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“Obama Again Gets The Last Laugh Against Putin”: Republicans Putting Their Praise For The Russian Leader On Hold Once More

By late 2014, Republican affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin was on the wane. After months of gushing praise for the autocratic leader, American conservatives saw Putin struggling and isolated, prompting his GOP fan club in the United States to fall quiet.

That is, until a few months ago, when the Russian president deployed forces to Syria, rekindling the American right’s love. Republican White House hopefuls once again praised Putin’s bold “leadership,” as did like-minded pundits. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin argued, “In taking this action just days after meeting with President Obama, Putin is delivering one more finger in the eye of a president whom he continues to out-wit and out-muscle.”

Remind me, how’s that working out for the Russian president?

Putin had hoped his late September intervention would kick off a decisive three-month offensive producing major territorial gains for the Syrian regime, according to Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. […]

[I]ndependent experts see trouble signs for the Russian president, including a surprisingly stiff response from Syrian rebel fighters.

The Politico piece quoted the Israeli defense minister saying about Putin’s military offensive, “It seems to be a failure.”

Bloomberg also reported this week that Russian officials “underestimated” what the mission entailed. Putin expected the offensive to last a few months, but officials in Moscow are now left to hope “it won’t last several years.”

And who predicted this exact outcome? That would be President Obama and his administration’s foreign-policy team. From the Politico piece:

…Obama officials increasingly offer a “told-you-so” line towards Putin’s intervention, which caught the White House off guard when it began in late September. At the time, Obama warned that Putin risked getting caught in a quagmire abroad while courting terrorism at home. […]

Now Putin confronts a stalemated battlefield and, according to some sources, tensions with his allies on the ground in a Syrian war theater that U.S. officials liken to a concert mosh pit.

And wouldn’t you know it, many of the American conservatives who thought Putin was the tough, strategic mastermind, showing that rascally Obama who’s boss, have again decided to lay low, putting their praise for the Russian leader on hold once more.

The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote two months ago, “[T]oday’s reigning cliche is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart…. Putin stupidly went into Syria looking for a cheap sugar high to show his people that Russia is still a world power.”

Friedman was right. More importantly, so was the Obama White House. Republicans, meanwhile, who always seem to assume military adventures in the Middle East will turn out well, were not.

It’s a familiar dynamic, isn’t it?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 11, 2015

December 13, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans, Syria, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Will The House GOP Stop The War on ISIS?”: If You Hamper The War Effort Of One Side, You Automatically Help That Of The Other

So here, with Congress now trying to figure out what to do about President Obama’s request for funding for the Syrian rebels, we have a glimpse, as rare in its way as an eclipse or a meteor shower, of two Republican pathologies colliding head-on. The first is their biological urge to oppose Obama on all matters. The second is the House Republicans’ chronic eleventh-hour melodramatics about keeping the government funded every September. I could throw in a third—John McCain’s ever-mounting and ever-more-obvious personal bitterness toward Obama—but we’ll lay him aside for today and focus on this joining of the two pathologies, which in the worst-case scenario threatens to derail Obama’s anti-ISIS campaign before it even starts.

Fast background: Congress has to pass a continuing resolution by September 30 or we’ll have a government shutdown again. Actually, in practical terms, it has to pass it within the next few days, because the Jewish holidays are coming and Congress is going on recess so members can go back home and campaign.

In an election year, no one on the GOP side wants to risk a government shutdown (check that—Ted Cruz still kind of does!). The two parties are mostly arguing about the Export-Import Bank, the newest piece of coal for the tea party fire, but that’s the kind of thing they usually agree at the last minute to extend for another six months.

But that was the pre-ISIS state of play. Then we all saw the beheading videos, and fighting the Islamic State became a matter of urgency. Obama had asked Congress for $500 million in aid to the Syrian rebels back in June, but Congress, in its laconic, congressional way, was originally going to wait until next year to get around to that. But now the administration wants that $500 million—which is actually part of a larger $2 billion request that would include other money for operations in Iraq and Ukraine—to be passed now. And it wants it included in the “CR,” as they call it.

As you probably know, the House Republicans met Thursday morning in the aftermath of Obama’s speech to figure out how to proceed. As you probably also know, they didn’t figure it out. Some support Obama’s request—John Boehner does, and the relevant committee chairmen. Others, of course, don’t trust Obama. Some want to keep the Syria money in the CR. Others want to pry it out and have two votes, one on government funding and one on the Syria dough.

What would be the point of this? There is no point. Long Island Republican Peter King said something in Politico about how “it sends a stronger message” if it’s a separate vote, which is nonsense. Can you picture Bashar al-Assad sitting in Damascus talking with a top aide and saying, “Well, I don’t think $500 million is a serious amount of money,” and the aide says, “Gee, boss, I don’t know, I mean, they passed it on a separate vote”?

Please. The only reason to have a separate vote is to diddle the White House around. “Assert congressional prerogative” is the more euphemistic way to put it, but I can guarantee you that if President Romney were asking for this money, the only thing Republicans would be debating would be how many times they could each vote yea. Similarly, the shocking demand among some Republicans for greater action—for ground troops, even—is equally hypocritical. If Obama had proposed ground troops, they’d be hyperventilating about how scandalous it was of him to want to send our troops into harm’s way. They’re just looking for a hook—the handiest excuse to oppose Obama that they can find.

Obviously, passing the $500 million in the quickest way possible is what sends the strongest “message,” as if anyone even cares about such messages. What matters is that the money gets authorized. If the House Republicans pull it out of the resolution and make it a free-standing vote that will happen later, then all that accomplishes is that it gives talk-radio land and the conservative Twittersphere a few days to badger Republicans about casting a pro-Obama vote (and right before an election). And if that happens, and the right finds some excuse to work itself into a lather over this, Boehner may just decide that the easiest thing is to send them home without voting on Syria at all.

In one of his more famous essays, “Pacifism and the War,” George Orwell wrote that pacifism “is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other.” Orwell was writing of course about World War II, which I concede this is not (although I submit that it would be nice to see similar rhetorical restraint from the Republicans, who never tire of invoking Munich when they’re harping on Obama for not being tough enough). But if it isn’t World War II, neither is it the last Iraq War, which was completely unprovoked and based on lies. ISIS has killed Americans, and its threat to the region is clear and obvious. The Islamic State is evil by any measure. House Republicans may not trust the president and may prefer to see all this done differently. But without going as far as Orwell did (he later walked back the essay, after all) we can fairly ask if they want to have done nothing to check the Islamic State’s march.

I actually don’t think it will come to that. Even so, if I were a moderate Syrian Sunni, I wouldn’t be putting in orders for any tactical ballistic missiles just yet.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 12, 2014

September 14, 2014 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, ISIS | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Is A War Crime”: The U.N.’s Syria Report Strengthens President Obama’s Hand

United Nations inspectors confirmed Monday that hundreds of Syrians who died in an Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus were killed with sarin nerve gas.

The highly anticipated U.N. report marks the first official conclusion by independent scientists that the victims had been gassed. “The findings are beyond doubt and beyond the pale,” Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said. “This is a war crime.”

Neither Ban nor the U.N. inspectors would say who committed the atrocity — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels fighting to topple him have accused each other.

The Obama administration and its allies, however, jumped on the findings, saying that only Assad forces had the capacity to carry out such a massive attack with chemical weapons — bolstering their push for a strong U.N. resolution to quickly seize and destroy Syria’s stockpile of deadly gases.

“The regime possesses sarin, and we have no evidence that the opposition possesses sarin,” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told CNN.

The U.N. inspectors, who visited the scene of the attack, also found rocket fragments indicating that the nerve gas had been delivered with two types of artillery-launched rocket — the M14 and the 330mm. Assad’s military has these big guns; the rebels don’t.

Furthermore, arms experts doubt that opposition fighters have the expertise to use these rocket launchers effectively, even if they have captured some from Assad’s army. “It’s hard to say with certainty that the rebels don’t have access to these delivery systems,” Dina Esfandiary, a chemical weapons expert, tells Britain’s Telegraph. “But even if they do, using them in such a way as to ensure that the attack was successful is the bit the rebels won’t know how to do.”

The timing of the U.N.’s assessment works in President Obama’s favor. The U.S. has just reached an agreement with Russia for the international community to take control of Assad’s stockpile — estimated at 1,000 tons of sarin, mustard gas, and other poisons — by the middle of next year. Secretary of State John Kerry is demanding a U.N. resolution that will leave open the option of using force if Assad doesn’t fulfill his promise to hand over his chemical arsenal, and the U.N. report will make it easier to rally other nations behind a get-tough approach.

If the Security Council fails to reach a deal, and Assad doesn’t hand over his chemical weapons, the issue could be thrust back into the hands of Congress, which was debating whether to authorize Obama to order missile strikes against Syria when the unexpected diplomatic push put military action on hold. The U.N. report gives Obama outside evidence to present to reluctant lawmakers to back up his accusations against Assad.


By: Harold Maass, The Week, September 16, 2013

September 17, 2013 Posted by | Syria | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Regrettable Indeed”: John McCain’s Allies In Syria Are Suspected Terrorist’s Who’ve Sworn Allegiance To Al Qaeda

A couple of weeks ago, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was stressing his position for U.S. policy in Syria: the senator wants the U.S. to provide Syrian rebels with extensive support, including “heavy weapons.” ABC’s Martha Raddatz reminded the senator that some of these Syrian rebels are terrorist who’ve sworn their allegiance to al Qaeda.

McCain said it’s a “legitimate” question, but he wants to support them anyway. After all, he said, “there aren’t that many” terrorists among the Syrian rebels he wants to give “heavy weapons” to.

Just two weeks later, McCain quietly traveled to Syria, and his office distributed photos from his visit to news organizations. One image, in particular, has generated some unexpected attention.

Senator John McCain’s office is pushing back against reports that while visiting Syria this week he posed in a photo with rebels who kidnapped 11 Lebanese Shi’ite pilgrims.

The photo, released by McCain’s office, shows McCain with a group of rebels. Among them are two men identified in the Lebanese press as Mohamed Nour and Abu Ibrahim, two of the kidnappers of the group from Lebanon.

McCain’s office insists the senator was not aware that he’d met with Nour and Ibrahim — if they are, in fact, the men in the photograph — and they had not been identified as such during his trip. The spokesperson added that if McCain had unknowingly met with kidnappers, “that is regrettable.”

It is, indeed.

McCain’s office went on to tell BuzzFeed that it “would be ludicrous to suggest that the Senator in any way condones the kidnapping of Lebanese Shia pilgrims or has any communication with those responsible. Senator McCain condemns such heinous actions in the strongest possible terms.”

And to be clear, I don’t think anyone has suggested McCain is somehow sympathetic towards kidnappers. Rather, the point is the senator is eager to provide extensive resources to Syrian rebels, but he may not fully appreciate who his new allies are.

McCain added some additional thoughts on the subject last night.

When [Anderson Cooper] asked McCain how weapons would be prevented from falling into the hands of extremists, the senator said extremist fighters compose a small fraction of Syria’s rebel forces: 7,000 pro-al Qaeda fighters from the al-Nusra front among some 100,000 insurgents.

“Every single day, more and more extremists flow in … but they still do not make up a sizable portion,” McCain told Cooper. “We can identify who these people are. We can help the right people.”

Maybe, maybe not. But whether McCain can say with certainty who the “right people” are is very much in doubt.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 30, 2013

May 31, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , | 1 Comment


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