Philippine president regrets calling Obama a ‘son of a bitch’

The Associated Press reported: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned President Barack Obama on Monday not to question him about extrajudicial killings, or “son of a bitch I will swear at you” when they meet in Laos during a regional summit.

Duterte said before flying to Laos that he is a leader of a sovereign country and is answerable only to the Filipino people. He was answering a reporter’s question about how he intends to explain the extrajudicial killings to Obama. More than 2,000 suspected drug pushers and users have been killed since Duterte launched a war on drugs after taking office on June 30.

In his typical foul-mouthed style, Duterte responded: “I am a president of a sovereign state and we have long ceased to be a colony. I do not have any master except the Filipino people, nobody but nobody. You must be respectful. Do not just throw questions. Putang ina I will swear at you in that forum,” he said, using the Tagalog phrase for son of a bitch. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press now reports: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed regret Tuesday over his “son of a bitch” remark while referring to President Barack Obama, in a rare display of contrition by a politician whose wide arc of profanities has unabashedly targeted world figures including the pope and the U.N. chief.

In a statement read out by his spokesman, Duterte said that while his “strong comments” in response to certain questions by a reporter “elicited concern and distress, we also regret it came across as a personal attack on the U.S. president.”

Duterte had made the intemperate remarks Monday before flying to Laos, where he is attending a regional summit. He had been scheduled to meet Obama separately, but Obama indicated he had second thoughts.

On Tuesday, Duterte said both sides mutually agreed to postpone the meeting.

Even though Duterte’s latest comment does not amount to an apology, the expression of regret is unusual for the tough-talking former mayor, who is unapologetic about his manner of speech and liberally peppers his casual statements with profanities such as “son of a bitch” and “son of a whore.”

But perhaps Duterte’s aides realized it would be unwise to take on the most powerful official in the world, and there would be a price to pay for insulting the president of the United States. [Continue reading…]

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Obama lets Kerry spin diplomatic wheels with Russia since U.S. has no ‘plan B’ for Syria

The New York Times reports: The image of a 5-year-old Syrian boy, dazed and bloodied after being rescued from an airstrike on rebel-held Aleppo, reverberated around the world last month, a harrowing reminder that five years after civil war broke out there, Syria remains a charnel house.

But the reaction was more muted in Washington, where Syria has become a distant disaster rather than an urgent crisis. President Obama’s policy toward Syria has barely budged in the last year and shows no sign of change for the remainder of his term. The White House has faced little pressure over the issue, in part because Syria is getting scant attention on the campaign trail from either Donald J. Trump or Hillary Clinton.

That frustrates many analysts because they believe that a shift in policy will come only when Mr. Obama has left office. “Given the tone of this campaign, I doubt the electorate will be presented with realistic and intelligible options, with respect to Syria,” said Frederic C. Hof, a former adviser on Syria in the administration.

The lack of substantive political debate about Syria is all the more striking given that the Obama administration is engaged in an increasingly desperate effort to broker a deal with Russia for a cease-fire that would halt the rain of bombs on Aleppo.

Those negotiations moved on Sunday to China, where Secretary of State John Kerry met for two hours with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, at a Group of 20 meeting. At one point, the State Department was confident enough to schedule a news conference, at which the two were supposed to announce a deal.

But Mr. Kerry turned up alone, acknowledging that “a couple of tough issues” were still dividing them.

“We’re not going to rush,” he said, “and we’re not going to do something that we think has less than a legitimate opportunity to get the job done.”

Mr. Kerry said he would stay in China another day to keep trying. But his boss, Mr. Obama, voiced skepticism.

“If we do not get some buy-in from the Russians on reducing the violence and easing the humanitarian crisis, then it’s difficult to see how we get to the next phase,” the president said after a meeting with the British prime minister, Theresa May, in Hangzhou.

Whatever progress Mr. Kerry has made, officials said, could easily be unraveled by external events, whether a new offensive by Turkey or the Nusra Front — which until recently had publicly aligned itself with Al Qaeda — or intensified bombing raids by the government of President Bashar al-Assad. And it is clearer than ever that if Mr. Kerry’s latest attempt at diplomacy falls short, there is no Plan B. [Continue reading…]

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The disastrous nonintervention in Syria

Three years after President Obama erased his “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Anne Applebaum writes: Maybe a U.S.-British-French intervention would have ended in disaster. If so, we would today be mourning the consequences. But sometimes it’s important to mourn the consequences of nonintervention too. Three years on, we do know, after all, exactly what nonintervention has produced:

Deaths. Estimates of war casualties range from about 155,000 to 400,000, depending on who is counted. This month, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had registered a total of 14,711 dead children. Since the Islamic State created its caliphate in Syria, an estimated 2,350 civilians have been executed by the group. Life expectancy in Syria has dropped from almost 80 to 55.

Refugees. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were 4.8 million registered Syrian refugees as of Aug. 16. There are thought to be an additional 2 million refugees who remain inside Syria but are displaced from their homes. Three-quarters of those who have fled their homes are women and children. Most own nothing except what they are wearing. To give some perspective, the refugee crisis caused by the Yugoslav wars in the early 1990s produced 2.3 million refugees, a number then considered to be the worst refugee crisis since the 1940s. The Syrian crisis is three times larger. [Continue reading…]

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America’s retreat and the agony of Aleppo

Roger Cohen writes: Sarajevo and Aleppo, two cities once part of the Ottoman Empire, two cities whose diverse populations have included Muslims and Christians and Jews, two cities rich in culture that have been besieged and split in two and ravaged by violence, two cities where children have been victims — 20 years apart.

What a difference two decades make! Sarajevo was headline news through much of its 44-month encirclement. NATO planes patrolled the skies to prevent, at least, aerial bombardment of the population. Blue-helmeted United Nations forces were deployed in a flawed relief effort. President Bill Clinton, after long hesitation, authorized the NATO airstrikes that led to the lifting of the Serbian siege and an imperfect peace in Bosnia. Belated American intervention worked.

Aleppo lacks such urgency. It’s bombarded: What else is new? How often does the word “Aleppo” fall from President Obama’s lips (or indeed the lesson-freighted word “Sarajevo”)? At which dinner parties in London, Paris, Berlin or Washington is it discussed? Which Western journalists are able to be there to chronicle day after day their outrage at a city’s dismemberment? Who recalls that just six years ago Aleppo was being talked about in Europe as the new Marrakesh, a place to buy a vacation home?

Aleppo is alone, alone beneath the bombs of Russian and Syrian jets, alone to face the violent whims of President Vladimir Putin and President Bashar al-Assad.

Oh, yes, I know, when the photograph of a child like Omran Daqneesh is seen, as it was this month, covered in blood after being dug from the rubble of Aleppo, the image may go viral just long enough for people to lament the Syrian debacle. Lament and forget. There’s Donald Trump to think about. Forget the more than 400,000 dead, the more than 4.8 million refugees, and the destruction of a city like Aleppo that is an expression of millennia of civilization. [Continue reading…]

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The common-sense fix that American nuclear policy needs

Jeffrey G. Lewis and Scott D. Sagan write: President Obama, in his final months in office, is considering major nuclear policy changes to move toward his oft-stated goal of a world without nuclear weapons. One option reportedly under consideration is a “no first use” pledge, a declaration that the United States would not be the first state to use nuclear weapons in any conflict. While we think that such a pledge would ultimately strengthen U.S. security, we believe it should be adopted only after detailed military planning and after close consultation with key allies, tasks that will fall to the next administration.

There is, however, a simpler change that Obama could make now that could have as important, or even greater, benefits for U.S. security. The president could declare, as a matter of law and policy, that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against any target that could be reliably destroyed by conventional means.

This might seem like common sense, but current U.S. doctrine allows the use of nuclear weapons against any “object” deemed to be a legitimate military target. In 2013, the Obama administration did issue a guidance directing the U.S. military to “apply the principles of distinction and proportionality and seek to minimize collateral damage to civilian populations and civilian objects” and pledged that “the United States will not intentionally target civilian populations or civilian objects.” [Continue reading…]

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Aiding and abetting the Saudi slaughter in Yemen

Andrew Cockburn writes: Just a few short years ago, Yemen was judged to be among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 154th out of the 187 nations on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. One in every five Yemenis went hungry. Almost one in three was unemployed. Every year, 40,000 children died before their fifth birthday, and experts predicted the country would soon run out of water.

Such was the dire condition of the country before Saudi Arabia unleashed a bombing campaign in March 2015, which has destroyed warehouses, factories, power plants, ports, hospitals, water tanks, gas stations, and bridges, along with miscellaneous targets ranging from donkey carts to wedding parties to archaeological monuments. Thousands of civilians — no one knows how many — have been killed or wounded. Along with the bombing, the Saudis have enforced a blockade, cutting off supplies of food, fuel, and medicine. A year and a half into the war, the health system has largely broken down, and much of the country is on the brink of starvation.

This rain of destruction was made possible by the material and moral support of the United States, which supplied most of the bombers, bombs, and missiles required for the aerial onslaught. (Admittedly, the United Kingdom, France, and other NATO arms exporters eagerly did their bit.) U.S. Navy ships aided the blockade. But no one that I talked to in Washington suggested that the war was in any way necessary to our national security. The best answer I got came from Ted Lieu, a Democratic congressman from California who has been one of the few public officials to speak out about the devastation we were enabling far away. “Honestly,” he told me, “I think it’s because Saudi Arabia asked.” [Continue reading…]

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More than a third of all casualties in Aleppo are now children

Robin Wright writes: Last month, four newborns in incubators fought for their lives in a small hospital in Aleppo, the besieged Syrian city. Then a bomb hit the hospital and cut off power — and oxygen to the incubators. The babies suffocated. In a joint letter to President Obama this month, fifteen doctors described the infants’ deaths: “Gasping for air, their lives ended before they had really begun.” The doctors are among the last few in the eastern part of Aleppo, the historic former commercial center where a hundred thousand children are now trapped.

“Young children are sometimes brought into our emergency rooms so badly injured that we have to prioritize those with better chances, or simply don’t have the equipment to help them,” the doctors wrote. Only a trickle of food is making it through a land blockade imposed by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. “Whether we live or die seems to be dependent on the ebbs and flows of the battlefield,” the doctors said. “For five years, we have faced death from above” — bombs — “on a daily basis. But we now face death from all around.”

More than a third of all casualties in Aleppo are now kids, according to Save the Children. Among them is Omran Daqneesh, the toddler with the moppish Beatles haircut whose picture captivated the world this week. He was shown covered with blood and dust after being dug from the debris of a bombing in Syria on Thursday. Rescuers placed him, alone, on an orange seat in an ambulance. His stunned, dazed expression mirrored the trauma of a war-ravaged generation. (On Saturday, we learned that Omran’s older brother Ali, who was ten, had died from wounds sustained in the attack.)[Continue reading…]

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The drone presidency

David Cole writes: On March 5, the United States used unmanned drones and manned aircraft to drop bombs on a group of what it described as al-Shabab militants at a camp about 120 miles north of Mogadishu, Somalia, killing approximately 150 of them. The administration claimed that the militants presented an imminent threat to African Union troops in the region with whom US advisers have been working, although it produced no evidence to support the claim. The news that the United States had killed 150 unnamed individuals in a country halfway around the world with which it is not at war generated barely a ripple of attention, much less any protest, here at home. Remote killing outside of war zones, it seems, has become business as usual.

This is a remarkable development, all the more noteworthy in that it has emerged under Barack Obama, who came to office as an antiwar president, so much so that he may be the only person to win the Nobel Peace Prize based on wishful thinking. Our Peace Prize president has now been at war longer than any other American president, and has overseen the use of military force in seven countries — Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. In the latter four countries, virtually all the force has come in the form of unmanned drones executing suspected terrorists said to be linked to al-Qaeda or its “associated forces.”

That an antiwar president has found the drone so tempting ought to be a warning sign. [Continue reading…]

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As Aleppo is destroyed, Obama stands by

An editorial in the Washington Post says: “Devastating and overwhelming.” Those are the conditions in the ancient and once-great metropolis of Aleppo, according to the head of delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Marianne Gasser, who was in the Syrian city recently.

“We hear that dozens of civilians are being killed every day and scores more injured from shells, mortars and rockets,” Ms. Gasser said. “The bombing is constant. The violence is threatening hundreds of thousands of people’s lives, homes and livelihoods.”

War crimes appear to be near-constant also. The air forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his chief backer, Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, target apartment buildings, bakeries and — this is their specialty — hospitals and clinics. The United Nations is investigating credible reports that Mr. Assad again has used chemical weapons, in this case chlorine gas. Water has been cut off from hundreds of thousands of people.

The last surviving physicians in the rebel-held half of Aleppo a few days ago begged President Obama to help. “The world has stood by and remarked how ‘complicated’ Syria is, while doing little to protect us,” they wrote. “The burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Syrian government and its Russian ally must therefore be shared by those, including the United States, who allow them to continue.”

Why would these brave, forlorn doctors look to Mr. Obama for rescue? Perhaps one of them, through the terrible din of war, remembers hearing the president promise to stand by the Syrian people as they were being “subjected to unspeakable violence, simply for demanding their universal rights.” [Continue reading…]

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Syrian doctors write letter to President Obama, urging him to act in Aleppo

ABC News reports: Some of the last doctors remaining in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo have written a letter to President Obama, urging him to intervene to break the siege of the city and stop bombardments of hospitals. Their plea comes as fighting continues despite Russia’s announcement of a partial ceasefire.

“We have seen no effort on behalf of the United States to lift the siege or even use its influence to push the parties to protect civilians,” the doctors wrote in the letter obtained by ABC News. “Continued U.S. inaction to protect the civilians of Syria means that our plight is being willfully tolerated by those in the international corridors of power. The burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Syrian government and its Russian ally must therefore be shared by those, including the United States, who allow them to continue.”

The doctors said that last month alone Syria saw 42 attacks on medical facilities and that a medical facility in Syria is attacked every 17 hours. Two weeks ago, four newborn babies gasping for air suffocated to death after a blast cut the oxygen supply to their incubators, according to the doctors.

“At this rate, our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month, leaving 300,000 people to die,” the doctors wrote.

They explained that what pained them most was being forced to choose who will live and who will die.

“Young children are sometimes brought into our emergency rooms so badly injured that we have to prioritize those with better chances, or simply don’t have the equipment to help them,” they wrote. “We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers, we need your action. Prove that you are the friend of Syrians, not the friend of our killers.” [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s worst mistake

Nicholas Kristof writes: A crazed gunman’s attack on an Orlando club in June, killing 49 people, resulted in blanket news coverage and national trauma.

Now imagine that such a massacre unfolds more than five times a day, seven days a week, unceasingly for five years, totaling perhaps 470,000 deaths. That is Syria. Yet even as the Syrian and Russian governments commit war crimes, bombing hospitals and starving civilians, President Obama and the world seem to shrug.

I admire Obama for expanding health care and averting a nuclear crisis with Iran, but allowing Syria’s civil war and suffering to drag on unchallenged has been his worst mistake, casting a shadow over his legacy. It is also a stain on all of us, analogous to the indifference toward Jewish refugees in the 1930s, to the eyes averted from Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s, to Darfur in the 2000s. [Continue reading…]

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Obama releases drone strike ‘playbook’

Politico reports: President Barack Obama has to personally approve the killing of a U.S. citizen targeted for a lethal drone strike outside combat areas, according to a policy Obama adopted in 2013.

The president also is called upon to approve drone strikes against permanent residents of the U.S. and when “there is a lack of consensus” among agency chiefs about whom to target, but in other cases he is simply “apprised” of the targeting decision, the newly-disclosed document shows.

The presidential policy guidance on drone strikes, often called the drone “playbook,” was disclosed in an edited form Friday night in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

When Obama approved the guidance in May 2013, the White House issued a fact sheet about the policy, but declined to release the document itself — even in a redacted form.

However, a series of decisions from a federal appeals court in New York and from lower court judges have made it more difficult for the government to withhold legal and policy documents when many of the details in them have been disclosed elsewhere, such as in speeches or press releases. [Continue reading…]

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