Tag Archives: syria

Situation in Syria will likely allow Begich to avoid wrath of Jewish lobby

Israel lobby The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, was all set to storm Congress this week to push for Congress to vote to intervene in Syria. The most powerful pro-Israel group in the country, perhaps the most powerful lobbying group ever, was going to deploy 250 activists and lobbyists to strong arm and to threaten, as only AIPAC can do.

It’s unclear what they will do now. Since Sunday, the situation has changed drastically. Syria has said that it’s prepared to cooperate with the Russians to inspect its chemical arsenal and to sign a chemical weapons ban. And President Obama has called on Congress to delay a vote to authorizing force while diplomacy is pursued.

This is welcome news to most who believe that the end is more important than the means. But U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is likely breathing a huge sigh of relief. AIPAC has deep pockets and huge influence and can make or break a candidate. Begich has paid notable deference to Israel in his speeches on the issue, but AIPAC judges support by votes, not words, and had Begich voted against military authorization, he wouldn’t be in good stead with AIPAC.

It’s unclear how much influence the group has on this issue. It looked like it was going to lose in Congress no matter what, but it wasn’t going to go down easy and politicians were going to pay, if nothing else by withholding campaign money. Had Begich voted against authorizing force, which he appeared prone to do, he likely would have been one of them.

AIPAC has lost in the past, and it’s not been pretty. In 1991, against a heavy lobbying effort by AIPAC, President George H.W. Bush cut off loan guarantees to Israel until it froze West Bank settlement construction. A year later Bush lost to Clinton as did many of his supporters in Congress.

More significant for Begich was what happened in 1981, when Sen. Mike Gravel voted with President Ronald Reagan to sell advanced AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia, against AIPAC’s wishes. Reagan won then, but learned his lesson by watching members of Congress who voted for the sale lose election after election. One of those members was Sen. Mike Gravel, who, until Begich, was Alaska’s last Democratic senator.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


The latest on Syria

I know I’ve been Syria-obsessed the last few days. But everything else I’m considering writing about pales in comparison to dropping bombs on a chaotic Middle-Eastern country with an maniacal leader who has chemical and biological weapons and who hasn’t taken off the table the threat of using them against our soldiers in retaliation.

Congress has been expected to take up the issue of a resolution authorizing strikes against Syria this week. As of this writing, whether or not they do so is still up in the air, which is sounding more and more like a good thing.

It was all set to go until Sunday, when, in what was described as a “gaffe,” Secretary of State John Kerry said offhandedly that the U.S. might not strike if Syria agrees to surrender control of its chemical weapons. On Tuesday, pundits are increasingly questioning whether the” gaffe” was wrapped in brilliant diplomacy because it allowed Russia, which has been against the strikes and has veto power at the U.N. Security Council, to find an opening.

As a result, members of the U.N. Security Council are working on a resolution that would authorize the international community, lead by Russia, to take control of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of eight senators announced that they also plan a new resolution. This one would authorize an attack on Syria, but only after the introduction of that U.N. resolution, which would set a deadline for the Assad government to hand over its chemical stockpile.  If Assad fails to do so, then the U.S. could use military force.

That’s the latest. It’s constantly evolving however and President Obama is scheduled to address the nation on the situation this evening. But the latest doesn’t look so bad. Here’s my favorite blogger Andrew Sullivan’s take:

It is, if it transpires, a huge victory for the US. Yes, it means we have to relinquish ownership of all this and let Russia take the credit – and all the blowback domestically and internationally that might entail. Expect a whole slew of “Munich” stories; a chorus singing the A-word (appeasement); and the usual derision of Obama from the loony right. The great thing about this president is that he doesn’t care how the short-term optics look or how the news cycle plays as long as the result is one he wants. The process toward that goal is inherently messy, but what matters is the result.

Up next: Why U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is breathing a sigh of relief.

This just in from the AP: “Syrian foreign minister says Syria will declare its chemical weapons arsenal, sign chemical weapons convention.”

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


Thank God it’s Friday’s facts: The cost of war edition

Thank God it's FridayU.S. Sen. Mark Begich held a telephonic town hall on Thursday night, where he listened and answered questions about whether or not the country should strike Syria. Many of the questions asked were about the costs of such military strikes. Begich said that he has yet to get a full accounting of those costs.

Congress is expected to vote next week on a resolution to authorize military action in Syria. Begich said that in order to vote for the resolution, among other things, he would need a to know more about the costs, and that they couldn’t come from money already allocated to existing programs.

The country, as well as members of Congress, are increasingly opposing such action, in part because of the money involved. Below is a taste of what we have spent recently in conflicts in the Middle East, and some of the estimates of what we would spend if we were to go to Syria:

      • The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.2 trillion, according to the Congressional Research Service. When long-term expenses such as health care for wounded veterans is included, that number is estimated to climb to $2.2 trillion.
      • In 2002, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget estimated that the cost of invading Iraq was going to be between $50 to $60 billion.
      • Military operations in Libya in 2011 cost about $1.1 billion, according to the Pentagon.
      • A single Tomahawk missile costs anywhere from $1 million to $1.5 million.
      • Operating a carrier strike group and its aircraft during extended operations, at high tempo around the clock, costs about $40 million a week.
      • The cost of operating guided missile destroyers is about $2 million a week each. There are now four U.S. destroyers operating in the Eastern Mediterranean.
      • In July, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey estimated that a military intervention in Syria would require hundreds of warplanes, ships and submarines and that “the costs would be in the billions.”
      • Dempsey also said that establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria would cost at least $500 million to begin with and could cost $1 billion per month to maintain.
      • Securing chemical weapons sites that the US claims the Syrian government has would cost more than $1 billion a month, according to the top general.
      • Without Syria, the Pentagon is on pace to spend about $574 billion total this year. Of that, about $86 billion was spent on the Afghanistan War.
      • As of March, more than 190,000 people have been killed in the 10 years since the war in Iraq began, including 4,488 U.S. service members and at least 3,400 U.S. contractors.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


Begich appears to be against bombing Syria

syria It appears that U.S. Sen. Begich is leaning against voting for the use of force in Syria. In an hour-long telephonic town hall on Syria on Thursday evening, Begich listened and answered questions about what, until recently, was the United States’ imminent bombing of Syria in retaliation for using chemical weapons on its own citizens.

President Obama recently decided to bring the issue in front of Congress, which is expected to vote on a resolution next week which would authorize military action in Syria.

Begich’s answers to the wide ranging questions did in no way indicate that he was, as of yet, willing to support military action. He said that Americans and Alaskans weren’t “ready to engage” in another war. “Resources are stretched thin,” he said and Alaskans weren’t ready for more loss of life in the Middle East.

Most of the callers on Thursday appeared to be against military action, reflecting the country’s sentiment. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that six in 10 Americans are opposed to using military action in Syria. A Pew Research Center poll also found that 48 percent of adults are against military strikes while only 29 percent support such strikes.

Begich said that he has not yet heard a good argument for why bombing is in our national interest. He doesn’t know how much it would cost. He wasn’t sure that the resolution, drafted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, satisfies his requirements for no ground combat. He said that the country doesn’t have the international support that would justify such action. And he hasn’t been “100 percent” assured that the strike, as planned, prepares for all contingencies.

If he can be convinced of the above, and more, he might be willing to support such action. It seems unlikely however that all of his concerns are going to be allayed.

Begich said that he was “absolutely” getting pressure from his party to vote for military strikes, but said that he “will make this judgment by what I think is right.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been vague about what she’s going to do. Rep. Don Young has not. On his Facebook page he said, “(A)t the current time, I do not support U.S. military intervention in Syria’s civil war. After a dozen years, the American people are sick and tired of sacrificing lives in foreign wars.”

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com