington really is.

  19. Hugh

    Syria is an example of, not the failed, but failing state. These are not states with significant but remediable problems. They are simply slowly collapsing. In the coming years, we will see a lot more of this.

    Obama completely blew the roll out of the initial case for war. It was terse, arrogant, and with virtually no evidence behind it. It was the act of an emperor who could barely be bothered with announcing it to the serfs. It was a total misread of the publics and lawmakers both here and abroad. If they are going to be lied to, they would like to see some minimal effort put into those lies. The appeal to Congress for “authorization”, which the Administration was quick to add was not needed, gives Obama the time to present/fabricate this evidence and a venue for it to be presented and validated in, the Congress. This counteracts the rejection of support in the British Parliament, allows time to bring up a carrier to make up for any losses in force projection that the British and their bases might have added, and gives Obama an opportunity to push for another AUMF which can and will be interpreted, regardless of its content, to permit largely unchecked Presidential actions in the future.

    We can already see the process by which “evidence” that was looked on as highly dubious only a few days ago is taking on the aura of solid intel.

    One final note: the Progressive Caucus is a joke, a very bad joke. There are no progressives in the Congress, zero, nada, not one. The Progressive Caucus is just Democratic kayfabe meant to fool the liberal wing of the party. No one should ever take them seriously on anything anytime anywhere.

    1. ian

      Arrogant? Yes, but it’s worse than that.
      As pointed out in the article it was a shrewd move to present an initial draft that barely stopped short of crowning Obama emperor. Congress will re-write it, they will probably put all kinds of nonsensical riders and earmarks into it, and they will feel self-satisfied that they ‘fixed’ it, and then vote for it. Clever on the administrations part, but the American people aren’t well served when the system is gamed simply to launch a war that is not in our interest.
      Its also designed to further divide the GOP – the tip off was Axelrods gleeful tweet about this being like the ‘dog that caught the car’ and how much he was going to enjoy watching this. There is something truly disgusting about gaming something this serious for the sake of domestic partisan politics.
      A side note: remember Yve’s post a week ago or so musing about the feeling that this might be the lull before some storm? Well……

  20. Malmo

    I would appreciate a link from someone here (I can’t find any info anywhere) that shows where the intelligence was gathered and by whom–or is the declassified material only to be seen by our legislators and then disseminated to the people throught their collective and biased lens?

  21. John Yard

    I have been following off and on the situation in Syria since the 1960’s. My Arabic is quite rusty, and I have no
    special current information about the chemical attacks.

    However , I have read many comments wondering why the Assad regime would commit these horrible crimes. The answer is simple. The regime is supported by a coalition of Alawite Muslims, Syrian Christians , and a small wealthy economic elite. At best , this is less then 30% of the population.

    The regime commits crimes to bind this coalition together.
    The idea is, if the regime falls , all fall together , because all have blood on their hands. The Turks used the Kurds in the Armenian genocide in the same fashion.

    By the way , I support the President’s proposed military

    1. Hugh

      With 100,000 dead, the blood on their hands strategy has been a done deal for months. So your argument doesn’t scan.

    2. Banger

      The issue is not whether or not Assad has blood on his hands–certainly he does as did his father. The question is whether or not Assad would perform an the irrational act of gassing a neighborhood 10 miles from where the U.N. inspectors were staying when he could have just slaughtered them in the old-fashioned way.

      You have three choices: 1) Assad and his staff are irrational; 2) elements of forces loyal to him acted on their own for whatever reasons–anger, or being paid by the Gulf States; or 3) this was a false-flag operation.

      Choice one is unlikely in my view but it is the one you accept without mentioning that Assad has everything to lose by using that weapon–remember I’m not saying he isn’t a slaughter of human beings. Choice two is the next most likely and choice three is the most likely because the “rebels” have the most to gain–they are in a no-win situation without military help from the U.S./NATO.

      The fact you don’t understand this makes me question your knowledge of politics–I could be wrong but I suspect you accept media propaganda (as you perhaps did in the lead up to the Iraq War).

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