Echochambers Articles, US Defence Budget and Syria Crisis

A portion of Echochambers articles on Wednesday. February 26, 2014 are below:

Cheney: Obama puts food stamps over defence

By Anthony Zurcher Editor, Echo Chambers 15:53 UK time, Wednesday, 26 February 2014



Former Vice-President Dick Cheney has some harsh words for the president’s defence budget

President Barack Obama “would rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops”.

A lot has been written about the announcement by Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel on Monday of the latest US defence budget, but the comments by former Vice-president Dick Cheney on Fox News on Monday night were among the most inflammatory.

Mr Cheney said that US allies in the Middle East could “no longer trust the United States to keep its commitments” and that the announced spending levels were not driven by “any change in world circumstances”, but by “budget considerations”.

The editors of the Nation Review followed the vice-president’s lead on Tuesday, writing:

No exogenous shifts justify moving to the smallest army since World War II, curtailed technological procurement, and a navy much too small to secure the seas for America and its allies. A military budget ought to be tailored to what our politicians, strategists, and soldiers believe necessary to accomplish our strategic goals: securing the American homeland, fulfilling our treaty commitments, and ensuring free passage for American ships and trade around the world.

“Start Quote

Soldiers today operate much more potent and less manpower-intensive systems”

End Quote James Joyner The National Interest

They call the defence budget “an announcement of American retreat” and contend that the congressionally mandated spending levels from the 2011 budget agreement, known as the “sequester”, are welcome on the domestic side but have dealt “a devastating blow to the federal government’s capacity to carry out its most fundamental responsibility”.

Blogger Andrew Sullivan counters that Mr Cheney’s comments demonstrate that the Republican elite is just as extreme as the grass-roots Tea Party conservative base:

He could have made an argument why he thinks we should maintain the stratospheric levels of defense spending that have been in place since 9/11; he could have argued that the US needs to maintain the ability to fight two major land wars simultaneously in perpetuity. He could have said a lot of things. But he decided to accuse the commander-in-chief of not supporting the troops and actually wanting to keep people in poverty.

The new defence budget is the “least bad choice”, writes the National Interest’s James Joyner. It does present additional strategic risks, but “given the realities of the fiscal environment, risk is unavoidable”.

He also contends that comparing modern troop numbers to those of the past is misleading. “Soldiers today operate much more potent and less manpower-intensive systems,” he writes.

“Start Quote

Almost every expert on nuclear weapons agrees that the United States has a far larger nuclear force than it needs to deter attacks”

End Quote Doyle McManus Los Angeles Times

The Nation’s Bob Dreyfuss thinks the new budget reductions are a start, but not enough.

“Major weapons systems that might have been cut were sustained, the US special forces units are being increased substantially from already high levels and Hagel announced that the US Navy would maintain all eleven of its aircraft carriers,” he says.

“Indeed, the military-industrial complex was so thrilled about continuing Pentagon support for big-budget, high-tech weapons systems that, according to the Wall Street Journal, stock prices for major defense contractors rose after the announcement.”

The Los Angeles Times’s Doyle McManus notes that while Mr Hagel announced a variety of cuts, including to aircraft, ships and vehicles, he chose to maintain “unnecessary” funding for US nuclear forces.

“Almost every expert on nuclear weapons agrees that the United States has a far larger nuclear force than it needs to deter attacks,” he writes.

The reason, he contends, is because nuclear spending is “protected by political sponsors – sometimes based on honest disagreements over strategy, sometimes because of the jobs they provide.”

It’s worth remembering that even at the proposed levels, the US defence budget still dwarfs every other nation, including China. And although the total amount is less than originally planned, it’s still an increase in total dollars spent over past years. 

Then there’s the fact that Mr Hagel’s defence budget proposal is just a starting point. Congress will have to debate and eventually approve the actual budget. In the past, that’s meant that spending has increased, as vested interests fight to defend their programmes from the chopping block.

Recently, however, budget hawks on the right have shown a willingness to sacrifice some defence spending for greater fiscal discipline (witness the sequester agreement). Whether that trend continues will go a long way in determining whether the final defence budget looks anything like Mr Hagel’s proposal.

Wars, public outrage and policy options




By Kim Ghattas BBC News, Washington 00:53 UK time, Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Tales of Syrian suffering are not enough for Americans to rise up and demand action

“Please take us out of here,” pleaded 60-year-old Wafiqa in Yarmouk camp outside Damascus while 13-year-old Kiffah burst into tears: “There is no bread.”

The unspeakable pain and horror of living under siege for months, in a war where food has become a weapon, is on full display in this poignant report by my colleague Lyse Doucet.

We’ve heard these pleas before. The BBC reports regularly from inside Syria, as do several American papers, and although coverage of the Syrian war is not wall-to-wall on American networks, it gets regular, consistent attention.

So where is the public outrage about a war so chaotic and dangerous that even the UN has stopped keeping track of the death toll? Have we all become numb to the pain of others?

“Start Quote

What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance”

End Quote Stephen Hawking University of Cambridge

Perhaps it was always like that – I remember living through 15 years of war in Lebanon. There were moments of international attention and efforts to help, in between long periods where we felt the world had forgotten us.

The world inevitably tires of complex, long conflicts where there are no clear answers about how to end the violence. This cartoon in the New Yorker is a harsh but perhaps accurate look at how the collective conscience deals with the relentless stream of bad news from Syria.

There is a renewed chorus to do “something” about Syria, with appeals to people’s conscience. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Stephen Hawking recently wrote:

What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional intelligence, our sense of collective justice?

In a similar vein, Nicholas Burns, a former senior state department official, asked: “How many more lives will be claimed by Syria’s ceaseless civil war before we are finally shamed to stop the killing?”

(Spare a thought for the North Koreans, too. A UN report out last week, too horrific even to read, compares the abuses committee by the government to Nazi Germany. I have yet to see much outrage or calls for action. )

But would our sense of shame and public outrage actually make a difference? When they discuss US policy options for Syria, administration officials repeatedly point to the fact that Americans have bigger concerns closer to home and that President Barack Obama is very mindful that the public has no appetite for interventions abroad, no matter how limited.

So I asked a couple of officials what would happen if, theoretically, hundreds of thousands people suddenly took to the street in the US to demand action to end the fighting in Syria. It’s a tough question and they had no real answer, because no matter the outrage, the policy options remain exactly the same, none of them perfect. The question is whether it would become more tenable for the president to take action if the public demanded it.

Possibly, but that’s not how public opinion works. People demonstrate to end wars and bring the troops home, like with Vietnam. They protest against invasions, like Iraq in 2003, when their country’s troops are about to be shipped overseas. Or they support military action when their own country has come under attack. But people rarely rise up to demand action because of a sense of collective justice.

“Start Quote

The United States of America is different”

End Quote Barack Obama US President

Lack of public pressure conveniently reinforces Mr Obama’s conclusion that it’s too difficult and politically too risky to take action in Syria, but it’s in fact up to the president to galvanise public opinion.

In early March 2011, when the Libyan uprising turned violent, there was little appetite in the US for military action. Americans were in the same mood then as they are now about the rest of the world. By the end of March, the US was engaged in military strikes against Libya, and polls showed a plurality supported the strikes.

As this piece points out, people didn’t have a sudden change of heart about Libya. They were becoming more exposed to the story in the media in a consistent way and hearing clearly and repeatedly from the president and others as to why the US was involved.

On 28 March the president said: “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different.”

The military operations in Libya didn’t come with guarantees, but an assessment was made that there was reasonable hope for success.

Libya and Syria are different, and the policy options on Syria are much more complicated – and they don’t necessarily involve direct military strikes. When the president becomes convinced that the chances of success in Syria are higher than the cost of doing nothing, and he makes the case in a compelling way that some form of more direct US action is needed, public opinion will rally around.

Link to EchoChamber is below: 

Have you found an interesting opinion piece about global issues that we missed? Share it with us via email at echochambers (at)

 Link to The New Yorker, Daily Cartoon is below: 

Syria’s war must end 







By Stephen Hawking, Published: February 14, 2014

Stephen Hawking is the author of “A Brief History of Time” and a former professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that the universe had existed forever. The reason humanity was not more developed, he believed, was that floods or other natural disasters repeatedly set civilization back to the beginning.

Today, humans are developing ever faster. Our knowledge is growing exponentially and with it, our technology. But humans still have the instincts, and in particular the aggressive impulses, that we had in caveman days. Aggression has had definite advantages for survival, but when modern technology meets ancient aggression the entire human race and much of the rest of life on Earth is at risk.

Today in Syria we see modern technology in the form of bombs, chemicals and other weapons being used to further so-called intelligent political ends.

But it does not feel intelligent to watch as more than 100,000 people are killed or while children are targeted. It feels downright stupid, and worse, to prevent humanitarian supplies from reaching clinics where, as Save the Children will document in a forthcoming report, children are having limbs amputated for lack of basic facilities and newborn babies are dying in incubators for lack of power.

What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional intelligence, our sense of collective justice?

When I discuss intelligent life in the universe, I take this to include the human race, even though much of its behavior throughout history appears not to have been calculated to aid the survival of the species. And while it is not clear that, unlike aggression, intelligence has any long-term survival value, our very human brand of intelligence denotes an ability to reason and plan for not only our own but also our collective futures.

We must work together to end this war and to protect the children of Syria. The international community has watched from the sidelines for three years as this conflict rages, engulfing all hope. As a father and grandfather, I watch the suffering of Syria’s children and must now say: No more.

I often wonder what we must look like to other beings watching from deep space. As we look out at the universe, we are looking back in time, because light leaving distant objects reaches us much, much later. What does the light emitting from Earth today show? When people see our past, will we be proud of what they are shown — how we, as brothers, treat each other? How we allow our brothers to treat our children?

We now know that Aristotle was wrong: The universe has not existed forever. It began about 14 billion years ago. But he was right that great disasters represent major steps backward for civilization. The war in Syria may not represent the end of humanity, but every injustice committed is a chip in the facade of what holds us together. The universal principle of justice may not be rooted in physics but it is no less fundamental to our existence. For without it, before long, human beings will surely cease to exist.

Read more on this issue: Editorial: The president’s welcome new tone on Syria Fred Hiatt: Senators say John Kerry admitted U.S. failure in Syria Morton Abramowitz: As

Link to Washington Post, Stephen Hawking-Syria war must end is below:

 A Srebrenica moment in Syria?







 By Nicholas Burns, Globe Columnist,   February 13, 2014

A girl was pulled from the rubble of a building in Aleppo, Syria, after it was bombed by the government last month.

As the savage killings and stratospheric refugee numbers in Syria continue to climb, a key question emerges. When will the United States and other global powers experience a “Srebrenica moment,” when they can no longer stand on the sidelines and resolve instead that they finally have to act?

That is what happened at the climax of the Bosnia war nearly 20 years ago. When the Bosnian Serb army murdered more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the United Nations safe haven of Srebrenica in July 1995, it was the worst massacre in Europe since the Nazi era. Those killings shocked and shamed Western leaders who had resisted decisive intervention until that point.

I was State Department spokesman at the time and can attest to the collective guilt felt by officials in the United States and Europe, particularly over our inability to protect innocent civilians from a marauding army. When the Bosnian Serbs bombed the Sarajevo marketplace six weeks later, President Clinton and European leaders had had enough. They ordered a NATO bombing campaign. Together with Richard Holbrooke’s brilliant diplomacy, it led to a ceasefire and the peace accord at Dayton.

As the UN’s listless Geneva talks on Syria reconvene this week, world powers are passive, disunited, and lacking the collective resolve that ended the Bosnia war. But the latest estimates of the Syria carnage should make us reflect on the human cost of our indifference. Over 130,000 Syrians have died since the war began in 2011. A shocking 9.3 million Syrians (in a country of 22.4 million) are refugees. They have lost their homes and jobs and are on the run inside and outside the country to escape the vicious fighting. Aleppo, Homs, and countless other cities suffer under the siege of heartless artillery and air assaults against civilians that maim and destroy at will.

There are no easy answers to the Syria crisis. A US-led ground invasion would require something on the scale of the 1991 Gulf War — hundreds of thousands of troops. That’s not in the cards for a president, Congress, and public emerging from two major wars since 9/11. Russia and China continue to shield Syrian President Bashar Assad from international pressure at the UN, going so far as to object to proposals to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. For now, the main, and mainly vain, hope is UN-led talks for a ceasefire and transition from Bashar Assad’s rule. At its current languid pace, that could take years to materialize. 

Washington finds itself in an uncharacteristically weak position to drive events in Syria. President Obama has taken force off the table, refusing to strike last September following Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Obama has still not provided effective, lethal support to moderate rebels or threatened strikes on Assad’s air force if the brutal killings continue. As a result, the United States lacks the leverage and credibility to intimidate Assad. The administration plods along the diplomatic path, remaining a responsible contributor of humanitarian aid but lacking the strength to produce a solution on its own.

The one country that could make a decisive difference to stop the fighting is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But Putin, aligned with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, prefers to run arms to the Syrian government and serve as Assad’s de facto lawyer in Geneva. Of course, Putin’s attention this week is elsewhere. His $50 billion campaign to rebrand Russia at the Sochi Olympics began with last Friday’s lavish opening ceremonies. But where was the Russian protest in the following days when Syrian women and children fleeing a besieged Homs were killed by Assad’s blistering attacks?

This glaring gap between what Putin wants us to see in Sochi and the reality of his callous disregard for Syrian lives is obvious. But even Putin reached a new low on the hypocrisy meter over the weekend when the Russian Foreign Ministry solemnly asked “all parties involved in armed conflicts” to adopt an “Olympic truce” for the period of the Sochi Games. Putin doesn’t want the world to be distracted by bloody Syrian atrocities while the Sochi games are underway. He will, without doubt, refuel Assad’s machine of hate and destruction as soon as they end.

Putin will never reach a “Srebrenica moment” on Syria. That leaves the rest of us to consider once more — how many more lives will be claimed by Syria’s ceaseless civil war before we are finally shamed to stop the killings?

Nicholas Burns is a professor of the practice of diplomacy and international politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Follow him on Twitter @rnicholasburns. 

Link to The Boston Globe, A Srebrenica Moment in Syria is below: 

Links to my videos on YouTube, I talked about Syrian in the following videos:

GoldenSwallowtailButterfly (8:15 minutes)

Link to YouTube: 

WhiteCosmos&Bees (5:15 minutes)

Link to YouTube:

Hanuman and the Thai dancer  Part 1 (10:33 minutes) 

Link to YouTube: :

Hanuman and the Thai Dancer  Part 2 (11:46)

Link to YouTube:

Hanuman and the Thai Dancer Part 3 (11:11 minutes) 

Link to YouTube:

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