Saturday, August 31, 2013



Three Reasons Congress May Not Approve War In Syria

Obama has challenged Congress to approve action in Syria, it’s a challenge Congress may not be able to meet
Pelosi Boehner
SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images
Speaker of the House John Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi in Washington on May 15, 2013
Nearly 1,500 are dead in the worst chemical attack in the 21st Century, including hundreds of children. A red line has been crossed and America’s prestige and credibility at stake, not just in Syria but for any rogue nation looking to challenge the United States: Iran, North Korea, Venezuela. But getting Congress to approve even limited action in Syria, as President Obama asked them to do today, is going to be tough.
Here are three reasons why:
Weak House: The House tried and failed several times to get war authorization through on Libya. They  gave up trying when U.S. military action there ended. And Libya had the backing of the United Nations, NATO and the UK. Getting something through the House on Syria will be even harder than passing approval on Libya. With Libya, there was only moderate public interest in the Congressional machinations, since the authorization was retroactive given that President Obama had already approved U.S. involvement. This time around, all eyes will be on the House and the pressure will be intense. There’s a reason House Speaker John Boehner didn’t call on Obama to seek a vote of approval for action in Syria: This was one nightmare he was keen to avoid.
Splits both parties: Remember the 2004 election when President George W. Bush went around scaring folks about how Democrats were weak on defense? The days where Iraq and Afghanistan were partisan issues have gone. Washington has reverted to a foreign policy more akin to President Clinton’s days where both parties split on intervention. Now, as it was in the 1990′s, you have Democratic doves aligning with isolationist Libertarians. They face off against Republican Hawks and Democratic bleeding hearts. This makes whipping votes complicated, to say the least. It also makes Syria less of a partisan issue, which is the way going to war used to be. By throwing this to Congress, Obama is basically challenging all the backbenchers who have been vociferous in their criticism in the last 10 days—Liberals fearing another Iraq, Hawks saying we need to go farther on regime change—to stand up, be heard and unite behind a military action. It will likely be chaotic. Already two Republican Senate hawks, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, have announced they will not vote to authorize force in Syria unless Obama commits to an “an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the President’s stated goal of Assad’s removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict.” The White House has previously argued that there is no acceptable military solution for the civil war in Syria.
Unpopular: Polls show most Americans don’t want to see any kind of intervention in Syria, so if Congress votes to support this, they will be going against their constituents’ wishes, which is never easy especially for those up for reelection. Members are going to have to defend the intelligence and make the case to their supporters why it’s important to do this. To that end, a limited engagement is better, as they can make the argument that this isn’t the beginning of another decade of war.
Obama has a tough lift in the coming weeks convincing Congress—and the American people—to support his decision. He’ll have some allies to help him: Surely the American Israel Public Affairs Committee will help whip a vote, since having a failed state on the Israeli border isn’t appealing and the next looming red line is Iran. But that doesn’t make victory a sure bet.  Obama won his office, after all, arguing for withdrawal from the Middle East. Now he has set up a situation where his presidency—and the reputation of Congress—could be harmed if Congress does not approve more intervention.

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Going to congress doesn't change the merits of the argument

by digby

Just a note to say that while I'm glad the president has decided to get congressional authorization --- it is a necessary concession to democratic principles --- it does not change my calculus about the wisdom of bombing Syria. I've thought a lot about this since the war with Iraq, when I made arguments repeatedly about "norms" and just war theory and constitutional requirements and the necessity of UN approval.  And I realized later that it was all a dodge on a certain level.  Yes, international norms are important as are our adherence to treaties and constitutional obligations.  But they don't trump the fact that it is unwise to take certain actions even if all those conditions are met.

I do not think it makes sense to bomb Syria on the merits,regardless of who approves it.  I think the US is needlessly running into a buzzsaw and may very likely make things worse. In my view, the correct approach for the US is energetic diplomacy with an eye toward pulling Russia and China away from their positions and getting the other Middle Eastern countries to put pressure on Assad. We have become dependent on the idea that bombing and killing is the only way to affect change despite the evidence that it doesn't work any better than using other approaches. The US has a lot of power and influence aside from an ability to launch cruise missiles.  I think we've gotten tremendously uncreative. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.



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Welfare Reform Insanity: Banning Convicted Drug Offenders from Food Stamps for Life

The lifetime ban on food stamps affects many other people besides the felon, particularly children who could face hunger as a result.
Victoria Sutherland is a 34-year-old mother of one and a former manager of a McDonalds in Sacramento. She has a drug conviction on her record from an incident in Portland, Oregon 13 years ago, when she lied to police and said her friend’s drugs actually belonged to her. Though she has served her sentence, because of her drug conviction, Sutherland is now banned from accessing food stamps for the rest of her life. 
“I’m now living with my five-month-old son in a homeless shelter,” Sutherland told AlterNet. 
As a result of welfare reform , enacted 17 years ago this month, Sutherland and other poor Americans in 12 states are banned from accessing food stamps because they have made mistakes with drugs at some point in their past. While Sutherland’s son does qualify for food stamps and welfare, the total comes to $500 per month in assistance, which barely pays for his food and diapers. 
The ban on Sutherland’s food stamps as well as her welfare benefits impacts her much more deeply than just accessing food on a daily basis. “Since I don't qualify for benefits, I do not qualify for welfare to work, which would offer childcare services,” Sutherland said. “So I’m also not able to work at all right now because I have nobody to care for my kid.” 
Well before the current, direct attack on federal funding of food stamps—also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—there have been systemic, state-imposed barriers to accessing food stamps that have been in place for nearly two decades. Several states require fingerprinting of recipients and reams of paperwork, or are stalled by outdated technology. The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the onerous barriers food stamp recipients face in California. 
But the ban barring drug convicts from accessing food stamps is one of the most problematic state-imposed barriers faced by poor people like Sutherland. Twelve states still ban convicted drug offenders from accessing SNAP benefits. A relic of welfare reform, the food stamp ban is an example of the political interplay between the drug war and the movement to reform welfare which in reality became a double indictment of the poor: People of financial means who made mistakes with drugs would not be rendered vulnerable to hunger for the rest of their lives. 
“This penalty on food stamps stretches beyond period of your criminal sentence, beyond probation or parole,” said Jessica Bartholow, Legislative Advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Sacramento. “It applies even when a person has turned his life around and is now just trying to prevent his family from going hungry.”
California now has a bill under consideration, SB 283 , that would repeal the food stamp ban for any convicted drug offender who is now complying with the conditions of his or her parole. 
“This bill is different than what has gone before any governor in the states,” Bartholow said. “In years past, we tried to just repeal the ban completely but past governors have opposed this idea. So we worked hard to identify a compromise that would work for everyone.”
During debates over welfare reform in 1996, former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-FL) introduced legislation banning convicted drug felons from accessing food stamps. Sen. Gramm argued “if we are serious about our drug laws, we ought not give people welfare benefits who are violating the nation’s drug laws.” 
Gramm’s policy required that any person who is convicted of drug use, possession or sales be banned from accessing food stamps for life; the ban was then added during Senate floor consideration of the bill and was the subject of only limited debate. 





    We told you last week about the bizarre crackdown on singing and photography in Wisconsin’s Capitol. Well, it’s only become worse. Police arrested two brothers Monday and charged one of them, Damon Terrell, with a felony after wrestling him to the ground. In a videoof the arrest that has gone viral, Terrell is seen taking photos of an approaching police officer. They speak briefly and then Terrell is seen backing away, waving a hand and speaking quickly (something about “this isn’t illegal”) before he is jumped, wrestled to the ground, violently handcuffed and then hauled away. The brother, Christopher J. Terrell, apparently was arrested after sitting down in protest, but that is not captured in the video.

    The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quoted Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, as claiming “both individuals refused to leave and actively resisted officers when they were placed under arrest. ... When officers began to arrest Damon Terrell, he began to walk away and actively resisted arrest.” Yet the video shows Terrell taking photos of the cops, then backing while telling them he is not doing anything illegal. That’s apparently now a felony in Wisconsin.

    The National Lawyers Guild chapter in Madison, which is defending some of the scores of protesters who have been arrested in recent months for singing during the Capitol lunch hour, voiced its outrage over the treatment of Damon Terrell. Members described it as “using excessive force” and point out that although Terrell was charged with a felony, the video evidence shows that he was the victim of police using aggressive and painful tactics to arrest an unarmed man taking photographs in a public place.

    Over-charging is becoming a favored tactic among police and prosecutors confronted with demonstrators. In some cases, the tactic lurches into dark comedy. Prosecutors in Clark County, Nev., are pursuing “multiple gross misdemeanor” charges against four protesters who used sidewalk chalk to scrawl anti-police slogans outside a police station and courthouse.
    To escalate the charges, prosecutors contend cleanup crews had to use expensive power washers to get rid of the chalked words, which ratcheted up the alleged damage to near $5,000. Never mind that a kids’ chalk art program that covered an entire street took only $2,000 to clean up. Of course, the children weren’t likely expressing political speech at the time, as the four defendants were.

    Sometimes, though, sanity prevails. In San Diego last month, a jury acquitted Jeff Olson, who had been arrested after he wrote anti-bank slogans in chalk on a sidewalk outside a Bank of America building. Had he been convicted, Olson would have faced up to 13 years in prison for expressing a political opinion in chalk that can be washed away with a garden hose.
    We’re still awaiting the indictments of banks for their involvement in real crimes. But for obvious reasons, we’re not holding our breath.
    —Posted by Scott Martelle.



    At a hearing in Montana yesterday, a judge sentenced a teacher to just 30 days in jail for repeatedly raping a 14-year-old student, who later committed suicide. The judge said the girl "seemed older than her chronological age" and that the teacher's actions weren't serious enough for a longer sentence.
    Please sign the petition today!Demand Judge G. Todd Baugh Be Removed From His Bench!
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    Dear Keith,

    A Montana girl was just 14 years old when a teacher at her high school, Stacey Dean Rambold, began courting her for sex. He was 49 at the time. As a result of the trauma she experienced, the girl took her own life years later, just days before her 17th birthday. Now, Rambold only has to spend 30 days in jail as a punishment for ruining a teenagers life. This is an absolute outrage!

    Just yesterday at Rambold's hearing, the prosecution called for a 20 year sentence. Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced him to 15 years, and then proceeded to suspend all but 31 days of that sentence, and give him credit for the one day he had already spent in jail.

    Judge Baugh made comments that the girl "seemed older than her chronological age" and was "as much in control of the situation" as the teacher. Since when is a 14-year-old girl expected to have the judgement of a 49-year-old? This kind of victim blaming is unacceptable in our court systems!

    Please sign this petition today, calling for the removal of Judge G. Todd Baugh for his completely irresponsible sentencing of Stacey Dean Rambold.
    care2Thank you for taking action,

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    A state senator who is advocating for arming teachers in the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, accidentally shot a teacher with a rubber bullet during a training course, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.
    Arkansas Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R) recently participated in “active shooter” training and mistakenly shot a teacher who was confronting a so-called bad guy. The experience gave Hutchinson “some pause” but failed to shake his confidence in the plan.
    “The ideal would be to have a trained resource officer in every school,” Hutchinson told the paper. “The state and school districts can’t afford that.”
    In July, Arkansas’ Clarksville School District announced that it would “train and arm 20 staff members who would act as security guards to defend against a gunman” and “applied for a license from the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies to act as a private company with authority to hire private security officers.” Following a legal squabble, however, a state board is scheduled to decide next month if staff members can in fact act as security guards.
    Since the Newtown shooting, schools around the country have moved to encourage or require teachers (and sometimes students) to carry firearms.
    But serious questions persist about the wisdom of arming teachers. Even trained police have a track record of mistakenly firing on civilians in standoff situations and in Kansas, a school that armed its teachers was denied coverage by major insurers, who deemed the armed teachers too great of a risk.



    Consent, American Style

    by Steve Mizrach

    Consent, American Style

    Many cultural critics, such as Michael Parenti, Noam Chomsky, and Ben Bagdikian, have pointed out that in order for American power to carry out the atrocities it has perpetrated abroad, it needs to "manufacture" the consent of the American people. That is because America must at one and the same time carry out the appearance that it is the freest society in the world (true, to a degree, as Chomsky acknowledges) while tyrannizing much of the rest of the world. The democracy of the U.S. is managed, while the democracy of the rest of the world is deterred, as a host of militaristic and authoritarian national governments point to themselves as "allies" of our great nation. Opinion in our society must be carefully shaped and molded within certain careful boundaries: those who transgress those boundaries are libel to wind up "extremists," "ideologues," "fanatics," or "agitators." Now that dissidents in the U.S. can no longer be labelled 'fellow travellers' of the Moscow-run Commie conspiracy, the task has become more urgent. And how is it that consent, that most valuable of social products, is manufactured?

    The "Mass" Media (Talk Radio, Papers, TV stations)

    Numerous organizations like FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), LOOT (Lies of Our Times), and Media Watch routinely scan and critique the various mass media. Numerous conservative organizations like Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media suggest that the media have a "liberal" bias. That may be true, to a certain extent - in the same way that "liberal" interventionists planned the VietNam war and "respectable" liberal organizations take consistently pro-establishment positions. But if the mass media are closely scrutinized, it is conservative editors, publishers, and producers who have the final say on the news, not liberal investigative journalists. The fact is that over 80% mass media are owned by a grand total of 23 multinational corporations - TNCs which also control media outlets in Europe and elsewhere in the world. The media's evident biases - pro-business outlooks are "pragmatist," pro-labor viewpoints are "ideological" - betray this fact. These corporations are interested in selling their programming to advertisers, not giving us accurate information.

    Time and time again the public affairs programming of the mass media is restricted to a very narrow spectrum of opinion - "the right and the far right" as one critic puts it - and a very small cast of characters. Shows like Nightline keep trotting out the same spokesmen - white male professionals representing the Washington establishment. Soviet dissidents in the 80s had a better chance of getting on those programs than critics of American policy. Ever since the Spanish American War and the Hearst papers, the mass media have always helped whip up the drumbeats for war and jingoism in this country. They consistently "spike" stories that they don't want the public to see - like the S&L scandal and so many others which have made the Project Censored top ten list. And they run establishment disinformation - like the so-called "Bulgarian Plot to Kill the Pope" in 1982 - as if it was given from on high. Many of the media have descended to the bottom line, imitating the tabloids with tales of lurid scandal, celebrity worship, and sensationalized non-events, because that sells papers and draws advertisers. If we are treated to the colorful but irrelevant charts and graphs of USA Today and mini-sound bites of "infotainment" on network news, it is because that is what the advertisers have decreed.

    Public or Private? (PBS, NPR)

    Conservative media watchers have always had an especially vehement dislike for public television and radio, which they see as horrifically and irredeemably liberal. But once again, close monitoring of these media shows the exact opposite to be the case. PBS, which is supposed to get its funding from viewers, routinely gets massive donations from corporate foundations and charitable trusts. Not surprisingly, PBS has "killed" documentaries like the anti-GE film "Deadly Deception" produced by INFACT, for being too "controversial." And National Public Radio's line has never been so much pro-liberal as pro-establishment, routinely parroting the official tales of Washington like they were gospel. Both PBS and NPR do run stories and programming critical of American policy, from time to time, but these are often drowned in a sea of talk shows with right-wing pundits, of which more anon. Since both media systems receive a good bit of government funding (taxpayer money), the government can and does exert an influence on their content.

    The Punditocracy ("Meet the Press," etc.)

    On Sunday mornings (and on other occasions), many of us are treated to a bunch of talk shows featuring senior journalists. These shows feature many columnists for mass media organs such as George Will, John McLaughlin, Robert Novak, and Pat Buchanan. Not surprisingly, the members of this punditocracy often moved effortlessly in and out of the 'spin teams' (media management) of the Reagan and Bush administrations. The punditocracy is excellent at creating media frenzies around distorted issues, such as the so-called "political correctness" wave supposed to be swamping independent thought and free speech on our college campuses. These pundits often fail to point out increasing corporate and military dominance of these universities may be a far greater threat to academic freedom. And they all relentlessly repeat the same mantras - free market, national interests, insiders & outsiders - with the same mindless repetition. Radical columnists like I.F. Stone were often shunted to the side and marginalized, even labelled commie moles, for questioning Washington's Cold War policies.

    PR Firms (Hill & Knowlton, Burston-Marseiller, etc.)

    The PR firms often make lawyers look ethical. Many create public relations campaigns around the most amazing of things - giving repressive regimes like Haiti and Turkey a better "image," trying to "sell" the American public on nuclear power as the "environmental" choice, "packaging" regressive policies as "pragmatic," and "giving a good public face" to some of the most vile corporate polluters, union busters, and unsafe product manufacturers. PR managers, known as "spin doctors" when working in government, are able to carefully craft speeches and advertisements which evoke powerful images in the American psyche, frequently using "power words" such as freedom, fairness, liberty, justice, and peacekeeping for policies which dominate, discriminate, imprison, exploit, and terrorize much of the rest of the world. Nationalist groups composed of peasants, students, and laborers become "terrorists," while U.S. acts of terror are described as "counterinsurgency" or "creating stability." The PR firms recognize the postmodern fact of the ascendancy of style over substance, and many ways reap the benefit of that situation.

    Polling Organizations

    Polling organizations are supposed to be nonpolitical and nonpartistan - in theory, anyway. Yet, as many have recognized, polling is more than just a process for monitoring public opinion. How the questions are worded shapes opinion as well. People do not often realize that "scientific" polling often uses a very small sample and a narrow set of respondents, in terms of such things as age, social class, residence, and background. Polls often measure "horseraces" - things like candidate preference and presidential approval - rather than issues; with approval for candidates assumed to be equivalent to approval for their agenda, despite the knowledge that perception of those candidates is often heavily shaped by "spin doctors" and the "punditocracy." When issues are discussed, people are often asked leading questions which give very narrow ranges of response. Perot's organization once polled people with "Are you tired of Washington control by special interests?" Who will answer no to that? The key is in his definition of special interests - are they labor unions and consumer groups, or powerful corporate lobby-makers like himself?

    "Flack-PACs" (bogus environmental/consumer groups)

    You tune in a CSPAN program and you see a group called "Citizens for the Environment" offering their support for the free trade agreement. You would assume that this is an environmental organization. But, like many other "bogus" groups and PACs like the Global Climate Coalition, this group is a division of the Center for Free Enterprise (a right-wing think tank, of more anon) and exists to fight environmental policy, not make it. In the past five years, a number of seemingly pro-consumer, pro-environment, or pro-labor organizations have sprung up which are anything but; many of them are leading the charge to limit product liability in consumer torts, deregulate environmental policy, and bust unions under so-called "Right to Work" (in intolerable conditions) laws. These groups often pretend to have a large "grassroots" membership (such as the Sahara Club, a bunch of dune buggy riders which claims 300,000 members nationwide) but in fact get most of their money from fat cat corporate donors.

    Academic "Experts"

    Not surprisingly, many of the conservative cultural critics (culture managers, actually) mentioned above routinely decry the ivory towers of academe as festering grounds for tenured radicals, out to poison the minds of our young. But, as Chomsky has pointed out, the "experts" of academe and the intellectual class are typically trotted out at conferences and colloquia to give seemingly "rational" defenses ofestablishment policy. These experts are frequently trotted out to decry public concern (over smoking, radiation, EMFs, asbestos, or chemicals) as "unscientific," and to provide the intellectual foundation ("supply-side economics" and "sociobiology") for reactionary government policies. Their "expertise" confers authority to ideas that might otherwise seem silly ("trickle-down economics.") Academic historians routinely gloss over the faults of past figures, concealing Kennedy's role in the escalation of VietNam under the glitter of Camelot. Increasingly, as academic research turns more and more toward government and corporate control, funding for areas of scientific study such as women's studies and ethnic studies get "frozen" out. Many academics during the 1950s participated eagerly in the McCarthyite crusade and may even have recruited for the CIA.

    The Think Tanks

    In the 1980s, right-wing think tanks like the Hoover Institute, Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies proliferated like flies. Many of them got their funding from right-wing corporate foundations bankrolled by big-money families such as Coors, DuPont, and Rockefeller. While there are a scarce number of left-wing think tanks, like the Institute for Policy Studies, they get nowhere near the media attention or money that the right-wing tanks do. The think tanks often have a quite open "revolving" door for ex-members of government, and when conservatives are in power, many of the "tankers" assume positions of influence. These think tanks routinely churn out position papers for Congressional consumption and are big-time players in molding what passes for consensus in Washington. Their ideas are often pirated verbatim by governmental figures, when they are not taking policy prescriptions directly from the corporate elite.

    Advertising: Candidates & Commodities

    Political campaigns today rely almost exclusively on television advertising, with the 30-second "spot" becoming quite commonplace. Candidates often utilize their "spot" to make mudslinging and character assassinations against their opponents, without defining their qualifications or their position on issues. Their opinions are inevitably reduced to quick and digestible "sound bites" which sound clever but are devoid of substantive specifics. Candidates are now "marketed" like commodities: whatever people are "buying" that year (elitists, populists, insiders, outsiders, kinder and gentler, 'law and order') is what they are "sold." Issue "spots" reduce complex problems to 'slogans' and quick fixes. Political advertising invariably calls upon all the tired and old repository of symbols (flags, bells, torches, etc.) which are manipulated to confer legitimacy to policy decisions which might otherwise be strongly opposed. ("Free trade - it's the American way!," etc.)

    Your Opinion Need Not Be Managed

    People don't have to settle for the manufactured consensus assembled in corporate boardrooms, packaged inWashington, and distributed by its mass media lackeys. There are alternative media outlets - so-called "packet" and "pirate" radio, independently published magazines ('zines), and public-access cable TV stations that offer ideas and opinions not often seen from the consensus industry. Everywhere, people are trying to bypass the corporate communications system and to fight its propaganda by distributing the truth through decentralized networks. You don't have to have your mind shaped by the cultural managers and the corporate establishment; there are other sources to which you can turn. You might find that the manufactured consensus is a mile wide and an inch deep - that when people find there ideas have been "ready-made" for them by Consensus, Inc., they might take the radical step of questioning authority and "authorized" opinion.

    by Steve Mizrach from The CyberAnthropology page



    05:11 PM ET

    Prevention better than punitive in Syria

    By Michael Shank and Rep. Raul Grijalva, Special to CNN
    Editor’s note: Michael Shank is director of Foreign Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The views expressed are their own.
    The Americans don’t want it. The Germans don’t want it. And the Brits don’t want it. The overwhelming consensus of public opinion in the Western world is that a war with Syria would be a bad idea. This now gives President Barack Obama some flexibility to back away from his red line, save political face, and do what’s necessary to prevent further violence in Syria.
    But before spelling out ways we can help bring peace to Syria, it’s worth first identifying some problematic trends in America’s tack towards war. This is not unique to President Obama and was visible in past presidents’ penchant for war. There is a precedent here.
    First, the idea that America can be “precise” and “limited” and “strategic” while attacking another country is completely misplaced. It inevitably leads to further or escalated violence.  It always has.  We wanted to be brief, precise and strategic in Iraq by bombing Baghdad, thinking “shock and awe” would intimidate the country and its recalcitrant leader into submission. This is not dissimilar to how we are now thinking that a “punitive” strike on Syria would send a stern message that President Bashar al-Assad, one to which he would be responsive.
    Never mind the fact that al-Assad has made it clear that he’s not operating from a rational place, and would never respond rationally to punitive measures – there is no way that a strike on Damascus would last only three days, as the Pentagon has predicted. The responsibility for the ensuing chaos – from scores of civilians dead to increased likelihood of chemical weapons use – would fall on the United States.  We would be embroiled in an unraveling that would beckon more missiles, more troops, and more air and sea support. Observe every major U.S. intervention over the last 15 years. This is exactly what happened, despite the rhetoric of precise, limited, strategic and brief action.
    Second, the idea in Washington that an attack, strike, or punitive action, is not an “invasion”, is an absolute fallacy. This is a relatively new definition promulgated by Washington’s defense community, and the think tanks that support it.  It’s a convenient semantic reframing so that America is not perceived as the “evil Western invader” – or part of some, to quote President Bush, “crusade” – but rather seen as a short-lived intervener, a savior who will exercise discretion while quickly getting in and getting out.
    The problem with this attempt at a reframe is that the rest of the world – especially those being bombed by America – doesn’t consider it anything less than an invasion, whether by air, sea or land. Boots on the ground is not the only kind of invasion. There are air invasions, with air raids (see Iraq) or drone strikes (see Yemen or Pakistan or Somalia).  There are sea invasions, with Tomahawk missiles launched from ship (see Libya and the same plan for Syria).  And there are ground invasions, with massive troops on the ground (see Afghanistan).
    Third, the idea that we must act in haste, and bomb quickly without Congressional approval or authorization, is a dangerous undermining of the checks and balances instituted by our founding fathers. Most presidents, when planning for war, impress upon the American people the urgency of now, of invading immediately, because we don’t have time for Congressional oversight. Syria is an excellent example of this. With some 100,000 dead over nearly a two year time span we’ve had plenty of time for talk between the executive and legislative branches.  The estimated 355 dead from the alleged chemical weapons attack, while absolutely deplorable, shouldn’t have created a new urgency that wasn’t already there.  We should have been talking about preventing mass atrocities years ago, not after the house of Syria was nearly burnt down.
    So what to do now? Invasion is the wrong course because it merely inflames the violence further, both within Syria and without. We must exhaust the following paths first before seeking a military course of action.  Convene all the stakeholders who have a say with Syria’s al-Assad and who can put pressure on the president. That means more than just Russia, our go-to on the Geneva II peace talks. That means everyone from Iran, Lebanon, and Hezbollah, to the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. These are the entities that have entry into the Syrian president’s inner circle. If we truly want al-Assad to act differently, we have to talk to those who have sway.
    Then, if the diplomatic track fails to work, and after it has solidly been exhausted, we must engage the U.N. Security Council in a conversation about the International Criminal Court and an indictment of Assad for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.  This path is consistent with America’s support of international law and the ethical frameworks undergirding the Geneva Conventions.
    Throughout this process, we must continue work with the United Nations to not only ensure weapons inspections are executed properly over the coming weeks, and weapons flows and arms trafficking are stopped or slowed, but that we ramp up humanitarian aid for the millions of refugees inside Syria and in neighboring countries. This is essential if we care about saving Syrians.
    This is the path we must pursue and the only way forward. It is time for something preventive before we press play on the punitive.
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    Topics: Middle East • Syria