Live blogging the Syria hearing [UPDATED and Fixed]

I’m waiting for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to begin its hearing on Syria. In the meantime, Nancy Pelosi is holding forth on CSPAN. She denies that she will “whip” House Democrats on the Syria vote; she says she’s merely going to “discuss” the matter with her caucus. In other words, she will “whip” them.

I hope she has more success whipping her members than she had whipping her five-year-old grandson.

Pelosi, it will be recalled, tried to conduct diplomacy with Assad during the Bush years, on the theory that Bush had taken too hard a line on the Syrian dictator, whom she deemed a reformer.

Now she’s hardline anti-Assad. So is John Kerry, whose prior infatuation with Assad was even more nauseating than Pelosi’s.

Kerry will be testifying at the upcoming hearing. The sad thing is that his testimony will probably seem cogent compared to that of his fellow witness Chuck Hagel.

After Hagel’s confirmation hearing, one hopes that he will defer to Kerry and Gen. Dempsey to the maximum extent possible.

Has the U.S. ever had a Secretary of Defense, or any key cabinet member, this buffoonish? Not that I know of.

Okay, the hearing is beginning at 2:40.

2:41 — Robert “Fighting Bob” Menendez, the Chairman of the Committee, is making a case for authorizing the administration to attack Syria. His remarks are 99 percent content-free. Let’s not be political; let’s do what’s right; the eyes of the world are upon us; let’s send a message; we’re at a crossroads, etc, etc.

Menendez boasts that he voted against the war in Iraq. Chances are that he would vote against this intervention if a Republican president were proposing it. But chances are that some Republicans who oppose this action would be backing it if proposed by a Republican president.

2:50 — Now it’s the turn of Bob Corker, the Ranking Member. Like Menendez, Corker favors intervention. However, he criticizes the administration for having sent “mixed signals.” He’s unhappy that the administration has said it will provide aid to the ‘vetted opposition” in Syria, but that aid hasn’t been forthcoming.

2:54 — Corker wants assurances that the administration will support the “vetted opposition” after a military strike. He doesn’t say who has vetted the opposition, or how.

2:55 — Kerry is orating now. It’s getting windy.

2:58 — We’re stronger as a nation because we’re having this debate in Congress, Kerry asserts. But Kerry looks weaker, what with Obama having cut his legs out from under him by turning to Congress after the Secretary of State had gone out a limb in favor of acting rather than debating.

3:00 — Kerry is laying out the evidence that the Assad regime carried out a chemical attack. I don’t believe there’s much of a debate about this. For one thing, as Kerry says, there is no evidence that the opposition could have carried out an attack like this, especially from regime-held territory.

3:04 — Now, Kerry is bloviating about the use of chemical weapons in World War I and the subsequent outcry against that practice. The “red line” isn’t President Obama’s, he asserts. It’s the world red line and that of Congress, which ratified a ban on chemical weapons. But the existence of a prohibition doesn’t entail military action by the U.S. in response to violations. This was Obama’s doctrine, not Congress’s or the world’s.

3:08 — Now Kerry is making what I think is a good point. If we deprive Assad of certain important weapons, then we have acted consequentially. The question for me is whether our attack — limited as it would be — will actually deprive Assad of important weapons, or even degrade that weaponry.

Kerry makes an even better point. What will be the message to Assad and other evildoers in the region if we back down now? Our inaction would give a “permission slip” to Hezbollah, Iran, and North Korea, says Kerry.

Kerry says that Obama isn’t going to war. He just wants to destroy or degrade Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons and to show that “no means no” when it comes to the prohibition against chemical weapons.

What if Assad retaliates? We have ample means of responding without putting boots on the ground, says Kerry.

3:17 — A protester begins screaming that we don’t want war. She is escorted out.

3:18 — Hagel says that when he was young he had feelings very much like the protester. Actually, he had them for much longer than that.

It’s always uplifting to hear the U.S. Secretary of Defense show empathy towards a Code Pink style protester.

3:22 — Hagel is rehashing points already made by Kerry. Nothing new so far.

3:26 — Is Hagel’s testimony really necessary? I say: no. Is it beneficial? I say: no. Mercifully, it’s over.

Gen. Dempsey won’t make a statement, but he’s available to answer questions. That should have been Hagel’s role, except for the second part.

3:27 — Menendez is asking questions now. He says that he was at a soccer tournament this weekend and the soccer moms wanted to know “why us.” Ah, the wisdom of soccer moms and 5-year-old grandchildren.

3:30 — Kerry testifies that he doesn’t want a “no boots on the ground” proviso in the congressional resolution. He says that if we’re facing a scenario in which chemical weapons will fall into the hands of the wrong people, we may need boots on the ground.

I doubt that Congress will buy this. But Kerry says the administration and Congress can wordsmith their way around the issue.

3:35 — Now it’s Corker’s turn to ask questions. Why have we been so inept at building up the “vetted opposition” we say we support, Corker asks. Kerry responds, remarkably but not altogether unexpectedly, that progress has been made, inasmuch as the opposition has reached out to women, etc.

Corker asks the obvious follow up question — why have we been so slow in increasing the opposition’s capacity for lethal action? Kerry says he’ll discuss this tomorrow in closed session. Naturally, Corker isn’t satisfied.

Kerry says that the contemplated action would only be directed at degrading Assad’s chemical weapons, but that this would have “downstream” impact on Assad’s overall military capacity.

But would taking out Assad’s chemical capacity (even assuming we could do it) really have a significant impact on Assad’s overall war-making capability? Arguably, Assad’s superiority in the air would have to be altered in order for a “downstream” impact to be expected.

3:46 — Barbara Boxer clearly has been under pressure from her lefty constituents to oppose military intervention. She’s scrambling to explain why she nonetheless favors such action. She says that the Senate drew a red line, and it has to mean something. Our credibility is on the line, she declares.

She asks whether there was any disagreement among intelligence agencies about whether Assad launched a chemical attack. Kerry says no.

Boxer wants to distinguish the intel here from that in Iraq in 2002-03. But, as I recall, no U.S. intelligence agency (or intelligence agency of our allies) disagreed with the assessment that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD.

3:52 — Kerry says that the Russians are cooperating with the U.S. on various important fronts, and may come to support our position in Syria. From this point on, no Senator should believe anything Kerry says.

3:53 — Sen. Risch (R-Idaho), for one, isn’t buying Kerry’s line on Russia. He also says he’s opposed to attacking Syria. If one American had been attacked, he’d feel differently, Risch says. This, it seems to me, is the new Republican “isolationism” personified.

Kerry talks about the need for “credibility.” Risch asks how our credibility will be enhanced by a limited strike which Assad can publicly laugh off.

Kerry concedes that it’s a good question, and he’s right. But Kerry promises that Assad won’t credibly be able to laugh off the attacks. Promises, promises.

Risch wants to know what happens if our intervention leads to action against Israel, for example. Kerry says that if Assad is foolish enough to go after Israel, he’ll invite something fearsome. I think that’s right.

Kerry also says that Russia has no ideological commitment to Syria — it’s merely “geo-political.” I understand his point. But a world war was fought over mere geo-political commitments.

4:01 — Now it’s the turn of my Senator, Ben Cardin. He’s a loyal party man, so it’s not surprising that he backs President Obama. But he’s also a liberal Democrat, so he expresses concern that the resolution proposed doesn’t shut the door sufficiently against putting boots on the ground. He wants the resolution tightened.

Cardin asks about the impact of the passage of time. Gen. Dempsey says that our intel is good enough to deal with whatever moves Assad makes while the debate proceeds. Color me skeptical.

Kerry tries to put a happy face on the fact that almost no country is going to participate in our proposed military action. He says that since our action will be limited, we have all the help we need.

4:11 — Marco Rubio is up now. He begins by arguing for the significance of Syria and explaining how our national security is tied to events there. He adds, however, that this was his view two years ago, when Obama decided to “lead from behind.” That’s actually a gentle characterization.

Rubio says he favors military action to remove Assad from power. But he acknowledges that this is quite risky, which is true.

Another option is to do nothing. But, says Rubio, this will leave Assad in place to continue with atrocities, create doubt among our allies, and leave Iran confident that it can develop nukes with impunity.

The third option is the president’s limited strike. Rubio says he’s doubtful about this course.

He asks Gen. Dempsey whether we can structure a limited attack that’s still severe enough to induce to Assad to risk losing to the rebels by not using chemical weapons. He also want to know how confident Gen. Dempsey is that we can structure an attack that actually does meaningfully degrade his chemical weapons capacity.

Naturally, Dempsey says he’s confident that we can structure the attack to meet Rubio’s concerns. He’ll need to support this confidence in closed session.

4:21 — Sen. Shaheen (D-N.H) is now asking questions. I’ve noticed, by the way, that Hagel is being squeezed out by Kerry and Dempsey. These two are doing nearly all of the answering. Good move.


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