Obama lobbies lawmakers for Syria strike

September 3, 2013

Obama tries to convince Congress to strike Syria, Japan makes conveniently-timed pledge, and Chinese land grabs turn ugly. Today is Tuesday, September 3, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with bipartisan Congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington to discuss a military response to Syria, September 3, 2013. From L-R are: National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. Vice President Joseph Biden is in the foreground. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Reputation roulette. After announcing on Saturday that he will seek congressional approval to strike Syria, President Obama is trying to convince lawmakers to agree to military action. A failed vote may further damage the United States’ credibility in the Middle East:

Obama’s abrupt decision on Saturday to halt plans to punish Assad for using poison gas and instead wait for congressional approval momentarily united a fractious region in astonishment. Reflecting a widespread view voiced in interviews by Reuters across the region, Algeria’s El Watan newspaper said Assad’s foes seemed riven with doubt in their confrontation with the embattled Syrian leader, fearing intervention would be a “flop”…. Used to the uncompromising approach of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who proclaimed “You are either with us or you are with the terrorists” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks of 2001 and went on to invade Iraq in 2003, many Arabs tend to see Obama’s apparent distaste for war as unusual, even exceptional.

In his appeal, Obama will target Democrats – some of whom see his draft resolution as too broad to preclude the possibility of a long military engagement in Syria – and “Tea Party” Republicans, who oppose more involvement in the Middle East. According to the New York Times, divisions in the GOP between non-interventions and military hawks could lead to clashes. Although Britain withdrew its support after the UK parliament voted against authorizing strikes, France has said it would support military action. A French intelligence report released Monday suggested the Syrian government was behind the Aug. 21 chemical attack, prompting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to threaten retaliatory action against Paris. Obama will head to Russia on Thursday for the annual G20 meeting, where he will meet with human rights groups instead of Putin. Today marked another grim landmark in Syria’s conflict, as the U.N. announced two million refugees have fled Syria since the conflict began. Nearly one-third of the population has left their homes – the highest number of displaced people in the world.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) Chairman Shunichi Tanaka (L) is seen in front of a screen showing the current situation of the contaminated water leakage in Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO)’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, September 2, 2013. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Fixing Fukushima. The Japanese government announced a $500 million commitment to contain radioactive leaks and decontaminate water coming from the Fukushima nuclear plant:

The government intervention represents only a tiny slice of the response to the Fukushima crisis triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which caused reactor meltdowns at the plant. The clean-up, including decommissioning the ruined reactors, will take decades and rely on unproven technology. The measures do not address the full problem of water management at the plant or the bigger issue of decommissioning. The sensitive job of removing spent fuel rods is to start in the coming months. The ultimate fate of the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), also remains unclear, as does the question of who will eventually foot the bill – Japanese taxpayers, or the embattled Tepco.

The announcement of funding to stem the effects of the worst nuclear meltdown in 25 years comes days before the International Olympic Committee’s decision on whether Tokyo will host the 2020 Games.

Xu Haifeng poses at a construction site area where her house stood in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, August 20, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Government grab. In Wuxi, China, complaining about government land grabs leads to beatings, kidnappings, and threats:

Family members have been kidnapped at least 18 times, typically having black bags thrust over their heads before being taken to a hotel-turned-illegal jail in the eastern city of Wuxi and locked for weeks in a tiny, windowless room. Xu’s story is shocking even in a country that has become used to tales of arbitrary and sometimes violent land expropriations. It illustrates how the stresses from the deep indebtedness of China’s local governments extend beyond banks into the lives of ordinary Chinese, as hard-up authorities resort to any means they can in a desperate scramble for funds.

Aggressive land seizures are a major source of social tension in China, where economic pressure has led to desperate measures to spur urbanization. The practice contributes to tens of thousands of protests across the country every year.

Nota Bene: Former NBA star Dennis Rodman returns to North Korea on his own mission.


Common ground – The Kennan Institute’s William E. Pomeranz says Obama and Putin can agree on something. (Reuters)

“Uhh, dad, I’m gay” – Unilever pulls a homophobic ad in South Africa. (BBC)

Toxic tanneries – Bangladesh’s booming leather industry hurts workers and the environment. (Time)

Hooking up Africa – Entrepreneurs tackle Africa’s connectivity problem. (Al Jazeera)

Class experiment – Chinese educators veer away from the memorization model. (New York Times)

From the File:

  • Hamas says Egyptian military building buffer zone with Gaza.
  • Syrian forces capture strategic northern town: opposition.
  • Ambiguous religion policy backfires on Tunisia’s Islamists.
  • Top Indonesian policeman found guilty of graft.
  • Colombian Cabinet resigns to allow Santos to make shuffle.
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