Tales from the Trail

Demonized in Damascus? Kucinich protests

One of the Obama administration’s sharpest critics on the left is coming in for some sharp criticism himself after what appeared to be a friendly visit to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich — an Ohio Democrat who has proposed ordering Obama to halt U.S. participation in NATO airstrikes in the Libya conflict — sat down with Assad in Damascus over the weekend and emerged to face accusations that he was getting too cozy with an autocrat whose security forces have killed some 1,300 people as they attempt to crush a revolt against his rule.

Kucinich said he made the trip, which also included a stop in   Lebanon, on his own accord after being requested to go by his constituents.

“I don’t support the violence, I don’t condone the violence and by direct appeal to President Assad and in supporting those who are seeking freedom and serious reforms, I am working to end the violence. I appealed to President Assad to remove his forces from the cities. He told me he would, and today we learned that he has begun to do just that,” Kucinich said in a statement on his official website .

Kucinich’s statement came one day after the Washington Post’s editorial board accused him of “taking the side of Syria’s murderous dictator” in an editorial that blasted him as being too quick to believe Assad’s vague promises of reform.

Washington Extra – The choice

President Barack Obama wants the “Arab spring” to bloom.

And that means having choice. The United States supports “the right to choose your own leaders — whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran,” he said in a much awaited Middle East speech.

For Syria: “President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.”

In Libya, Obama didn’t think leader Muammar Gaddafi would be left with much choice. “When Gaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.”

Washington Extra – Playing ball

The White House was clearly relieved to announce that at 6 a.m. GMT NATO took over the ball for running the military operation on Libya. BASEBALL/

Not a minute too soon for members of Congress concerned that the United States could get bogged down in another war. “I sincerely hope that this is not the start of a third elongated conflict,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon said.

Republicans and Democrats say they want to play ball to prevent a government shutdown, but so far have not reached agreement on spending cuts.

And today’s word from Washington is … stalemate

BRITAINCongress has it. Gaddafi wants it. And President Obama is trying to figure out how best to avoid it. What is it?  The answer: stalemate (noun \ˈstāl-ˌmāt\) … that unsatisfying state of affairs in which there can be no action or progress.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the four-star U.S. Joint Chiefs chairman, conceded the possibility of a stalemate in Libya way back on March 20, a day after U.S. forces and their allies started raining high explosives on Muammar Gaddafi’s military infrastructure and ground forces.

The acknowledgment raised worries that a stalemate would allow Gaddafi’s government to live to fight another day — in perpetuity – while delivering an embarrassing defeat to the U.S. and its allies.

Obama defends Libya policy during hectic New York day

President Barack Obama followed up his speech to the nation defending his Libya policy on Monday night with a whirlwind visit to New York City. He explained the policy in three network news  interviews  (ABC, NBC, CBS)  — at the city’s famed Museum of Natural History.

Then he made a quick visit to a kids’ science fair, joking to the high school students that they are smarter than he is, before dedicating the new Ronald H. Brown U.S. Mission to the United Nations building.bill_barack

There his Libya strategy was applauded by a roomful of diplomats and endorsed by a Democratic predecessor, ex-President Bill Clinton, the husband of his secretary of state.

In Libya speech, Obama reminds Americans of their country’s birth by revolution

Americans take great pride in how their country was formed through a spirit of rebellion and revolution that overcame tyranny.

And President Barack Obama managed to tie that ultimate banner of American patriotism to his decision for military action on Libya in one simple sentence, hoping it will resonate with the public and soothe concerns about another intervention in the Middle East.

LIBYA-USA/“Born, as we are, out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa, and that young people are leading the way,” Obama said.

Washington Extra – Some explaining to do

Critics say President Barack Obama has some explaining to do.

OBAMA-BRAZIL/So tonight he plans to do just that in a speech on U.S. military involvement in Libya at the National Defense University.

One question clearly on people’s minds is when will it end? But clarity on that question is unlikely since Obama himself probably doesn’t know right now.

It’s turned into a NATO operation, which means more countries have more say in decisions — although obviously the United States remains a key player.

Washington Extra – Let’s talk

Members of Congress have been complaining all week (while out of town on a weeklong break) that they weren’t given enough information when President Barack Obama moved ahead with military action on Libya.

OBAMA-LATINAMERICA/What is the goal in Libya? How will the goal be achieved? Explain, explain, explain! they demanded (while Obama was on a Latin America trip).

So today, Obama held a conference call with leaders of Congress from both parties to consult on Libya, and he plans to address the public in the “very near future” (although not today), White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We take the need to consult very seriously,” he said.

Reuters/Ipsos poll: Obama seen as cautious commander-in-chief

The military operation on Libya has once again put President Barack Obama’s commander-in-chief credentials to the test, and nearly half of Americans — 48 percent — describe his style as “cautious and consultative,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Obama was seen by 36 percent as “indecisive and dithering”, and the fewest, 17 percent, viewed Obama as a “strong and decisive” commander of the armed forces. USA/

The Reuters/Ipsos poll interviewed 975 adults online and was conducted on March 22, three days after the bombing campaign was launched against Libya to impose a no-fly zone.

What would Gingrich do?

RTR2JLFO_Comp-150x150President Obama may be in hot water with lawmakers who think the U.S.-led military mission in Libya is a big mistake. But some GOP voices are calling for an escalation of U.S. involvement — or at least an expansion of U.S. goals.

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who is considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination, tells NBC’s Today show that the United States will face defeat in Libya if the current mission ends with Muammar Gaddafi still in power.

People might have a hard time arguing with that point.

But what would he do now, if he were president?

Gingrich’s answer sounds just like the message John McCain conveyed on the same TV show a day earlier, when LIBYA-REBELS/GADDAFIhe called for arming the Libyan rebels to ensure the end of Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.