Rand Paul delivers response to Obama’s Syria speech

Rand Paul

In an effort to win over the antiwar liberals standing in his way and scare conservatives into taking his side, President Barack Obama delivered a speech regarding Syria that might have left millions of Americans wondering whether their President was just trying to play tough to intimidate critics.

The calls for action as the President described the horrors Syrians have been exposed to during the attack with chemical weapons were powerful, but somehow misleading in light of recent reports regarding the source of the gas used in the attack. According to The Guardian, high-level German intelligence agencies investigated the sources of the chemical attack near Damascus and found no conclusive evidence connecting the strike to Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

His speech was also notable for some of his remarks regarding our role in the international community. After concluding that the United States should act as a global security force and make sure international agreements are being observed, President Obama also claimed he did not wish to see America as the world’s police force. While some skeptics might have felt compelled to back Obama and support U.S. interference with Syria after the speech, some lawmakers remained unconvinced.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was one of them.

Rand Paul made a video response to the President’s speech to remind the nation of this administration’s failure to identify a real solution to the conflict in Syria. According to the Senator, attacking Assad could lead to dreadful consequences, pushing the regime to “resort to chemical weapons in an expanded fashion.”

Thomas Massie introduces bill to keep Obama from sending arms to Syria

Thomas Massie

President Barack Obama’s promise to send arms to rebel forces fighting against Bashad al-Assad alongside al-Qaeda operatives in Syria, has been met with much criticism from multiple Senate members. Senators from both sides of the aisle have come together to push legislation that would prohibit the President and the Pentagon from sending rebels any form of aid.

Now, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and nine other House members decided to act by introducing legislation that would challenge the President’s decision by blocking aid that wasn’t previously authorized by Congress.

Co-sponsors include Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN), and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX).

The War Powers Protection Act of 2013 would keep the U.S. from sending any military assistance to the rebel forces unless Congress has issued a formal declaration of war.

Rep. Massie has stated that “since our national security interests in Syria are unclear,” risks could be far too great if we choose to aid rebel forces, particularly now that it has been noted that al Qaeda’s Iraqi wing in Syria insists on fighting alongside the Al-Nusra Front.

The Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution states that no war can be declared without Congress’ approval, which doesn’t seem to keep the President from continuing with his plan of aiding the rebels.

Holder’s Drone Memo: More Questions Than Answers

In advance of the President’s counterterrorism speech today at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. – where it’s anticipated he will lay out new restrictions for America’s drone programs - Attorney General Eric Holder released a 5-page memo disclosing that, since 2009, America has assassinated four of its own citizens in “counterterrorism operations” - more specifically, via drone strike.

Unfortunately, the memo’s admissions create more questions than answers.

1) The memo asserts that targeting and killing of citizens can only happen outside the U.S., tacitly readdressing the concerns Senator Rand Paul addressed in his 13 hour filibuster. But the right to due process is not contingent on geography; like it or not, these rights extend to citizens overseas. The fundamental assertion in the memo is, as Spencer Ackerman points out, that “Holder defended killing Americans the administration believes to be members of al-Qaeda without due process, a constitutionally questionable proposition.”

Crisis in the Sahara

Over the past few weeks, with the Second Inauguration of Barack Obama as a backdrop, a mostly-ignored crisis has been unfolding in North Africa.  As President Obama declared at his inauguration that “a decade of warfare is ending,” the United States began aiding France with their bombing campaign in Mali, to little fanfare, fulfilling President Obama’s actual foreign policy goal: to maintain an American global presence, with little accountability here or abroad.

Meanwhile, over the inaugural weekend, to the north of Mali in neighboring Algeria, a hostage crisis at a British Petroleum natural gas plant ended violently; at the time of this writing, 37 hostages were killed, 3 of which were American.  Details are still unclear, and the situation is sensitive, but the mind recalls another inaugural hostage crisis 32 years ago with a happier ending.

The events in Algeria and Mali are intrinsically linked, not just by the actors therein, but by the actions which spurred them.  To properly confront the crisis at hand, we must also confront our contributions to the crisis, for as Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

The Drone Dilemma

Yesterday, I read an article from the Council on Foreign Relations called “Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies.” The opening paragraph read:

Over the last ten years, drones have become a critical tool in the war against terrorist and militant organizations worldwide. Their advantages over other weapons and intelligence systems are well known. They can silently observe an individual, group, or location for hours on end, but take immediate action should a strike opportunity become available—all without putting a pilot at risk. This combination of capabilities is unique and has allowed the United States to decimate the leadership of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and disrupt the activities of many other militant groups.

The paragraph seems to be a wholehearted endorsement of drones. But everyone knows what happens when you start peeling the layers of an onion. What appear to be reasons for drone strikes also happen to be reasons against them.

How the United States recruits terrorists

From the New York Times:

KABUL, Afghanistan – The American military claimed responsibility and expressed regret for an airstrike that mistakenly killed six members of a family in southwestern Afghanistan, Afghan and American military officials confirmed Monday.

The attack, which took place Friday night, was first revealed by the governor of Helmand Province, Muhammad Gulab Mangal, on Monday. His spokesman, Dawoud Ahmadi, said that after an investigation they had determined that a family home in Sangin district had been attacked by mistake in the American airstrike, which was called in to respond to a Taliban attack.

Whatever you think about the war in Afghanistan, there is no disputing that this is recruitment fodder for terrorist organizations. In a region where objective information is scarce, the narrative that America is an evil empire is easily spread unchallenged, and when your family is killed by Americans, you seek vengeance. Events like this only serve to aid those we are truly at war with.

Was it all worth it?

As every last soul has surely heard by now, Osama bin Laden is dead.  Finally located and taken out by American special forces, the death of bin Laden marks a significant moment for America.  The occasion was marked by numerous celebrations and expressions of profound relief and satisfaction, coupled with a harsh brushing of the wounds left by 9/11.  Whether it helps Obama’s political fortunes is yet to be seen, but it surely has raised Americans’ spirits.

But one question still remains in the minds of many - were the sacrifices we have made up to this point worth it?  Over the past nine years Americans have had their privacy invaded, their values called into question, and their coffers tapped to fund two wars expensive in both treasure and blood.  We’ve certainly engaged in some ugly practices in our anger over what bin Laden did to us on that fall day in 2001.  Your average citizen may never know the true extent of the things done in the name of fighting terrorism.

It’s clear to me then that we have paid an immense price for this victory, one that is hard to justify in retrospect.  It’s hard to look at the way our lives have profoundly changed and not say that, despite the fact that his life ended at the point of an American rifle, Osama bin Laden will go down as a victor.  His actions have altered the American landscape permanently and have led us to do things that we ought be ashamed of.

BREAKING: Osama bin Laden is dead

According to just about every major news network, Osama bin Laden is dead and the United States is in possession of his body. President Barack Obama is expected to address the nation in a few minutes to give details and warn of possible retaliation against the United States.

This a developing story, please check back for live updates below.

[11:34pm] Obama: “I can report to the American people and to the world, that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden””

[11:40pm] Bin Laden was apparently killed in a firefight. Some of the reports this evening claimed that Bin Laden was shot in the head.

[11:42pm] Obama: “Justice has been done.”

[11:45pm] Crowds have been gathering in front of the White House celebrating since the news of Bin Laden’s death broke.

[11:46pm] As was reported by news networks, Bin Laden was killed deep inside Pakistan.

[11:50pm] DNA testing was used to confirm that the body was that of Osama bin Laden.

[11:55pm] Here is the statement from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA):

“Nearly a decade ago, in the days after 9/11, President Bush said, ‘Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.’ Tonight, we’ve learned that justice has been done. The man with the blood of more than 3,000 Americans on his hands, the man who forced us to begin to think the unthinkable - is now dead.

Jon Stewart nails the uproar over the Ground Zero Mosque

I was not going to post about this anymore because I’m tired of hearing about it. But last night, Jon Stewart gave a great monologue on the uproar over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque and it needs to be shared.

Like Stewart, I get the reason people are upset about the mosque. But the push back against the mosque has reached a point where it’s not about placing a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, the rhetoric has reached a point where most of the opposition are condemning an entire religion. They are placing the blame for what happened on 9/11 on an entire religion instead of 19 radical Islamists.

Around three minutes in, Stewarts shows video of Eric Bolling, who was appearing on Fox and Friends, laying out the alleged ties that Feisal Abdul Rauf has to various groups, including Hamas and Perdana. Bolling also speculates on whether or not Iran may be funding Park51, formerly the Cordoba House.

Stewart then uses the same logic to connect Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox News, to Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal to the Bin Laden family and Wahhabist Muslims, a form of Islam followed by al-Qaeda.

For perspective, Stewart shows a clip of Charlton Heston speaking at the NRA convention in 1999, just after the Columbine tragedy. In case you don’t remember, there was an uproar that wanted the NRA to hold their convention somewhere else.

During his speech to the convention, Heston said:

Tragedy always has been and always will be with us. Somewhere right now evil people are evil things. All of us will do everything meaningful, everything thing we can do to prevent it, but each horrible act can’t become an axe for opportunists to cleave the very Bill of Rights that binds us.

Stewart admits he was part of the uproar, but he also admits that he was wrong:

Obama’s NSA completely missed the rise of Islamic militants in Iraq

Americans have been endlessly told by President Barack Obama, intelligence officials, and a number of politicians from both parties that the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance programs are absolutely necessary to protect the United States’ from acts of terrorism both in the homeland and abroad. Well, that’s the talking point, at least.

But the deteriorating situation in Iraq, where brutal Islamic militants taken control of swaths of the country, seemingly unnoticed by the Obama administration until a couple of weeks ago. That’s something Conor Friedersdorf mentioned yesterday over at The Atlantic:

Without presuming to speak for any individual, the typical “NSA-hater” would love nothing more than for the NSA to focus its intelligence capabilities on war zones where anti-American fighters plausibly threaten the lives of soldiers or diplomatic personnel, and away from Angela Merkel and every cell-phone call Americans make. Spying on ISIS, however intrusively, is fine by me.

That said, events in Iraq seem to have taken us by surprise, despite the fact that the NSA is totally unencumbered, both legally and politically, in the intelligence it can gather there. And even if the seeming surprise is an illusion, even if the NSA anticipated the fall of cities to Islamic militants, knowing didn’t stop it. That isn’t a knock on the NSA. It’s a statement about the limits of signals intelligence. The NSA didn’t stop the underwear bomber or the Times Square bomber or the shoe bomber either. That’s not a knock on the NSA. They can’t know everything. And if they could, that would be a lot more dangerous than terrorism.

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