published Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Sen. Bob Corker calls for Obama to be assertive with Syria

If initial U.S. intelligence reports turn out to be irrefutable, the Syrian government has now used chemical weapons in its brutal civil war against the nation's rebel forces. President Barack Obama has warned that such an action would cross "a red line" that would prompt Washington to intervene. How the Obama administration might respond has not been defined, but it is clear that Washington -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- will not rattle their sabers too recklessly.

Syria's civil war is a serious concern for Washington. It has taken tens of thousands of lives, spread the burden and unrest of refugees into surrounding Middle East countries, and fueled the spreading sectarian rift and violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims that haunts Iraq and destabilizes all its neighbors. It also mocks the notion that demonstrations to spur democratic reform can supplant political tyrants. Lastly, the use of chemical weapons raises the threat of further radicalization of Islamist extremists, bolstering the Al Qaeda-related groups that are already at work in Syria and that hope to steer its critical future.

Regardless, the Obama administration and Republicans (see related column by Sen. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee) acknowledge that putting U.S. troops on the ground is not on the table. Nor, it seems certain, is a U.S.-led aerial blockade of Syria warplanes or commercial traffic.

There is ample reason for such restraint. The United States is still bogged down in an intractable war in Afghanistan. And for all of Washington's efforts to prop up and prettify the prospects of an Afghan government capable of taking charge against the Taliban and its fellow jihadists, the corrupt Afghan government isn't close to being able to stand on its own when, or if, NATO and U.S. forces pull out next year as promised.

Beyond that burden is the obstinate support of Syria by Russia and China. Both refuse to accede to the demands of the U.S. and other members of the United Nation's Security Council for economic or military blockades and sanctions against Syria. Without their support to derail Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, Washington is unlikely to call for a strategic blockade that would encounter Syria's modern air defense system. Even if China and Russia approved such intervention, there likely would be no takers to lead it -- or to follow.

Though Republicans hardly know what to do either, Corker and his GOP colleagues are not shy about criticizing Obama's "lead from behind" approach to the Syrian conflict. Speaking for the Republican opposition, Corker acknowledges all the reasons for restraint and immobility, yet he simply contends that Obama should do more than what he's already doing to jawbone against Assad and to quietly aid the rebels.

For example, Corker notes that "only Russia can convince Mr. Assad that he must step aside." But he goes on to urge the administration to "display a deeper understanding of Russia's regional interest (in the Middle East) and take advantage of our shared concerns about Islamic extremism." Well, yes, but isn't that already obvious? As Corker notes, "Russian leaders believe that Syria is becoming a safe haven for extremists."

He agrees that the U.S. should not put boots on the ground in another distant Middle East war. Yet he argues Obama "must act to affect the balance of power on the ground" to shift "momentum away from radical Islamist groups toward more moderate elements that we hope can lead Syria after Mr. Assad's fall." Unfortunately, Corker acknowledges, "the modern elements we must support are not the most formidable or the most cohesive of the forces fighting in Syria."

More than anything, Corker's back-and-forth just confirms the conundrum that any president in Obama's shoes would confront with regard to the present dilemma in Syria. With his bought-and-trained army, Assad's regime has slaughtered innocent women and children, shelled villages and towns without regard for unarmed civilians, and invoked a reign of terror and cruelty. A faction of Syria's minority Alawite Christians support Assad, as do some of the commercial and wealthy classes. But the "difficult decisions" that Corker says must be made by Washington will apparently be made in a bleeding Syria, drop by drop.

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nucanuck said...

What Corker well knows and fails to mention is the under-the-table support of money and arms that the US has supplied to rebel Syrians in our efforts to de-stabilize the Assad regime. There would be no civil war without the massive support funneled to the rebels. The US (with NATO's help) has apparently set out to remove another legitimate government with whom we have cool relations. Because Syria is allied with Iran, Russia, and China, the US wants to bring Assad down, even if that means radical Islamic forces may come to power. We have made a mess in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Now we are targeting Syria.

Corker knows that this is geo-politics writ large so why is he grandstanding to try to put even more pressure on Obama? All of the possible answers are ugly.

Syria is not a threat to the US. We should step back and offer up our criticism at the UN. We have already caused enough trouble in Syria. When will the US and Bob Corker ever learn???

April 30, 2013 at 2:17 a.m.
EaTn said...

Obama should be assertive by pulling our forces out of Afghanistan and increase their numbers to a quarter million, then march them into Damascus. It worked in Iraq--look at their free and peaceful country now. The trillion dollars added to our debt and thousands of lives was worth the outcome.

April 30, 2013 at 7:11 a.m.
anniebelle said...

why does this right-wing rag insist on putting wingnuts on the page reserved for progressives and Democrats? It's nauseous enough to see David Brooks piehole over here on a constant basis, but this little twerp Corker is the final straw. The wingnuts have the whole rest of the paper devoted to their rhetoric, misinformation and hate talk.

April 30, 2013 at 7:12 a.m.
joneses said...

obama's definition of being assertive with our enemies is appeasing them. I hope obama does not take Bob Corkers suggestion as obama thinks giving them billions of dollars is being assertive.

April 30, 2013 at 7:42 a.m.
librul said...

Yeah, it's a conundrum allright.

All the Republican hawks are blind slaves to war and seem comfortable with the fact that, in Syria, they have painted themselves into a corner and must now provide "aid and comfort" and arms to Al Qaeda-aligned fighters at the same time they proclaim America's mission is to destroy them worldwide.

They are discovering that when you destabilize a house of cards, there's always the risk it will collapse on you.

Idiots, blithering idiots all.

Oh, and kudos, Anniebelle.

April 30, 2013 at 7:49 a.m.
magenta said...

nucanuck said... Corker knows that this is geo-politics writ large so why is he grandstanding to try to put even more pressure on Obama? All of the possible answers are ugly.

Because Republicans aren't only aiming for Middle-eastern countries to turn on one another, turn Muslim agains fellow Muslim --their aim, many believe, is to get the Middle-East and Muslim world to turn against America's first black president and become the scapegoat for all Bush and his fellow Republican failures and missteps. And if the president doesn't wake up to their scheme, the GOP might just get their way.

In the initial stage when Muammar Gaddfi was being overthrown, why did GOP members rush over there on a not me/we don't have anything to do with this mission, and making themselves appear the oppressed white men of America?

April 30, 2013 at 8:04 a.m.
Leaf said...

It's pretty easy to be a critic, but nobody has a good answer for the complete mess that is the Middle East. If only we could completely ignore their genocidal dictators like we do in Africa. But, there's that oil to consider.

April 30, 2013 at 10:10 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Leaf, why do we have to consider the oil? The oil is not ours and it will be for sale whether we are there or not. Oil is fungible, it doesn't matter who buys it as long as it enters the world market. Oil has caused us to turn against the very principles that we are suppose to believe in. Let the free market decide, or are we really afraid of free markets?

April 30, 2013 at 4:29 p.m.
inquiringmind said...

If they are using poison gas what should we do, try to be the world's policeman again, or get rid of one despot so a religious despot can take his place?? That mindset worked really well in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

History has valuable lessons to teach the perceptive reader.

April 30, 2013 at 5:17 p.m.
nucanuck said...

We don't know who is using poison gas, if anyone. McCain and others want the US to get involved with no idea where that might lead.

Make the case to the UN. If the UN wants to get involved, we can and should be supportive. If not, we should limit our involvement to moral suasion.

April 30, 2013 at 7:14 p.m.
magenta said...

Makes a helluva lot o' sense mucanuck. Remember when they blamed the poison gas on Saddam Hussein during some short-lived conflict with Iran? I think it was Iran. Well, anyways, no one knows for sure who used that poisonous gas. It could have even been some third party outside the mix altogether to heightened the war or so it could later be used against Hussein, and as an excuse to remove him from power?

April 30, 2013 at 7:24 p.m.
nucanuck said...

magenta, if my memory serves, the gas supposedly used by Saddam Hussein against a faction within Iraq had been supplied by the US years before the incident.

We need to get out of the Middle East sandbox...the sooner the better.

April 30, 2013 at 10:37 p.m.
chatt_man said...

Leaf - you have mentioned the oil we got, or am getting from the Iraq war, before. You said there was money paid and oil gotten for that war.

I will ask you again, because you didn't answer the last time... who got the money, and who got the oil?

I'll await your answer...again.

May 2, 2013 at 10:58 a.m.
jesse said...

Ya know untill i saw this pix of Corker i thought Dubwa had the smirkiest smirk i ever seen!

HEY BOB!! Learn to smile or at least "GRIN", smirkin ain't gonna gitter done!Periot!

They could use that pix in the dict.to define "SMUG"!!

May 2, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.
Leaf said...

Smirkiest smirk. Classic!

May 2, 2013 at 9:22 p.m.
chatt_man said...

Yep, still no answer on the oil and money. Leaf and all others that speak of the oil and/or money we went into Iraq for have lost all credibility. No surprise. Leaf even more, the only one I've heard mention money missing.

May 3, 2013 at 12:21 p.m.
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