The Edge is National Journal's daily look at today in Washington -- and what's coming next. The email features analysis from NJ's top correspondents, the biggest stories of the day -- and always a few surprises. To subscribe, click here.
Is America About to Go to War Again?
In a dramatic shift in tone, the Obama administration is talking in uncompromising terms about Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's suspected use of chemical weapons, suggesting that the president has already decided to take military action of some kind.
Secretary of State John Kerry today raised the stakes, calling the killing of women and children with chemical weapons a "moral obscenity." He said the evidence of their use was "undeniable" and must have "consequences." Among the military options being considered are surgical strikes using aircraft or cruise missiles.
If so, President Obama is risking an outcome that he has tried hard to avoid for many months: enmeshing himself in Syria's civil war, and effectively dragging America into a new war even as he winds down the decadelong conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Nonetheless, the president appears to believe that his credibility is at risk over the "red line" he drew a year ago. Despite Assad's apparent concession by allowing in U.N. inspectors, administration officials say the evidence is too "corrupted" by now.
U.N. CONVOY NEAR DAMASCUS HIT BY SNIPERS. Snipers today targeted vehicles carrying a team of United Nations weapons experts investigating the possible use of chemical weapons last week outside of Damascus, hitting one, the Associated Press reports. The Syrian government is blaming rebels for the attack, while opposition forces counter that the pro-government militia was responsible. Investigators were eventually able to reach the site of the purported gas attack—the worst of its kind reported in 25 years, if true—where they conducted interviews and took blood samples. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said today that the U.S. should propose a "surgical" and "proportional" U.S. air strike against Syria because of the attacks. Read more
- Secretary of State John Kerry strongly condemned Syria during a press conference today, and said the use of chemical weapons was "a cowardly crime" that offended humanity "not only by this crime but at the cynical attempt to cover it up." Read more
ISRAELI TROOPS KILL THREE PALESTINIANS AMID ONGOING PEACE TALKS. Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Palestinians at a refugee camp in the West Bank today during a raid intended to lead to the arrest of a suspected militant, Reuters reports. The deadly encounter occurred just hours before negotiators from both sides met for another round of peace talks. The Israeli forces reportedly were confronted by firebombs and rocks during their attempted arrest. The violence is the deadliest episode in the West Bank in months, The New York Times reports, and further underscores the volatility in the region even as negotiators try to resolve age-old disputes stemming from the Six-Day War of 1967. Read more
GRAHAM FACING FRAGMENTED OPPOSITION IN PRIMARY BATTLE. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is already being hit hard by disgruntled conservative groups looking to wage a GOP primary fight against the incumbent in 2014, The New York Times reports. Opening salvos are targeting Graham for spending too little time in South Carolina; supporting President Obama's Supreme Court nominations; helping broker a bipartisan compromise on immigration reform in the Senate; and traveling to Egypt recently in an attempt to quell violence there. But dozens of tea-party and libertarian groups will need to unify if they hope to have any chance to oust Graham, who already has three primary challengers. Read more
SNOWDEN MAY HAVE STAYED AT RUSSIAN CONSULATE WHILE IN HONG KONG. Citing unnamed sources, Moscow newspaper Kommersant said Monday that former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden spent time—perhaps several days, including his 30th birthday—at the Russian consulate in Hong Kong before flying to Russia in June, The Washington Post reports. Russian authorities were reportedly still surprised by Snowden's arrival in Moscow—where he spent more than a month stranded in an international airport before being granted temporary asylum—on June 23 following his stay in Hong Kong. Kommersant also quotes anonymous Russian officials claiming Cuba refused Snowden entry due to U.S. pressure, a decision that resulted in his airport stranding. Read more
SOME COLLEGES TO BEGIN OFFERING EXIT TESTS NEXT YEAR. In an effort to respond to growing employer skepticism of the value of a college degree and to concerns about inflated grade-point averages, about 200 U.S. colleges will begin offering a voluntary "SAT-like" exit exam to graduating seniors next spring, The Wall Street Journal reports. Supporters tout the College Learning Assessment as providing "an objective, benchmarked report card for critical thinking skills." The test is part of a movement to assess the skills of graduates in new ways at a time when employers question more-traditional measures of college credentials, which one professor says increasingly are indicators of "social class" rather than "academic accomplishment." Read more
EGYPT ATTEMPTING TO USE RELIGION TO KEEP SOLDIERS LOYAL. The Egyptian military is using Muslim scholars to convince soldiers and police officers that they have a "religious duty to obey orders," which might include the use of deadly force against citizens protesting the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, The New York Times reports. The decision, characterized as a "propaganda campaign" by The Times, could also be an indication that generals are concerned about insubordination within their ranks after weeks of bloody conflict. Few citizens, however, are willing to speak out against the military despite ongoing violence and strict curfews, believing it is most likely to forge a path toward stability. Read more
- Many of Egypt's Christians, viewed by the Muslim Brotherhood as supporters of the military's ouster of Morsi, are finding themselves caught in a cross fire of violence that has included burned churches and blown-up cars, Time reports. Read more
DESPITE PROGRESS ON KING'S DREAM, MANY BLACKS STILL LAG BEHIND. Although millions have earned advanced degrees and a growing number hold high-ranking jobs previously inaccessible to them, blacks still lag behind on several significant measures, including income, economic mobility, housing, education, employment, standing in the criminal-justice system, and life expectancy, according to census and other data compiled by Bloomberg. Though the nation elected its first black president in Barack Obama, who has subsequently named several blacks to top posts in his administration, economic progress for the minority group continues to plod along 50 years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. articulated his "Dream" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and progress has been substantially undercut as a result of the recent recession. Read more
NAPOLITANO BIDS FAREWELL. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will deliver farewell remarks to highlight the accomplishments of her department over the past four and a half years, at 10 a.m. at 529 14th St. NW.
LEADERS ADDRESS APRI CONFERENCE. The A. Philip Randolph Institute will hold the 44th annual National Education Conference, focusing on the "Legacy of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin and the Current Legislations Impacting the Civil, Human, and Voting Rights of American Workers," Aug. 22-28 at 400 New Jersey Ave. NW. Scheduled participants include Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the Rev. Al Sharpton, and NAACP President Benjamin Jealous.
FIRST LADY ADDRESSES STUDENTS. First lady Michelle Obama will deliver remarks at a screening of The Powerbroker: Whitney Young's Fight for Civil Rights, with young students from Washington, D.C., and Virginia, at 4 p.m. at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
"I don't water-ski anymore. I haven't gone horseback riding in four years. I haven't ruled that out entirely. But water-skiing, those days are over." -- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 80, discussing how she has had to adjust to getting older (The New York Times)
U.S. KNEW OF IRAQ'S CHEMICAL-WEAPONS ATTACKS BUT STILL PROVIDED INFORMATION. In 1988, U.S. officials, believing that Iran's spring offensive could tip the balance in the Iran-Iraq war, gave Iraqi officials intelligence, including Iran's troop and facilities locations, Foreign Policy's Shane Harris and author Matthew Aid report. "The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn't have to. We already knew," said retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was in Baghdad in 1988. Recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials show that as early as 1983, the United States had evidence that Iraq was using chemical weapons. Harris and Aid write that the declassified documents, coupled with interviews from former officials, "are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched." Read more
THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYED. Although the U.S. economic recovery is now officially more than four years old, over 4 million people still qualify as long-term unemployed, The Atlantic's Matthew O'Brien writes. But who are these people? The answer, O'Brien notes, is "at once reassuring and terrifying." Generally, the long-term unemployed tend to be older and were more likely to have been laid off from their last job than other unemployed workers, according to data analyzed by Josh Mitchell of the Urban Institute. A series of charts also demonstrates that the long-term unemployed are actually more educated than newly unemployed or discouraged workers who have given up looking for work. Read more
TODAY'S PHOTO GALLERY
50 YEARS LATER, PICTURES WORTH REMEMBERING. This Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and several publications are taking the opportunity to look back at some of the best images from the mass demonstration. BuzzFeed offers a gallery showing off the massive crowds and behind-the-scenes candids of some of the organizers, including a photo op with then-President Kennedy. The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta writes that photographer Leonard Freed captured the spirit of the protest with images that focused on the "ecstatic, eager, joyous, hot, and tired" faces in the crowd.