Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Last Call For Obama's Syrian Endgame

So what's the goal in Syria?  We fire cruise missiles at the Assad regime and...then what?  TNR's John Judis has some thoughts on what would follow after John Kerry's testimony yesterday:

—The administration is not just contemplating a single punitive strike against Syria’s Bashar al Assad for using chemical weapons; it is planning a repeatable military campaign that would strike again if he were to use these weapons again.

—The military campaign would also have the “collateral” or “downstream” result of weakening Assad militarily and politically. It would cause defections and significantly weaken the Assad government.

—The goal of the military campaign, combined with aid to the opposition, would not be to defeat Assad. Instead, the war would be ended by an international negotiation in which Russians would play a very important role. Such a deal would eliminate any role in Syria’s future for jihadist elements, but it might include a role for allies of Assad, if not for Assad himself.

This all seems like three fundamentally incompatible goals.  The 60 or 90 day option for repeatable strikes does seem like a way to buy time for diplomacy, but only if diplomacy can actually settle this.  Weakening the Assad regime isn't exactly going to make them want to come to the table, not if they know they can wait it out and then resume the fighting.  And what about the rebels?  There are a number of pretty bad guys in there opposing Assad, but what will they do if Assad is sidelined?

And we're counting on diplomacy with the Russians?  OK.  I'm not holding out hope, but Putin isn't ruling out backing our strike now.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he has not ruled out backing a U.S.-led military operation in Syria if the Kremlin gets concrete proof than an alleged chemical attack on civilians was committed by Bashar Assad’s government.

“I don’t rule this out,” Putin said during a televised interview with First Channel, a Russian federal television network, and the Associated Press. “But I want to draw your attention to one absolutely principled issue: In accordance with the current international law, a sanction to use arms against a sovereign state can be given only by the U.N. Security Council.”

In other words, Russia may drop its blockade of UN Security Council action and back a coalition move on their timetable, which would granted, slow things down somewhat.  But, if that's what it takes, that's fine.

The question is can we get Russia and Putin on board before a strike is launched?  I think we should make every effort to try.

On the other hand, Joshua Foust sums up the Obama case for Syrian strikes thusly:

The logic for striking Syria is as bizarre as it is unconvincing:
  • Assad used chemical weapons. This is bad.
  • We should make chemical weapons use unacceptable and impose punishment.
  • BUT, that punishment should not be regime change, because we don’t want Syria to “implode.”
  • AND, that punishment should be narrowly focused only on chemical weapons.
  • DESPITE our official policy of “Assad must go,” Assad will not be forced to go.
  • THEREFORE, strikes will be limited enough to only attack his chembio weapons, but not his actual capabilities, nor his regime, nor is it calibrated to directly help the rebels apart from removing a single weapon that hasn’t killed 99% of all casualties in the conflict.

If this makes any sense to you — logically, tactically, strategically, or operationally — I’m sure there’s a bridge for sale somewhere. So what is the point of this? It is a terribly empty gesture that serves vanishingly small purpose. I don’t get it. Even our own senior intel officers say Syria is going to get worse whether Assad stays or go — so why aren’t we focusing on how to prevent, mitigate, or manage that rather than all this empty nonsense? It’s like the White House is determined to only accept blame but not help. It’s madness.

I don't know if I'm ready to go that far despite my continued misgivings about action in Syria.  There's still the very real concern of 100,000 dead, 2 million refugees fled, and another 5 million displaced within Syria's borders.  Doing nothing is still not going to improve anything.

But these are pretty crazy hoops to jump through just to get Russia to say "alright already" and agree to UN action on Syria, and this is still an abysmal situation we've gotten into in the first place.  Cleaning up the mess in Syria where there are no good guys?  That'll be loads of fun.

Candid Camera Clowns

Anti-choice activists appointed to the Iowa Board of Medicine by GOP Gov. Terry Branstad have eliminated the country's largest and safest telemedicine program helping low-income and rural women receive abortion medication because of "safety concerns".

Only one problem.  The doctors and medical experts who testified found no safety concerns and the anti-choicers crushed the program anyway.

On Friday, Iowa’s Board of Medicine voted to eliminate the largest telemedicine abortion program in the country. That means doctors in the state won’t be allowed to use video technology to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs to rural and low-income women who don’t have the means to travel to the nearest clinic — even though they’ve been safely doing so for the past five years.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has been operating its telemedicine abortion program since 2008, and there’s no reason it should have come under any kind of particular scrutiny this summer. Studies have repeatedly found that it’s a safe method of delivering reproductive care, and patients are just as satisfied after speaking with a doctor over a video conference as they are after making an in-person trip to a clinic. Nonetheless, the Board of Medicine has been considering banning the practice for the past several months — and the Friday vote makes it official.

“This decision is a political attack aimed at restricting access to abortion in Iowa. Proponents of this rule aren’t against telemedicine technology; they are against safe, legal abortion and are unjustly targeting our system with no scientific information or evidence to back their claims,” Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s president, Jill June, said in a statement.

Indeed, the telemedicine program was in effect for five years, three years in Iowa alone, helping some 3,000 women get safe first tri-mester abortions in clinics.   When Gov. Branstad found out, he fired everyone on the Iowa Board of Medicine and replaced them with his own anti-choice cronies, including former state legislator and Republican anti-choicer Greg Hoversten as chairman

The Medical Board chairman, Dr. Greg Hoversten, of Sioux City, also raised an issue with the fact that Iowa was among the very first states in the country to provide telemedicine abortion on a wide scale.

“That really bothers me that Iowa women are the first ones to get this in this fashion. There’s something wrong there. It just doesn’t seem right,” Hoversten said.

Except for the fact that the procedure was performed medically safely thousands of times in Iowa.  The Iowa Medical Society called the ban "premature" and "that more analysis, more evaluation, more study , more discussion with the profession is important."

But it took all of three days for the anti-choicers on the Medical Board to kill a safe program they state legislation couldn't kill for years.  It's not political, and it's not about cutting abortion access.  Nope.


Government Abuse Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

Republicans went bonkers over the IRS supposedly targeting conservative advocacy groups for extra scrutiny on tax-exempt status.  The fact that liberal groups were also included didn't register on the Republican radar, of course.  But when it comes to using the power of the government to harass people based on partisan politics, Republicans have no problem when it comes to doing the harassing.

Fifteen Republican members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, including Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), are requesting detailed responses and thousands of pages of documents from approximately 60 percent of Navigator-recipients across the country by Sep. 13.

The tactic is reminiscent of the kind of practices Republicans had condemned over the summer, after news broke that the IRS subjected certain groups applying for 501 C4 nonprofit tax status to long, intrusive, questionnaires about their filings. Upton personally called such tactics a “thuggish abuse of power” and “simply un-American.”

But according to the GOP-backed letter, groups scrambling to begin enrolling individuals in coverage on Oct. 1, will have just two weeks to provide detailed written descriptions of their employees and activities, interactions with the Department of Health and Human Services, and “all documentation and communication related to your grant.”

Which of course is far more pervasive than what the IRS was asking for, and then, groups had months to get this information in to the IRS.  Obamacare Navigators?  They have two weeks to turn over everything related to the Navigator grant, personal info, communications, everything.

Now, I wonder why the same lawmakers who screamed that the federal government had no business prying into the information of citizens are suddenly okay with this.  Maybe it's because they're a bunch of hypocritical jackasses?

But freedom, right?


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