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Finger-Pointing, but Few Answers, After a Syria Solution Fails – Peter Baker/The New York Times

September 20, 2015 3:28 am
'The Devil Made Me Do It': Obama's foreign policy just reached a new low - Brett LoGiurato and Michael B Kelley/Business Insider The Obama administration's policy toward Syria and its more than four-year civil war is rapidly becoming a black mark on the president's legacy. And a scathing new report by Peter Baker of The New York Times details the mind-boggling decision by the White House to refuse to accept any responsibility. The blame for the failed US effort to train Syrian rebels to fight ISIS "should be pointed not at Mr. Obama but at those who pressed him to attempt training Syrian rebels in the first place," administration officials told Baker. There are only "four or five" US-trained rebels left fighting in Syria after a group of 60 were ambushed in August by the Al Qaeda branch in Syria, the Nusra Front. 'The devil made me do it' Obama's argument, according to Baker, is that "he reluctantly went along with those who said it was the way to combat the Islamic State, but that he never wanted to do it and has now has been vindicated in his original judgment." But some people who worked in Obama's administration disagree — and they're calling him out. "It looks like the White House would like to blame its critics for its own operational illiteracy," Frederic Hof, a former special adviser for transition in Syria under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, told Business Insider over email. "I don't think I've ever seen any other administration employ 'the devil made me do it' argument to excuse and explain its own shortcomings. "In this case a micromanaging White House saddled [the Defense Department] with something dead on arrival due to a lopsided anti-ISIL mission (one that tried to ignore Assad) and crippling vetting requirements," Hof added, using an alternative acronym for the Islamic State, or ISIS. Ryan Crocker, a retired career diplomat who was an ambassador to Afghanistan under Obama, echoed Hof's sentiments. “How un-presidential that sounds — ‘We didn’t want to do it. We thought it was unsound, but you made us do it,’” Crocker told The Times. “It’s just indicative of their whole approach to Syria, which is not to have a policy. This is the worst thing they could say.” The administration's new argument also flies in the face of a furious push to secure funding for the proposal last year. Obama pressed Congress to pass $500 million amid widespread suspicion from his own Democratic allies. The legislation ultimately ended up prompting more than 90 Democrats in the House and Senate to vote against the president's priority. When it passed through Congress, he hailed it as a the best option to help "destroy ISIL without American troops fighting another ground war in the Middle East." 'Doctors, farmers, pharmacists' Obama has always been skeptical about supporting nationalist Syrian rebels attempting to topple Assad. Obama famously told The New York Times that the notion arming the rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy" because the opposition of "former doctors, farmers, pharmacists, and so forth" was fighting "a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, [and] a battle-hardened Hezbollah." In 2014, Hof wrote that the recommendation to arm the moderate opposition was offered in some form by Clinton — who is now running to succeed Obama in the White House — as well as then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, then-CIA Director David Petraeus, and outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey. "From the beginning there has been no shortage of criticism — both internal and external — and alternatives, culminating in our Atlantic Council April 2015 'Syrian National Stabilization Force' study," Hof told Business Insider. "There is no Obama administration strategy for Syria. There never has been one. It's running out of time to come up with one." Now, four-plus years into the Syrian civil war, the worsening situation for the Obama administration is becoming clear: Russia is flying in arms and troops to help bolster the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. More than half the Syrian population has been displaced, spawning a growing and tragic refugee crisis spanning across Europe. And more than 250,000 people are dead, while Assad continues to barrel bomb his country's own citizens. Obama has long publicly hoped to avoid getting mired in the Syrian crisis. Observers argue that's a result both of a war-weary public and a desire to clinch a nuclear deal with Iran, which is Assad's primary backer, along with Russia. "They don’t have an overall Syria strategy," said Ian Bremmer, the president of the Eurasia Group. "It’s been one of the two biggest strategic failures of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. (The other being Russia.) "Obama's approach with Syria has consistently been risk-averse. Try not to get sucked into a crisis where there are no easy answers ... but then as consistently respond when the pressure to 'do something' becomes too great." Critics argue that Obama's strategic foreign-policy missteps — dealing with the Syrian conflict and with Russia and its unpredictable president, Vladimir Putin — are merging as Russia and Iran double down on their support of Assad's regime. Obama may not see the end of the Syrian crisis before he leaves office after next year; Defense Secretary Ash Carter certainly doesn't think so. And so now, incidentally, he's been forced into perhaps the only realistic option he's sown with his strategy. "The United States doesn’t have the economic or military will to change the balance of forces on the ground themselves," Bremmer said. "And we don’t have the potential allies in Syria to act as an effective proxy. Accordingly, we’ve just announced we’re going to start talking to the Russians about Syria." "I’m sure that was an incredibly unpleasant decision for the Obama administration to make — especially after all that talk of isolating Russia for their bad behavior. But in terms of accepting the reality of the situation, better late than never." Obama's Syria policy crumbles - Business Insider

U.S. Begins Military Talks With Russia on Syria – Michael R. Gordon/The New York Times

September 19, 2015 5:50 am
Putin is way steps ahead of Obama on the Syria chessboard. He's practically forcing the USA to do the right thing and to actually work to stop the war. Laughable really: all those Kerry and WH statements 'explaining' Russia's military presence in Syria. Fact is, America lost Syria to Russia the moment the chemical deal was proposed a couple of years ago by Putin and Obama agreed. Ever since then, Obama has gone into denial and has been clinging to Syria by the thread of his nails till a couple of weeks ago when Putin, again, stepped up his presence in Syria and said: 'Russia is here to stay! Either work with me and save-face or get the heck off my new lawn!'

What If Washington Were Jerusalem? – Stanley Weiss/HuffPo

September 19, 2015 3:46 am
Gawwwwd! That old chestnut game can be played both ways. Try this: 'What If Washington were Gaza'? See wadamean? The eternal pathetic victim strikes again. And check out the airs and titles given to the author at end of article - Orwellian much?

Saudi King Salman: Israeli aggression against Al-Aqsa Mosque “feeds extremism” – Asharq Al-Awsat

September 18, 2015 5:33 pm
Palestinians Clash with Israeli Forces on 'Day of Rage' - AFP OCCUPIED Jerusalem - Palestinians clashed Friday with Israeli security forces in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank after the Islamist movement Hamas called for a "day of rage" over tensions at the Al-Aqsa mosque. Related Stories In Jerusalem, three police were injured as a firebomb struck their van in the Jabal Mukaber district and five Palestinians were arrested, including at least three youths, police said. Tensions were running high at nightfall in the area, where security forces were deployed in large numbers. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as protesters pelted them with stones in city neighbourhoods around the Mount of Olives, including in Shuafat refugee camp. But the situation was calm in the Old City and at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. Officials said about 3,000 police had deployed after three days of violence this week at the sensitive site during the Jewish new year. In the West Bank, however, an AFP correspondent reported that skirmishes were more intense than normal for a Friday, which have become a day of protests following weekly Muslim prayers. At Kafr Kaddum near Nablus, Israeli fire wounded three Palestinians in their arms and legs, said the Red Crescent. Youths hurled projectiles at police near Ofer prison, Qalandiya checkpoint and Jalazun refugee camp -- flashpoints in the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The protesters adopted the same slogan everywhere. "By our soul and our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you Al-Aqsa," chanted hundreds of them gathered in Nablus and the Gaza Strip. Known to Muslims as Al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), the compound houses the famous golden Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa mosque. Believed to be where the Prophet Mohammed made his night journey to heaven, it is the third-holiest site in Islam after the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, both in Saudi Arabia. It is the most sacred site in Judaism, said to be the site of the biblical temples. Jews are allowed to visit, which they call the Temple Mount, but cannot pray there to avoid further raising tensions.
  • 'Frontline' -
Police had set up heavily manned checkpoints on streets leading up to the site on Friday, before an estimated 8,000-10,000 worshippers prayed, down from the average of 25,000-35,000. "It's a frontline," said Mazen Shawish, 52. "You have to go though 20 military checkpoints to get to the mosque." Hundreds of young men denied entry prayed just outside the Old City walls. Police said they had an intelligence warning that Arab youths were planning fresh confrontations and decided to keep them away by limiting the age of worshippers to 40 and above for men. In Jordan, thousands of protesters on Friday rallied in the capital Amman and other cities to denounced Israeli "violence" at the Al-Aqsa compound. Israeli authorities fear further trouble ahead when the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha coincides on Wednesday with the solemn Jewish fast of Yom Kippur. And Jews begin their seven-day Sukkot festival the following week, one of the holidays when more Israelis than usual are likely to visit the compound. Israel seized east Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised internationally. It claims sovereignty over the entire city, including holy sites.
  • Israel 'maintaining status quo' -
To the Palestinians, who want the mainly-Arab eastern side as their capital, the compound with its landmarks is a potent symbol of so-far unrealised statehood. They fear Israel will seek to change rules governing the site, with far-right Jewish groups pushing for more access and even efforts by fringe organisations to erect a new Jewish temple there. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday night, saying the Jewish state "is strictly maintaining the status quo". Netanyahu has publicly "declared war" on those who throw rocks and petrol bombs, and became even more adamant after an Israeli motorist died at the wheel on Sunday night, apparently as a consequence of Palestinian stone-throwing, police said. Israeli-driven vehicles are frequently pelted with stones where Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods rub up against each other. One proposal is to let snipers with low-velocity rifles operate against stone-throwers in Jerusalem, as they already do in the occupied West Bank. Justice ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen said that was one of a raft of suggestions currently under scrutiny by legal experts ahead of a government decision. Israel's parliament, the Knesset, said Friday its foreign affairs and defence committee authorised the call-up of reservists from the paramilitary border police, "in response to the deteriorating security situation in Jerusalem". It did not indicate when such a mobilisation would take place, or its likely size and duration. Palestinians clash with Israeli forces on 'day of rage' - AFP/Yahoo News
September 18, 2015 6:30 pm
UPDATE: Israel Calls Up Reservists after Palestinian Attacks - LA TIMES Israel has called up a few hundred reservists to beef up security following outbreaks of violence and Palestinian riots at Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site. Friday's decision to draft border police officers came after a week in which Palestinians repeatedly clashed with police at the site in Jerusalem. One Israeli died and several were wounded elsewhere during the week. Police put thousands of officers on patrol and also banned Muslim men under the age of 40 from praying at the site. The site, holy to Jews and Muslims, is a frequent flash point. Its fate is a core issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians view Israeli visits to the area as a provocation. http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-israel-calls-up-reservists-after-palestinian-attacks-20150918-story.html
*PLATO'S NOTE: Arab media TV is claiming that four Israeli soldiers were injured in the last round of Al Aqsa clashes today.

Rogue States and Diplomacy: a Conversation With Noam Chomsky – Vijay Prashad/CounterPunch

September 18, 2015 3:04 pm
Thanks for the extra illuminating info.

What It Means To Be Jewish – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks/HuffPo

September 18, 2015 3:51 pm
There is a strain in christianity, a minority that's waiting for the 'messiah' too, Sean. No denying that. I've met a few. Fundamentalist christians are everywhere, Sean. Christianity, and I'm no expert in any religion, has had more reforms than islam and judaism. Perhaps that's what you're alluding to?
September 18, 2015 3:28 pm
Sean, I think Hostage is referring to a particular strain of messianic apocalyptica that runs through the veins of 'some' adherents of all three Abrahamic branches. At least that's how I understood it.
September 18, 2015 7:01 pm
They behave like a tribe though, socially and religiously. Really, it's all the same freak to me - all the endtimers. I don't find them interesting at all. I find them either dangerous or annoying.
September 18, 2015 6:16 pm
Day of Judgement - what is that? Is it not part of the apocalyptic scenario?

Holy Slingshots and Bastard Bullets

September 18, 2015 3:24 pm
bintbiba, I don't mind to tell you that I challenged myself this morning to write something purely in support of the Palestinian people without once using the words: israel, zionism or jewish. And I did it. Heh.
September 18, 2015 1:53 pm
The Palestinians in the holy land - the reality on the ground for them is extremely dangerous right now. We must give voice of support to them.
September 20, 2015 5:26 am
Thank you for your visit, Lally.
September 19, 2015 3:54 pm
Mariapalestina, Supporting the deep spirit of resistance in Palestinians, supporting their morale is very important- they are a people who thrive on kind words, good manners and righteousness. Often this aspect, this celebration of their resistance is buried under endless discussion of politics and counter propaganda. It is good to publicly acknowledge their breathtaking courage and heroism. Yes, I too am infinitely in awe of Palestinian Sumud. Thank you for visiting and for subscribing.
September 18, 2015 3:25 pm
I would love that!