AFD 59: Health Reform History, UN News

Latest Episode:
“AFD 59 – Health Reform History, UN News”
Posted: Tues, 08 October 2013

Guest Luke Vargas reports from the United Nations. Then Bill examines the history of health reform in the U.S. and explains the Affordable Care Act and current shutdown.

Non-military solution in Syria?

Finally some good news. John Kerry threw everyone a life preserver ring in an offhand comment yesterday — suggesting an attack could be averted in the unlikely event that Syria agreed to hand over and report all its chemical weapons to international control — and the Russians, the Syrian regime, the UK, and the United Nations Secretary-General immediately backed the idea.

U.S. won’t provide “smoking gun” Syria evidence

Given the insistence that Syria 2013 case ≠ Iraq 2002 case, it’s probably a good idea to make damn sure we know exactly what happened. But the AP has carefully documented the complete lack of “smoking gun” evidence tying it to the regime, though the Pentagon/White House previously declassified lots of satellite images from Syria for other purposes.

We do have reasonable certainty that chemical weapons were used and that they were most likely used by someone aligned with the regime. But we still have seen no evidence that this was ordered by the regime we’re about to “punish” and that it was not some renegade, unauthorized action by a pro-regime unit or commander with access to the chemical weapons. It’s a complicated, opaque conflict with tons of different factions. There’s a lot of reasonable doubt going around.

Here are some key pulls from the AP review:
Excerpt 1:

The U.S. government insists it has the intelligence to prove it, but the public has yet to see a single piece of concrete evidence produced by U.S. intelligence – no satellite imagery, no transcripts of Syrian military communications – connecting the government of President Bashar Assad to the alleged chemical weapons attack last month that killed hundreds of people.

Excerpt 2:

“Some experts think the size of the strike, and the amount of toxic chemicals that appear to have been delivered, make it doubtful that the rebels could have carried it out. What’s missing from the public record is direct proof, rather than circumstantial evidence, tying this to the regime.”

Excerpt 3:

“We can’t get our heads around this – why would any commander agree to rocketing a suburb of Damascus with chemical weapons for only a very short-term tactical gain for what is a long-term disaster,” said Charles Heyman, a former British military officer who edits The Armed Forces of the U.K., an authoritative bi-annual review of British forces.

Excerpt 4:

Multiple U.S. officials have told AP that the intelligence tying Assad himself to the Aug. 21 attack was “not a slam dunk” – a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet’s insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction – intelligence that turned out to be wrong. They cite the lack of a direct link between Assad and the chemical assault – a question the administration discounts by arguing Assad’s responsibility as Syria’s commander in chief. A second issue is that U.S. intelligence has lost track of some chemical weaponry, leaving a slim possibility that rebels acquired some of the deadly substances.

UK gov’t ok’d nerve gas ingredient export to Syria

Nearly a year into the brutal Syrian Civil War, the British coalition government somehow decided to issue a license for a UK firm to export to Syria the chemical components used in sarin gas manufacturing. To a regime known to hold chemical weapons. In the middle of a civil war. The exports were only blocked by external, EU trade sanctions added 6 months later.

No.10 Downing Street (the office of the prime minister) says this was “the system working.”

What? You don’t authorize companies to send dual-use weaponizable chemicals to a dictator during a war. That’s just common sense. 

Syria vote a game-changer for UK?

The British media is very worked up (Slate) over the failed vote for Syria military action in the British parliament, because it could alter the domestic balance of power permanently.

When your country doesn’t have a formal constitution and governance operates entirely on precedents and norms, any big reversals for the government are game-changing for the country. Unlike the US security state, the trend in Britain is often to take power away. For example, it will now be a matter of expectation that all future military action be authorized by parliament (except perhaps in emergency self-defense).

White House delays Syria air strikes

The U.S. White House is delaying the start of Western air strikes on Syria until the British parliament can vote on it during a special session this week, but it has no plans of asking for a special session of the U.S. Congress. So if I understand this correctly, major policy decisions affecting America get a vote in the British parliament but not here at home? Didn’t we stop that with the American Revolution?

Would bombing Syria solve much?

A Guardian commentator critiques Tony Blair’s call to arms against Syria, arguing that it won’t make any difference.

“I am not saying that armed intervention is always mistaken. If it could help fix things, or even improve them, all well and good. And that is where a plan comes in. But if the logic is simply that Assad is a 24-carat wrong-un, that his use of chemical weapons against his own people is a moral outrage, therefore we need to act – then we are doing little more than satisfying our own sense of retributive morality, and one that has become blurred with a large dollop of action-hero crap.”

I’m actually a Blair Doctrine person myself, but I have various common-sense qualifiers the man himself never applies to situations. When applied to Syria, it’s very clear we shouldn’t intervene, in my opinion. And I think if you’re broadly pro-intervention along the lines of the Blair Doctrine, you have to also exercise restraint in some cases (picking your battles literally) or else you won’t be able to intervene in other situations where you can do some good. We can’t intervene everywhere so we shouldn’t try or we’ll be able to intervene nowhere.