Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Jane Chong
Friday, August 30, 2013, 2:40 PM

It's hard to talk about anything but Syria today, so we won't really attempt it.

In a formal statement this afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry cited "clear" and "compelling" evidence that the Assad regime had used poison gas against its citizens. See the New York Times story here, or check out the full transcript. Kerry urged his listeners to look at the evidence for themselves---Reuters has a copy of the full unclassified intelligence report. Arguing that Iran and North Korea might be emboldened to obtain nuclear weapons in the absence of a world response to the crisis in Syria, Kerry declared, "Our concern is not just about some far off land oceans away....Our about choices that will directly affect our role in the world and our interests in that world."

All signs point to domestic discord: A new NBC polls reveals that 50 percent of Americans oppose military action in Syria, and 80 percent believe President Obama should receive congressional approval before intervening with force. Meanwhile Congress is split and U.S. military officers have “deep doubts” about intervening. The Obama administration sees no alternative, says the Economist, and insists it has the power to unilaterally decide whether to strike, writes Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post---but won’t yet provide its legal reasoning.

No amount of reasoning will make an illegal war legal, according to David Kaye of Foreign Affairs. Kaye argues that justification for U.S. intervention is weak "[g]iven that a Security Council resolution seems unlikely" and "a case for self-defense in Syria would break the concept of self-defense beyond recognition." Reuters has more on the (lack of) UN progress in drafting a resolution to authorize "all necessary force." The LA Times covers the administration's insistence that "core national security interests" are at stake in Syria.

Roger Cohen has an op-ed in the New York Times arguing for intervention based on moral grounds. David Brooks asks whether, strategically speaking, the intervention is coming too late to tame the "sectarian fire."

It's not about results, according to Senator Rand Paul---the Obama administration's objective in Syria is stalemate. Michael Gordon of the New York Times says the goal is to restore the red line. For more on how President Obama's red line may have boxed him in on the Syrian crisis, see these stories by Michael Crowley in Time and Glenn Thrush and Jennifer Epstein in Politico.

The U.S. is prepared to fly solo on the international front, writes the Wall Street Journal. The Brits are out, but we have France---and only France, reports the Associated Press. For his part, French President François Hollande insists on waiting for the U.N. inspectors to leave the country.

Iran and Russia are in the game to prevent Western military action in Syria, reports USA Today, and if Iran retaliates, it will probably be through Hezbollah. The WSJ sums it up:

Iran and the Lebanese political and militant group Hezbollah are debating whether to retaliate on behalf of Syria in the event of a strike on their close ally. The two, which along with Syria help form what they call an "axis of resistance" against the West, are discussing whether to attack Western interests, and if so, whether to do so openly or covertly and through proxies.

As Kerry mentioned in his statement today, "all hell broke loose in the social media" in the wake of the gas attacks. David Kenner of Foreign Policy offers an analysis of the role social media has played in the crisis, spotlighting the Syrian activists who died to record the YouTube videos that helped bring the U.S. to the brink of war.

In other world news:

Even when we're not talking about Syria, we end up talking about Syria. In an internet statement, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda affiliate, claimed responsibility today for bombings that have killed hundreds of people in Iraq. As Ritika mentioned yesterday, ISIL was in the news earlier this week as one of several "jihadi factions" to release a joint statement promising a "Volcano of Revenge" for the chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Violence continues in Afghanistan. About 36 militants have been killed in airstrikes apparently conducted by NATO forces in Southern Afghanistan, writes Pajhwok Afghan News. The Times reported yesterday that a Taliban ambush on an Afghan police convoy led police to call in for international air support. This morning, a suicide bomber attacked mourners in Kunduz province, according to the BBC.

The AP reports that North Korea has withdrawn its invitation to Ambassador Robert King, who was scheduled to travel to the country to seek the release of American tour operator and missionary Kenneth Bae. The trip would have marked the first public visit to the country by a senior administration official in two years.

We conclude with some brief notes on leaks and leakers:

The Washington Post has a series of stories on the U.S. intelligence "black budget" leaked by Snowden, zeroing in on details like the size of the CIA and lesser known agencies. Based on claims made in the 2013 budget, Elias Groll of Foreign Policy asks whether there are there 3,999 more Snowdens out there.

In a news release issued yesterday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced that the government will release the total number of surveillance orders issued annually to telecom providers in national security investigations, as well as the number of individuals targeted. Here is Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post on that development; here is Tony Romm of Politico.

And in this story on the challenges Chelsea Manning will face in military prison, Margaret Talbot of the New Yorker contrasts the Army's refusal to provide hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery with the treatment baselines established in civilian prisons.

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