Opinion

David Rohde

A Syria gift Obama must use wisely

David Rohde
Sep 10, 2013 16:46 UTC

In a sober, narrowly framed speech Tuesday night,  President Barack Obama argued that deterring chemical weapons use – not regime change – remained the goal of any American military strike in Syria. Ob ama said he would delay a vote in Congress on the issue, seek a UN resolution requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and explore Russia’s surprising – and probably  - offer to help secure Syria’s chemical weapons.

The speech’s most interesting passage was its final one. On the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, Obama offered a rough outline of a new, more limited vision of America’s role in the world.

“America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong,” Obama said. “But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.  That’s what makes America different.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

Opinion polls show that Americans flatly disagree. If the Russian-Syrian offer to turn over chemical  weapons proves insincere, it may shift public opinion but not to a wide extent. Obama has delayed his Syria problem, not eliminated it.

Turning Syria’s chemical weapons over to international control will be extraordinarily difficult and not end the conflict in Syria. But it is a major step forward that should be pursued. For Syrians, it will decrease the likelihood that chemical weapons will be once more used against civilians. For Americans, it will reduce the chance of chemical weapons falling into the hands of jihadists.

For Obama, a contradiction too many

David Rohde
Sep 6, 2013 23:01 UTC

President Barack Obama will have to deliver one of the finest speeches of his presidency next Tuesday if he hopes to win Congressional support for a strike against Syria. Out of nowhere, the Syria vote has emerged as one of the defining moments of Obama’s second term.

With three years remaining in office, the vote will either revive his presidency or leave Obama severely weakened at home and abroad.

There are legitimate criticisms of Obama’s initial response to the Syrian government’s barbaric August 21st gas attack outside Damascus. The president should have demanded that Congress be called back from recess immediately. He should also have immediately made a far more personal and passionate case for strikes.

Has Iraq shackled American power?

David Rohde
Aug 29, 2013 22:19 UTC

In an extraordinary series of disclosures this week, Obama administration officials said that the United States will launch only cruise missile strikes in Syria. The attacks will last roughly two or three days. And the administration’s goal will be to punish President Bashar al-Assad, not remove him from power.

But those clear efforts to placate opponents of military action appear to be failing. Warnings of “another Iraq” are fueling opposition to the use of force on both sides of the Atlantic. And the Obama administration’s contradictory record on secrecy is coming back to haunt it.

In Washington on Wednesday, one-third of the members of Congress asked that they be allowed to vote on any use of American force. In London on Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron’s effort to gain support in Parliament for strikes failed, despite the release of an intelligence assessment which said Assad had used chemical weapons fourteen times since 2012.

What failed in Pakistan won’t work in Egypt

David Rohde
Aug 2, 2013 15:09 UTC

 

As the Egyptian army continued its violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood this week, White House officials said that the United States can’t cut off its $1.3 billion a year in aid to Egypt. To do so would cause Washington to lose “influence” with the country’s generals. Vital American security interests are at stake, they argued, and keeping the torrent of American aid flowing gives Washington leverage.

If that argument sounds familiar, it is. For the last decade, the United States has used the same logic in Pakistan. Washington has given $11 billion in military aid to the Pakistani army in the name of maintaining American “influence” in Islamabad. From new equipment to reimbursements for Pakistani military operations, the money flowed year after year, despite complaints from American officials that the Pakistanis were misusing funds and inflating bills.

Can the United States do better in Egypt? Pakistan and Egypt are vastly different, but as the Obama administration fervently embraces its Pakistan approach in Egypt, it’s worth examining the results of its dollars-for-generals strategy.

Obama’s ‘best bad choice’ in Syria

David Rohde
Jun 14, 2013 17:58 UTC

Damaged buildings and debris in Deir al-Zor, June 13, 2013.Picture taken June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

UPDATE: The final passage of this piece criticizes the “Shia fundamentalists who are holding Iran’s staged elections.” Early results from Tehran suggest that reformist candidate Hassan Rohani has achieved a stunning victory. Iran’s green movement, which was crushed in 2009, is apparently alive and well.  The country’s conservative clerics are apparently unwilling to steal another election and risk another round of protests. The results reinforce the point at the end of the piece: we focus too much on the region’s fundamentalists and too little on its moderates.

Syria, of course,  is not Iran. A peaceful protest movement has devolved into a sectarian civil war. Gen. Selim Idris, the Free Syrian Army commander who is receiving American small arms, is a moderate who taught at the Syrian Army’s Academy of Military Engineering for twenty years.  Arming Idris now may be too little, too late. But as I argued in this February 2012 piece, the US should have supported moderate members of the Syrian opposition far sooner.

The ‘secrecy industrial complex’

David Rohde
Jun 11, 2013 22:30 UTC

An undated photo of National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. REUTERS/NSA/Handout via Reuters

An odd thing is happening in the world’s self-declared pinnacle of democracy. No one — except a handful of elected officials and an army of contractors — is allowed to know how America’s surveillance leviathan works.

For the last two years, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) have tried to describe to the American public the sweeping surveillance the National Security Agency conducts inside and outside the United States. But secrecy rules block them from airing the simplest details.

Obama’s overdue reckoning on secrecy

David Rohde
Jun 7, 2013 17:01 UTC

President Barack Obama on the White House South Lawn in Washington, June 6, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

All day Thursday, officials from across the political spectrum scrambled to explain reports in the Guardian and Washington Post of unprecedented government collection of phone and Internet records.

James R. Clapper, director of National Intelligence, issued a rare public statement confirming the existence of a classified phone program but said it did not involve the surveillance of American citizens. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Committee, asserted that the government needed the information to catch those who might become a terrorist.

Washington-gate

David Rohde
May 16, 2013 21:56 UTC

President Barack Obama listens to a question in the rain in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Unprecedented Justice Department searches of journalists’ phone records. IRS targeting of conservative political groups. Spiraling sexual assault rates in the military. And the downplaying of the first killing of an American ambassador in 30 years.

In a matter of days, alarming accounts have emerged regarding the actions of five key federal government bureaucracies: the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon.

The best legislation liberals can buy

David Rohde
Feb 28, 2013 22:31 UTC

If George W. Bush had launched such a group, the coverage would be overwhelming and the criticism widespread. Last Friday, a story by Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times revealed that President Obama’s political team is trying to raise $50 million to fund the conversion of his re-election campaign into Organizing for Action, a “powerhouse” new national lobbying group.

The story said that at least half of the organization’s budget will come from a small number of well-connected donors who each raise or contribute more than $500,000. In return, those donors get a spot on a national advisory board, the right to attend quarterly meetings with the president and access to other White House meetings.

“Unlike a presidential campaign, Organizing for Action has been set up as a tax-exempt ‘social welfare group,’ ” Confessore wrote. “That means it is not bound by federal contribution limits, laws that bar White House officials from soliciting contributions or the stringent reporting requirements for campaigns. In their place, the new group will self-regulate.”

Obama’s ‘war on inequality’

David Rohde
Feb 14, 2013 00:03 UTC

He quoted Jack Kennedy but sounded more like Lyndon Johnson.

In an audacious State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama made sweeping proposals to reduce poverty, revive the middle class and increase taxes on the “well off.” While careful to not declare it outright, an emboldened second-term president laid out an agenda that could be called a “war on inequality.”

“There are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it is virtually impossible to get ahead,” Obama declared in a blunt attack one a core conservative credo. “And that’s why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.”

In his 1964 State of the Union address, Johnson introduced the legislation that became known as the “War on Poverty.” Those laws – along with many others he shepherded – stand today as perhaps the greatest legislative achievement of any modern president. Whether or not one agrees with him, Johnson’s laws – from the Civil Rights Act, to Medicaid, Medicare and Head Start, to sweeping federal urban renewal and education programs – changed the face of American society.

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