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U.S. House Closing in on 218 Votes Opposing Syria Attack

The unthinkable may be about to happen.  As Washington prepares for a series of dramatic debates and votes in the House and Senate for attacking Syria, the NY Times is reporting that opponents are “closing in” on the 218 votes needed to torpedo Obama’s plans.  The paper maintains a vote count that finds currently 153 members oppose a strike.  Only 40 support one.  It does leave 209 undecided.  But opponents only need 65 more votes and supporters need 278.  At a certain point, the math becomes tough to overcome.

The Washington Post finds that 226 members are either committed to voting No or leaning that way.  If such numbers hold up the president’s goose is cooked.  If he loses, it will have extraordinary repercussions for him and for several Middle Eastern players.

Clearly, the one with most to lose is Obama himself.  He staked all his prestige, reputation and political capital on getting this vote.  As I wrote yesterday, he went “all-in.”  There was no fudging this one.  He had to win.  Losing means he’d become much more of a lame duck president than he was before.  It will mean the waning of his presidential power.  Opponents will be bolder in crossing him.  Allies will be less inclined to stand with him and more willing to balk at his proposals.

Personally, I think this is very sad and bordering on a tragedy.  Obama came into office envisioning the progressive equivalent of Regan’s “shining city on a hill.”  He promised change and reform.  He promised a radical shift from his predecessor.  He was for freedom, new initiatives, expanding rights.  What has he delivered?  True, he saved the economy and passed a landmark health care reform measure.  But aside from this, he has almost nothing to show.

The most tragic loss from my point of view was Obama’s abandonment of a Mideast peace agreement.  He was never willing to go all-in for peace.  It meant using too much capital.  If the president had been willing to use every resource at his disposal as he is now, I believe he could’ve made great headway.  But he wasn’t willing.  If he loses the vote, then Kerry’s peace initiative is dead (more on that later) and with it any further serious effort to bring Palestinians and Israelis together.

president rouhani

An Obama defeat in Congress may give Rouhani a dramatic opening for a negotiated solution

But there are other players who will draw lessons from an Obama defeat: Assad will falsely believe he’s bested the best, and therefore that nothing stands in his way.  He will be emboldened and wreak even greater havoc on his fellow Syrians.

But the wild card here is Iran.  Clearly, Israel’s motivation for attacking Syria has much less to do with Syria itself than Iran, for reasons I’ve explained before.  If Iran’s leadership was as pig-headed and myopic as Assad, it too would triumphantly crow about his victory.  That might’ve been the way Ahmadinejad might’ve played it.  But from everything I’m seeing from Pres. Rouhani, this is a man who may understand that a chastened Obama may be more, rather than less willing to mold a compromise on issues dividing his country from the west.

One of the key problems in the dynamic between these two groups has been the west’s perceived power and Iran’s perceived (as by the west) weakness.  Misguided analysts like Meir Javedanfar and others believed that the ayatollahs were so weak that all the west needed to do was gradually ratchet up the pressure and they would eventually fold.  This approach has failed, as many of us who opposed sanctions and a draconian approach to Iran knew it would.

But what if an Obama whose ambitions of leading a world coalition against Iran have been cut down to size met an Iranian leader who in his own way recognizes the limitations of Iranian power.  If the two could sit down and pragmatically approach these issues, rather than hector each other with bull horns in the world media, then you could achieve something unprecedented.

Of course, I realize that there is so much water that has flowed under this bridge that it may be impossible to win a breakthrough.  But my impression is that with Rouhani, we have the best chance we have had in a decade (since Pres. Bush rejected then-Pres. Khatami’s peace overture) to do the right thing.

Last but not least is Israel.  A Congressional defeat will further embitter Bibi Netanyahu.  You will hear the usual Likudist carping about the U.S. being an unreliable ally.  There will be further invocations of the Holocaust (remember Kerry’s infamous “Munich Moment”) and reminders that no one stood up for the Jews then.  Which means that if Israel finds Iran an existential threat, it MUST attack and be ready to do it alone.  If Obama loses, this will make the current extremist Israeli government even more unpredictable.  Stability in the region will be even more endangered than it is now.

Netanyahu will turn his back on virtually any and every Obama overture.  Peace talks with the Palestinians? Don’t kid with me.  They’re dead.

All this should motivate both Obama and Rouhani to redouble their efforts to achieve a compromise agreement.  Doing so will largely defang Bibi.  It will leave him without the most powerful unifying threat he has to motivate the Israeli people to stick with him.  There is a problem for autocratic leaders who turns enemies into bogeymen: once they’re shown not to be bogeymen, there’s nothing holding the people together.  They, in effect, see the emperor has no clothes.  That could very well be Bibi’s fate (God willing!!).

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{ 33 comments… add one }
  • Dan September 8, 2013, 1:03 AM

    How can you seriously write Bibi is an autocratic leader? I didn’t vote for him, but he has been elected DEMOCRATICALLY and in all recent polls he is still considered by far the best leader for Israel at this time….

    You can have your opinions but you should try at least to write true information, not information you hope were true.

    • Richard Silverstein September 8, 2013, 2:03 AM

      Absolutely, Bibi is no autocrat. He’s a dyed in the wool democrat. Believes in fair play, may the best man win, losing graciously–blah, blah, blah. If you believe Bibi is a democrat then you need to have your head examined. Not to mention that you haven’t been reading the papers (or perhaps you only read Bibiton!)

      • dan September 8, 2013, 8:24 AM

        So Bibi is not a democrat, and your argument is: ” If you believe Bibi is a democrat then you need to have your head examined”…Am I right?. Do you have a more profound explanation on why Bibi is not a democrat?

        Your second argument is :”you haven’t been reading the papers”…

        Again it is quite limited as argumentation…do you have more arguments or should we stay on the level of insult and cheap expressions?

        • Richard Silverstein September 9, 2013, 2:08 AM

          I have written scores if not hundreds of posts here profiling Bibi’s pissing on Israeli democracy & you have the chutzpah to ask me to explain this to you? First, do a search for my past posts about Bibi. There are literally scores if not hundreds of them. Read a few, then come back when you’ve actually done your homework.

          I challenge you to tell me what Israeli periodicals, if any, you read on a regular basis. And don’t fudge, because I already pretty much know the answer based on the ignorance of your first comment.

  • Adriana September 8, 2013, 4:39 AM

    I think , he’ ll attack anyway with or without congress approval. It is a matter of obama political survival and US credibility. He compromised himself in a silly and stupid way talking about “red line”. really a wrong statement from someone who is supposed to have political and diplomatic experience.

  • bluto September 8, 2013, 5:18 AM

    Howard Fineman interviewed Kerry yesterday and called him ‘embattled’ and ‘desperate’. I cannot imagine that Obama will attack Syria with a such a heavily negative vote from the US House and overwhelming hatred of the idea from the American people.

    It would be more an unconscionable. It would simply NOT pass the smell test. Even for Joe Sixpack. It would start impeachment proceedings

    And tell me what international community is going to join the Neocon’s bum rush to war after seeing what the US Congress and the American people does to this scheme? – Nobody.

    It will be at least or MORE shocking to the world community than the surprise debacle at the British Parliament – and it has OBVIOUS implications for inevitable FOLLOW-ON hoax of the next attempted Neocon/Israeli hoax of the US into Iran.

    Israel is shaking in her boots. Misreading this hoax of the US into Iran – Apartheid Israel might just lose the whole ballgame.

    Israel and her Neocons desperately NEED this attack on Syria in order to have a chance at an attack on IRAN – Apartheid NEEDS this war or else Apartheid itself is in existential trouble

    If Syria is NOT attacked – basically because the American people have revolted against Neocon/Israeli-dictated wars, even if for naive reasons and not really pinning the tail on the Neocon/AIPAC/Israeli donkey, due to the successful AIPAC media-blackout filter and having NEVER HEARD about it in the media, so they have little to no basis to really know or understand why

    Most if not many are probably more greedily worried about economic costs mixed with a strong if vague disgust with ‘American foreign policy’s bad habit of mysteriously always wanting a fresh war in the Middle East’

    If Iran is not attacked and Israeli Apartheid is twisting in the ICC wind (I’m guessing Sept 2014 now? – ‘Mission Accomplished’ with Indyk’s Peace Process, Mr Kerry), open to worldwide boycotts – that is the existential danger to Apartheid of NOT attacking Iran

    The Neocons and Netanyahu are DESPERATE for Syria because without Syria THEY DO NOT GET IRAN

    Dershowitz already has an article up in Haaretz trying to grease the skids for Iran by get Congress to ‘Pre-Authorize’ a war with Iran so the next Israeli false flag on Iran can go as quickly as possible and won’t run into the problems the Neocons/Israel have run in with getting the Syrian hoax past Congress. Unbelievable

    Dershowitz: ‘Obama: Get approval from Congress on Iran now’

    Israel and her Neocons must be hit with a coordinated attack on Apartheid from several sides at once – from EU enforcing more and more onerous sanctions, IN ADDITION TO being hounded at the ICC, IN ADDITION TO not being allowed to sabotage US negotiations with Iran and/or trigger a US war against Iran or Syria.

    Israel cannot be allowed endless opportunities to continue her nearly consequence-free bites at the apple and staying two or three steps ahead of Apartheid collapsing

  • H. Mor September 8, 2013, 6:24 AM

    @ Richard
    1. Iranian president is not the one deciding about Iran foreign policy – The supreme & the Guardian Council do
    What the Iranian president stand is immaterial.
    2. Iranian’s have threaten today to kidnap Obama’s daughter in retaliation to an attack in Syria – http://tinyurl.com/ksgmgb7 And if you think that such a statement will be made by a semi government official without the approval of the supreme leader, then i have a bridge to sell you.
    Here goes your theory about Iranian moderation and willingness to reach an agreement.

    • Muhammad September 8, 2013, 3:56 PM

      M. Mor:

      Much has been said about how Khamenei controls everything. This is a line of propaganda espoused by those who do not want any deal. True, Khamenei has a lot of power, but his candidate for President former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati (unlike the incorrect identification of former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili as such) lost in the election, and he actually supported Rouhani during the nationally-televised presidential debates, and fiercely attacked Jalili and Ahmadinejad. Khamenei is one important power center, but not the only one. It was Rouhani and Khatami who suspended Iran’s uranium enrichment program from 2003-2005, and Khamenei was still the supreme leader.

      • H. Mor September 8, 2013, 8:33 PM

        @ Muhammad
        Your notion that there is a democratic process in Iran with televised debate and support is strange (to be polite) there is no democratic process there its one big farce.
        as for the Iranian power structure PBS made a great summery – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/tehran/inside/govt.html it has nothing to do with deals of any kind it has to do with the Iranian constitution.
        As for the suspension of the Iranian nuclear program in 2003, i guess the US invasion to Iraq did have some influence over the matter. I wonder what the Iranian reaction to an attack in Syria would be.

        • Richard Silverstein September 9, 2013, 2:16 AM

          @ H. Mor: I’m amused that an Israeli who clearly has proven he knows very little about Iran (except those few anti-Iranian talking pts he was fed) would have the chutzpah to argue with an Iranian-American university professor who’s an expert in all the areas concerning Iran in which you are not. Prof. Sahimi doesn’t need to watch PBS documentaries to know about Iranian society and politics. He is Iranian himself and wrote for many years for PBS’ Iran-related website, Tehran Bureau.

          I would say that while democracy in Iran is truncated and imperfect, the same holds true of Israel. The only difference is that Bibi doesn’t wear a turban and Khamenei does.

          I’m afraid your comment was a bit of an “own goal.”

    • Richard Silverstein September 9, 2013, 2:04 AM

      @ H. Mor: You actually understand very little about Iran except the few talking points you’ve absorbed. While you are correct about the Supreme Ayatollah’s power in the hierarchy, you are dead wrong in minimizing Rouhani’s role. First, he is not an outsider as Ahmadinejad was. He has served in key roles in previous governments. He is a close ally of Rafsanjani. Khamenei also knows him well & trusts him. THAT is what gives Rouhani his power. That he is acting with the blessing or implicit support of Khamenei.

      As for point 2: you’re claiming a report in the sensationalist UK tabloid the Daily Mail saying that a former Iranian official’s claim that Obama’s daughter will be raped if Obama attacks Syria…you’re claming this is credible???

      Really, get serious. If you want to have an ounce of credibility here (& you have very little as it is, so you might want to pay attention to this point), you must try to find sources that don’t turn you into a laughingstock.

      • H. Mor September 9, 2013, 6:55 AM

        @ Richard
        Rouhan, may be acting with the blessing of God all mighty himself but he would still execute to the letter, decisions that are made by someone else, in this case Khamenei and the guardian council.

        As for point Number 2, i have been commenting on your blog for about 2 – 3 weeks. in My experience you always dismiss things you can’t refute as not being credible while most of your posts regarding Israel are based on the reporting of an anonymous imaginary high level source.

        give me a brake.

        • Richard Silverstein September 9, 2013, 8:43 PM

          @H. Mor: Rouhani actually is an independent figure. He has the support of Khamenei & Rafsanjani and so can be fairly independent. His policies & approach are already light years from Ahmadinejad, which proves that it is Rouhani bringing change.

          I only dismiss comments or views which aren’t supported by facts or evidence as many of yours are not.

          Actually, very little of my Israeli related blogging is based on this source. And when a report is based on him I make this clear. Unlike you, who refuses to reveal how you know anything about Israeli missile systems, I have nothing to hide.

    • Daniel September 9, 2013, 2:01 PM

      @ H. Mor: You’re citing a bizarre anecdote in the Daily Mail as proof of Iran’s intentions?

      Here goes your credibility as a debater about anything in the Middle East.

    • Richard Silverstein September 10, 2013, 2:36 AM

      This is hilarious. You’ve claimed “Iranians” have threatened to kidnap and rape Obama’s daughter. When in actuality, serial Iran fraudster, Reza Khalili has made up out of whole cloth a story quoting a non-existent Iranian ex official. You’ve been duped my friend. Try again.

  • Woody September 8, 2013, 10:32 AM

    Obama knows what he’s doing. It’s not that he put his power on the line or is even betting his political capital on anything. This is chess not checkers – you watch!

    • Dana September 8, 2013, 10:43 AM

      You must be subscribing to the 3 dimensional chess schenario, where Obama puts it to congress, forcing AIPAC out into the open as the ONLY party (OK other than military aerospace complex) interested in bombing a killing Syrian people in retribution for Syrian dead people. The idea being that the congressional No vote allow him the climb down he secretly desires, so he could walk off the ‘good guy”.

      trouble is – not so simple. AIPAC and friend in israel whoc are driving this spectacle want to get their bombing run no matter what. They will insist Obama bomb however the congress votes. If need be they can get through in the senate and not even bring to a vote in the house, or delay the vote. So the pressure on obama will not lighten. If necessary those who engineered one CW attack can engineer another.

  • Dana September 8, 2013, 11:01 AM

    Any way one looks at this obama’s goose is cooked politically, and the democrats fortunes are down the drain. this entire Syria debacle, with the three – Kerry the desparate “case-maker’, Hagel the clueless (what evidence? got to go check it out..) and poor Dempsey, trying to disappear behind his medals – was interesting theater of how a bad play turns really sour.

    A bombing attack on Syria based on the flimsiest of evidence, which apparently most don’t even believe, is a perfect case of an own-goal. the country has numerous problems, another sequester cuts set to kick in for the next year, debt ceiling not raised, obamacare off to a rocky start, economy far from robust, inequality having widened even more in the past 5 years slashing demand, yet here we are arguing the merits of bombing people because of what is very likely a false Flag.

    The democrats will pay for this I’m afraid with a serious loss at the ballot box in 2014 and likely again in 2016. any congress member, except those from very jewish districts, will pay for voting to authorize the bombing and mayhem that ensues. If they are in democratic districts they will be primaried, and not even AIPAC money will be of help. In mixed districts, seats will go to opposition. those who voted against or who made their votes known will ride high, shown to be as responsible representative, on whichever side of the party divide they are. Most crucially the political establishment and leadership will be in shambles. not that anyone in the country outside DC ever pays attention to them.

    one possibly good outcome/ perhaps finally finally we’ll live to see Feinstein properly downgraded as the villianous disingenuous, one percent corporatist, surveillance freak character that she is. I for one would be glad to see her not quoted ever again, on anything. I guess i could say the same for a few other senators, like schumer and mcConnell.

    my prediction is that in desperation to put somebody credible up against Rand paul for 2016 president, there will be a movement to draft Alan Grayson for that thankless role, as hillary has just tanked her chances. His performance these past few days has been quite impressive. one wonders, where did he get such mojo?

    • Daniel September 8, 2013, 1:29 PM

      Alan “Operation Cast Lead Was Self-Defense” Grayson is a Progressive Except Palestine. I wouldn’t sing his praises, nor would I overstate his influence or stature.

      • Richard Silverstein September 9, 2013, 2:11 AM

        Do you have any support for this claim about Grayson? He just attacked Aipac publicly & vociferously. I find it difficult to believe he’d take the position you ascribe to him.

      • Dana September 9, 2013, 8:53 AM

        daniel, let’s be fair as well as timely here. Yes, in his previous life as a representative, Grayson was wrapped into the “anything israel wants’ mantra – just like everyone else, excepting a few. But then something must have happened to him after he lost his seat in 2010. When he came back as a representative for another district, Grayson seemed like a changed man, though I haven’t realized how much. He found a kind of courage that’s rare among politicians, ie an “I’ll say what I mean, call it like it is, and let the chips fall where they may” attitude. he displayed a newly found way independent streak on more than one occasion, plotting his own course in the house, sometimes breaking with party enforced preferences.

        I think that, having lost his seat, despite playing ball, then coming back, all on his own with support just from grassroot progressives, changed something in him, giving him a new confidence. Towing AIPAC’s line in his previous life didn’t help. Now, there must be forces behind him (including other reps) and within his that convinced him that this fight is one worth having, that the time is right and the issue is right. I can imagine quite a few urging him forward who themselves don’t feel strong enough to come out and say it the way they see it. There may be many in DC who wonder whether this could be the “emperor has no cloths” moment. We’ll see.

        anyways, whatever grayson’s past positions re I/P and the occupation were, we need to remember that this is one very smart man (look at his bio). he is also independently wealthy. We should always keep a door open, allowing a for a chance of change. A real one. Time will tell, of course, whether his brave far forward position on Syria bombing will translate into similarly brave positions on the occupation, when the time comes. I am not asking the question about Iran because i have a feeling we know where he’ll be on that score.

        • Castellio September 9, 2013, 1:07 PM

          Grayson is going to end up being the first Jewish President of the US. Or at least, stands an excellent chance.

  • Bob Mann September 8, 2013, 6:26 PM

    Most of those opposed to the Syria attack are Republicans. Including some of the most RW tea-party conservatives of the bunch. What, if anything, is the significance of that?

    • Daniel September 8, 2013, 10:38 PM

      @Bob Mann: The significance is that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

      Many on the far right tend to be isolationist. Why? It is connected to nationalism, to “America first”, to a turning-inwards and an exclusive focus on domestic politics. This is a well-known phenomenon, and the US isolationist nationalists, conservatives and libertarians have their equivalent in many parts of Europe, such as UKIP in Britain or the Sweden Democrats of Sweden.

      It also reflects another disturbing truth, innate in modern liberalism: many modern liberals have a weakness for the discourse of “humanitarian interventionism”; they are internationalists, or rather, they are gullible internationalists, more properly termed globalists, or imperial internationalists. Western liberals are in love with their own rhetoric, they love to save the world, they love to hate dictators (at least the ones the media brings to their attention), they love to get excited or outraged about whatever comes up on their screen. Their bleeding hearts often lead them astray and make them vulnerable to cynical manipulation. The Libyan crusade is a case in point.

      This is what Obama and Kerry are trying to tap in to, in summoning the support of their own party and base, by repeatedly talking about children being gassed.

      That Republicans resist the strike on Syria doesn’t mean they’re good people. It means they just don’t care about Arab children being gassed to death on the other side of the planet. The difference is that liberals do care, and are often too naïve, impatient, reckless and ignorant of history to realize the greater dangers of intervention.

      • Oui September 9, 2013, 12:52 AM

        Appointing “humanitarian hawks” and Responsibility to Act (R2P) doctrine a failed ploy by the Obama administration as John McCain and Lindsey Graham demand more damage to Syria and ousting of Bashar Assad. Instead of acting to “protect civlians” Obama and the Pentagon are revising plans to do a 72 hour lethal aerial bombardment.

        One could predict this course of action when Obama appointed Susan Rice as his National Security advisor and Samantha Power as UN Ambassador bringing along partner Cass Susstein. What a trio.

        See the video about her statements on Israel and the Senate nomination hearing. Samantha Power stresses support for Israel: Jewish groups critical of next US Ambassador to UN.

    • Richard Silverstein September 9, 2013, 2:17 AM

      @ Bob Mann: You’re wrong, Bob. Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are both equally opposed to the attack. There are moderates in both parties who support an attack. But the numbers are small, I’m afraid.

      • Bob Mann September 9, 2013, 3:48 AM

        I’m not wrong. The information is in the link you provided in your piece. The Washington Post page you link to shows that of the 111 who are listed as “Against” 87 are Republicans and 24 are Democrats. Republicans are also the majority of those “Leaning No”. Thus, as I said, most of those opposed to the Syria attack are Republicans (by about a 3-1 margin). Why do you think that is?

        • Dana September 9, 2013, 9:03 AM

          Bob, many many more democrats are in the “No” columns than the official numbers tell. On a gut level, the majority are against, it’s just that the party leadership lined up with a president who is of their party, so many don’t dare to come out early with where they are. the black caucaus for example, most of whose members are really opposed to this nonsensical and morally wrong bombing action for lots of reason, were told to keep quite (like the nice little house-boys they are supposed to be?). The progressives are, for the most part, oout in force against and just about every progressive group out there has now taken a position against the strikes.

          As for the republicans, got to give them a bit of credit. sure, they don’t care to support obama on anything, but this time, they don’t only smell blood, but the smell a winning hand. I believe republicans as a whole – may be finding a new wind in their back – the people in their districts are really really against this escapade and rush to bomb hand in hand with the ever-so-humanitarian saudi arabia, with israel – smartly, recessed into the bleachers, cheering it all, having to pay not a penny. anyone who thinks this is not visible to people should think again. AIPAC lumped with Saudi Arabia – what a pair! how does one NOT make political hey from this! don’t even need to tea party much.

    • Fred Plester September 9, 2013, 12:31 PM

      Republicans who have friends in the US military, might be privately briefed about the realities in a way which Obama’s political advisors manage to filter out.

      Kerry saying “we’re not going to war” misses the point: if the Syrians or, Heaven help us all,the Russians choose to shoot back when America shoots at Assad’s key assets, then it will be a war, and probably one that will rapidly evolve. America is mobilising only the forces needed for the limited strike, and not anything like enough force to contain and control the situation should either Assad or Putin seek to escalate it. A military failure for American would change everything, so markedly that I can’t see Putin resisting the opportunity, should it present itself.

      “America first” is at least a way of avoiding “America over the cliff”.

  • bluto September 9, 2013, 11:39 AM

    Lot’s of momentum in the press right now for a negotiated deal to transfer Syrian weapons to international control and eventually be destroyed. Good.

    Predictions:

    Israel and all her Neocons/Israeli Lobby will be fuming over a Russian/Kerry brokered deal for international control/eventual destruction of Syrian CW – this doesn’t give them what they need, which is a war in Syria in order to eventually get a war with Iran.

    This is a catastrophe for decades of Israeli planning and grand strategy for war with Iran and a torn apart Syria in order to give a few more years of breathing space for Apartheid.

    Israeli sources notes such a solution would be in everyone’s best interest – including Israel’s
    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4427648,00.html

    • Fred Plester September 9, 2013, 12:36 PM

      It took less than an hour for the Russians to take a careless bit of rhetoric from Mr Kerry and forge it into a set of manacles for American policy.

      Just think how swiftly they will capitalize on any errors made in the heat of battle!

      But I was saying weeks ago, that the weakest point in Obama and Cameron’s position was the total absence of any concession that Syria could make in order to avoid the threatened missile strike. Had anyone thought about it back then, the secretary of state wouldn’t been obliged to respond to a question which has had his name on it for weeks, without any forethought or consideration.

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