This morning I heard Obama in Sweden admit that Syria is not an “imminent threat” to the U.S. but did not get the full quote at the time. Thanks to this transcript, I now have it. It’s a timely point, as Senator Rand Paul reminds Secretary of State John Kerry that only Congress has the right to approve an attack unless the U.S. is under “imminent” threat. Obama admits we are not under such threat. Also below is my transcript (and the video) of Senator Rand Paul’s frank exchange with John Kerry in yesterday’s hearings on Syria. Note that Paul’s main thrust is, can you assure us that Assad will not attack his people with chemical weapons (if he ever did) again after we carry out our mission. Kerry says he can GUARANTEE it! Yet, as Paul points out, he is hearing (as we all have) that it is too dangerous to try to hit the chemical weapons because of the danger to the population. What do we have the ability to “degrade” and the will to “degrade?” Kerry had no answer for that, yet in great frustration, insists (guarantees) Assad will use chemical weapons again if we take no action. Incredible. Another part of this story are the comments General Martin Dempsey made earlier this year about Syria – the U.S. not ready, a strike could involve Iran and Russian, and it’s “a fool’s errand.” At the end of the Kerry-Paul transcript below Kerry tries to strengthen his position and invites General Dempsey to weigh-in. Dempsey refuses. (See a video below)
First Obama’s quote about Syria not being an imminent threat to the U.S.:
In terms of my decision to take the issue to Congress, this had been brewing in my mind for a while. Some people had noted, and I think this is true, that had I been in the Senate in the midst of this period, I probably would have suggested to a Democratic or a Republican president that Congress should have the ability to weigh in an issue like this, that is not immediate, imminent, time-sensitive. Source: Washington Post
Obama did just that when he was in the Senate in 2007 and the Internet has been alive with his quotes the last week or so. Then Senator Joe Biden threatened impeachment and taught lectures on the “separation of powers.”
The following is my transcription of the video below.
PAUL: It’s not often I get to compliment the President. I can only count the number of times on one hand, but when I first heard that the President was going to come to Congress, no only was I pleasantly surprised, I was proud of my President. I didn’t vote for him and I still am opposed to him quite a few times, but I was proud that he did this, and I was just about to stand on my feet and clap and give him a standing ovation, and then I heard, ‘well, if I lose the vote, I’ll probably go ahead and do the bombing anyway.
And so it does concern me. I want to be proud of the president but every time I’m just about there, then I get worried that really, he doesn’t mean it – that he’s going to sorta obey the Constitution if he wins. So I heard Secretary Kerry say, if we win, sure, but if we lose? What? Make me proud today Secretary Kerry. Stand up for us and say, you’re going to obey the Constitution even if we vote you down, which is unlikely by the way, but if we do, you would go with what the people say through their Congress and you wouldn’t go forward with a war that your Congress votes against. Can you give me a better answer, Secretary Kerry?
KERRY: I can’t give you a different answer than I gave because I don’t know what the President’s decision is, but I can tell you this, and it ought to make you proud, because he still has the constitutional authority and would be in keeping with the Constitution.
PAUL: I disagree with you there. I don’t believe he has the constitutional authority. I think Congress has it. Madison was very explicit when he wrote the Federalist Papers. He wrote that history supposes, or the Constitution supposes what history demonstrates that the Executive is the branch most likely to go to war, and therefore the Constitution vested that power in the Congress. It’s explicit and runs throughout all of Madison’s writings. This power is a Congressional power and is not an Executive power.
They didn’t say,’big’ war or ‘small’ war. They didn’t says ‘boots on the ground,’ ‘not boots on the ground’ – they said ‘declare war.’ Ask the people on the ships launching the missiles whether they’re involved with war or not.
If we do not say that the Constitution applies, we do not say explicitly we will abide by this vote, you’re making a joke of us, you’re making us into (inaudible but I think he said “feeder” or “theater”), you’re making us into constitutional (feeder?). You’re probably going to win. Just go ahead and say it’s real and let’s have a real debate in this country and not a meaningless debate that’s in the end you lose and say, oh well we had the authority anyway. We’re going to go ahead to war anyway.
A couple of items…
KERRY: Senator, I assure you there’s nothing meaningless, and there is everything real…
PAUL: Only if you adhere to what we vote on, only if our vote makes a difference, only if our vote is binding, is it meaningful.
KERRY: And I will leave it to the man who was elected to be the President of the United States the responsibility for telling you what his decision is, if and when that moment came. The President intends to win this vote and he’s not going to make prior announcements.
PAUL: We’ve had a lot of discussion about whether or not we are going to make the world safer with this, somehow we’re going to have less chemical weapons. I think that’s an open question. I think it’s conjecture at best. You can say, oh well we think Assad will be less likely to use chemical weapons after this. We may be able to degrade his capacities somewhat. He’s got a thousand tons. We’re going to wipe it out? Some of the reports I hear say we’re not even going to bomb chemical weapons because of what might happen to the surrounding population, so my guess is, he still will have the ability. Most people say Assad acted very illogically. Why would he release chemical weapons on his own people when it brought the anger and enmity of the entire world. So he’s already acting irrationally or illogically so we’re going to deter him and he’s going to act in a rational manner?
I think it’s equally likely that he either does it again or he doesn’t do it. I don’t think you can say for certain which is better. I don’t know that we can say that by attacking them, he’s not going to launch another chemical attack.
Will the region…I’ve got a few of them, and then I’ll stop:
Will the region be more stable or less stable? We want stability in the Middle East since stability in the Middle East is a national interest for our country. Will it be more stable or less stable? I frankly think there are equal arguments on both sides of that.
Will Israel be more likely to suffer an attack on them, a gas attack or otherwise, or less likely. I think there’s an argument it will be more likely Israel will suffer an attack if we do this.
Will Russia be more likely or less likely to supply more arms and get more heavily involved in this? I think there’s a valid argument that they’ll be more likely to become involved.
Iran? More likely or less likely to be involved with this? If Iran gets involved, more likely or less likely that Israel launches a reprisal attack on Iran. There are all kinds of unknowns that I can’t tell you absolutely the answer, and neither can you, but I think there’s a reasonable argument that the world may be less likely to be stable because of this and it may not deter any chemical weapons attack.
So what I would ask is, how are we to know? How are we to go home – I haven’t had one person to come to me and say they are for this war, not one person. We get calls by the thousands. Nobody’s calling in favor of this war. I didn’t meet, while I was home all month – I went to 40 cities, I didn’t have one person come up and say…. They all agree it’s a horrendous thing – all chemical attacks are horrendous – but people are not excited about getting involved and I don’t think it’s going to work. They are skeptical of what will occur with this. I’d appreciate your response and try to reassure the rest of us, one that the vote is meaningful and valid but you’d adhere to it and also that you’re convinced that all these items will be better, not worse by this attack.
KERRY: Well, Senator, I’d be very happy to do that. Will Israel be more likely to suffer an attack or will they be safer, will they be less safe? I can make it crystal-clear to you that Israel will be less safe unless the United States takes this action.
Iran and Hezbollah are two of the three biggest allies of Assad, and Iran and Hezbollah are the two single biggest enemies of Israel. So if Iran and Hezbollah are advantaged by the United States not curbing the use of chemical weapons, there is a much greater likelihood that at some point down the road, Hezbollah, who has been one of the principle reasons for change in the situation on the ground, will have access to these weapons of mass destruction and Israel will for certain be less secure.
PAUL: But I would also argue that Hezbollah will attack because of this attack in response.
KERRY: And Israel feels quite confident of its ability to deal with Hezbollah. If they were to do so, you’ll notice that Israel has on several occasions in the last year seen fit to deal with threats to its security because of what’s in Syria and not once has Assad responded, to date.
I think there are a bunch of things we should talk about in a classified session, but let me just make it very clear to you, that, you know, you ask these questions will this or that be more likely to happen or not likely to happen, if [Kerry pointing finger] the United States of America doesn’t do this, Senator, is it more or less likely that Assad does it again? You want to answer that question?
PAUL: I don’t think it’s known. [Kerry speaking over Paul – inaudible]. I think it’s unknown whether or not it’s more or less likely that you have the attack.
KERRY: Senator, it’s not unknown. If the United States of America doesn’t hold them accountable on this with our allies and friends, it’s a GUARANTEE that Assad will do it again. A GUARANTEE. I urge you to go to the classified briefing and learn that. Secondly, let me just point out to you that in respect to this question about Americans wanting to go to war. You know, you got three people here who have been to war. You got John McCain who has been to war. There’s not one of us who doesn’t understand what going to war means and we don’t want to go to war. We don’t believe we are going to war in the classic sense that we are taking American troops and America to war. The President is asking for the authority to do a limited action that will degrade the capacity of a tyrant who has been using chemical weapons to kill his own people.
PAUL: But I think by doing so you announce in advance that your goal is not winning. I think the last 50 years of Secretaries of Defense would say, the goal is not to…
KERRY: If you ask, do you want to go to war in Syria, of course not. Everybody, 100% of American’s will say no. We say no. We don’t want to go to war in Syria either. It’s not what we’re here to ask. The President is not asking you to go to war. He’s not asking you to declare war. He’s not asking you to send one American troop to war. He’s simply saying we need to take an action that can degrade the capacity of a man who has been willing to kill his own people by breaking a nearly 100-year-old prohibition, and will we stand up and be counted to say we will not stand for that. That’s not – you know – I just don’t consider that going to war in the classic sense of coming to Congress and asking for a declaration of war and training troops and sending people abroad and putting young people in harm’s way. That’s not what the President is asking for here.
General [turns to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey] do you want to speak at all to that?
DEMPSEY: Not really Mr. Secretary, but thank you for offering. [loud laughter coming from somewhere]
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