Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • British report shows Syria case far from a slam-dunk

    Staunch U.S. ally Britain dealt a blow to President Barack Obama’s push for possible military action against Syria on Thursday, releasing intelligence findings that make it clear that evidence Bashar Assad ordered last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack is far from a slam-dunk.

    “There is some intelligence to suggest regime culpability in this attack,” Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee chairman, Jon Day, wrote in a memorandum made public by the government.

    In another section, Day said Britain had “a limited but growing body of intelligence which supports the judgement that the regime was responsible for the attacks.”

    Day said there is evidence that the regime used chemical weapons on a smaller scale on 14 previous occasions. And “there is no credible intelligence or other evidence to substantiate the claims or the possession of CW [chemical weapons] by the opposition.” Overall, Day said, it is “highly likely that the regime was responsible.”

    But Day’s memo does not directly

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  • On Syria, Obama says eyeing ‘shot across the bow’

    President Barack Obama promised Wednesday that any U.S. military strike at Syria would be a “shot across the bow” that avoids seeing America pulled into “any kind of open-ended conflict.”

    Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with PBS Newshour, Obama insisted he has not made a decision on how best to respond to the alleged massacre of civilians by forces loyal to Syrian strongman Bashar Assad using chemical weapons.

    But “if, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict — not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about — but if we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this, that can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term,” the president said.

    That would send the Assad regime “a pretty strong signal, that in fact, it better not do it again."

    Obama, making his first public remarks on the crisis since a CNN Read More »from On Syria, Obama says eyeing ‘shot across the bow’
  • Boehner to Obama: You must ‘personally’ explain Syria policy

    Republican House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday urged President Barack Obama to “personally” explain his Syria policy to Congress and the American people before ordering any military strikes against Bashar Assad’s forces.

    “I respectfully request that you, as our country’s commander-in-chief, personally make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests, preserve America’s credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our broader policy and strategy,” Boehner said in a letter to Obama.

    With a growing number of lawmakers either coming out against striking Syria or saying Obama must get Congress’ explicit permission to do so, Boehner said it was “essential” that the president detail “on what basis any use of force would be legally justified and how the justification comports with the exclusive authority of Congressional authorization under Article I of the

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  • Key lawmakers to get Syria chemical weapons briefing Thursday

    Key lawmakers will get a classified briefing from the Obama administration on Thursday regarding Syria’s alleged slaughter of civilians using chemical weapons last week, two U.S. officials said.

    The briefing, to be held by conference call because Congress is still out on its August recess, is expected to include the chairmen and ranking members of key committees as well as the top leaders from each party in each chamber, the sources said. One of the officials specified that chairs of the House and Senate committees on armed services, foreign relations and intelligence would likely take part.

    The officials asked not to be identified by name or title in order to discuss a classified hearing that has not yet taken place. It was not clear which officials would brief lawmakers.

    Obama aides have said that they would brief Congress on their case against Syrian President Bashar Assad before making public portions of a formal intelligence finding laying out evidence to buttress the president’s

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  • White House’s Syria phone call list omits national security adviser Rice

    There’s a maddening omission in the White House’s list of Syria-themed telephone calls by top American officials to their foreign counterparts over the past week: National security adviser Susan Rice’s outreach.

    Rice has been at the very center of the American response and has been placing calls to foreign officials, an aide confirmed. They just aren’t being cataloged and released to the press.

    It’s nothing sinister: The administration just generally doesn’t read out her calls, much as they did not read out predecessor Tom Donilon’s calls.

    But the decision to leave her outreach out of a White House-released list of calls that President Barack Obama and senior national security aides placed to their foreign counterparts is one reason it’s impossible to use the list to get a clear picture of the U.S. response. The other reason is that the National Security Council quite forthrightly described the list as accurate, but incomplete — that there have been other phone calls "at all levels"

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  • Past comments dog Obama, Biden as Syria response looms

    In 2007, two Democratic presidential candidates came out forcefully against unleashing America’s military might without explicit authorization from Congress. Today, Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama see things in a different light.

    Six years ago, Biden vowed to impeach President George W. Bush if the Republican bombed Iran without first getting congressional approval.

    "The president has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran, and if he does, as Foreign Relations Committee chairman, I will move to impeach," Biden said at the time.

    Meanwhile, Obama flatly told the Boston Globe in 2007 that no president can use military force absent an “actual or imminent threat to the nation” without getting Congress' approval.

    The Libya intervention stretched Obama’s commitment to the breaking point. The PolitiFact organization, which rates politicians’ claims for accuracy, ruled that his decision to commit American forces to that effort was a “full flop” from his previous position.

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  • U.S.: Not trying to take out Assad with Syria response

    The United States restated Tuesday that it means to drive Bashar Assad from power in Syria, but denied it would use potential U.S.-led military strikes in response to his forces’ alleged chemical weapons attack to do so.

    “I want to make clear that the options that we are considering are not about regime change,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at his daily briefing. “They are about responding to clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.”

    Overall United States policy in Syria is to push Assad from power, and any (successful) military strike would plainly aim to weaken his ability to attack the rebels his forces have battled for 2½ years. But Carney repeatedly said that President Barack Obama is weighing a response narrowly tailored to the alleged chemical weapons attack.

    “It is our firm conviction that Syria's future cannot include Assad in power, but this deliberation and the actions that we are contemplating are not Read More »from U.S.: Not trying to take out Assad with Syria response
  • On Syria, is Obama treading in Bush's Iraq footsteps?

    President Barack Obama, sure to fall short of getting explicit U.N. approval for any military strikes against Syrian strongman Bashar Assad’s forces and facing potential divisions inside NATO, has instead been assembling allies and partners in a coalition of the willing that recalls the Iraq War.

    And where then-President George W. Bush at least got Congress to authorize him to use force against Saddam Hussein, Obama shows no sign of asking lawmakers to do so, preferring instead to engage in “consultations” with key players.

    For a president who defined his 2008 run for the White House with his forceful denunciation of the way Bush led the country into the Iraq War, and then managed the conflict, it’s an unusual turn of events, to say the least.

    To be sure, there are major differences: While Russia opposed both interventions, France is this time in Washington’s corner. No major allies have spoken out against the principle of a forceful response to Assad's alleged slaughter of civilians

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  • Kerry: U.S. will respond to ‘moral obscenity’ of Syria massacre

    Secretary of State John Kerry left no doubt Monday that the United States believes Syria’s Bashar Assad used chemical weapons to slaughter civilians last week and vowed that the United States will respond to that “moral obscenity.”

    “Anyone who can claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass,” he said, in a barb likely meant for Syria and its patron Russia. “By any standard it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable."

    Kerry, speaking to reporters at the State Department, spoke of the attack in very personal terms, describing how he had watched the “gut-wrenching” videos of the dead and dying via social media. But he gave no details about when a decision on whether to use force in response to last week’s massacre might come — or whether it would.

    The secretary of state said the United States government and its allies were reviewing

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  • Obama warily eyes escalation of U.S. action on Syria

    The White House settled last week on an interesting counter to the growing chorus of voices saying “your Syria policy has failed.” No, came the response, it just hasn’t succeeded yet.

    “We have not attained our goal yet here, which is the removal of (Bashar) Assad from power,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday. “We are seeking that removal not just because it's our preference, but because it's the will of the Syrian people.”

    Whether President Barack Obama’s policy is a failure (100,000 dead in a 2-1/2 year civil war) or a success-in-waiting (rebels holding their own in a seesaw battle with Assad loyalists), it seems to have reached a turning point after last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack outside Damascus.

    Washington is now consumed with talk that Obama could soon order military strikes against Assad’s regime. U.S. officials have let it be known that American warships are getting into position. The president held what amounted to a war council on Saturday and

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