Obama’s Break with the Establishment

Exclusive: 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.

By Gareth Porter

The biggest story in Jeffrey Goldberg’s 20,000-word report on “The Obama Doctrine” is President Barack Obama’s open break with the foreign policy establishment.

The critique of orthodox national security policy thinking that Obama outlined in interviews with Goldberg goes farther than anything delivered on the record by a sitting president. It showed that Obama’s view on how to define and advance U.S. “national security” diverges sharply from those of the orthodox views of national security bureaucracy and Washington foreign policy think tanks on U.S. “credibility,” the real interests the United States in the Middle East and how the United States should respond to terrorism.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (right) talks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, with John Brennan and other national security aides present. (Photo credit: Office of Director of National Intelligence)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (right) talks with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, with John Brennan and other national security aides present. (Photo credit: Office of Director of National Intelligence)

It was the controversy surrounding his decision in the 2013 Syrian crisis not to authorize airstrikes against government forces that provoked Obama to go public with his position in that broader struggle. The foreign policy elite in Washington has issued a steady drumbeat of opinion pieces portraying Obama’s failure to launch a cruise missile attack against the Syrian air force and its air defense system in 2013 as a major blow to the U.S. role in the world because it forfeited U.S. “credibility.”

Richard Haass, who is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the closest thing to a spokesman for the foreign policy establishment, summed up the elite’s attitude toward Obama’s decision in Syria in a Feb. 23 tweet. Haass suggested that Obama’s decision not to bomb Assad regime targets was on par with the Bush administration’s U.S. invasion of Iraq. In his tweet, Haass linked to another attack on Obama’s decision by Laurent Fabius, the recently retired former French Foreign Minister. On Twitter, Haass wrote: “2003 #Iraq war error of commission; not enforcing #Syria red line error of omission. fair debate which more costly. http://nyti.ms/1oEOfjm 

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.”

Clapper’s reference was to the misguided assurance that CIA Director George Tenet reportedly gave President George W. Bush in 2002 that the intelligence community could back up Bush’s WMD claims about Iraq and that to do so would be a “slam dunk.” Clapper was saying that U.S. intelligence was not at all certain that the Assad regime was at fault for the attack. [For more on that topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons Red-Faced over ‘Red Line.’“]

Over the past week, in the mainstream media’s denunciations of Obama’s comments in The Atlantic, this passage about Clapper’s uncertainty about who had launched the Sarin attack is ignored, although it would seem to be a key point. (See, for instance, Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl’s op-ed on Monday or last Friday’s New York Times op-ed by columnist Roger Cohen.)

Furthermore, Obama did have an alternative to going to war in Syria that would eliminate any future threat of chemical weapons attacks by Assad’s government. In early September 2013, Obama reached an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Assad would give up his entire chemical weapons arsenal, while the United States would not go to war against Damascus and while Assad continued to deny a role in the Sarin attack.

Questions about ‘Credibility’

In The Atlantic interviews, Obama’s harshest criticism is reserved for the cardinal rule of U.S. national security policy orthodoxy: that U.S. “credibility” for using military force must not be eroded by a failure to follow through on a threat to use it.

Of course, Obama’s so-called “red line” over chemical weapons was never explicitly defined as a threat to go to war over the issue, so it was a red herring argument for cruise missile strikes in Syria. But there was even substantial doubt inside the U.S. intelligence community that Assad had crossed the “red line.”

Obama responded to the “credibility” argument by Kerry and Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power at a White House meeting by pointing out that “dropping bombs on someone to prove that you’re willing to drop bombs on someone is just about the worst reason to use force.”

Obama recalled how difficult it was to reject the “credibility” argument at that moment, because, “to press the pause button at that moment … would cost me politically.”

The political threat to which Obama was referring was not merely a figment of his imagination. During his first year in office, his national security advisers had pressured him to accept a smaller and slower withdrawal from Iraq and a much larger military escalation in Afghanistan than Obama had believed justified by the facts. They had tightened the pressure by giving the mainstream news media anonymous accounts of the issue calculated to make Obama appear naive and irresolute.

Obama has also riled the foreign policy elite by renouncing its tenet of faith that the United States has vital interests in the Middle East because of its de facto – but not formal – alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Obama clearly resents the pressure on him to treat both of those “allies” with kid gloves.

President Obama and King Salman Arabia stand at attention during the U.S. national anthem as the First Lady stands in the background with other officials on Jan. 27, 2015, at the start of Obama’s State Visit to Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza). (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama and King Salman Arabia stand at attention during the U.S. national anthem as the First Lady stands in the background with other officials on Jan. 27, 2015, at the start of Obama’s State Visit to Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza). (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Goldberg writes that a “widely-held sentiment inside the White House is that many of the most prominent foreign policy think tanks in Washington are doing the bidding of their Arab and pro-Israeli funders.” Although Goldberg, the most openly pro-Israel big-name journalist in Washington, is obviously disapproving of that observation, it reflects the well-known reality of the funding of the leading think tanks focusing on the Middle East.

Obama rejected the idea of giving unconditional support to the Saudis in their sectarian conflicts, because “[O]ur Gulf partners, our traditional friends, do not have the ability to put out the flames on their own or decisively win on their own,” so such unconditional support “would mean that we have to start coming in and using our military power to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.”

Yet Obama has continued to give de facto support to those very sectarian Saudi policies in Syria and Yemen, which have destabilized those countries but which key U.S. national security officials have championed. Just last week, the New York Times revealed that John Kerry had had been the a “forceful advocate” last year of the view in that the United States should support the war the Saudis were planning to launch against Yemen, because the Saudi had questioned American “priorities” in the region in light of Obama’s negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Views on Terrorism

Obama has also sharply dissented from orthodox thinking about terrorism, although not on the record. Goldberg writes that Obama “frequently reminds his staff that terrorism takes far fewer lives in America than hand guns, car accidents and falls in bathtubs.” That view has scandalized his national security advisers, who have been “fighting a constant rear-guard action,” according to Goldberg, “to keep Obama from placing terrorism in what he considers its ‘proper’ perspective, out of concern that he will seem insensitive to the fears of the American people.”

Those reported remarks by Obama to his staff are consistent with his statement in a May 2013 speech on terrorism policy that “[a]ny U.S. military action in foreign land risks creating more enemies….” He also said, “a perpetual war — through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments – will prove self-defeating and alter our country in troubling ways”.

Nevertheless, Obama has continued to preside over a vast increase in drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. The fact that he has voiced a perspective that directly contradicts his own administration’s actual policies on wars in Yemen and Syria as well as on counter-terrorism policy suggests that he has consistently compromised with senior national security officials, despite his misgivings, for political reasons.

That same pattern of behavior was evident in his response to the U.S. military’s request for a steep increase in U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan in 2009. He had privately disagreed sharply with his national security team over the issue, even arguing that Afghanistan was far less important to U.S. national security than the future of Pakistan, as revealed by Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars.

But in the end Obama reached a compromise between his own view of what should be done and the demands pressed on him by his national security team. The fact that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were both supporting the military was central to his calculation of the political cost he anticipated if he rejected the escalation.

Obama’s readiness to go along with policies about which he had serious misgivings – with one signal exception (bombing Syria in 2013) – bears similarity to the political dynamic that propelled the United States into the Vietnam War. Both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson said privately that South Vietnam was not worth a war, but both agreed to major steps toward war under pressure from the senior advisers, including their Secretaries of State and Defense.

The new revelations of Obama’s disenchantment with foreign policy orthodoxy on the use of force illuminate an enduring structural problem of presidents perceiving their national security officials as having the power to impose high political costs on them if their demands for war were rejected. On the other hand, Obama’s public break-up with the national security elite appears to represents a new stage in the politics of national security in which broader resistance to those powerful interests may possibly be feasible.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.


55 comments for “Obama’s Break with the Establishment

  1. Daize
    March 21, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks for this article, it had given me real insight into the Obama administration. Seems to me Obama was smart enough to get what was wrong but didn’t have enough backbone to do enough about it. Very late into his administration he is developing enough balls to at least bitch about it and actually not bomb Syria (which really was important and I must give him kudos for having managed to avoid it.).

    • R. Millis
      March 21, 2016 at 6:29 pm

      Obama has not grown any backbone. A nobody young senator from Illinois was picked by the powers-that-be who understood his puppet stature that would allow them to further their hegemonic goals. Only a minimal amount of moral fiber on his part (possibly with Putin’s input) may have helped prevent the worst of the worst neo-cons from blowing up Syria and Russia. And after Obama? You’d better pray Hillary doesn’t become president because she’s a cut-throat neo-con. Obama is merely counting the seconds/minutes/hours and days before he gets outa’ the corrupt-infested D.C.

  2. Josh
    March 21, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    This also begs the question: the existing lines within US foreign policy, as drawn by the State Dept, CIA,NSA and the Pentagon in multi-year commitments inside and outside of international alliances and budgets, provide a powerful ongoing stream across presidencies that is difficult to redirect, never mind halt. Any president that were to come in and radically change foreign policy would have to come in and push his new ‘doctrine’ with a fierceness that would be blasted by the establishment.

    • R. Millis
      March 21, 2016 at 6:31 pm

      He/she would be assassinated w/n months of their tenure should he make such moves. Take a gander at Dalton’s “The Devil’s Chessboard” to reveal the immense power of the US’s “Deep State.”

      • Joe Wallace
        March 22, 2016 at 11:18 pm

        R. Mills:

        I take your point, but “The Devil’s Chessboard” was actually written by David Talbot.

  3. Sancho Trout
    March 21, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    i agree completely with this analysis, having come to it on my own while watching Obama resist the horrendous pressure to bomb syria AND at the same time, to engage in Ukraine against Putin. you could watch the ‘national security establishment’ throw hissy fits in the press with their dire warnings of loss of prestige, weakness, ‘abandoning america’s place in the world’ and all the other bullshit geared to make obama increase military spending on chasing our tail at the same time our roads, airports and utility infrastructure is becoming dangerously decrepit. In fact, more Americans have died in bridge collapses than as a result of all non-false flag terrorism ever. obama has been fighting for the 99% on so many fronts, and so many times he had to capitulate to the powers that be in the financial, ‘national security’ and corporatist establishment–on letting the bankers walk free, on not protecting our environment, on not challenging election finance, on not being able to stop the drone strikes, close Guantanamo, eliminate black sites, on not being able to do so much of what he would have liked to do. this article gives us just a small peek into how hard it has been for Obama to hold the line against the depredations of this vulture class. I have been one who has accused him of selling out and not being sufficiently strong in standing against those who impose martial law in our country. on further reflection, it is amazing he was able to do what he did.

    • Brad Benson
      March 22, 2016 at 5:09 am

      He will be amply rewarded for his war crimes upon his departure from office. There are no excuses for this man. He had the support of the people and turned around on his first day in office. Perhaps his CIA Briefers showed him a video of the Kennedy Assassination, TAKEN FROM BEHIND THE SHOOTERS. Whatever happened, Obama grabbed the reins of War Powers and ran with them. It’s a bit late to whine that he was pressured.

      Presidents used to demand the resignations of the top echelons of every Federal Agency. They could then “accept” or “refuse” the resignation letters. I was in the Federal Service. The last time I ever saw this done was when Reagan came in. Bush also brought in some new people after a number of the Reagan Appointees retired at the end of Reagan’s Term, but the Clinton Regime demanded no resignations and left many of these right-wing appointees in place.

      At the time, I thought that it was because they had not expected to win and were therefore not prepared to place people in the jobs. I now believe that the Clinton’s intended to move to the right all along or perhaps were overrun by the Republican Appointees that they had permitted to remain in key positions.

      After Clinton, the same Neo-cons and Liberal Interventionists have remained in Government and their numbers have been bolstered at the lower levels by embedded Neo-cons in the regular Civil Service.

      • Justin
        March 23, 2016 at 11:14 am

        Nothing wrong with calling neocons neocons. There is no difference between liberal interventionists and neocons. Neocons are liberl and conservative and I believe that they are the majority of elected office holders

  4. March 21, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    Without any actual evidence, my gut instinct tells me not all U.S. generals can be content with what looks to most of us like failure after failure in perpetual war. And neither can the men serving under them. If promotions were based on real success, I think the leadership of the U.S. military might look vastly different

    • Bob Van Noy
      March 21, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      Excellent thought, Bryan Hemming. I think that this is the key to possible peace. The very reason the military abandoned the draft, because some of those draftees “think for themselves”…

    • Phil Dennany
      March 21, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Any general that would not play along would have already removed by this very late date..

    • Tsigantes
      March 22, 2016 at 3:35 am

      100% Agree.

    • Brad Benson
      March 22, 2016 at 5:12 am

      Promotions are highly affected by an individual’s “combat experience”. No combat, no promotions. War is necessary to the military careerist, from top to bottom. If we ever won these wars, as we have in the past, the gravy train would at least temporarily be brought to a halt.

  5. Pablo Diablo
    March 21, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    The war machine is well fed whether it wins or loses wars. Shame on John Kerry. He should know better. If Obama can finally stand up, maybe we can do better with Bernie Sanders.

  6. Bob in Portland
    March 21, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    No President has had control of US foreign policy since JFK was assassinated. Any President who hasn’t learned that lesson has been shown the door.

    • Rose
      March 26, 2016 at 8:24 pm

      You’re suggesting JFK was assassinated over a foreign policy issue? Here I thought it was the Fed

  7. Oz
    March 21, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    I’m not buying your central premise. If Obama were to decide that it is fundamentally wrong to pursue a policy of overthrowing secular regimes in the Mideast, using Islamic extremists as proxies and eventually replacements; if Obama were to adopt a policy of respecting national sovereignty, instead of arrogating to himself the authority to dictate who may or may not participate in elections, or declare elections illegitimate if the wrong guy wins; if Obama were to renounce a policy of double standards on “corruption” and “human rights”, depending on whether the country in question is in the good graces of the London-centered financial establishment; then, that might represent a “break with the establishment.” What we have now is simply a sophisticated con job.

    • WG
      March 21, 2016 at 6:53 pm

      Exactly. An example of how Obama broke with the ‘establishment’ is that instead of using rendition like George Bush he decided to extra judicially kill people using drones.

  8. J'hon Doe II
    March 21, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    “Obama’s Break with the Establishment”

    How could this not be in line with consistent hemispheric insistance on the INCLUSION/recognition of Cuba as a regional partner?
    The UN, likewise judged our economic embargo of Cuba an outrage of foreign policy exclusive punishment.

    Central American/Caribbean countries that we Politically Subjugate house peoples that struggle to survive daily as export labor economies to White-Prosperous import America.

    — This is the Establishment –

    the subjugation of Others’ land yields and labor to White american prosperity, cheap fruits, good health on the backs of poor farmers.

    — This is the Establishment –

    mitch mcconnall, mitt romney, the bush family, the rockefellers, goldman sachs and all you tax dodging mother f”n pigs at the trough who take your money and cover under politically driven escape schemes and hide tax schemes while everyday Americans STRUGGLE TO raise kids/pay mortgage/ and buy healthy food — f’n SIMPLE SURVIVAL, in “Rich America” !!!!!!!

    I’m all with those who’ll vote with a middle finger this election year !!!

    Maybe, somehow – those who ignore/are blind will somehow catch a hold of the reality.

    (find the Jennifer Lawrence movie “Winters Bone” to get a glimpse on america’s interior, if you have a heart, you’ll cry)

  9. Joe Tedesky
    March 21, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    When Obama brings up hand gun deaths, and bathtub accidents, he is missing the point. The point being the Military Industrial Complex must implement the Yinon Plan, or the Clean Break project, because this is what America’s foreign policy is all about in the Middle East. To hell with worrying about the average American, they outsourced that lot a longtime ago. Bill Clinton once made a comment of how not long ago Obama would have been the one serving him coffee. Well by the sounds of it, Obama’s foreign policy team thought that. I don’t mean to play the race card, but if the shoes fits well so be it. The Goldberg interview has left a lot for us to wonder about, and wondering may sometimes lead to learning something. So, what will we all learn from a retired president? I hope his first out of office book is available on kindle.

  10. Brian
    March 21, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Lately it seems like the only thing Obama is concerned about is his legacy. As of now he is going to go down in history as a man that was elected president largely due to the color of his skin, inherited the most corrupt government in history, and didn’t have the courage to stand up to it. I can’t figure out if he’s corrupted as well or if he’s being brainwashed like the rest of them. His lack of campaign finance reform sways me towards the former. I also picked out quite a few lies in the Obama Doctrine, especially when it came to Ukraine, Libya, and the Syrian chemical weapons attacks. Did Obama really approach Putin about Assad surrendering his chemical weapons or was it vice versa? Anyways, if I could say one thing to Obama it would be, “If you want to preserve your name, then start genuinely doing the right thing.”

    • Gregory Kruse
      March 22, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      It’s a little late for that, don’tcha think?

  11. Jerry
    March 21, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    “Washington has sent a detachment of US Marines to Iraq to bolster the fight against the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terror group. The Marines will reinforce US forces already there.” https://www.rt.com/usa/336370-us-marines-iraq-ground/ (20 Mar 2013)

    There’s no “break with the establishment”. Obama lies like a rug. Everything he says is BS. I can’t stand listening to him. They originally said we were out of Iraq, no boots on the ground, etc. But Obama keeps putting more troops back into Iraq.

    All presidents are just stooges for the people who own this country. Likewise the Congress. Take a look at the TTIP. See “TTIP: Fake freedom moves closer to open slavery”. https://www.rt.com/op-edge/336362-fake-freedom-moves-ttip/ (20 Mar 2013) We’re all screwed. The evidence is all around us and has been for a long time.

    Gripe all you want while you still can.

  12. Roy David
    March 21, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    It is of interest to note that if one reads the comments that follow Roger Cohen’s NYT op-ed piece in the newspaper itself, the vast majority – and those that received hundreds of ticks – vehemently think he is talking through his boots. Therefore it would be quite fair to say that in writing what he did, Times respondents, along with many others, think he has shot himself in the foot.

  13. March 21, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    It is nice to read a perspective that plausibly suggests Obama the person might be more than the disappointment his presidency has appeared to be.

  14. March 21, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    “Obama responded to the “credibility” argument by Kerry and Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power at a White House meeting by pointing out that “dropping bombs on someone to prove that you’re willing to drop bombs on someone is just about the worst reason to use force.” Indeed!

    Mr. Porter, you have single-handedly done something for me that I had long thought impossible; Find something to admire in the POTUS.

    Besides that, This is one of the most important pieces of journalism to come out this century, since it substantiates the root of the problem of perpetual war – the power brokers in the Department of Defense. It’s time to turn back the clock and re-name it, the War Department.

  15. Joe L.
    March 21, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    First of all, I am Canadian so this is my impression from the outside looking in. When Obama first took office, I actually had a lot of hope. He spoke of change, though he is not the first, and maybe I was a little in awe to see the first black President. But overall, I think it has been an awful Presidency. He did inherit a mess but he also expanded the wars, bailed out the big banks without anyone going to jail, failed to look backwards about the war crime that was/is Iraq, I still only see mainly talk about Guatanamo, has a “kill list” where anyone 14 years or older in the vicinity of a drone strike is automatically declared a terrorist which is ridiculous, meanwhile under his watch there has been a coup in Honduras in 2009 pulled off by a graduate of the School of the Americas, a coup in Ukraine with the help of Victoria Nuland/NED/USAID, and let us not forget about this new stupid Cold War. I am dumbfounded how a person with this track record ever won a Nobel “Peace” Prize. Maybe I should just accept the adage about “how do you know if a politician is lying, their lips are moving”! Disastrous Presidency and what the US, and the world, have to look forward to in a likely Clinton vs. Trump Presidential run is, I believe, going to be even worse.

  16. Taras77
    March 21, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    I too have long wondered how obama could change his policies so radically from what he professed to believe in his campaigns. I have gradually come to realize that the embeded “foreign policy” establishment, ie the war mongering establishment, is so strong and so embeded that it really does not make any difference who the president is. That is the tragedy of the US govt today. Much debate has occurred as to whether obama is a realist or a neocon. I did not believe that obama could profess to be a realist with such neocons as samantha power (humanitarian interventionist), nuland (kagan neocon family) supported strongly by mccain, graham, AEI, AIPAC. and his long standing crony, susan rice continuing to advocated interventionist/regime change policies. Perhaps obama realized that he could not block them, which is really something to think about.

    At this point, I’m ready to give him some credit for coming out of the closet so to speak and at least recognizing how bankrupt the washington play book really is in this 21st century. Again, it may not matter whether hillary or trump or whoever runs foreign policy.

    Lastly, what the hell happened to kerry?

  17. WG
    March 21, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    If only this Obama guy was president. Imagine how different the last 7 years could have been if only he was in charge.

  18. Abbybwood
    March 21, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Now Bill Clinton has slammed the Obama administration for being an “awful legacy of the past eight years”:


  19. Abbybwood
    March 21, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    I read the text of Hillary Clinton’s speech at AIPAC and just listened to Trump’s.

    If they are the nominees this fall we can all safely say that the Israeli coup against the United States is complete.

    • Daniel
      March 21, 2016 at 10:05 pm

      Vote Bernie while (if) you still can! Hillary will make Obama look good.

      • Khairul Mahmoud
        March 22, 2016 at 4:08 am

        Daniel, you are right, not 100% rather 500%!

      • dahoit
        March 22, 2016 at 10:02 am

        Bernie Sanders re the ME is almost as bad as the rest.Really.

  20. Douglas Baker
    March 21, 2016 at 11:46 pm


    A close reading at this late date show that clearly President Kennedy was odd man out with those whose web of connections wanted a wider and deeper American presence in Vietnam in support of America’s ruling elite’s interests, with the President taking action to reduce our armed forces there. Ironic that the recent use of chemical weapons by ISIS–DAESH in both Syria and Iraq is a continuation of support of our terrorists with DAESH being an Israeli/American,Saudi/U.K. creation as the new Middle East Golem. It is useful to remember that President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush supported Saddam in Iraq as he went to war with American supplied chemical weapons against Iran as those that control Israel have long desired, with the first Bush giving a nod to their use against Kurds in Iraq.

    • Bob Van Noy
      March 23, 2016 at 11:32 am

      Yes, Douglas Baker, we will keep all of that in mind as we try to sort out the complexity of Syria, but for certain it is not small patriotic Syrians acting on their own behalf but State Sponsored factions operating on someone eases behalf… Thanks.

  21. Joseph D'Urso
    March 21, 2016 at 11:52 pm

    The author and this reviewer would make it seem as if we should credit Obama for his wisdom in halting the bombing attack on Syria. In fact in should be seen that:1) it is the Obama who set the “red line,” setting the precondition for US intervention; 2) Obama was aware that attacking Syria would pave the way for a jihadist takeover and willing to risk it; 3) he was opposed came not only by the Joint Chiefs, the British Parliament, but from the American people who gave their representatives to oppose am earful; and 4) most important Obama was halted by the intervention of Vladimir Putin, who urged Assad to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stock and thus deflated the argument for war.
    Of course, Goldberg asserts as fact and Obama never comes clean on the truth about the facts regarding the atrocity, preferring to stick with the “Assad did it” story to justify his support for the rebels, and taking no responsibility for the hundred of thousands of lives lost nor the millions ruined in his insane quest for “regime change” in Libya and Syria. No recognition is given to President Putin’s Syria initiative which has reversed the direction of Mideast affairs, toward negotiated peace and stability for the first time since George W. Bush’s disastrous war on Iraq. Contrast this reality with Goldberg’s concluding cynical prediction that “At the moment, Syria, where history appears to be bending toward greater chaos, poses the most direct challenge to the president’s worldview.”
    Moreover, the point of the article is not that Obama seeks peace, nor does he mind killing, as his direct, personal involvement in drone warfare demonstrates, as he believes, in Goldberg’s words, “that he world cannot afford to see the diminishment of US power,” Rather he seeks its redeployment to “deal with other challenges” from our “adversaries.” Thus he is setting the stage for future confrontations, already begun by crazed Sec. of Defense, Ash Carter, who has targeted Russia, and leaving the rest up to that all-to-eager incurable warmonger, Hillary Clinton, to pick a fight with Russia or China in Eastern Europe, or perhaps the South China Sea..

    • David Hamilton
      March 23, 2016 at 7:20 pm

      Yes, he’s caught up in the cycle, and I do not try to excuse him. It’s a disaster cycle that keeps requiring more and more return interventions, often to prove credibility (while cunningly being implemented to lock up the spoils and profits of war) and little more. It’s an immoral cycle. It is driven by rhetoric first – the threat-that-cannot-be-undone rhetoric that is supposed to make for good deterrence and control, but leads to perpetual war. It happened in the Persian Gulf War, it happened in the Iraq War, and almost did in Syria. So many threats are made so early in the cycle that the outcome becomes locked in. The cycle’s benefits don’t trickle down to most of the people, but even if they did enrich them, the people cannot do anything to stop it if they wanted to. But, can Obama begin to put some brakes on the cycle? The guilty Obama’s recent disclosures may be real confessions about the traps into which he says he is placed: I think I can tell the times when he is insincere, like when he says “Assad did it”, “Qaddafi is about to massacre the innocent”, or when he omits to credit Putin for disarming the Syrians of their chemical weapons. Does it help the nation to learn of his “struggles” against the establishment? Maybe. We learn Syria was not a slam-dunk and he knew it. He’s telling us he’s playing a double game, yielding to the players of the Great Game while maneuvering sometimes against it. But, he does not confess to past propaganda crimes of his government, like the alleged Sarin attack being circumstantially and scientifically preposterous. Maybe he doesn’t know about the one rocket of much-too-short-range carrying Sarin was all the propagandists had. It’s terrible but the playbook gives the leader of this country a blank check to wield power – at this juncture throughout the world. Hesitation or thought-through-ness is naivete and erodes power. The playbook appears to have been written by cold warriors when moral certitude was clear cut, so much so that hesitation could not be condoned: decisive action only. I agree “credibility” is at the root of our crisis. I appreciate Obama for saying so.

  22. Khairul Mahmoud
    March 22, 2016 at 4:00 am

    This piece is a candid narrative of how vicious is the ‘permanent’ and ‘in-built’ machination in the Washington establishment capable of ‘trapping’ and outsmarting any person in the White House Chair. This is an outcome about which Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States of America warned the American people and the world when he spoke of the menace of the “Military-Industrial Complex” in the twilight hours of his presidency. The axis of evil has now quadripulated its dimension over the decades and assumed what can be ideally called the “Military-Industrial-Corporate Complex”. Consequent upon the strangulation and abandonment of the “New Deal” course of Franklin Roosevelt and replaced by the Ronald Regan era of unbridled greed of Capitalism, successfully trumpeted and followed up by Bill Clinton and the succession of the White House presidents since, the scenario, put simply, has become plain: irreversible inequality (1% vs. 99%) at home and proliferation of militarism and wars abroad to an extent not even remotely evident during the peak of the Cold War era.

  23. Brad Benson
    March 22, 2016 at 4:53 am

    There will be no change in the National Security Policies of the National Security State. Obama has been a failure, precisely because he allied himself with the Neo-cons from the beginning.

    He cannot now claim, in the final year of his failed Presidency, that his hand was forced against his better judgment, out of political considerations. That’s not even as good as the traditional response of War Criminals, “I was only following orders”.

  24. Peter Loeb
    March 22, 2016 at 5:24 am


    When John Kerry was Chairman of the Senate Committee on
    International Relations, I (privately) considered him to be
    “the Senator from AIPAC.”

    Gareth Porter’s excellent analysis leaves out one vital
    fact: The many neocons who serve “at the pleasure
    of the President” and whose records and advocacy for
    Israel have long been well-known were appointed by
    none other than Barack Obama.

    Among these one must include former Secretary of
    State Hillary Clinton,

    With fundamental beliefs and loyalties such as this
    appointed group collectively share about Israel and
    its consistent advocacy that the US do its “dirty work”
    (e.i. invasion and defeat of Syria etc. etc.), it is no surprise
    that they would continue their advocacy for Israel’s

    If Barack Obama ended up in a trap vis a vis these
    policies, it was indeed one of his own making.

    At an elite level such as discussed in Gareth Porter’s
    article, it must be clear to all that individual players will
    always act to make policies in which they believe
    into official US policy.

    (An aside: Should Clinton become President there has
    never been the slightest doubt that she would adopt
    Israeli policies as hers. Should Donald Trump become
    President, there are some —very slight!—indications
    that his decisions might question Israeli beliefs. At
    this time, Trump’s speech to AIPAC is not available
    to this writer. Furthermore, campaign promises are not
    always kept. (FDR ran on a balanced budget in 1932.)

    From the outside, it appears even in his reluctance Obama
    made a wise choice. If his views are anything near to what
    he has indicated, his choice of advisors has been a
    disastrer again and again and again. Unfortunately, I
    credit Barack Obama with the intelligence and political
    instinct to have been fully cognizant of the implications
    of his appointments both in the civilian and military
    positions he has filled with neocons.

    His “compromise” has been to continue many provocative
    programs (such as drones, coups etc.) while saving further
    American (and Syrian) death.

    During the 2013 decision an unnamed attendee at the
    town hall district meeting of a conservative Member of
    Congress said in an radio interview: “I don’t want to go to any
    more funerals.” It was, I thought then, a courageous (small “c”)
    statement in such an environment. I doubt that that
    gentleman is aware of the issues discussed above by
    Gareth Porter or by others at Consortium.

    —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  25. Herman
    March 22, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Politics trumps humanity. I think the greatest fear of the public and private bureaucracies is that a President will be foolish enough to sacrifice his political future by taking matters to the public, which means those outside the beltway. Clearly, Obama plays it safe, expressing independent thinking then engaging in group think when decisions are to be made. But he did have choices. He could have resisted the neocons and their cold war antics, he could have talked to Putin on numerous issues rather than publicly expressing his contempt, he could have instructed Kerry or someone more capable to talk with Assad before the tragedy unfolded, and on an on. The stories the author describes of choosing politics over the lives of innocence makes me and I’m sure others feel more sad than outraged.

    To be fair, his actions on Iran were important because he did take on the powerful lobbies and their congressional henchmen and he did take them on on the poison gas issue with Syria with a lot of help from Clapper and the man he likes to disparage, Putin. Doing those things can make you hopeful that seeds have been planted for future presidents.

  26. Cal
    March 22, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    Obama’s “break” is ‘too little to late.’

    I remember in his first election seeing a list on politico, I believe it was, of the people he was short listing for appointments. Jane Harman for Homeland Security for gawds sake! and stacks of Neos and revolving door elites from the Bush adm..
    I had been set to vote for him in 2008 as the lesser evil but when I saw that list the night before voting day I changed my mind and wrote in a name.

    We have reached the point where ‘we cant vote ourselves out of the mess’ we have let special interest and corrupt politicians create. The only choice we have is which type of poison we want to use to suicide ourselves, Hillary and the Dems or Trump and the Repubs.

  27. Bill Bodden
    March 22, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Yet again, in his speech this morning in Cuba Obama invoked the concept of “the law” being applied equally to all, a version of his more common “no one is above the law.” Surely, no one in touch with reality can believe that unadulterated BS, but with each pronouncement Obama says it with a straight face which suggests it is time to go beyond Gareth Porter’s typically excellent article and enlist the services of a psychoanalyst to explain how Obama can make these and comparable statements on other topics that are the opposite of truth or reality without any sense of embarrassment.

  28. Leslie Granger
    March 22, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    No backbone Obama had no problems with sanctioning the cold-blooded murder of Gadaffi of Libya and set back African progress to unimaginable levels. Utterly disgusting. Do Americans, and those who supported that murder, ever think of the families whose lives have been altered forever? Or have they more interested in local sports or what the Kardashians are doing? Do they not know what such actions are creating for them or their children? I, too, was fooled by Obama and thought he might be different if elected. Foolish, indeed. Whenever I see him smile, my heart goes out to the families who are not able to smile through their suffering. Does anyone have a total of the number of civilians murdered under Obama?

    • Bill Bodden
      March 22, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      Do Americans, and those who supported that murder, ever think of the families whose lives have been altered forever?

      It is highly unlikely that very few Americans do. Of those who supported that murder the answer must be close to zero.

  29. Joe Lauria
    March 22, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    Excellent piece Gareth. What are the political costs they could threaten him with in a second term? Why did he hire these people to begin with? There had to be pressure on him to do that too. Obama will be an interesting ex-president, better than he was as president. His memoirs should be interesting.

    • Bill Bodden
      March 22, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      Why did he hire these people to begin with? There had to be pressure on him to do that too.

      The answer probably lies with the oligarchs who sponsored his speech at the Democratic Convention in Boston in 2004 and his bewilderingly rapid rise to the presidency thereafter.

      His memoirs should be interesting.

      Who would regard those memoirs with anything but skepticism? His comments to Goldberg were probably the first draft of his self-exoneration. Given the blood on his hands his recent history will be extremely difficult to write if he has any semblance of a conscience.

      • Joe Lauria
        March 22, 2016 at 7:49 pm

        He’s already attacking his national security advisers while he’s still in office. The memoir should be interesting from the dirt he might dish if this interview is any indication.

    • Cal
      March 22, 2016 at 6:44 pm

      ”Obama will be an interesting ex-president, better than he was as president. His memoirs should be interesting”

      I don’t know, he might try to exonerate himself as Bodden says below but I doubt he will tell the whole truth and name names.
      Politicians like Obama wont leave the ‘party nest’, they want to remain ‘included’ and ‘relevant’ and be invited to all the political fest and collect those speaking fees.
      Colin Powell was a good example—-I had hoped he would spill the dirt on the Iraq war scheme after he left office but nope, he was afraid he wouldnt get invited to any more WH dinners if he did. Total self serving coward.

      The only ex-President with any balls has been Carter and we saw how the Dems disowned and shunned him.

  30. Medusa
    March 23, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    The president picks his team — maybe Obama should have made better choices.

  31. March 23, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    And it should be noted that even George Bush Jr. did better foreign policy wise in his last two “lame duck” years.

  32. Jim Hannan
    March 24, 2016 at 10:53 am

    Richard Haase has truly jumped the shark, but since he was part of the Bush W. administration, I can understand his desire to muddy the waters. Let’s review. Iraq invasion will end up costing us $2 trillion, over 4 thousand lost lives, over 30,000 injured. The main result of the invasion was to hand Iraq to a pro-Iranian faction. We also sowed the seeds of Al-Quaeda and ISIS, by demolishing the Iraq army and leaving hundreds of thousands of Sunni Iraqi’s with no jobs.
    On other hand, by not bombing Syria, Obama was able to accomplish the amazing feat of removing chemical weapons from the country. He worked closely with Russia.
    If Haase and the rest of the Massachusetts Avenue foreign policy think tanks think that bombing Syria was such a vital American interest, why do they never blame the Republican Congress? Obama said that he wanted Congress to participate in such an important decision, and almost immediately the Republicans rejected the idea. But it’s always Obama’s fault.
    Obama sees right through these hypocrites, and they can’t stand it that he does.

  33. toolate
    March 24, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    If Eisenhower felt powerless to do anything about the power of the MIC,imagine how that power has consolidated and grown in the last 60 years

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