The Cable

Democratic Senator: Obama Has ‘No Articulated Strategy' on Syria

Frustrated by the muddle that is U.S. policy in Syria, a growing cadre of hawkish Democrats are putting pressure on the White House to finally outline to the public and to Congress its objectives in the protracted 2 ½ year civil war.

The latest and perhaps most outspoken Democrat to prod the administration is Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, who tells The Cable he's tired of waiting for the White House to articulate its goals in Syria -- and how it hopes to achieve them.

"For too long there really hasn't been a clearly articulated strategy," he says. "The administration has yet to make it clear to the American people what's at stake here... With Tehran and Hezbollah taking the offensive, a bad result in Syria could greatly strengthen the Iranian regime and make it more difficult for us to constrain their nuclear ability."

"Those basic strategic interests need to be stated over and over again by the president, by the secretary of state and by the national security team in general," he continues. "But that just hasn't been happening."

Casey and his aides expressed frustration that the rollout of the administration's more assertive policy in Syria on June 13 amounted to a press release by Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications. Following the release, Secretary of State John Kerry met with lawmakers on the Hill last week for classified briefings about U.S. efforts to aid the rebels.

While Casey declined to discuss specifics of the briefing due to its classified nature, he said there was not "nearly enough clarity" about how the U.S. planned to arm the rebels. And as far as heavy weaponry, "I have no information that either anti-tank or anti-aircraft weapons are going to be provided ... I would hope that in the future those would be offered," he said.

Casey joins a growing cohort of Democrats clamoring for a more assertive policy. Last week, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, joined Arizona Republican John McCain in signing a letter urging the president to "take more decisive military actions in Syria to change the balance of power on the ground against [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad." In the House Foreign Affairs Committee, ranking Democrat Eliot Engel has been pushing for lethal military assistance since March, when he introduced his Free Syria Act legislation authorizing the shipment of weapons. In May, the Democratically-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill authorizing lethal aid by a bipartisan vote of 15-3.

To be fair, the president did discuss his Syria policy at the prodding of Charlie Rose in an interview last Monday. He explained his initial caution about arming the rebels -- informed by the mounting evidence that much of the Syrian opposition includes Al Qaeda aligned extremists. "We're not taking sides in a religious war between Shia and Sunni," he said. He also noted the humanitarian dimension. "The United States has humanitarian interests in the region, we've seen at least 100,000 people slaughtered inside of Syria, many of them women, children, innocent civilians," he said "And the United States always has an interest in preventing that kind of bloodshed when possible."

However, it appears that his policy has yet to satisfy some of the more hawkish members of his own party, much less his Republican colleagues including McCain and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.  By the president's own admission with Rose, he hasn't really unveiled a new approach to Syria.

"I'm not sure you can characterize this as a new policy," Obama said.

The Cable

Kenyans Rage Online as Obama Skips Father's Homeland on Africa Trip

The itinerary for President Barack Obama's upcoming trip to Africa is coming under fire for one country not on it: Kenya, the birthplace of his father.

In a conference call on Friday, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes told reporters that the president still has a "deep, personal, familial connection to Kenya," but "it just wasn't the best time for the president to travel to Kenya." Part of that bad timing is likely due to the March election of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta who happens to face crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court, a process the the U.S. supports.

But don't tell the Kenyans, who've been sounding off about the perceived snub on Twitter and to the local press.

"We elected our president and whether the ICC comes or goes he is our president. We have already seen what is happening to the ICC case," a Kenyan teacher told local news outlet Capital News.

"A time will come when he (Obama) will need Kenya and he needs to remember that Kenyans' lives were still going on even before he took over office from George Bush," Kenyan Mavado Ondivo told the local outlet.

Meanwhile, the Kenyan hashtag #WhyObamaWillSkipKenya has erupted on Twitter.

#WhyObamaWillSkipKenya because the prodigal son never went back to his father till all his money got finished

#WhyObamaWillSkipKenya He cant stand being in a country where a president will make a better speech than him without a teleprompter

#WhyObamaWillSkipKenya he's afraid that chipukeezy will hit on Sasha and Malia

Obama's June 27 trip marks his second presidential visit to the continent, where he'll visit Senegal, South Africa and Kenya's geopolitically less important neighbor Tanzania.

"The Kenyan people hold a special place in the president's heart," Rhodes said. "We respect the sovereign right of Kenyan to choose their leaders ... We also as a country have a commitment to accountability and justice."

But Kenya's current leader has a justice problem. Kenyatta is charged with crimes against humanity, including rape and murder, and orchestrating violence after the 2007 election, a charge he denies. The ICC lists him as an "indirect co-perpetrator" in the chaos that killed some 1,200 people and displaced more than 500,000 after the disputed elections, which he won against then-Prime Minister Raila Odinga by 50.07 percent to 43.28 percent. Rhodes mentioned that the other countries on the president's itinerary have strong, prospering democracies.