Obama ‘rethinking Syria strategy, wants to oust Assad’

A pair of US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes against IS targets in Syria on Sept. 23, 2014. (photo credit: US Air Force/Senior Airman Matthew Bruch)

A pair of US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes against IS targets in Syria on Sept. 23, 2014. (photo credit: US Air Force/Senior Airman Matthew Bruch)

Administration no longer believes it can defeat Islamic State in Iraq without also intensifying efforts to square Syria, including removing brutal president

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US, other nations quietly maneuvering to rein in sprawling, inefficient UN system


united nations

May 6: U.N. headquarters in Vienna, Austria. (AP)

SOURCE

Published February 20, 2013

Frustrated by the epic inefficiency, sprawling disorganization and free-spending of their money by the United Nations, a group of Western donor nations, including the U.S., has been meeting quietly to develop a strategy to rein in the world organization’s more than $20 billion a year in anti-poverty assistance – which even parts of the U.N. concede hasn’t done much to relieve poverty.

The donor group’s aim is to produce some kind of workable reform agenda for the bloated system that will actually achieve greater efficiency, less duplication and fragmentation of efforts, less corruption and a greater ability to see where their money actually goes.

So far, the would-be reformers are mostly trying to figure out how cost-efficient U.N. programs are, and what management tools the widely differing U.N. organizations can be pressed into adopting.

The U.N. organizations themselves — including such high-profile entities as the United Nations Development Program, UNICEF, the World Food Program, the World Health Organization and more than 30 others —are not invited to the meetings.

According to a document summarizing one of the closed-door sessions obtained by Fox News, the group of 17 reformer nations is aware that they have a long march ahead to reshape the chaotic U.N. system, make it more rational, or even more financially comprehensible.

 

“Another cause of frustration is the spaghetti-like tangle of ways that donor nations contribute money to the UN system.”

 

The document summarizes the most recent meeting of the reformers in the Swedish capital of Stockholm last November, and also looks forward to their next strategy session, known as the Senior Level Donor Meeting on Multilateral Reform, in Berlin next  April.

When queried by Fox News for information about the meeting, a spokesman for Germany’s federal Ministry for Economic Development Cooperation merely acknowledged that the session was taking place.

According to the Stockholm document, the donor nations, which include most major Western European nations, as well as Canada, Australia and the U.S.—but not Japan—are not trying to cut costs, but rather are about “achieving more with available resources.” 

In response to questions from Fox News, a spokesperson for Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), one of the major forces behind the reform exercise, says that “U.N. agencies know that cost effectiveness is an important priority for the U.K.—it is one of the criteria DFID used to assess the value for money of U.N. agencies in the U.K.’s multilateral aid review, which we are updating later this year.”

But in rare public discussions of the exercise, participants from Britain, for example, have also pointed to recent small but significant cuts to the administrative budgets of a few of the bigger agencies, amounting to about 5 percent, as fruit of their nearly year-long efforts.

And Britain has already been more draconian than that. DFID, widely considered to be one of the most aggressively reformist of donor organizations, announced in early 2011 that it would walk out of four smaller U.N. agencies that it had found in its original multilateral aid review had contributed little “value for money” for Britain’s investment, and were ranked “poor” in terms of their impact.

When questioned by Fox News about the British statements on administrative budget cuts, a spokesman for the largest U.N. development agency, UNDP, declared that the organization had cut its proposed 2012-2013 “institutional” budget by about $49 million, “equivalent to a 5 percent reduction” from the previous two-year total.

But the spokesman also said the reductions “formed part of a process initiated by UNDP in exercising budgetary discipline, for example, by eliminating non-essential services and identifying cuts to lower priority functions.”

At Stockholm, the reformist group agreed that “donors and multilateral organizations alike need to look at the causes of proliferation and fragmentation and possible options for their reduction.”

One possible translation:  fewer and better-organized U.N. agencies — though the agencies themselves may have different views than the countries who identify that problem.

The U.N. system is a major cause of frustration and confusion for those who pay the bills—as well as those who are supposed to benefit from them. The U.N. system includes 37 agencies and organizations that spend money on “development-related operational activities,” as a U.N. summary document puts it. The biggest is the United Nations Development Program, the U.N.’s anti-poverty flagship, which according to a U.N. study accounted for 33 percent of all of the world organization’s resources for “development-related activities.”

Another cause of frustration is the spaghetti-like tangle of ways that donor nations contribute money to the U.N. system, through annual dues-like assessments, voluntary contributions for specific projects or themes, collective contributions through organizations like the European Commission, or through an increasing stream of private contributions that the governments of wealthy nations do not control.

Another is the U.N.’s awesome inefficiency, both in terms of bang for the buck and in terms of actually alleviating the desperate poverty that opens Western wallets in the first place.

A variety of expert studies, including one published in May 2012, have rated U.N. agencies at the low end of effectiveness among organizations, governments and institutions around the globe, and ranked them equally as low for their willingness to discuss their finances and operations.

And as recently as last month, the United Nations Development Program’s executive board learned from its own internal evaluators that their organization’s anti-poverty efforts often have “only remote connections with poverty.”

The maze-like complexity of the U.N. system is one reason why the donor nations who will meet in Berlin have put the issue of “proliferation and fragmentation” high on their list for reform. How they hope to do that is still unclear.  According to the document obtained by Fox News, Germany’s federal Ministry for Overseas Cooperation and Development, or BMZ, will lead discussion on the issue by means of a study of “the incentive structures” beyond the increasing bureaucratic tangle.

The Stockholm document also underscores the remarkable amount donor nations do not know about the welter of U.N. organizations, which do not keep track of costs or program spending in similar ways, do not manage their efforts or staff effectively in terms of results, do not conduct audits in similar fashion, and do not promote or enforce the same rules on combating corruption.

As just one example, in Stockholm, donors “discussed the lack of capacity in [U.N. executive] boards with regard to audit expertise,” which was highlighted in a study by host Sweden. (The U.N.’s drastic lack of such expertise has also been highlighted by a U.N. watchdog, which also pointed out that the auditors are often overly dependent on the people they are supposed to be auditing.

The Stockholm conclave agreed that “there was a continued need to discuss reform and to form coherent messages to drive change,” as well as continued “coordination among donors” and even “clarity on what success looks like.”

The donors have also agreed to institutionalize themselves through an organization they created a decade ago, known as the Multilateral Organization Performance Assessment Network, or MOPAN. This year it will establish its own permanent Secretariat.

CLICK HERE FOR THE STOCKHOLM DOCUMENT      

The big question — which is unlikely to be answered at Berlin in April—is whether a new organization of U.N. donors with another strange acronym will truly help to cut back on the bewildering U.N. bloat and inefficiency — or add further to it.

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Israeli attack on Syria could be beginning of new strategy as Assad’s grip on power weakens

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FILE – In this May 22, 2010 file photo, a Hezbollah fighter, stands behind an empty rocket launcher while explaining to the group various tactics and weapons used against Israeli soldiers on the battlefield, during a trip to Hezbollah strongholds, in Sojod village, southern Lebanon. U.S. officials said Israel launched a rare airstrike inside Syria on Wednesday. The target was a convoy believed to be carrying anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militant group allied with Syria and Iran. The Israeli airstrike comes at a particularly sensitive and vulnerable time for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Despite its formidable weapons arsenal and political clout in the country, the group’s credibility and maneuvering space has been significantly reduced in the past few years, largely because of the war in neighboring Syria but also because of unprecedented challenges at home.
(AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File) (The Associated Press)

www.foxnews.com  –  Associated Press

BEIRUT –  An Israeli air attack staged in Syria this week may be a sign of things to come.

Israeli military officials appear to have concluded that the risks of attacking Syria are worth taking when compared to the dangers of allowing sophisticated weapons to reach Hezbollah guerrillas in neighboring Lebanon.

With Syrian President Bashar Assad’s grip on power weakening, Israeli officials fear he could soon lose control over his substantial arsenal of chemical and advanced weapons, which could slip into the hands of Hezbollah or other hostile groups. These concerns, combined with Hezbollah’s own domestic problems, mean further military action could be likely.

Tzachi Hanegbi, an incoming lawmaker in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and a former chairman of parliament’s influential foreign affairs and defense committee, signaled Thursday that Israel could be compelled to act on its own. While Israel’s preference is for Western powers to gain control over Syria’s arms stockpile, he said there are no signs of that happening.

“Israel finds itself, like it has many times in the past, facing a dilemma that only it knows how to respond to. And it could well be that we will reach a stage where we will have to make decisions,” Hanegbi told Israel’s Army Radio Thursday. Hanegbi, like other Israeli officials, would not confirm Israeli involvement in the airstrike.

In this week’s incident, Israeli warplanes conducted a rare airstrike inside Syria, according to U.S. officials who said the target was a convoy believed to be carrying anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militant group allied with Syria and Iran.

The Syrian military has denied the existence of any weapons shipment and said a military research facility outside Damascus was hit.

On Thursday, Syria threatened to retaliate, while Hezbollah condemned the attack as “barbaric aggression.” Iran, which supplies arms to Syria, Hezbollah and the Hamas militant group in Gaza, said the airstrike would have significant implications for Israel. Syrian ally Russia said it appeared to be an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.

Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul-Karim Ali, said Damascus “has the option and the capacity to surprise in retaliation.” He told Hezbollah’s al-Ahd news website that it was up to the relevant authorities to choose the time and place.

For now, Israeli officials seem to be playing down the threats.

“Israel took a big gamble out of the belief that Iran and Hezbollah won’t retaliate. The question is, ‘Are they right or not?'” said Moshe Maoz, a professor emeritus at Hebrew University who specializes in Syria.

Officials believe that Assad’s position in Syria is so precarious that he cannot risk opening a new front with Israel. With an estimated 60,000 Syrians killed in the civil war, Israeli officials also think it’s too late for Assad to rally his bitterly divided nation behind him.

“Syria is in such a bad state right now that an Israeli retaliation to a Syrian action would be harsh and could topple the regime. Therefore Syria is not responding,” Maoz said.

Israel is far more worried about the threat of sophisticated weapons reaching Hezbollah. In a monthlong 2006 war, Hezbollah fired some 4,000 rockets and missiles into Israel before the conflict ended in a stalemate. Israeli officials believe the guerrilla group has restocked its arsenal with tens of thousands of missiles, some capable of striking deep inside the Jewish state.

Resigned to this fact, Israel has set a number of “red lines” for Hezbollah that it says are unacceptable, in particular the acquisition of new weapons that it believes would change the balance of power in the region. These include chemical weapons and sophisticated anti-aircraft and surface-to-sea missiles.

This week’s airstrike is believed to have targeted Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles that Syria recently obtained. If they were to reach Hezbollah, the SA-17s would greatly inhibit the Israeli air force’s ability to operate in Lebanon. Israel has frequently flown sorties over Lebanese skies since 2006.

The airstrike is part of an Israeli strategy known to military planners as “the policy of prevention,” or the “war between wars.” In recent years, Israel is believed to have launched a number of covert missions, including airstrikes in Sudan and assassinations of key Hezbollah and Hamas militants, aimed at disrupting the flow of weapons to its Iranian-backed enemies. Israel has never acknowledged involvement.

Israeli security officials believe that Hezbollah, despite its claims of victory, is still deterred by the experience of the 2006 war, in which it lost hundreds of fighters. Instead of a direct war, Israel fears Hezbollah might try to strike Israeli or Jewish targets around the world. Israel has accused Hezbollah of a string of attacks on Israeli targets in recent years, including a deadly attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last July.

The Israeli airstrike comes at a particularly sensitive and vulnerable time for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Despite its formidable weapons arsenal and political clout in the country, the group’s credibility and maneuvering space has been significantly reduced in the past few years.

Hezbollah still suffers from the fallout of the 2006 war, which many in Lebanon accuse it of provoking by kidnapping soldiers from the border area. Since then, the group has come under increasing pressure at home to disarm, leading to sectarian tensions between its Shiite supporters and Sunnis from the opposing camp that have often spilled into deadly street fighting.

When Hezbollah sent an Iranian-made reconnaissance drone over Israel in November, the group boasted of its capabilities — but critics in Lebanon slammed it for embarking on a unilateral adventure that could provoke Israel.

Despite persistent reports and accusations that Hezbollah members are fighting alongside the military in Syria, Hezbollah has largely approached the Syria conflict with caution, mindful that any action it takes could backfire.

“In different times, Hezbollah would have reacted to Israel’s surgical strike, but not today,” said Bilal Saab, director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, North America. “This is a time for hunkering down and weathering the storm.”

The uprising in Syria, the main transit point of weapons brought from Iran to Hezbollah, presents the group with its toughest challenge since its inception in 1982.

The group could still get weapons, but would struggle to get them as easily without the Syria supply route. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah’s public support for the Assad regime has proved costly and the group’s reputation has taken a severe beating. Former champions of the group now describe it as hypocritical for supporting Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, but not in Syria.

While the attack overnight Tuesday, believed to be the first by Israel on Syrian soil since 2007, appeared to come out of nowhere, signs of impending action were evident in recent days.

On Jan. 23, the day after national elections, Netanyahu convened top security officials for an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Syria.

One of the meeting participants, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, warned this week that Israel could be forced to carry out a pre-emptive attack under certain circumstances. The same day, Israel suddenly moved a new, state-of-the-art rocket-defense system to the northern city of Haifa, which was hit hard by Hezbollah rocket fire during a 2006 war.

Uzi Rabi, a military analyst at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center, said the attack was a “kind of message” sent by Israel to Syria and Hezbollah.

“It says we do have capabilities when it comes to intelligence gathering … and this would serve as kind of a warning sign to Hezbollah not to transfer chemical weaponry from Syria to Hezbollah,” he said.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem.

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Planned Parenthood Drops Failing “Choice” Rhetoric on Abortion

Feminist blog Jezebel reports that, in an advanced press briefing yesterday, Planned Parenthood revealed a new strategy for how it will talk about abortion.

www.lifenews.com – By Matt Yonke

After polling Americans on how they feel about abortion and about the terms “pro-life,” “pro-choice,” and other language surrounding the abortion debate, the nation’s largest abortion chain is moving away from talking about abortion in the decades-old language of “choice” in favor of language that emphasizes the “difficulty” of the abortion decision.

Planned Parenthood has realized that the demographic they have to pursue and persuade is the majority of Americans who are somewhere in the middle on abortion.

Planned Parenthood Moves to Persuade the Squishy Middle

Most Americans believe it should be restricted in some senses — much more than Planned Parenthood would like — and so they’ve decided to shift from the decisive language of “choice” to the squishy language of moral ambiguity, which is where they would love the abortion debate to stay.

The change is important enough that Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards was on hand for Wednesday’s briefing. From Jezebel:

“It’s an opportunity to talk to an enormous number of people we haven’t been talking to as much as we should,” said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, who was also in attendance to help introduce the organization’s upcoming advertising campaign, which will highlight how complex and personal the decision to have an abortion can be with taglines such as “Only you know what it’s like to walk in your shoes” and “Decisions about reproductive health are personal. You can help keep them that way.”

Trading Old Activists for New

Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens was also on hand explaining that the word “choice” is no longer relevant. She said it spoke to women who had fewer choices at the dawn of the feminist struggle, but that younger women who have all the choices in the world open to them are not moved to fight by the idea of choice.

Clearly this move is a play toward their younger constituency and away from their long-standing, older activist base, who will doubtless be livid that Planned Parenthood is throwing their sacred word, their rallying cry, to the curb. But times change and Planned Parenthood is nothing if not a fair weather friend as last year’s Susan G. Komen funding debacle showed us clearly enough.

And that is the crux of the issue. “Choice” was only ever a piece of rhetoric for the pro-abortion movement, and now it’s become a failed piece of rhetoric, so they’re on to the next thing. They’ll talk about whatever they have to to keep people from considering the clear moral issues in the abortion debate.

Pro-Life Response? Double Down

So what should the pro-life movement’s response be? I move we double down.

Planned Parenthood wants things ambiguous? We will continue to be clear and we will not change the terms of the debate.

We will show the victims of abortion in the public square. We will stand in witness and mourning outside their killing centers and offer help and clarity to abortion-bound mothers. We will continue to expose their moral failings and push our governments to regulate the abortion industry more and more tightly. We will save every unborn baby we can from the abortionist’s clutches.

In short, we will continue to do what we as a movement have always done because we are motivated by principle, not profit; by truth, not ambiguity; and above all, by love for all human beings—no exceptions.

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