Executive Intelligence Review
This article appears in the September 26, 2014 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

Capitulation to Obama Will
Backfire on Congress

by Carl Osgood

[PDF version of this article]

Sept. 22—Last week, the House and Senate, in a maneuver designed to limit debate and discussion about Congress’s war-making powers vis-à-vis the President, gave initial approval to Obama’s plan to create, from the ground up, a Syrian opposition force of 5,000 “vetted” fighters to battle both the Assad regime and the Islamic State militants in Syria. Despite the large votes in favor of the plan in both the House and the Senate, there is little confidence in Washington that Obama’s strategy for “degrading and ultimately defeating” IS (a.k.a. ISIS or ISIL) can actually work. Over the past week, think-tank experts and political commentators of all stripes have blasted the policy, and military leaders, usually represented by retired generals, have spoken out against it. Even Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey has warned how difficult the strategy that Obama laid out will be to execute. Meanwhile, last week’s votes have done nothing to tamp down Congressional concerns, as shown by the clamor for a war authorization vote, after Congress returns on Nov. 12 for a post-election lame-duck session.

Feeding into the growing opposition is HR 428, the resolution sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) to declassify and release the suppressed 28 pages of the 2002 Congressional Joint Inquiry report into 9/11 which deals with the Saudi role in financing and supporting the hijackers. Seven members of the House have signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution since the Congress returned from its Summer recess on Sept. 8, bringing the total number to 17, in addition to Jones. The new signers include

  • Howard Coble (R-N.C.),
  • Mark Sanford (R-S.C.),
  • James McGovern (D-Mass.),
  • Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.),
  • William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.),
  • Vance McAllister (R-La.), and
  • Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).

The passage of HR 428 would be a useful first step to avoiding the disaster that Congress is otherwise marching toward by not stopping Obama’s alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to, in fact, perpetuate war throughout Southwest Asia and ultimately, the world, on behalf of the bankrupt British Empire. Decisive, and absolutely required, is the removal of British puppet Obama from office, for offenses already committed, including launching this illegal war that could lead to World War III.

Boehner Rigs the Vote

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) rigged the outcome on the Syria amendment by crafting a strategy, with the complicity of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), that would make it an amendment to a must-pass funding bill, SJR 124, to keep the government running past Sept. 30. This resulted in the bill going to the Senate with the Syria amendment already attached to it, making it much easier for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to ram it through the Senate without a separate vote on going to war. The legislation provides that only allegedly “vetted” members of the Syrian opposition are to be provided with “assistance,” but also that no additional funds were to be authorized (money is rather to be moved from other budget lines), and that the authorization will run out when the funding bill does, on Dec. 11.

The Sept. 17 vote in the House was indicative of the turmoil in Congress over Obama’s plan. Reportedly, neither the Republican nor Democratic leaderships were whipping members before the vote, indicating that they were confident of the outcome. They probably thought the 273-156 vote in favor of the Syria amendment justified their strategy, but the vote was, in fact, much closer than was expected. Rep. Walter Jones, a leading anti-war Republican, predicted that only 15 Republicans would vote “no” on the Syria amendment, yet there were actually 71 GOP “no” votes. The Democrats were also split, with 85 voting “no” as opposed to 112 “yea” votes. Even many of those who voted for the amendment apologetically explained that they had grave reservations, but believed they should “do something” to stop IS.

Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, in a Sept. 19 column on antiwar.com, explained that many members of Congress are nervous about relying on the “untrustworthy” Free Syrian Army (FSA), “the least effective force in [Syria’s] civil war.” Buchanan charged that the White House has no credible war plan, and that Obama “is not a war leader.” The FSA “is not even the JV [junior varsity].” The U.S. plan to train some rebels, he wrote, will simply ensure that the war will be unending.

Much of the opposition, however, was clearly influenced by the fight for the release of the 28 pages, even among those who have not stepped up to co-sponsor the resolution. Four House members explicitly attacked the role of Saudi Arabia in sponsoring terrorism, as a reason to reject the plan to train the 5,000 Syrian rebel fighters. These included Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), and Lloyd Dogget (D-Tex.).

SJR 124 then went to the floor of the Senate, under the conditions that Boehner had created for it, almost guaranteeing that it would pass by a large vote, which it did, 78-22, after four-and-a-half hours of debate. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) started the debate by moving that the Syria authorization be stripped out of the funding bill for a separate vote but was blocked. In a lengthy speech on the “insanity” of arming the Syrian rebels, he noted, among other things, that the recent history of the Middle East has seen secular dictators overthrown, and replaced with radical jihadists; and that numerous public reports are that ISIS gets much of its weaponry and funding from the Saudis, the Qataris, and other Gulf nations (see Documentation).

Congressional Opposition Mounts

Because of the Dec. 11 expiration date in both the Syria authorization and the funding bill, there will have to be another vote in the Congress before then. The notion that President Obama can go to war in Iraq, and perhaps even Syria, without Congressional authorization, doesn’t sit well with many members of Congress, however. Twelve members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter on Sept. 18, calling on Boehner and Pelosi to allow a vote on authorization for military operations in Iraq and, “if necessary, Syria.”

They wrote that the terms of H.C.R. 105, which prohibits the President from deploying U.S. troops to Iraq without specific statutory authorization, and which passed the House by a 370-40 vote on July 25, have been met, and that U.S. forces are now engaged in sustained combat operations. They noted that “there is an increasing bipartisan recognition that the time has come to take up and debate an authorization regarding US military operations in Iraq.”

(They could have also pointed out how Obama has violated the Constitution and the War Powers Act, the latter, by claiming he can put off the deadline for Congress to act by “restarting the clock” after every new deployment of missiles or troops.)

The 12 Members then ask Boehner and Pelosi to take the appropriate actions leading to a debate and a vote on an authorization. “We believe such a debate and vote is required, will enhance our national security and the ability of Congress and the executive to carry out U.S. foreign and defense policies abroad, will better safeguard our homeland, and will uphold the Constitutional and institutional responsibilities of the U.S. House of Representatives,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by six Democrats and Six Republicans:

  • James McGovern (D-Mass.),
  • Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.),
  • Barbara Lee (D-Calif.),
  • Richard Nugent (R-Fla.),
  • Paul Broun (R-Ga.),
  • Steve Stockman (R-Tex.),
  • John Garamendi (D- Calif.),
  • Peter Welch (D-Vt.),
  • Keith Ellison (D-Minn.),
  • John Lewis (D-Ga.), and
  • John Duncan (R-Tenn.).

The Administration argues that it can go to war on the basis of the 2001 Authorization to Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and the 2002 Iraq War resolution. Secretary of State John Kerry got hammered on this, during a Sept. 17 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (which he used to chair). When Chairman Robert Mendendez (D-N.J.) told him that a new authorization was needed, Kerry replied that the Administration “would want that to happen, but we won’t make our actions dependent on that, but we’ll be happy to work with you on that.”

Ranking Republican Bob Corker (Tenn.) told Kerry that he, President Obama, and Vice President Biden are exercising “terrible judgment,” in refusing to go to Congress. He also expressed his judgment that the plan to train 5,000 Syrian opposition fighters in Saudi Arabia looks “unserious,” is “unrealistic” and doesn’t match the rhetoric of the Administration. “You’re asking us to approve something that makes no sense,” he said.

The plan doesn’t make any sense to West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin either, as he made clear during the Sept. 16 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, at which Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and JSC Chairman Dempsey testified. Manchin told the witnesses that he can’t explain Obama’s strategy to his constituents so that it makes any sense to them, and that the question he hears everywhere is “What do you expect to be different than what you’ve done in that region of the world for 13 years? If money or military might hasn’t changed it, what makes you think you can change it now?” The plan, Machin said, “makes no sense to me. And I can’t sell it. I’ve tried all my—you can’t sell this stuff. And no one believes the outcome will be any different.”

The Military Speaks Out

Dempsey set the tone for much of the military commentary that followed when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in the Sept. 16 hearing that the policy that Obama has seemingly set in stone, that is, no combat forces on the ground in Iraq, could be changed. Firstly, he told the committee that what he and Hagel were presenting was “an ISIL first strategy.” Secondly, he made the point that if conditions on the ground changed such that he thought U.S. troops, even if limited to a handful of advisors or special forces troops calling in airstrikes, were necessary, he would make that recommendation to the President. He noted that Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. Central Command, agreed with him.

Two days later, retired Gen. James Mattis, Austin’s immediate predecessor at Centcom, told the House Intelligence Committee that it made no sense for Obama to announce ahead of time that U.S. ground troops would not be involved. “Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility,” he said. “We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground.”

Even less charitable was former Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway (ret.). “I don’t think the President’s plan has a snowball’s chance in Hell of succeeding,” he is reported to have said at a conference in Washington on Sept. 19. A source at the conference told the Daily Caller that Conway’s major concern was that the U.S. did not have a force on the ground in Syria it could rely on, comparable to the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq.

Dempsey told reporters traveling with him to Paris for meetings with his French counterpart, on Sept. 19, that it could take up to 12 months to create a viable Syrian opposition force, and 3 or 4 months just to get the program started, reported the Associated Press. Dempsey said that before training can even start, the U.S. and certain allies must screen potential candidates in Syria for competence and loyalty. Initially, they will be provided small arms and other light weaponry, Dempsey said, but that could graduate to more sophisticated weaponry “once we know what’s in their hearts.” This timeline, confirmed by Pentagon press secretary R. Adm. John Kirby later that day, is not likely to increase the confidence among fence-sitters that Obama’s strategy has any hope of succeeding.

A Real Strategy

As many commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have pointed out, the only sane policy for moving to wipe out the Islamic State is the formation of an alliance between the Western nations and the relevant powers that oppose it—Iran, Syria, and Russia. While there continue to be a string of intelligence leaks that the U.S. military is coordinating with the Syrians through third parties, including Russia, the fact remains that the British-directed Obama strategy specifically calls for continued warfare against the Assad government.

Among the most trenchant, and truthful, attacks on the Obama strategy was that by former Reagan director of the Office of Management and Budget David Stockman. In a Sept. 19 article on his blog, Stockman blasts the “utter folly” of Obama’s plan. Obama has chosen as his allies the Saudis and other Arab Gulf states, which maintain their own brand of barbaric medievalism, while demonizing Iran, Stockman admonishes. By doing so, Obama and his neocon pals are removing “the one real political and military barrier to the expansionist ambitions of the Islamic State—the so-called ‘Shiite Crescent’ of Iran, the Assad regime in Syria, and Hezbollah.” As for the Free Syrian Army, Stockman notes, these “moderates” have “announced a truce with ISIS, on the grounds that their real enemy resides in Damascus, not Raqqah.”

While the U.S. military, including General Dempsey, have declaimed against an outright alliance with Syria’s elected government, they have repeatedly talked about a “deconfliction” policy, which apparently means just the kind of behind-the-scenes cooperation being hinted at in the press.

To get a more effective policy than that, the prerequisite, Lyndon LaRouche has insisted, is that not just Obama’s strategy, but Obama himself needs to be removed.

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