The burgeoning left-right antiwar coalition on Syria (and what it means for Iran)

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Let’s begin with the huge news out of England, and then move to the commentary which only continues to reflect the arc that began yesterday: Don’t let’s attack Syria.

First, of course, British PM David Cameron bows out of war party after his defeat in the House of Commons:

David Cameron indicated on Thursday evening that Britain would not take part in military action against Syria after the British government lost a crucial vote on an already watered-down amendment that was designed to pave the way to intervention in the war-torn country.

In a devastating blow to his authority, the prime minister lost a government motion by 272 votes to 285 – an opposition majority of 13 – after scores of Tory MPs voted with Labour.

The Obama administration is embarrassed, but it’s not backing down from its threats. It pushed its case with a conference call with congresspeople last night, which Politico says changed no one’s mind.

NPR says the evidence for Assad’s hand in the chemical attacks is “circumstantial.” And the Hill reports on a burgeoning antiwar left/right coalition:

“The opposition to President Obama launching unilateral military operations in Syria exploded on Thursday when dozens of liberal Democrats joined scores of conservative Republicans in warning the administration that any strikes without congressional approval would violate the Constitution.”In a letter to Obama, 53 liberal Democrats — including a long list of Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members — argued that, while the human rights atrocities being committed by the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad are “horrific,” they alone “should not draw us into an unwise war – especially without adhering to our own constitutional requirement.”



MJ Rosenberg is joyous, predicts the war party will not get the war it wants with Iran. “Bravo Brits you killed chances for war with Iran,” he says, and hails the new coalition:

But even more huge is the precedent it sets for Iran. If a relatively small action in the Middle East is rejected out of fear of a larger entanglement, what are the chances that the British people can be led into an infinitely larger war in Iran? And what are the chances that the British government will even try?

This rising up against another Middle East war will also make it impossible for President Obama to drag America into a war with Iran. Yes, the Israel lobby, the defense contractors and the neocons will try, but no politician can afford to ignore strong opposition from the  public, especially now that the Brits have shown the way.

The British “no” could not have been sustained if many Conservatives had not joined with Labor to reject war. That phenomenon will likely also be replicated here. The neocon hold on the Republicans seems to be loosening, with Rand Paul leading the way. Add some Republicans to grassroots Democratic opposition to war and there is no majority for war.

Israel supporters worry about just this likelihood. At the National Interest, Dov Zakheim, former Pentagon official and committed Israel supporter, says we shouldn’t attack Syria, but don’t worry, this doesn’t mean we won’t attack Iran (Zakheim once likened Israel to his mother). Zakheim:

In contrast, Iran’s nuclear weapons program is very much an international matter. Tehran is perceived as intending to employ nuclear weapons not against its own people, but against the populations of other states, notably Israel. It is for that reason that the closer Iran comes to developing a bomb, the more likely it is that Israel, or America, or both, and perhaps with the assistance of others, would launch a strike against its nuclear facilities.

More on the antiwar coalition from National Public Radio: Robert Siegel interviews Mike Rogers, Michigan congressman and the Republican chair of the House Permanent Select intelligence committee, about the evidence on Syria. Rogers says that the president has to convince the American people.

ROGERS: You have to make sure that, in fact, if you believe it’s the regime, you have evidence to be able sustain your case that it is, in fact, the regime that has done it…. And part of that is there has been, unfortunately, no consultation or advice or consent from Congress on the way forward after this particular event. I think that is a very, very, very dangerous decision for the president to make if he continues to want to build support for this, number one.


SIEGEL: You’re saying there hasn’t been consultation on, to put it simply, the strikes that we anticipate now, the attack against Syria.


ROGERS: Well, the way forward, yeah, what are the actions? And I do believe that there are consequences for not doing anything just like I believe there are serious consequences for doing something. But that’s why I think the president – why I think he’s legally obligated, let alone morally obligated to consult with Congress and at least the national security committees. I think the president’s making a mistake by not doing that. I think he’s going to have to talk to the American people.

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian predicts a single burst of bloodletting so that Obama can save face, and questions making policy on the basis of bluster when there is very little that outsiders can actually do inside Syria:

Obama’s intention is currently for a “limited, tailored … clear, decisive shot across the bows” of the Syrian government. The tactical basis for this is obscure. It can hardly claim to deter a chemical attack, since the red line speech tried and failed in that respect. While Assad seems unlikely to repeat the outrage, the idea that he will roll over if bombed and stop killing his people is naive. As for “degrading” his arsenals, if this releases chemical clouds how stupid is that?

The likelihood is now of a single burst of destruction by US forces … and blood-letting, to assuage the do-something lobby. This can hardly alter the balance in the civil war, though it seems certain to increase the refugee flow, alienate Russia and its regional allies, and infuriate a newly moderate Iran. All this is to “punish a dictator” in what seems depressingly like a gesture to allow western politicians to strut tall and feel good.

Amos Harel in Haaretz also predicts that Obama will make strikes on Syria, but that Israel will stay outside the battle, and it doesn’t have a horse:

Israel’s policy remains unchanged: Not only does it not want to get dragged into Syria’s civil war itself, but it’s not even particularly eager to see the tyrant toppled. Netanyahu, to his credit, has thus far handled the Syrian crisis sensibly and responsibly, and if Israel can possibly remain outside the arena, it won’t be involved in any American strike on Assad.

Even Ynet in Israel is highlighting assertions that don’t get much attention in the US press, that the Israelis provided the evidence, such as it is, to the U.S.:

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported that Israel gave Washington and European countries information that included documents and pictures proving that chemical weapons were launched from a Syrian army post in the vicinity of Damascus.

David Bromwich cites Israel’s evidentiary-custody in a superb piece up at Huffpo that begins by demonstrating how Obama’s stated claims that chemical weapons threaten the U.S. echo Tony Blair’s hollow claims on the same lines before Iraq. Notice the populism in his argument–

Or to put the new claim in familiar language: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” President Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had a conscience as quick on the trigger President Obama’s adviser Susan Rice. But in the president’s own televised claim, the pileup of distortions was entirely worthy of the predecessor who hired the earlier Rice; for the “terrorist organizations” he was speaking of could only have been Hezbollah and its affiliates, the sworn enemies of Israel; and yet those organizations happen never to have attacked the U.S. or any of its assets on the scale of the bombings carried out by al-Qaeda in 2001. …

But again the question returns: will you lessen or heighten the risk by weakening the hold on those weapons by Syria and bringing them closer to the control of al-Qaeda?…

Well, we are worried, it’s true, and more than worried we are apprehensive and angry, because we remember Iraq. We suspect that any soldier who has suffered in a war, and any family that has seen its members decimated among the collateral damages of an American “surgical strike,” would grow angrier still at the sound of the anesthetic phrase tailored approaches.

Bromwich also notes the new coalition applying brakes on Syria:

Many left-liberals have been silent at this moment, and many right-wing Republicans, with voting records that attest their credentials as lovers of war, have risen to challenge the president. And so it is being said by some loyal Democrats that the questioners of the president — everyone from John Boehner to Ted Cruz — are cynical, and in that regard entirely unlike the well-meaning and sympathetic leader who got himself unhappily cornered by saying the words “red line” once too often. But a great fact about constitutional democracy is that the very structure of political opposition encourages bad people to do good things for the most ambiguous reasons.

Speaking of the liberal elite that is all for action, Laura Rozen of AlMonitor is hawkish. She tweets Roger Cohen’s op-ed saying that Assad should pay.

Very powerful oped by Make Assad pay. Strongly agree with every word

And she wants to put Labor leader Ed Miliband, who bucked Cameron in Britain, on the couch. His brother David Miliband supported the Iraq war as Foreign Secretary:

fighting his brother’s ghost on Iraq, by tearing US UK alliance. He tweeted today no time 4soul searcihng?!


Finally, this is uproarious. Yahya Abu Zakaria, a Syrian television commentator, on August 25, as translated by the pro-Israel organization MEMRI.

Zakaria begins, “Barack Obama, you American lowlife…. This is Syria, so lower your voice. You American low life, Syria is not the kind of country that can be invaded…” Later he says:

There is a principle I have learnt from working in the media for over a quarter century. The US is a lying, bastard country. When it talks of war it wants peace, and vice versa”

He states that speaking on behalf of the resistance axis, he can assure us that Assad didn’t use chemical weapons for the most logical reasons, he is saving them for Israel and America. And this racist swipe:

“As for David Cameron we should send him to Cameroon, to be eaten by a tribe of cannibals to relieve us of his evil.”

Guess they won’t be sending him off to the cannibals anytime soon.

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What a farce Laura Rozen has turned out to be — I’ve been following her vacuous pro-Syria War drumbeating on Twitter. Apparently she’s a liberal Zionist in the school of Madeleine Albright, Susan Rice and Samantha Power. I would love to see her try to defend her views in an open forum attended by people who know what they are talking about.

If “Israeli intelligence” provided the pretext for US attacks, then there is no pretext.

RE: “Speaking of the liberal elite that is all for action, Laura Rozen of AlMonitor is hawkish. She tweets Roger Cohen’s op-ed saying that Assad should pay.” ~ Weiss/Robbins MY COMMENT: OMG, I never thought I would say this: Perhaps Jonah Goldberg was right! FROM TED RALL (THE CARTOONIST), 07/22/10: . . . Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay “Eternal Fascism” describes the cult of action for its own sake under fascist regimes and movements: “Action being… Read more »

r.cohen. what a scum bag. yes, let’s throw a tantrum to ‘save’ US credibility, never mind the consequences for civilians of a so-called surgical attack, possibly on chemical weapons stores, on a country about the size of Oklahoma. (I don’t mean this rhetorically, but how do these people sleep at night?) as much as it pains me to say anything positive about a nyt analyst, bobo brooks appears to have a much more sensitive, nuanced… Read more »

Laura, Laura, Laura, I’m so disappointed.