Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Obama to brace Americans for escalating conflict with Islamic State

    Exactly one year ago, President Barack Obama delivered a prime-time speech to defend his Syria policy. Facing a war-weary public broadly opposed to his call for even limited airstrikes, and a divided Congress not at all eager to risk the political price of giving him the authority to go to war, Obama defended his plan to bomb Bashar Assad’s forces in response to the Syrian strongman’s alleged use of chemical weapons. And then he dramatically turned away from military action in favor of diplomacy.

    On Wednesday night, the unpopular president strides to the same spot in the White House to deliver another 15-minute speech. He’s expected to announce that he is poised to escalate America’s campaign against brutal guerrillas from the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS) in Iraq, and may strike the group’s strongholds in Syria.

    In doing so, the president elected to pull America from its painful overseas military entanglements, notably the Iraq War, may be plunging the United States

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  • Renouncing U.S. citizenship is about to get a lot more expensive

    The record numbers of Americans who have renounced their U.S. citizenship since January 2009 did so at the bargain-basement cost of $450, a subsidized fee that the State Department plans to raise sharply this week as more and more people sever their ties with the United States.

    Officials say the new pricetag of $2,350 will “capture the real, unsubsidized cost of providing this service” at a time when escalating demand has put new strain on consular resources.

    The government does not make public any reasons citizens may have given for renouncing U.S. citizenship, making it impossible to say for certain what has driven the sharp rise in demand. But the most likely cause appears to be the Obama-era crackdown on U.S. citizens hiding wealth overseas.

    From 2001 to 2008, 3,937 people who had lived on U.S. soil for at least eight years either renounced their citizenship or gave up lawful permanent resident status, according to Andrew Mitchel, an international tax attorney in Centerbrook,

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  • Obama on ISIL: ‘We don’t have a strategy yet’

    Declaring “we don’t have a strategy yet,” President Obama poured cold water Thursday on talk that he was poised to order imminent U.S. military strikes on fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria.

    “My priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that ISIL made in Iraq are rolled back and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern itself effectively and secure itself,” Obama told reporters in the White House briefing room.

    The president promised to consult lawmakers on the strategy, “in part because it may cost some money,” and Congress holds the federal purse strings. But he repeatedly declined to commit to seeking a vote authorizing expanded military action in either Iraq or Syria.

    "I do think that it’ll be important for Congress to weigh in,” he said. “But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet.”

    Obama took issue with media reports in which “the suggestion, I guess, has been that we’ll start moving forward

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  • Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy: Time to call Russia-Ukraine conflict a ‘war’

    With Russian forces apparently rolling across eastern Ukraine, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy told Yahoo News on Thursday that it is past time to call the escalating conflict a “war” and to label Moscow’s actions an “invasion.”

    “By any conventional definition of war, there is war happening between Ukraine and Russia. And it’s been occurring essentially since the invasion of Crimea” in February, Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a telephone interview.

    When Russian forces reportedly rolled into eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, the White House called it a “military movement,” “military activities” and “a continued effort to destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine.” The State Department referred to an “incursion” and explicitly declined to call the escalating conflict an invasion or “war.”

    Back in March, however, National Security Adviser Susan Rice had condemned Putin’s “invasion and annexation of Crimea,” a strategic peninsula in Ukraine’s south.


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  • Obama likely to hit ISIL in Syria without Congress’s formal OK

    What do Syrian President Bashar Assad and the U.S. Congress have in common? President Obama is unlikely to ask either for a formal green light to expand the American air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from Iraq into Syria.

    White House aides underline that the debate remains academic for now because the president has yet to decide whether he will order strikes on the brutal Islamist movement’s strongholds in Syria.

    “We have not speculated about what sort of authority would be required from Congress if the president were to make a decision to authorize the use of military force in Syria,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday.

    But Earnest noted that Obama does not think he needs congressional approval for the airstrikes he launched on ISIL forces in Iraq on Aug. 7 or for the return of ground troops there to protect American personnel.

    “The current military action that has been ordered in Iraq is vested in the powers of

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  • Obama ‘heartbroken’ by Foley beheading but vows no letup in U.S. operations

    President Barack Obama on Wednesday declared himself “heartbroken” by the beheading of U.S. journalist Jim Foley by ISIL extremists but defiantly vowed to press on with American military operations to cut the group’s “cancer” out of the Middle East.

    “Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world,” the president said from the makeshift workspace for media covering his Martha’s Vineyard vacation.

    Obama said he had spoken to Foley’s parents and told them “we are all heartbroken at their loss and join them in honoring Jim and all that he did.”

    His remarks came a day after the release online of a stomach-turning video showing a black-masked jihadi fighter from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) beheading Foley in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the group in Iraq. The video also warned that the extremists would murder American journalist Steven Joel Sotloff if Obama did not halt the bombardments.


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  • Obama will send Holder to Ferguson, says police should not be militarized

    President Obama announced Monday that he will send Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson, Missouri, to take stock of the tense situation there and predicted that Congress will re-evaluate the merits of federal programs that arm local police with military gear.

    “There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement. And we don’t want those lines blurred that would be contrary to our traditions,” Obama said. “And I think that there will be some bipartisan interest in re-examining some of those programs.”

    Obama, taking a two-day break from his family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, also expressed skepticism about Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s decision to call out the National Guard to help keep the peace in Ferguson, a low-income suburban St. Louis community torn asunder by the killing of an unarmed 18-year-old black man by a police officer nine days ago.

    “I’ll be watching over the next several days to assess whether, in fact, it’s helping rather than hindering

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  • Obama’s vacations and golf outings, by the numbers

    President Obama’s annual family vacation  an escape to tony Martha’s Vineyard  has once again served as an inviting target for critics. They ask how he can relax while the world burns, wring their hands about "optics" (aka "how it looks to the average American") and recycle decades-old complaints about presidents enjoying high-end resorts and historically patrician sports like golf.

    Just how many vacations has Obama taken since January 2009? How does he compare to his two-term predecessor, George W. Bush?

    The authoritative figures come from CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.

    Knoller has meticulously chronicled presidential data since 1996 with an attention to detail that has made successive White Houses regard his figures as more reliable than their own. He keeps tabs on everything from the number of trips overseas to the number of foreign leaders who visit the White House to the number of formal press conferences. He also tracks how often presidents flee Washington for what he

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  • Pentagon warns airstrikes are not enough to roll back ISIL

    President Obama sent a clear message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday to step aside quietly after Iraq’s president moves to replace him, as the Pentagon warned that targeted American airstrikes won’t be enough to roll back the bloody advance of the Islamic State of Iraqi and the Levant (ISIL).

    American strikes have only “temporarily disrupted” the extremist group’s shockingly effective onslaught, the Pentagon’s Lieutenant General William Mayville told reporters. “I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained, or that we are somehow breaking the momentum of, the threat posed by ISIL,” he said.

    On the Martha’s Vineyard resort island, Obama – who has repeatedly said that resolution to the conflict in Iraq can only come through a political agreement, not a military one – used a hastily arranged public statement to declare his personal support for Iraqi prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi and to caution Maliki not to try to use force to disrupt his

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  • Obama’s new Iraq mission: No end date, but not ‘prolonged’

    How long will American airstrikes pummel fighters belonging to the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)? The White House said Friday that the mission is open-ended but repeatedly promised that it will not be “prolonged.”

    What does that mean? It means that President Obama wants the maximum flexibility for tackling a dangerous threat to Iraq’s viability while confronting critics in the U.S. Congress and a war-weary U.S. public.

    “The president has not laid out a specific end date,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “We’re going to sort of take this approach in which those kinds of decisions are evaluated regularly and are driven by the security situation on the ground, both as it relates to the safety and security of American personnel but also as it relates to supporting the ongoing efforts of both Kurdish security forces and Iraqi security forces.”

    Earnest, who underlined that Obama campaigned in 2008 on ending the U.S. involvement in Iraq, said

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