The Edge: Obama's Syria Mess

National Journal Staff

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Obama's Syria Mess

What a difference a day makes. On Monday afternoon it looked as if President Obama's authorization-of-force-against-Syria resolution was doomed. Now it may not even come up for a vote.

The White House, the French, the Russians, and a bipartisan group in the Senate have all gotten behind a plan to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons. But even if the president is spared an embarrassing vote, Syria isn't going away.

No one is likely to remember this as Obama's finest hour—from his fuzzy comments about red lines to his whipsaw decision to have Congress sign off on any strike, which was a good notion, but belatedly delivered. It's all a big mess, even if the president has been spared a painful vote hours before his big speech.

Matthew Cooper


WHITE HOUSE TO WORK WITH U.N. ON SYRIA WEAPONS DEAL. The White House said today it will work with allies in the United Nations to consider a Russian proposal designed to avert a military strike against Syria by allowing the international community to seize its chemical weapons, The New York Times reports. Syria's government said it will accept Russia's proposal to "thwart U.S. aggression" and that it was ready to disclose the location of its weapons, to halt their production, and to show facilities to the international community, CNN reports, citing Russia's Interfax news agency. President Obama is still scheduled to address the nation about the Syrian conflict at 9 tonight. Read more

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., left open today the possibility that the Senate may not hold a vote at all on whether to authorize military action against Syria, Politico reports. Read more

OBAMA URGES CONGRESS TO DELAY VOTE ON SYRIA STRIKE. President Obama said during a lunch with senators today that he wants Congress to wait to vote on authorizing a military strike against Syria until the current spate of fast-moving diplomatic efforts to broker a deal can resolve itself, Politico reports. A bipartisan coalition of senators was working to draft a resolution allowing the United Nations time to seize the chemical weapons, as the Obama administration agreed to discuss such an option today with the U.N. Security Council. Secretary of State John Kerry added that the U.S. would refuse to allow the proposal to delay other action: "We're waiting for that proposal, but we're not waiting for long." Read more

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the rising international chorus by saying a deal on Syria's chemical arms "will work out only" if the U.S. and others "pledge to renounce the use of force" against Syria, Reuters reports. Read more

MANEUVER ON CR MAY NOT PACIFY OBAMACARE CRITICS. House Republican leaders plan to proceed with a vote Thursday on a stopgap spending bill to keep the government operating beyond Sept. 30, and they plan to include a rare procedural maneuver to force the Senate to vote on defunding President Obama's health care law, National Journal's Billy House reports. The strategy being put forward by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is intended to satisfy conservatives who want to derail the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Some have called for Republicans to use their majority in the House to block spending bills, including so-called continuing resolutions, as leverage even if that might lead to a government shutdown. Read more

FEDERAL HIRING IN 2012 WAS LOWEST IN SIX YEARS. Government agencies made fewer than 90,000 new hires in 2012, the smallest such amount in six years and 37 percent lower than the number hired in 2009, The Washington Post reports. Defense and security agencies accounted for three-fourths of those hires, which featured the largest share of veteran hiring in recent years at 44.7 percent, according to data from the Office of Management and Budget analyzed by the Partnership for Public Service. The hiring drop is occurring at the same time as a large wave of baby-boomer retirements and an exodus of younger employees amid budget cuts, furloughs, and poor morale. Read more

THE SYRIAN ARMY OBAMA CAN'T BOMB. They hacked the Marines. And The New York Times. And The Washington Post. And while they've been called unsophisticated in their tactics, the members of the Syrian Electronic Army have been awfully disruptive. We don't know much about these cyberactivists, other than that they strongly support the Assad regime and deface websites and redirect readers to their propaganda. If the U.S. does go through with a military strike, the Syrian Electronic Army is sure to step up its hacks, National Journal's Brian Resnick reports. But is it a real threat? Read more

FEDS USES BORDERS TO SEARCH ELECTRONIC DEVICES WITHOUT WARRANTS. Newly released documents obtained by a fundraiser for a legal defense fund for Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning pull back the curtain on how the government uses border crossings to seize electronic devices belonging to travelers without a search warrant, The New York Times reports. "Americans crossing the border are being searched and their digital media is being seized in the hopes that the government will find something to have them convicted," said David House, the fundraiser who was given the documents as part of a settlement with the Homeland Security Department. Customs and Border Protection has so far declined to comment. Read more

LISA JACKSON REBUFFS GOP CHARGES OF IMPROPER E-MAIL SECRECY. Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson struck a defiant tone during her testimony today before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which accused her of improperly using a secret, secondary e-mail account, Politico reports. "I had a secondary official government account like my predecessors before me, and that was done for time management and to be able to do my job," she said. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., implicitly compared Jackson to Jack Abramoff, as other Republicans asked whether she received bonus pay from EPA—an allegation she emphatically denied. Jackson left the agency in February and is now working as a vice president for Apple. Read more

DCCC CHAIR: SYRIA WON'T MATTER IN 2014. The man charged with leading Democrats back to a majority in the House downplayed the potential political impact of the crisis in Syria, saying Tuesday that regardless of what action takes place voters will care far more about other issues by next November, National Journal's Alex Roarty reports. "It does not complicate the cycle at all; 2014 is not going to be a referendum on Syria," said Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "2014 will be a referendum on who can get things done and who clung to partisanship and extremists." Read more

  • The Bipartisan Policy Center released a report Tuesday concluding that the Treasury will run out of cash to pay the country's bill as soon as Oct. 18 unless Congress raises the debt limit, The Washington Post reports. Read more

ANTIQUATED MACHINES SLOW VOTING IN NEW YORK CITY PRIMARY ELECTION. As New Yorkers headed to the polls today in the municipal primary election, many—including mayoral candidates—were encountering problems with the voting machines, Talking Points Memo reports. Former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota "was forced to use a paper ballot" due to machine outages at his Brooklyn polling place.Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., was delayed at a polling location because of a missing signature in the voter rolls. Following problems with new equipment in the 2012 election, the Board of Elections has reinstated lever voting machines, dating to the 1960s, "which had been mothballed since 2010." The board used its Twitter account to respond to voters' questions and concerns about the voting process. Amid concerns about the dated equipment and the efficacy of the elections board, TPM notes the possibility of "a slow, contentious vote count in the mayoral election." Read more


WHITE HOUSE TO HONOR 9/11 VICTIMS. President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama, and Jill Biden will observe a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House to mark the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

PENTAGON TO MARK 9/11 ANNIVERSARY. President Obama, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey will deliver remarks at a 9/11 Memorial Observance Ceremony at 9:30 a.m. at the Pentagon Memorial, 1 N. Rotary Road, Arlington, Va. Hagel, Dempsey, and Michael Rhodes, director of administration and management at the Washington Headquarters Service, will deliver remarks at a Defense Department 9/11 remembrance ceremony at 1 p.m. in the Center Courtyard of the Pentagon.

CONGRESS TO HOLD 9/11 REMEMBRANCE CEREMONY. Members of the House and Senate will hold a 9/11 remembrance ceremony at 11 a.m. on the East Front Center Steps of the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Speaker John Boehner are scheduled to deliver remarks.


"We are ready to fulfill our obligations in compliance with this treaty, including through the provision of information about our chemical weapons. We will open our storage sites, and cease production. We are ready to open these facilities to Russia, other countries, and the United Nations." -- Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, saying during an interview with Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV that the government will give up its chemical weapons "altogether." (RT)


HACK ME, MAYBE? A conference in Miami earlier this year attracted 150 hackers, along with scouts from the government and private corporations trying to poach their talent. The convention, which includes simulations of hacking into a North Korean power grid, reflects cyberwarfare's growing role in national security, Rolling Stone's David Kushner reports. "We built an environment that allows people to legally do the things that would put them in jail," said David Bonvillain, who heads Accuvant LABS, an elite security firm, noting that a small talent pool makes competition "feverish." Security-clearance requirements for the government—which is hiring about 600 hackers for the Homeland Security Department—disqualify some, and the government offers lower compensation than the private sector, but, Kushner writes, "maybe if you're young and brilliant and looking for online action, there's something undeniable about working for the biggest, baddest government on the planet." Read more


HOW LANGUAGE COLORS OUR APPROACH TO LIFE. Unlikely as it may seem, a person's language may affect his or her approach to the future, The Atlantic's Derek Thompson writes. Research conducted by economist Keith Chen, an associate professor at UCLA, found that speakers of languages with weak future tenses "were 30 percent more likely to save money, 24 percent more likely to avoid smoking, 29 percent more likely to exercise regularly, and 13 percent less likely to be obese than speakers of languages with strong future tenses." Even when the research subjects were raised in the same countries, speakers of languages featuring weak future tenses "demonstrated dramatically, and statistically significantly, more responsible future-oriented behaviors" than their counterparts who spoke languages with strong future tenses. Despite initial criticism from economists and linguists, Chen's research appears to have been substantiated, and it was published in The American Economic Review, Thompson writes. Read more


AS YOU LIKE IT. John Tyler, the first vice president to ascend to the country's top office after the death of a president, was a Shakespeare buff, and he even included a reference to Othello in an 1855 speech at the Maryland Institute, The New Republic reports as part of its series on the presidents' pastimes, excerpted from What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House. During Tyler's era, even ordinary people attended the theater with much greater frequency—one example involved a man who saw 102 shows in 122 days. Read more


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