Friday, August 30, 2013

08-30-13 Stop a War on Syria



4 to 6 p.m. On Main Street in front of the New Paltz Plaza. Bring signs. We can supply some.

Sponsored by The Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter, Mid-Hudson WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend), Mid-Hudson ANSWER. Information,




By Jack A. Smith, editor of the Activist Newsletter

We wrote June 11 and repeated August 23 a statement about the question of a chemical attacks in Syria. We continue to believe it is correct:

“Nerve gas may have been used but we remain unconvinced that the Syrian government ordered its use. [President Bashar] Assad fully understood that if gas was deployed it would cross Obama’s “red line,” leading anywhere from a marked increase in U.S. support for the rebels to massive retaliation. Assad clings tenaciously to his life, his office, and his constituency. Why would he, in effect, toss it all away by approving the use of a militarily unnecessary gas knowing it could trigger his doom? War hawks in Washington are demanding a drastic response from the White House….”

We also said  Aug. 23 that “President Obama is correct to be very cautious because this may well be an opposition maneuver to provoke U.S. intervention.” The ink hardly dried before Obama displayed a hawkish profile.

A horrendous  chemical attack actually occurred, but there still has been absolutely no evidence that Assad ordered a chemical attack. Precisely why Obama has decided to bomb Syria is not entirely clear, especially since American public opinion is against his doing so. Two possible reasons come to mind:

1.He fears being regarded as weak if he does not act after declaring he would do so if an arbitrary “red line” was crossed.  This would be a case of presidential vanity run riot, especially if Damascus didn’t order the attack.

2. He was propelled to take action by the fact that Syrian government forces were winning the civil war. Any attack will help the rebels.

Ironically, Obama fears the actions of the Assad government far less than he fears what would happen if the rebel forces he supports ultimately get their hands on Syria’s storehouse of chemical weapons. Al-Qaeda and its supporters play a big role in an effort to take power in Damascus. That explains the most recent statement about the danger to America from Syria’s chemical weapons of mass destruction. It’s an odd contradiction that has yet to work itself out.

We applaud the British Parliament for voting against the United Kingdom’s participation in America’s seventh attack on a mainly Muslim country in recent years. This is a major blow to the Obama Administration’s pretext for bombing Syria.

Parliament acted in response to public opinion — a practice usually ignored in the United States.  There has so far not even been a debate in Congress on launching an illegal and unjust bombing, much less legislation approving an attack. And even if Congress did act it is very doubtful the majority opinion of the American people would prevail in its deliberations.

By Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition

The Obama administration’s rush to war is hitting obstacles and hurdles. In fact, the rush to war has created a crisis inside the White House. President Obama is undoubtedly recognizing now the potential political consequences of this plan, which appears to the world to be nothing other than a new lawless and reckless act of aggression by the world’s greatest military superpower.

While Kerry and Biden were pounding their fists and demanding new blood in Syria, a dynamic push back began inside the United States and around the world.

They were rushing to war to avoid giving the opposition a chance to build up. They did not think everything through, however. President Obama, for instance, could not order a new bombing campaign on the day before or on the anniversary of the 50th anniversary March on Washington. He could not stand exactly where Dr. King delivered his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, invoking the memory of the greatest figure for peace and civil rights, while having bombs and missiles crash down on Damascus.

During this crucial delay, opposition grew to these crazed war plans

The U.S. and British governments asserted that Assad ordered the chemical weapons attack but they lacked something: evidence and proof.

Assad denied the allegations from the beginning that Syria would have any interest in using chemical weapons. This is undoubtedly true since that would be the one thing that could trigger a U.S./NATO direct military intervention. The armed rebels fighting Assad can only succeed with the help of direct foreign military intervention.

Secretary of State John Kerry and senior administration officials demanded that the UN cancel their inspections of the area hit by the chemical attack, saying that Assad had delayed their visit to hide the evidence.

But that was a lie and the world learned of the lie.

In truth, Syria had immediately agreed to the UN request to allow in weapons inspectors.

With every passing hour, new information is coming out that exposes the weakness of the U.S. case. The fact that the information is coming out into the open demonstrates that a deep split has emerged within the summits of the government and the military over the rush to war.

The AP just reported that “multiple U.S. officials used the phrase ‘not a slam dunk’ to describe the intelligence picture – a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet’s insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction as a ‘slam dunk’ – intelligence that turned out to be wrong.”

"American officials said Wednesday there was no 'smoking gun' that directly links President Bashar al-Assad to the attack, and they tried to lower expectations about the public intelligence presentation." (New York Times, Aug. 28)

 People in the United States oppose the planned military strikes in the heart of the Arab world.
People in the U.K. are equally opposed to Prime Minister Cameron’s push for war, and opposition is growing. Cameron, like Obama, is now in crisis.

Of course, people throughout the Middle East oppose the bombing of Syria.

Divisions and splits within the political and military establishment provide an opportunity for the mass grassroots movement to help change the political equation.

This is the time to act. Everyone should be in the streets building protests and opposition against a new criminal war in the Middle East conducted by The Empire and for The Empire.

By Ron Jacobs, CounterPunch, Aug. 28

Here Washington goes again, talking about blowing up homes, military buildings and people in faraway lands. Of course, the reason presented to the US populace for this bluster before the crime is based on a morality that considers a military response to have some kind of moral foundation. Yet, even if we believe the president’s rationale of a chemical attack, the accusations against the Assad government in this case remain flimsy and impossible to prove. Indeed, all of the evidence against either side in this case is purely circumstantial. In other words, there is plenty of reasonable doubt as to who the perpetrators of the attack were and even if it happened at all.

Why do Americans pretend that their weaponry is somehow more moral than that of other combatants? Back in the 1990s, Bill Clinton lobbed cruise missiles at his perceived enemies the way kids throw rocks. The net result ended up being dead innocents, unnecessary destruction, angry governments and negligible political results. Cruise missiles always seemed to me to be nothing more than car bombs of US imperialism. Ostensibly targeting certain buildings or people, they often kill with little regard to who happens to be near the target. In addition, like the drones favored by Obama, the element of surprise these weapons depend on intensifies the likelihood that innocents will be killed. Just more collateral damage.

Tomahawk cruise missiles were originally manufactured by General Dynamics, one of the few corporations in the US (if not the world), that makes all of its profit from designing and manufacturing weapons systems and the software required to target and deliver the ammunition those systems exist for. The missiles are now manufactured by Raytheon, another corporation whose profits are derived primarily from the machinery of death. The weapons can be launched from ships and from land. They travel at a subsonic speed and the newer versions can be re-directed in flight, should a “juicier” target present itself. Their payload can consist of several smaller armed missiles. Each Tomahawk costs around $569,000 to $1.5 million.

It is not my purpose here to dismiss the grotesquery of the images presented to the world portraying an alleged chemical attack in Syria. However, to pretend that there is genuine proof as to who perpetrated the attack is at the least a cynical manipulation of the facts available. Furthermore, the plan from Washington and other western capitals to launch an attack on Syria in “response” is not a solution. It is as morally repugnant as the alleged attack and just as likely to expand the death and killing as it is to lessen it. If one examines the overall policy of Washington towards Syria over the years, any response other than skepticism about its purported goals in its current policy ring exceedingly hollow.

This becomes even more so when one examines the comments made regarding Syria since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. One such comment came from then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in testimony before a congressional committee in October 2005: “Unless we commit to changing the nature of the Middle East and if we tire and decide that we are going to withdraw and leave the people of the Middle East to despair, I can assure you that the people of the United States are going to live in insecurity and fear for many, many decades to come.” As the past years have shown, it is that insistence on changing the Middle East to fit Washington’s goals that is causing the insecurity and fear anticipated by Ms. Rice.

Sending cruise missiles or, god forbid, something more lethal to attack Assad’s troops and military bases will not decrease Washington’s insecurity or that of its populace. Nor is it likely to cause any participant in that nation’s conflict to change their stance. Instead, we are likely to see an increase in all of the negatives associated with the war. The least of these negatives will be the claims of a higher moral purpose claimed by Washington and the worst will be the ramping up of the murder this and all wars revel in.

— Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two.

By Chris Floyd. CounterPunch

At some point in the next few hours or days, it is likely that deeply damaged collection of moral cretins known as “Western leaders” will sit down behind the gargantuan phalanxes of heavily armed security that keeps their well-wadded rumps safe and cozy and give the nod to some close-cropped flunky laden with medals for mendacious time-serving and relentless butt-covering to launch the airstrikes that will kill a large number of human beings who had absolutely nothing to do with the alleged chemical weapon attacks allegedly carried out by Syrian government forces.

That is to say, the leaders of the West, particularly the notoriously bloodthirsty nations of the United States and Great Britain, will murder a number of their fellow human beings for no reason whatsoever. What’s more, they know this and admit it beforehand, speaking under oath, as the U.S. military chief did this week, of the inevitable “collateral damage” the coming attacks will cause.

These Western leaders, primarily Barack Obama and the pathetic, feckless ex-PR shill David Cameron, will knowingly murder an unknown number of people while braying all the while of their own righteousness and the strict “legality” of their acts of mass murder. They will be supported in these murders by the leaders of the so-called opposition parties, who will, as always, line up like automatons and spew out mindless, spineless rhetoric in favor of murdering people, because they too are deeply damaged moral cretins who hope one day to have the opportunity to sit in well-wadded comfort and order human beings to be killed.

These wretched, cowardly weaklings — the leaders, their opposition, their minions — believe that the exercise of brutal, death-dealing power (at a distance; always, always at a safe distance!) will somehow fill up the howling emptiness inside them. It will not, of course, but they are too stupid to know this — or else they are already so far steeped in blood that they can’t stop, can’t go back, their humanity is already lost.

These leaders know that their action will murder innocent people (as so many of their actions do, week after week, year after year), they know (because their own analysts and experts tell them) that it will exacerbate extremism, worsen the conflict in Syria, destabilize the region, increase global tensions and lead directly and indirectly to the needless death and horrific suffering of countless people in the days and years to come.

They know all this, they will do it anyway. They know all this, but they do not care. They don’t know how to care. They have given themselves over to Moloch — to the insane, inhuman force of violent domination — and they must blindly follow its dictates. Nothing can stop them, no reasoned argument, no moral objection, not even self-interest, national or personal. They are insane. They are stupid. They are enslaved to murderous power — so they will kill.
Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch. 

By Robert Naiman, Huffington Post, Aug. 27

On Sunday, Republican Sen. Bob Corker and Rep. Eliot Engel -- a Democrat who voted for the Iraq war -- told Fox News that President Obama should strike Syria first and get congressional approval afterwards.

That's not how the U.S. Constitution says it should go. That's not how the War Powers Resolution (which, despite the name "resolution," is binding U.S. law) says it should go. The Constitution and the War Powers Resolution say that absent an attack on the United States, Congress must approve military action before it takes place. There is a common misconception about the War Powers Resolution that it allows the president to do whatever he or she wants for 60 days. This confuses one provision of the War Powers Resolution with the whole. In section 2c, the War Powers Resolution affirms that:

The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.

There's another common misconception that because presidents have claimed that the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional, it can be ignored. First, the president doesn't get to declare things unconstitutional on his or her own say-so -- the president is entitled to his or her opinion, but that's all it is, an opinion. Second, while the constitutionality of some provisions of the War Powers Resolution has been disputed, the constitutionality of section 2c has never been in serious dispute. If other parts of the War Powers Resolution were to fall to a constitutional challenge -- which they haven't -- section 2c would still be good law.

According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 60 percent of Americans surveyed said the U.S. should not intervene in Syria's sectarian civil war, while just 9 percent thought President Obama should intervene. Even if Assad's forces used chemical weapons to attack civilians -- at this point, an allegation which has not been proved, and an allegation that has a track record of being made without being borne out -- only 25 percent of Americans would support U.S. intervention, while 46 percent would oppose it.

On July 24, the House approved an amendment by voice vote that would prohibit funding of any military action that violates the War Powers Resolution.

If President Obama can get us into war in Syria without prior congressional approval, it will set a terrible precedent: A future president could get us more easily into war in Iran without prior congressional approval.

Tell President Obama and Congress: there must be no U.S. military action in Syria without congressional debate and authorization.

Congress is out of session right now. But there is no emergency that requires immediate, unconstitutional, illegal action. If there were an emergency that required immediate action, Congress could be called back into session. If there's no emergency that requires immediate action, then action can wait until Congress reconvenes.

Syria's sectarian civil war has been going on for years. If President Obama wanted to intervene militarily, he's had ample opportunities to put the proposition to congressional debate and vote.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that when President Obama intervened militarily in Libya -- also without congressional authorization -- Congress was out of session.

There is no provision in the Constitution or the War Powers Resolution for a "recess war." If the precedent is set that the President can do whatever he or she wants so long as Congress is out of session, the war powers provisions of the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution will be substantially undermined. And the prospect of war with Iran will get much closer, because a key speed bump on the road to war will be removed.

If Congress doesn't count, then the American people don't count. It's no accident that the permanent war party wants the president to go around Congress when the majority of Americans are strongly opposed to a new war. If Congress and the American people can be evaded in this case, it's a body blow to the principle that U.S. foreign policy should be subordinate to democracy and the rule of law.

It should not go unnoted that a U.S. military strike on Syria under present circumstances would be a grave breach of the U.N. Charter, because Syria has not attacked the United States and the U.N. Security Council has not approved military action in Syria.

Of course, there is a widespread belief in Washington and the country at large that the U.N. Charter and international law generally don't apply to the United States: "that's not for us to follow, that's for the little people to follow."

But even if this is your view -- that the U.N. Charter doesn't apply to the United States -- note that it is generally accepted in Washington that the fact that the U.S. would be in breach of the U.N. Charter if it strikes Syria without being attacked and without Security Council authorization has significant implications for whether U.S. military action is legal under the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution.

In past cases where an administration has deployed force without congressional authorization, and which supporters of military action without congressional authorization cite as precedents -- Kosovo and Libya -- the administration cited international action as justification: NATO action in the former case, UN action in the latter case.

Now, in fact, there's nothing in the Constitution or U.S. law that says that the administration can act without congressional approval because there's a UN resolution or a NATO agreement. But because administrations have argued in the past that a UN resolution or NATO action can help justify U.S. military action in the absence of congressional authorization, it matters that there is no UN resolution and no NATO action -- the administration's legal case for unilateral action is even weaker than in the Kosovo case or the Libya case.

Unfortunately, the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution are not self-enforcing when it comes to protecting congressional war powers, democracy, and the rule of law. The enforcement is political. The Constitution and the War Powers Resolution are enforced when Members of Congress insist that they be enforced, and Members of Congress insist that the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution be enforced when they hear from the public that they want the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution to be enforced.

That's why it's important for the public to speak up. Tell President Obama and Congress to comply with the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution: no military intervention in Syria without prior congressional approval.

— Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. He edits the daily news summary.

By, August 28

The neocon war criminals who took the U.S. into an illegal and disastrous war in Iraq are back - and demanding a Syria War.We say No!

Attacking Syria won't reduce the violence - it will only escalate it with devastating consequences for Syrians and Americans, as we learned so painfully in Iraq.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq killed 100,000 to 600,000 Iraqi civilians. For Americans, the invasion killed 4,486 U.S. troops and wounded 32,223. Of the 2.3 million U.S. troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, roughly 20% suffer from PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury, and hundreds commit suicide each year. For returning troops and their loved ones, the war is never over.

Tell Congress: No Syria War!

Economically, the U.S. absolutely cannot afford war with Syria. The Iraq War cost the U.S. economy $3 trillion and helped cause the Great Recession of 2008, which has not ended.

Since Republicans refuse to raise taxes, the inevitable costs of a Syrian War will come from food stamps, education, health care, environmental protection, and Social Security. The American people adamantly oppose cuts in these essential programs.

Tell Congress: No Syria War!Tell your Senators and Representative to vote against a Syria War, and block any funds for any military actions that could start such a war.

By M. K. Bhadrakumar

President Barack Obama is setting a new precedent in America's history as an imperialist power. He is all but apologizing before he orders a military attack against a sovereign country with which the United States is not at war and which has not offended America's vital interests and concerns as a sovereign country even remotely.

The Obama administration is publicizing in advance that it is going to be a "limited" military attack by the US on Syria. It is even willing to give advance notice of when the attack can be expected. Who would say Obama is not a humane and considerate statesman?

By "limited" attack, the Obama administration is indicating it will not directly attack Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles but only their "delivery systems'', which means the Syrian air force and the army units that are capable of staging a chemical weapon attack. Indeed, someone is in command of any country's armed forces and, therefore, the "command-and-control" systems of the Syrian armed forces will also be targeted.

In sum, the plan behind the "limited" attack is to degrade the Syrian armed forces. The political objective is clear. The Obama administration insists that it is not "regime change''. What it means is that the US and its allies would hope that coming under immense pressure of death and destruction, the Syrian armed forces might begin, finally, to begin to question President Bashar al-Assad's leadership quality, which, in turn, could lead to a coup against him that will not be a "regime change" and yet a sufficient-enough "regime change”…..

This move to attack Syria comes out of a master plan that the US (and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) pretended all along didn't exist. The art of dissimulation has been perfected to the ultimate point. The US has taken an abrupt turn from the path leading to the proposed Geneva 2 summit without bothering to even explain why, while unilaterally concluding without any concrete evidence that the Syrian government should be held responsible for the latest chemical weapon attacks near Damascus.

Second, when the chips are down, the US rallies its allies and forms a "coalition of the willing''. The disarray that was supposed to have been there between the US on the one hand and its Persian Gulf allies (and Israel) on the other hand over the regime change in Egypt was a petty squabble among vendors in a fish market, after all. When the need arises and the time comes, they unfailingly move together like a pack of wolves.

Third, the US unilaterally interprets international law and has no qualms about launching military attacks without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. While a practicing democracy, which espouses the values of "inclusive" democracy, the US administrations act without taking into consideration domestic public opinion. According to US opinion polls, not even 10% of the American people want their country to get involved in any way in the civil war in Syria.

Four, Obama has been throwing dust in the eyes of world opinion by creating the impression that there shall be no more "Afghanistans" and "Iraqs" and that he is still reeling under pain when yet another body bag arrives from the Afghan war and he is called upon to sign the condolence letter to the bereaved family. The US invasion of Iraq resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. But it doesn't leave a scar on Obama's sensibility.

However, the most profound lesson coming out of all this as the US begins the countdown of an attack on Syria lies somewhere else: Why Syria, why not North Korea?

The answer is clear. As CNN's military analysts are at pains to explain, this is going to be a military operation that incurs no risk of US casualties. The attack on Syria will be staged from the blue sea with cruise missiles - not even aircraft flown by US pilots lest they get shot down.

The American analysts explain that the Syrian armed forces are already overstretched after two years of fighting the rebels all over the country. They flag how Syria couldn't even retaliate against repeated Israeli air attacks - something unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

In sum, Syria has no deterrent power. This is where Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il proved visionary leaders. They have bequeathed to the current leadership of Kim Jong-eun in Pyongyang a deterrent power that will make the Obama administration think not twice but several times over before launching a military strike against North Korea. This is exactly where Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad seems to have faltered.

Now, this becomes a morality play for Iran. Of course, the Iranian regime takes very seriously the "fatwas" handed down by their Spiritual Leader and Supreme Leader not to embark upon a nuclear weapon program. But, is that the wise thing to do?

After all, we have to be alive first before we can think of observing "fatwas" - even Persians. The point is, the impending US attack on Syria should be a wake-up call for the Iranian regime - alerting it to the existential struggle that lies ahead.

How can Tehran take Obama's word seriously anymore? Only this past week, it emerged authoritatively from the US official archival materials that the 1953 coup against Mohamed Mossadeq was a CIA operation; and, that the horrendous chemical weapons attacks by Saddam Hussein's forces were staged [in the 1980s war against Iranian troops and civilians] with crucial intelligence inputs from the CIA.

Has anything really changed under Obama? The Iranian leadership needs to ponder calmly and collectively.

No matter the outcome of the imminent US attack on Syria, which is bound to have tragic consequences, Tehran should take a momentous decision to safeguard against such aggression. The only way it can do that will be by having the deterrent power that North Korea possesses, which keeps predators away.

World opinion will understand. The meek also have a moral right to defend themselves - even if they are far from inheriting the earth as God prophesied. Let this be Obama's finest presidential legacy - a nuclear Iran.

— Ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India's ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). From Asia Times 8-29-13

[The author of the following article was the Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel from 2003–2004, and Special Counsel to the Department of Defense from 2002–2003. He is now  at Harvard Law School.

By Jack Goldsmith, Lawfare, August 28

I have a pretty broad view of presidential power to use military force abroad without congressional authorization.  On that view, which is close to the past views of the Office of Legal Counsel, the planned use of military force in Syria is a constitutional stretch that will push presidential war unilateralism beyond where it has gone before. 

There are many reasons why it is a stretch even under OLC precedents.  The main ones… are (1) neither U.S. persons nor property are at stake, and no plausible self-defense rationale exists; (2) the main non-self-defense U.S. interest that the Commander in Chief has invoked since the Korean War to justify unilateral uses of force – upholding the integrity of the U.N. Charter – appears (as Wells argued) to be disserved rather than served by a military strike in Syria; and (3) a Syria strike would push the legal envelope further even than Kosovo, the outer bound to date of presidential unilateralism, which at least implicated our most important security treaty organization commitments (NATO).  (Note that the USG was, as Wells pointed out, never able to publicly articulate a legal rationale for Kosovo.  In our more legalistic age 14 years later, such silence likely won’t be possible, but it also won’t be possible to rely on Kosovo as a constitutional precedent without explaining why the invasion was lawful at the time.

All of which raises the questions: Why is President Obama going to act unilaterally?  Why doesn’t the man who pledged never to use force without congressional authorization except in self-defense call Congress into session to debate and authorize the use of force in Syria?  Why doesn’t he heed his own counsel that “[h]istory has shown us time and again . . . that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch,” and that it is “always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action”?  Why is he instead rushing to use force in a way that will set a novel constitutional precedent for presidential unilateralism that will far outlive his presidency?  Since U.S. intervention in Syria portends many foreseeably bad consequences, and because there is so little support in the nation for this intervention, why not get Congress on board – not just to legitimate the action, but also to spread political risk?  Why exacerbate the growing perception – justified or not – of a presidency indifferent to legal constraints?  Why not follow the example of George H.W. Bush, who sought and received congressional authorization for the 1991 invasion of Iraq, or George W. Bush, who did the same for the 2003 invasion of Iraq?  Or to take an example more on point, why not follow David Cameron, who (embarrassingly for the President) recently called Parliament into session to debate and legitimate Britain’s planned involvement.

There are many answers, including: the President now has a very broad view of his unilateral war powers; this military action is being rushed, and formal congressional approval is not a priority in light of the President’s self-induced credibility crisis and the overwhelming military and diplomatic demands of planning the intervention; the White House doesn’t want to expend (or doesn’t have) the resources that seeking and winning congressional approval would require; it doesn’t want to suffer through the formal national debate; and it fears it might lose the debate (either outright, or with a limitation on presidential power), which would be politically and legally humiliating.  None of these are good reasons from a constitutional perspective, and in light of the costs of unilateralism.  And the White House is mistaken to think that informal briefings to congressional leaders are a substitute, even a near-substitute, for formal public congressional debate and authorization.  Such secret ex ante deliberations lack constitutional significance, and they won’t help one bit politically once things go contrary to plan, as they always do.

By Jason Ditz,, August 29

Two major human rights groups are chiming in on the imminent US attack on Syria today, cautioning that it is a big mistake that will make the humanitarian situation in the nation, already dire after years of sectarian civil war, all the worse.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in particular expressed concern that the US was using their statements about civilian deaths related to exposure to chemicals as a justification for the war, saying the statement was no substitute for a UN investigation into whether it was a chemical weapons attack or not, and that they had no solid evidence of their own on what, exactly, the civilians were exposed to.

US officials had latched on to the part of the MSF report that said victims showed symptoms of exposure to neurotoxins, though it skipped over the part that said it wasn’t sure what those toxins were, and also skimmed past the 355 dead part so it could reiterate rebel claims of thousands dead.
The Red Cross is also warning against the attacks on humanitarian grounds, saying that a US attack would further damage Syria’s infrastructure and create another new influx of displaced civilians in a region that is already overwhelmed by them.

By Shane Harris And Matthew M. Aid, Foreign Policy, August 26

The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America's military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen, Foreign Policy has learned.

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq's war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein's military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq's favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration's long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn't disclose.

U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein's government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

"The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn't have to. We already knew," he told Foreign Policy.

According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. At the time, Iran was publicly alleging that illegal chemical attacks were carried out on its forces, and was building a case to present to the United Nations. But it lacked the evidence implicating Iraq, much of which was contained in top secret reports and memoranda sent to the most senior intelligence officials in the U.S. government. The CIA declined to comment for this story….