Russia’s surprise announcement that it will take responsibility for seeing that the Syrian government does not use poison gas again serves two purposes as I see it: Strengthening Russia’s interests, particularly its commercial interests, in Syria and making it harder for the United States to justify continued threats of missile strikes against the Syrian government for the use of poison gas.
An unintended beneficiary of Russia’s unexpected move is, of course, United States President Barack Obama, who talked about retaliating against Syrian forces for using poison gas but faced the opposition of a majority in Congress and an overwhelming majority of the American people.
For Obama to continue even a current program of supplying conventional arms to the Syrian rebels is unjustified as a result of compelling new evidence of the brutal tactics which the rebel forces are increasingly using.
Consider the picture below and a question, both unchanged by the Russian policy surprise:
The picture was reprinted on the front page of The New York Times which said its authenticity had been validated.
An accompanying front page news story carried this headline: “Rebel Brutality In Syria Posing Dilemma In West.”
U.S. Want Such Rebel Allies?
The story said the commander fired a shot into the head of a prisoner lying nearby and members of his rebel squad did the same with the bound government soldiers lying at their feet. The story said further that the bare backs of the soldiers showed signs of beatings.
The Times story says the video, shot in April and smuggled out of Syria, “joins a growing body of evidence of an increasingly criminal environment populated by gangs of highwaymen, kidnappers and killers.”
In repeated earlier reports of Syrian rebel forces including organized groups of al-Qaeda members who hope to see the war end in al-Qaeda control of various sectors of Syria (need I remind any reader that al-Qaeda and was responsible for the September 11, 2001 suicide airliners flights which killed more than 3,000 people?).
I said I would start today’s column with a picture (which you have seen, with some accompanying facts from The New York Times) and a question. Now to the question:
Why in the name of commonsense and United States interests are we involved in any way in Syria, except perhaps joining in a United Nations resolution condemning the use of poison gas?
It will be argued that we are obligated to threaten at least a limited strike with airborne missiles to vindicate the tough line which President Obama publicly took, entirely on his own as far as the public record shows, about the use of poison gas crossing a “red line,” which he had drawn.
When the Syrian government crossed that line, Obama tried to make the line the United States government’s Congressionally-approved red line, with Obama appealing to the Congress to support him, despite polls which indicate the strong disapproval of the American people.
Any Deader From Gas Than A Bomb?
As I see it, a sort of myth has grown up that poison gas is somehow a morally unacceptable alternative to opposing military forces to do their best to kill each other with weapons like rifles and machine guns and bombs.
“Collateral casualties” can certainly result from conventional bombings as well as from poison gas attacks. And the United States should not forget the tens of thousands of “collateral deaths” occurred when we dropped the first two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I’m not second guessing our strategy in the atomic bombings. I accept the argument that those deaths saved hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—more deaths amongst the Japanese population and our invading forces if we had gone forward with plans to invade Japan.
Not helping Obama’s cause is the fact that countries around the world, including the United States, were aware many months ago that Syria was amassing a supply of poison gas.
Also not helpful was the reply by the U.S. Military’s top commander, Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey when asked by a senator what the Obama administration and the American military were asking in the way of support from the United States Senate. Dempsey’s reply: “I can’t answer that, what we’re seeking.”
Shouldn’t Congress, With Public Support, Draw The ‘Red Lines’?
I go back to my original position, voiced in this space recently: Let’s recognize that we have no overriding American interest at stake in Syria, drop the idea of even limited incursion there but make clear that we will continue to be involved where American interests are clearly at stake, as in Egypt and Israel, making sure North Korea knows we are prepared to retaliate quickly and decisively against that country’s possible use of nuclear missiles.
I hope members of Congress have had the opportunity to view the picture and read the Times story with which I started today’s column. Assad and his Syrian regime are bad enough. But do we want to be involved in any way with the likes of the sadistic killers and the other lawless elements—not to mention the well-organized al-Qaeda elements—in the Syrian civil war.
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With State Auditor Mike Foley of Lincoln and former Republican National Committeeman Pete Ricketts of Omaha now formally in the race for governor, my reading of the political tealeaves indicates Ricketts and Foley will duke it out for the Republican nomination for governor next year.
There are other credible candidates in the race, and neither Foley nor Ricketts approaches any kind of lock on the nomination. But let’s take a look at the Foley and Ricketts candidacies.
Mike Foley has a record of aggressive handling of his duties as State Auditor.
Foley has been State Auditor since 2007. He was re-elected in 2010 with about 80% of the vote. Foley has a strong following among conservatives. During his service in the Legislature, his signature issue was opposition to abortion. He introduced five bills designed to restrict or curtail abortions.
I think he would want to make clear early on whether this concentration on the so-called “right to life” issue would be a major part of his gubernatorial agenda.
Foley has, importantly, the enthusiastic support of the popular Third Congressional District representative in Congress, Jeff Fortenberry.
At this stage, Foley would appear to be the stronger voter-tested candidate but could his aggressive, self-confident political style could be more hindrance than help?
At the news conference in which he announced his candidacy, Foley, if I interpreted his remarks correctly, left the door open to pursue, as governor, his strong “pro-life” anti-abortion goals.
He also talked about steps he would take to save Nebraska taxpayers millions of dollars which he saw wasted in his role as state auditor. He pledged, for example, to take the State Department of Health and Human Resources apart “brick by brick” and build it into a more efficient, more effective state agency.
How well this self-confident, aggressive style (especially if he decides as governor to aggressively implement his fiercely-held views against abortion) would play with the voters remains to be seen.
Nothing in his record as state auditor or in his press conference which he announced his candidacy indicates any concern for the opinions of those who disagree with him, as I see it.
Ricketts Promises New Campaign Approach
Pete Ricketts must overcome the memories of his campaign tactics, and the unfavorable impression created by his spending $11.6 million of his own money in his 28 percentage point loss to Democratic U.S. Senator Ben Nelson, also an Omahan in a bid for a Senate seat in 2006.
This time around, Ricketts said, he will spend less, and some of it will come from contributors—a good strategy, since some influential contributors can be expected to take an active interest in his campaign (as would be true in the case of any candidate who gets substantial financial help).
Ricketts promises to do more campaigning throughout the state and, without spelling out a detailed platform, he said that on education he would seek ways for teachers to become more effective in the classroom. He said the state should do more to aid students in preparing for a job in a trade than in attending a four-year college.
Amen to that. The United States today has no shortage of new college graduates—a surplus, some people say—but a shortage of welders and iron workers and other skilled craftsmen.
And there are other credible candidates: State senators Charlie Janssen from Fremont, Tom Carlson from Holdrege, Beau McCoy of Omaha—any one of whom might prove I’m not a very good political handicapper.
Democrat Hassebrook Could Be Formidable Opponent
It should not be forgotten that, to cite one example, Mike Foley might not get an opportunity to take a state department apart, “brick by brick,” if he wins the Republican nomination and faces a highly-respected Democratic candidate, former University of Nebraska regent Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons.
Hassebrook’s splendid record as a regent and long experience as director of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska, makes him a well-qualified gubernatorial candidate, as I see it.
A basic question will be, of course, whether the political tide, running so strongly Republican for some years now, has greater influence than the merits of the respective candidates come November, 2014.
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Obama Increases Support For ‘Gay’ Marriages,
Encourages Marijuana Smoking Even Where Illegal
On and on it goes, President Obama’s reversal from earlier uncertainty—at least so far as his public position was concerned—to what appears to be all-out commitment to removing any federal restrictions on recognition of so-called same-sex marriages, even if this means ignoring the law in some cases.
The New York Times headline told the story: “Veterans Affairs Will Begin Providing Spousal Benefits to Gay Couples.”
The Obama administration’s recent decision which encourages recreational and supposed medicinal use of marijuana in states where such uses are banned by state statute looks even more questionable in the light of a story which appeared under this World-Herald headline:
“Hospitalization of 2 Papillion teens over fake pot prompts alert.”
The story reported the hospitalization of two teenage boys in Papillion after they smoked synthetic marijuana, a drug that the authorities say is becoming increasingly popular among area teenagers.
How much better if the Obama administration’s policy on smoking marijuana were expressed in three simple words: Don’t do it, combined with federal government efforts to discourage such smoking rather than seeming to tolerate it or even encourage it.
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Turning from marijuana to another form of drug—alcohol—there was a fascinating comprehensive look at the dangers of drinking too much alcohol, reported in a recent World-Herald story carrying this headline:
“How many drinks does it take to be drunk?”
The subhead read: “Researchers, safety experts and public officials are debating a stiffer standard behind the wheel.”
The story gives details on extensive testing of how alcohol ingestion affects drivers’ capability to drive safely. The story points out that, quite understandably, the intoxication levels vary substantially among people of different sizes and different other physical characteristics.
The bottom line, the story suggested, is that the reasonable standard—still not giving absolute assurance of uninhibited driving capability, of course—would be the presence of .05% of alcohol in the blood stream rather than the more generally accepted .08% standard.
I’ve got a suggestion: One moderate-size drink if you’re going to be the driver. Or even better, leave the driving for the evening in the hands of someone who doesn’t drink any alcoholic beverage that evening.
I find it easy to offer such advice, since I no longer drive, and those with whom I ride are almost always light drinkers.
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Teenager Sights ‘Bigfoot’; Watching Too Much TV?
Huskers To Wear Black Jerseys; ‘Go Big Black’?
To finish on some lighter notes: A World-Herald story said that a 15-year-old told authorities that he saw a seven-foot tall “hairy” creature at 5:30 a.m. when he was driving along a county road in Saunders County.
The story was reported to Saunders County Sheriff Kevin Stukenholtz as the sighting of one of the legendary “Bigfoot” creatures.
The youth said he did not want to be identified publicly because he feared ridicule. That’s understandable.
Perhaps the youth should be quizzed as to how many times he has recently been exposed to some kind of “Bigfoot” character in a television commercial. “Bigfoot” gags are quite the rage on TV these days.
In the UCLA game Saturday, the Nebraska Cornhuskers will wear black jerseys.
There has been no advance notice as to whether the band and the cheerleaders and the pom pom girls will still wear red and white. Or weather the fans will be urged to chant “Go Big Black” instead of the traditional “Go Big Red.”
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