Obama wants regime change in Syria, it’s not just about the WMD

According to Marcy Wheeler, we are definitely headed for Syrian regime change, or at least the attempt. In a nice piece of analysis, Wheeler puts together two pieces from Congressional testimony:

We’re already militarily supporting the rebels.

The punishment-bombing (she calls it a “spanking”) of al-Assad’s forces won’t interfere with that ongoing support, and by implication, the two are intended to work together.

In other words, the two actions are designed as a one-two punch. She writes (emphasis mine):

There’s a fundamental dishonesty in the debate about Syria derived from treating the authorization to punish Bashar al-Assad for chemical weapons use in isolation from the Administration’s acknowledged covert operations to support the rebels. …

[T]he Administration is pursuing publicly acknowledged (!) covert operations with the intent of either overthrowing Assad and replacing him with moderate, secular Syrians (based on assurances from the “Custodian of the Two Mosques” about who is and who is not secular), or at least weakening Assad sufficiently to force concessions in a negotiated deal that includes the Russians.

The details are in the post. According to Wheeler, the two actions play together — bombing al-Assad for his (presumed) use of gas, and “lethal assistance to the opposition,” a phrase taken from testimony before Congress that Wheeler quotes. Be sure to read the quotes from Gen. Dempsey.

There’s a huge diversity of groups under the rubric “rebels.” Start here for a look. The strongest are not the most moderate. (And note that the writer of the linked article is too kind to the rebels and has undisclosed ties to a group that lobbies for them. If she’s too kind, they’re a rough bunch.)

In the same post, Wheeler also notes that the resolution allowing military force (AUMF) that’s before Congress contains an open-ended authorization to do almost anything the administration / Pentagon wants to do, should they want to do it.

Not only that, the same AUMF enshrines the President’s expanded understanding of his Article II war power into a Congressional acknowledgement in a way not seen under Bush II, who had his own understanding of his sweeping war power. Wheeler quotes Jack Goldsmith (Wheeler’s emphasis):

I think these provisions together constitute congressional acknowledgement that the President has constitutional authority, independent of the AUMF, to use military force to defend against the acknowledged threat to U.S. national security interests posed by the Syrian acquisition and use of WMD.  …  Note that this very broad congressional acknowledgment of presidential power does not suggest any geographical limitation.

The last “Whereas” clause [in the AUMF] is the broadest such clause I have ever seen.  I believe that the notion of a congressional “whereas” acknowledgment of independent presidential power in an AUMF is a Bush-era innovation.  (I have not seen such clauses in pre-Bush-era AUMFs.)  But the Senate’s draft “Whereas” clause is much broader than the analogous ones during the Bush era.

Scary stuff, this executive branch power grab. Remember, the executive branch means the Pentagon. Who’s the tail here, and who’s the dog?

Your take-aways

The take-ways are simple and stark:

1. The Pentagon and administration want this war, and since they already acknowledge that they’re arming selected rebels (“lethal support”), the stated cause behind the soften-him-up bombing — al-Assad used “gas on his own people” — is just a side-show.

The real show is regime change, with an attempt to install rebel “moderates” in power, and block out the extremists.

2. This may end very badly. The problem? No Shi’ite in or out of Syria sees any of the rebels as a friend. From the NY Times:

The war in Iraq has already inflamed sectarian tensions, emboldening [Syrian] Sunni extremists to raise the tempo of attacks against the Shiite-dominated [Syrian] government, while also motivating [Iraqi] Shiite men, with support from Iran, to travel to Syria to fight alongside the government forces and their ally, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.

“America wants to help the extremists to control Syria, but they are wrong because we will defend our sect,” said Abu Mohaned, who is in his mid-40s and said any American military action would inspire Iraqi Shiites to send fighters and weapons into Syria. “They will commit a big mistake if they think it will be easy to strike Syria and change everything. We all have faith that God is on our side, and we will show them that the Shiites in all the world are able to fight their proxies from Al Qaeda and Nusra and the hated Free Syrian Army.”

Al-Nusra is the strongest extremist group, pledged to al-Qaeda, and they’ve already carved out their own territory in the north of Syria. The Free Syrian Army is the mixed-“moderate” group of ex-Syrian army men, one of the groups the U.S. hopes to court and strengthen.

Note that in the minds of the Iraqi Shi’ites, according to the Times, they are both hated, both enemies. This is a game with many players. Picture a chinese checker board, with temporary alliances among the players, but each ultimately playing for themselves and their separate goals.

Lord knows how this will end, but it could end very badly indeed.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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47 Responses to “Obama wants regime change in Syria, it’s not just about the WMD”

  1. karmanot says:

    “Why did they fall out?” Imperialism, militarism, and colonialism result in nationalist sentiment and uprising. America has taken every scheme of the former British empire and doubled its failures.

  2. karmanot says:

    And American failure has been very successful.

  3. Ferdiad says:

    If you study history, which most people don’t, you will see that contrary to everything you have been told, the Arab nationalist movement was very progressive for its time. Assad’s father and Saddam actually ushered in booming economies and new found rights for women and religious minorities. In the beginning, they were allies of the West. But them something happened. They became independent, like most nationalist movements, and didn’t listen to everything the west told them to do. They had their own industry and political objectives. They also had to deal with political Islam which led to internal strife. Both leaders brutally put down Islamic uprisings. Certainly no picnic, but not much different from the way the west and Israel put down similar uprisings. In the case of Assad’s father, he originally wanted to stay a part of the French colony in Syria because he didn’t want the Alawite’s under the control of the Sunni extremists. Saddam used American made choppers to drop American made chemical weapons on Iranian troops. Again, what happened? Why did they fall out?

  4. lynchie says:

    We only get about 12% of our oil from the middle east. That’s not to say we don’t bring more that 12% to the states and then re ship it to China or wherever. Just like the proposed XL pipeline that oil will be exported and not used domestically.


    However this is about oil and the oil companies feel they have a right to harvest it and sell it around the world. This is also about Syria’s close ties to Russia and selling the oil to them.

    As far as being a catalyst for bigger upheaval, we the people would suffer but the price of oil/gas would go up as the companies gouge us at the pump and create bigger profits for the oil companies, profits on which they pay little in taxes and here is why.

    The oil and gas industry gave more than $70 million in federal campaign contributions during the 2012 cycle, with a whopping 90 percent going to Republican candidates. The big five oil companies spent nearly $50 million
    on lobbying Congress in 2012, or more than one-third of the entire oil
    and gas industry’s expenditures. A major goal of these political
    activities is to retain special tax breaks for the oil and gas industry,
    which add up to $40 billion over a decade. Despite ranking as some of the most profitable companies in the world, the big five oil companies receive $2.4 billion in tax breaks from Congress each year, according to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
    U.S. taxpayers should no longer foot the bill for antiquated,
    100-year-old fossil-fuel subsidies that, upon conception, were meant to
    help a then-fledgling industry grow.


    So you are absolutely right about this being a powder keg but it is about the profits everyone makes (especially Congress which got $70 million in campaign money). Here is a short list.

    Top Recipients, 2011-2012CandidateOfficeAmount

    Romney, Mitt (R)$5,682,579

    Perry, Rick (R)$1,004,874

    Obama, Barack (D)$849,523

    Cruz, Ted (R-TX)$752,618

    Dewhurst, David H (R-TX)$629,446


    This is about oil, it has always been about oil and will forever be about oil. We, the taxpayer will foot the bill for this war. Few of us, except the troops, will be killed, after all the war is over there. We can expect some terrorism to be brought to our shores but the bulk will be where our troops are. They are like red meat to a pride of lions.

  5. JayRandal says:

    Yes it could stoke allowing oil pipeline from Canada. I think Obama has given up on jobs creation and has just decided to ignite a huge war instead. Whole thing is crazy.

  6. JayRandal says:

    Attacking Syria is actually about luring Iran into the conflict. Gives excuse for Israel to
    bomb Iran’s nuclear sites. Big problem afterwards it could ignite W.W.III in doing it.

  7. Rob Dowdy says:

    And that we have absolutely nothing at all to show for any of it. Just being purely selfish, think of what could have been done with all that money. So many teachers making an honest living, bridges repaired before they fall down and kill innocent people, and on and on and on.

  8. Rob Dowdy says:

    And isn’t the timing perfect? Iran has a new guy in power, a supposedly cooler head than Ahmadinejad, which means he might be reasoned with at some point, but now we’re going to waltz over and take away every possible reason he might have to moderate Iran’s position on US relations.

  9. Rob Dowdy says:

    You will at some point hear any number of talking heads turn to a “foreign policy expert” and ask some variation of, “Once military action in Syria commences, what can we expect in the long term?”

    And not one of them will reply, “Well, based objectively on the historical outcomes of any number of very similar past experiences … nothing good. Nothing good at all.”

    And when the blowback comes? “Those poor crazy brown people. Why must they hate us for our freedom?”

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

  10. Naja pallida says:

    Puts a new perspective on why they’re demanding we ‘drill here, drill now’, doesn’t it?

  11. silas1898 says:

    Improvised explosive device is just new-speak for “bomb”.

    I think Stalin gets credit for something like “I don’t care if I’m loved, I want to be feared”

    Works every time.

  12. JayRandal says:

    If somehow Iran gets pulled into this conflict it could trigger global W.W.III which is WHY I oppose attack
    on Syria. Imagine oil shipments cut-off from Persian Gulf causing gasoline rationing in US and Europe.
    President Obama’s reckless actions could collapse US and worldwide economy in addition to all out war.

  13. karmanot says:

    Soon it will be international euphemisms! :-)

  14. Naja pallida says:

    It is truly stunning how our piss-poor track record is completely ignored by the talking heads whenever the issue of the middle east comes up. Just consider for a moment how much direct influence we have had in keeping that region destabilized. We supported Hussein, Gaddafi, Mubarak, the Taliban. Right up until we didn’t. Our failures at creating a puppet state are what led to the current government in Iran. We support whatever Pakistan does, because we want to exploit them to continue our other wars. We support Lebanon, unless Hezbollah is involved (or they disagree with us using their airspace to fire cruise missiles over). Then there is our unconditional love for Israel, no matter what they do, that doesn’t make us any friends either. If anyone can’t understand why so many people in that region hate the United States, you have are intentionally keeping yourself ignorant on the issue.

    We are the middle east’s jealous psycho ex, who stalks them incessantly, keeps them in fear, and ruins every future relationship.

  15. BeccaM says:

    …which is only half a step from “international suggestions.”

  16. karmanot says:

    The recent ‘new speak’ is telling: international law is now called international norms.

  17. BeccaM says:

    If you don’t support the war, then you must hate the troops who have been put in harm’s way.

    …and not, of course, the leaders who were responsible for deciding to put the troops there in the first place.

    What I find interesting is how rarely it’s being mentioned in the news accounts of the unpopularity of going to war in Syria that a huge contributing factor has to be the weariness of already having been at war for nearly 12 years.

    Personally, one of the details that infuriates me most is how leaders on both sides of the political aisle — but especially the GOPers — who’ve been bitching about the deficit and how we just can’t afford to do much of anything constructive for the nation or to help rebuild our economy have no concern whatsoever for the billions of dollars it would cost to intervene in Syria.

  18. nicho says:

    And once we have boots on the ground, we will be required (at least according to the bumper stickers I see) to “support the troops,” which is code for “support the war.” If you don’t support the war, then you must hate the troops who have been put in harm’s way.

  19. nicho says:

    Godwin’s “Law” started out as a joke. It still is — but it certainly prevents people from making apt comparisons when they’re called for.

  20. BeccaM says:

    It’s already in the works.


    The Obama administration is considering a plan to use U.S. military trainers to help increase the capabilities of the Syrian rebels, a move that would greatly expand the CIA training now being done in Jordan, U.S. officials said Thursday.

  21. Ford Prefect says:

    Here’s viddy of a Syrian woman confronting John McNasty at his “townhall” in Furnace… I mean Phoenix.

  22. BeccaM says:

    WMD, like the label “terrorist” or “terrorist sympathizer,” has been turned into a word that means whatever they want it to mean.

    A pressure cooker loaded with gunpowder from fireworks and a bunch of metal hardware was labeled a WMD, despite the fact it was merely an improvised explosive device.

    It used to be WMD equaled something capable of destroying a city or a large portion of one. Now it’s down to “anything capable of inflicting multiple casualties all at once… provided it is not a firearm because those are exempt.”

    The reason they keep doing this is to remove any conscious thought or deliberative processes from the debate. It becomes all about fear and terror — used by the Powers That Be to whip up support for the insupportable.

  23. Ford Prefect says:

    More like August 1914 to me. Too many competing agendas. Too many regional and global entanglements.

  24. BeccaM says:

    It’s feeling just like August 2002 all over again…

  25. karmanot says:

    Don’t forget the ‘advisers’ stage.

  26. karmanot says:

    Since Puritans began murdering the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

  27. karmanot says:

    “humanitarian mission” —–an absurdity equal to if not greater than Godwin’s Law.

  28. karmanot says:

    American exceptionalism at its finest.

  29. karmanot says:

    Yet again the foreign policy morons in DC headed by Democrat neo-cons and an incompetent CIC are walking into another Middle Eastern trap. My god Obama is a bozo. We supported the Taliban against the Russians and created a terrorist mini state. Now we are supporting a combination of Tailiban and even worse terrorist rebels. The same thing also happened in Viet Nam. Same old playbook, same immense failure.

  30. Dave of the Jungle says:

    “If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.”

  31. Bill_Perdue says:

    White phosphorous shells and missiles are clearly WMDs and under Obama they’re supplied in large numbers to the zionists who use them over densely populated areas like GAZA.

  32. Bill_Perdue says:

    What do you think? Do you think a banana republic administered by political prostitutes for the rich is a viable state whether it’s Syria or the US?

  33. Bill_Perdue says:

    True, but Obama and the corporations he works for want regime change so they can control oil and gas resources that pass through Syria on their way to Europe, bypass the Russians GAZPROM and further their strategic plans to encircle Iran and can protect their client state in the zionist colony in Palestine.

  34. lynchie says:

    Don’t tell me….Don’t tell me. I know, I know, I know. Made in Amurika, the gold U. S. of A. Aren’t we a proud bunch of killers.

  35. Naja pallida says:

    And where do you suppose the WMDs that have killed the most people, and caused the most political turmoil in the middle east in the last, say, 50 years, originated from?

  36. Oh I wish. That’s a good place to start.

  37. nicho says:

    Everyone uses the acronym WMD as if it means something. A pistol or ordinary rifle obviously isn’t a weapon of mass destruction. But it seems to me that almost everything else is intended to kill more than one person.

  38. Ford Prefect says:

    I’m glad you raise the issue of the aftermath, GP. Per usual, it’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room the media won’t touch. Ethnic cleansing is pretty much guaranteed. There’s a possibility of genocide as well. Perhaps the “christians” in government who support this war can explain what’s going to happen to the 7% of Syria’s population that is christian? Or Shia? Or Zoroastrian? Or Druid? (I’m agnostic, so I’m not favoring any religious group or minority over any others. It’s just odd that Neo-Cons and Neo-Libs who claim religiosity themselves would ignore all this in favor of other objectives.)

    How is this a “humanitarian” mission in any sense at all?

    Stephen Walt wrote a post remarking how the Powell Doctrine would be applied in this case. He lists the 8 questions and then posits answers to them:

    1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?

    2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?

    3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?

    4. Have all other nonviolent policy means been fully exhausted?

    5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?

    6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?

    7. Is the action supported by the American people?

    8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

    Long story short, he asserts almost none of these questions can be answered in the affirmative. Powell required that all 8 have “YES” answers. Walt sees one “maybe.”


    I guess this is what we get for not punishing the psychos that brought us Cakewalk 1.0. Now we’re set for Cakewalk 2.D’oh? Only this time, it’s a war that will involve everyone in the region and all of their various clients.

    Lastly, did everyone see Chris Hayes’ show last night? The Kerry interview was minor league softball. Lawrence Wilkerson was at least allowed to inject some reason into the discussion. But Grayson was pilloried for undermining Dear Leader’s legislative agenda, in what was one of the most crass segments I’ve seen in ages. They want the Democratic proles to see Grayson as some sort of “traitor.” No word from the hack panelists as to whether or not an unpopular, disastrous war might make Obama lamer than lame all on its own. They’re already looking for scapegoats!

    If MSNBC’s ratings take a dive at some point, it’s not hard to see why it happened.

  39. Ford Prefect says:

    And Lebanon too, which is why State is evacuating non-essential personnel. But ultimately, this is about Iran and that’s where all this is headed.

  40. Ford Prefect says:

    Except that in this case, the military does not seem to be in favor of this. Dempsey has plainly told congress for months this is not in the interest of US national security and the potential for disaster is quite high, if not inevitable. The contractors want it because Profits! The civilian leadership want it for reasons unexplained. I’m guessing Profits!

  41. cole3244 says:

    regime change begins at home.

  42. caphillprof says:

    How does our policy to oppose and oppress Shia Muslims throughout the world square with the First Amendment? Since when does the US take sides in religious conflicts?

  43. caphillprof says:

    Do I understand you to say that the country in need of a regime change is the United States of America?

  44. jomicur says:

    WE learned five years ago that Obama always does the exact opposite of what he says in his speeches. He has stated a number of times that his object is NOT regime chance, so…

    The script has already been written:
    1. “Limited strikes”
    2. We have to send in ground troops to make certain our limited strikes really worked, don’t we?
    3. We have to send in still more ground troops to ensure the safety of the ground troops that are already there.
    4. Repeat step 3 as many times as desired.

    And on and on.

    Nobel Peace Prize, my ass.

  45. Indigo says:

    Two points:
    1. I don’t see where Syria has any impact on US security and
    2. Thanks for pointing out the obvious which never crossed my mind until you mentioned it that the
    Executive branch = Pentagon.

    Oh, right! That insight helps clarify lots of otherwise puzzling things happening around us.

  46. nicho says:

    While not a signatory, Obama is clearly on board with the PNAC doctrine. Syria has been one of their targets for 20 years.

  47. Another country needs a regime change and they’re in the middle east!?? We HAVE to go in.

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