Insider Battle: President Obama and the National Security Elite (03/22/2016)

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Donald Trump has been labeled a danger by Fox News, because he has doubted the wisdom of launching endless winles wars in the Middle East.

A similar campaign against Obama for not sending massive bombing or troops to Syria to play in that war game has been launched on him over the past few years.

President Obama, with his characteristic diffidence, has announced his “liberation” from the Washington foreign-policy “playbook,” but the national security elite is already striking back, writes Gareth Porter.

But the more important struggle over that decision was played out within the administration between Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the charge in pressing the President to carry out cruise missile strikes against Assad regime military targets over the its alleged responsibility for the Aug. 21, 2013 Sarin attack.

“There’s a playbook that presidents are supposed to follow,” Obama told Goldberg. “[T]he playbook prescribes responses to different events and those responses tend to be militarized responses.”

Such a “playbook” can be “a trap that can lead to bad decisions,” Obama continued. “In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you can get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why if does not apply.”

Goldberg writes that Obama “had come to believe that he was walking into a trap – one laid both by allies and adversaries, and by conventional expectations of what an American president is supposed to do.” Obama was implying that he was being pushed into committing U.S. military force to the Syrian conflict less to eliminate the threat of chemical weapons than to tilt the military balance in favor of the opposition and to support “regime change” – something Obama did not want to do.

John Kerry made no bones about his commitment to striking government military targets. In Senate testimony on Sept. 3, 2013, he referred 28 times to the idea that such strikes would “deter” Assad from further chemical weapon attacks but also “degrade” the government’s military capabilities.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, and Secretary of State John Kerry confer as they testify on the potential use of military force in Syria before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, D.C., Sept. 3, 2013. (DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, and Secretary of State John Kerry confer as they testify on the potential use of military force in Syria before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, D.C., Sept. 3, 2013. (DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

A big reason Obama had begun to doubt the wisdom of a military response to the Aug. 21 attack, Goldberg reports, was that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper came to see Obama on the morning of Aug. 30 and told him that he could not say that the intelligence on Assad having carried out the attack was a “slam dunk.”

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