Why are we even talking about taking military action in Syria? What is that military action supposed to accomplish? And what is the probability that it will in fact accomplish whatever that unknown goal might be?
What is painfully clear from President Obama’s actions, inactions, and delays is that he is more or less playing by ear what specifically he is going to do, and when. He is telling us more about what he is not going to do – that he will not put “boots on the ground,” for example – than about what he will do.
All this is happening a year after issuing an ultimatum to the Bashar Assad regime in Syria against the use of chemical or biological weapons. When the president of the United States issues an ultimatum to another sovereign nation, he should know in advance what he is going to do if that ultimatum is rejected.
But that is not the way Barack Obama operates. Like so many people who are masters of lofty words, he does not pay nearly as much attention to mundane realities. Campaigning is his strong suit. Governing is not.
With the mainstream media ready to ooh and aah over his rhetoric, and pass over in silence his policy disasters as president, Obama is home free as far as domestic politics is concerned. But, on the world stage, neither America’s enemies nor her allies are hypnotized by his words or his image.
Nations that have to decide whether to ally themselves with us or with our enemies understand that they are making life-and-death decisions. It is not about rhetoric, image, or symbolism. It is about whether nations can count on the realism, wisdom, and dependability of the American government.
Make no mistake about it, Barack Obama is a very clever man. But cleverness is not wisdom, or even common sense.
When he was in the Senate, Obama – along with Senators Joe Biden, Chuck Hagel, and Hillary Clinton – was critical of the Bush administration for not being favorable to the Assad regime.
Hillary Clinton said that she and other lawmakers who visited Assad considered him a “reformer.” Back in 2007, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, both Senator Biden and Senator Hagel chided her for not being more ready to negotiate with Assad.
Senator John Kerry in 2009 said, “Syria is an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region.”
Some people said that having Joe Biden as vice president meant that President Obama had someone with many years of foreign-policy experience. What they ignored was that Biden had decades of experience being wrong on foreign-policy issues time and time again.
Biden opposed President Ronald Reagan’s military buildup that countered the Soviet Union’s buildup and helped bring about both the end of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union. General David Petraeus’s “surge” strategy that greatly reduced the terrorist attacks in Iraq was opposed in 2007 by Senator Biden, who said, “We need to stop the surge and start to get our troops out.”
Senator Hillary Clinton not only opposed the surge from the outset, she was among those who refused to believe that it had succeeded, even after all the hard evidence had convinced most other people.
The grim reality is that the people in key positions to shape our foreign policy during the Obama administration – the president, the vice president, two secretaries of state, and the current secretary of defense – all have a track record of grossly misconceiving the issues, our enemies, and our national interest.
This is the administration that is now asking for a blank check from Congress to take unspecified military action to achieve unspecified goals. “Military action” is a polite phrase for killing people. It would be nice to believe that this has some purpose other than saving Barack Obama from political embarrassment after he issued an ultimatum without having thought through what he would do if that ultimatum was ignored.
He has the authority to take military action if he wants to. The question is whether he can sucker the Republicans into giving him political cover by pre-approving his unknown actions and unknown goals.
‘The genius of you Americans,” the Arab-nationalist and one-time president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, once explained, “is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them which we are missing.”
I’ve long taken patriotic pride in such statements of befuddlement from foreigners. America is a gloriously complicated thing. We often confuse our national creeds for universal principles. We are a Jacksonian people (that’s Andrew Jackson, in case you were wondering) in love with Jeffersonian ideals and legalistically committed to Madisonian mechanisms. Like a guard dog that would rather not leave the porch, we are quick to anger but not necessarily quick to fight, and we are just as eager to forgive.
So from the vantage point of foreign brutes, bullies, and buffoons, it’s understandable that America’s methods could be confused for stupidity. This is why I love the old expression, “America can choke on a gnat, but swallow a tiger whole.”
So I am trying very hard to hold onto this perspective as I watch the president of the United States behave in a way you don’t have to be a pan-Arab autocrat to think is incredibly stupid.
Where to begin? Perhaps with Obama’s initial refusal to support the moderate rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, a puppet of Iran and bagman for Hezbollah. Or we might start with Obama’s refusal to support the Green Movement in Iran, which sought to overthrow the Iranian regime, which would have been a triumph for both our principles and our national interests.
These were odd choices, particularly given his decision to help depose Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, an indisputably evil man, but also a dictator who posed no threat, who abided by our demands to relinquish WMDs, and whose domestic death toll was a tiny fraction of Assad’s.
“We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy… where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government” was Obama’s justification for an attack on Libya – without congressional approval. But when Assad killed tenfold as many men, women, and children, Obama refused to act for nearly two years. And when he finally decided it was imperative to attack Assad – after the dictator crossed a chemical-weapons “red line” drawn by Obama himself – he suddenly discovered the need for congressional authorization.
Obama doesn’t believe he needs authorization from Congress to strike Syria, he just wants it. He’s like a kid desperate for a prom date, but too vain to admit it. In Libya, Obama had the U.N. and NATO on each arm, so he didn’t bother with asking the dog on Capitol Hill for a date. But now, faced with the prospect of going it alone, he’s in effect telling Congress, “Hey, it’s not like I need your company, but you’d be crazy not to go to war with me.”
Whoops. As even Nancy Pelosi’s own grandkid now knows, we mustn’t call it a war. “The president is not asking you to go to war,” Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress. He’s merely asking them to authorize a sustained cruise-missile attack on military installations to “degrade” the regime’s “capabilities.”
But, according to Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin Dempsey, no one has asked the military to do anything that might change the “momentum” of the Syrian civil war. This is like saying you’re going to attack a runaway car barreling toward a crowd of kids, but do nothing to actually, you know, slow it down. What good does it do to trash the radio and rip out the cup holders on an out-of-control car?
Meanwhile, according to numerous accounts, Assad is moving military assets into civilian areas and civilians into military areas, even as the Obama administration insists it makes no difference militarily to wait for Congress to debate. That’s not just stupid; it’s an outright lie that will be fact-checked with blood.
I understand the attraction the buddy system has for a man who, as a state legislator, perfected the art of voting “present” on hard questions. But it’s hard to see this as anything other than rank political cowardice.
The buck stopped with Truman. For Obama, the buck is kryptonite.
In Stockholm on Wednesday, the president said that the credibility of the world, America, Congress, and the international community is on the line. Everybody is on the hook for his red line, except for the one person who actually drew it.
I’d love to see the genius in that argument, but it looks like clear-cut stupidity to me.
Oh, how I long for the days when liberals wailed that “the rest of the world” hated America, rather than now, when the rest of the world laughs at us.
With the vast majority of Americans opposing a strike against Syria, President Obama has requested that Congress vote on his powers as commander in chief under the Constitution. The president doesn’t need congressional approval to shoot a few missiles into Syria, nor – amazingly – has he said he’ll abide by such a vote, anyway.
Why is Congress even having a vote? This is nothing but a fig leaf to cover Obama’s own idiotic “red line” ultimatum to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on chemical weapons. The Nobel Peace Prize winner needs to get Congress on the record so that whatever happens, the media can blame Republicans.
No Republican who thinks seriously about America’s national security interests – by which I mean to exclude John McCain and Lindsey Graham – can support Obama’s “plan” to shoot blindly into this hornet’s nest.
It would be completely different if we knew with absolute certainty that Assad was responsible for chemical attacks on his own people. (I’m still waiting to see if it was a Syrian upset about a YouTube video.)
It would be different if instead of killing a few hundred civilians, Assad had killed 5,000 civilians with poison gas in a single day, as well as tens of thousands more with chemical weapons in the past few decades.
It would be different if Assad were known to torture his own people, administer summary executions, rapes, burnings and electric shocks, often in front of the victim’s wife or children.
It would be different if Assad had acted aggressively toward the United States itself, perhaps attempting to assassinate a former U.S. president or giving shelter to terrorists who had struck within the U.S. – someone like Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood terrorist.
It would be different if Assad were stirring up trouble in the entire Middle East by, for example, paying bounties to the families of suicide bombers in other countries.
It would also be different if we could be sure that intervention in Syria would not lead to a multi-nation conflagration.
It would be different if we knew that any action against Syria would not put al-Qaida or the Muslim Brotherhood in power, but rather would result in a functioning, peaceful democracy.
And it would be different if an attack on Syria would so terrify other dictators in the region that they would instantly give up their WMDs – say, Iran abandoning its nuclear program.
If all of that were true, this would be a military intervention worth supporting!
All of that was true about Iraq, but the Democrats hysterically opposed that war. They opposed it even after all this was known to be true – indeed, especially after it was known to be true! The loudest opponent was Barack Obama.
President Saddam Hussein of Iraq had attempted to assassinate former president George H.W. Bush. He gave shelter to Abdul Rahman Yasin, a conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He paid bounties to the families of suicide bombers in Israel.
Soon after Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi was so terrified of an attack on his own country, he voluntarily relinquished his WMDs – which turned out to be far more extensive than previously imagined.
Al-Qaida not only did not take over Iraq, but got its butt handed to it in Iraq, where the U.S. and its allies killed thousands of al-Qaida fighters, including the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Iraq became the first genuine Arab democracy, holding several elections and presiding over a trial of Saddam Hussein.
Does anyone imagine that any of this would result from an Obama-led operation in Syria? How did his interventions work out in Egypt and Libya?
As for chemical weapons – the casus belli for the current drums of war – in a matter of hours on March 16, 1988, Saddam Hussein slaughtered roughly 5,000 Kurdish civilians in Halabja with mustard, sarin and VX gas. The victims blistered, vomited or laughed hysterically before dropping dead. Thousands more would die later from the after-effects of these poisons.
Saddam launched nearly two dozen more chemical attacks on the Kurds, resulting in at least 50,000 deaths, perhaps three times that many. That’s to say nothing of the tens of thousands of Iranians Saddam killed with poison gas. Indeed, in making the case against Assad recently, Secretary of State John Kerry said his use of chemical weapons put him in the same league as “Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein.”
Not even close – but may we ask why Kerry sneered at the war that removed such a monster as Hussein?
There were endless United Nations reports and resolutions both establishing that Saddam had used chemical weapons and calling on him to give them up. (For the eighth billionth time, we did find chemical weapons in Iraq, just no “stockpiles.” Those had been moved before the war, according to Saddam’s own general, Georges Sada – to Syria.)
On far less evidence, our current president accuses Assad of using chemical weapons against a fraction of the civilians provably murdered with poison gas by Saddam Hussein. So why did Obama angrily denounce the military operation that removed Hussein? Why did he call that a “war of choice”?
Obama says Assad – unlike that great statesman Saddam Hussein – has posed “a challenge to the world.” But the world disagrees. Even our usual ally, Britain, disagrees. So Obama demands the United States act alone to stop a dictator, who – compared to Saddam – is a piker.
At this point, Assad is at least 49,000 dead bodies short of the good cause the Iraq War was, even if chemical weapons had been the only reason to take out Saddam Hussein.
Congress should reject President Obama’s appeal for authorization to attack Syria in retaliation for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Just as state Sen. Barack Obama opposed the use of force resolution against Saddam Hussein in 2002, Congress should turn aside the president’s appeal to attack now that his particular “red line” has been crossed in Syria. If he was against drawing the line against Hussein, what is the need to draw the line with Bashar Assad?
In “The Great Deformation,” former Budget Director David Stockman writes eloquently about the costs of a “welfare” and a “warfare” state, noting that they both drain our national economy – the warfare state particularly. With our economy trembling on the brink of a major crash, in the opinion of many economists, this is no time for another expensive military operation.
Above all, it is wrong to commit our nation’s military to a confused and contradictory conflict. How can we fight when The Wall Street Journal attributes to a Pentagon official the fear that “the wrong groups in the opposition would be able to take advantage of [an American bombing campaign]?” He said that the administration did not want to topple Assad from power – just to punish him for using gas.
This kind of half-in, half-out mission is exactly the kind of intervention we must avoid. It creates its own momentum and leads to ever greater involvement, regardless of the initial intent.
Former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has said that we would become “al Qaeda’s airforce” should we attack Assad. The evidence is overwhelming that al Qaeda is the alternative to Assad in Syria. The illusion of a liberal, democratic alternative is as ephemeral in Syria as it has proven to be in Egypt. In bombing Assad, we would inevitably become involved on the wrong side of a civil war. Not that Assad is the right side; there is no right side, and we should stay out.
Why is the president asking for congressional approval of his intervention? Is it a sudden concern for the limitations of executive power? Or is it a desire to use the gas episode to get a Gulf of Tonkin-style open-ended OK for intervention in this civil war? Could it be related to his desire to appease the Saudi monarchy by backing the rebels that Riyadh desperately wants to win?
We must all step back, at this juncture, and question what five decades of war have accomplished. Vietnam was, unquestionably, a total waste of men, money and political credibility. We lost, and we would have accomplished nothing had we won. The fall of the Soviet Empire would not have been hastened one day by defeat or advanced one day by victory. The war between China and Vietnam within years of the end of U.S. involvement showed how flawed the domino theory really was.
The first Gulf War, obviously, achieved nothing. It left Hussein in power and we had to go in again. The second Gulf War is increasingly appearing to be destructive in its impact. We seem to have succeeded only in giving Iran a staunch ally in the Middle East. The recent killing of 52 Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf – the sanctuary we established for opponents of the Ayatollah – reportedly by Iraqi forces, shows how flawed our involvement was.
The Afghan War has degraded al Qaeda’s ability to fight, but the broader effort at nation-building has only really propped up a regime that non-governmental organization Transparency International rates as the second most corrupt on Earth.
Libya? The jury is still out, but the activity of al Qaeda there, as evidenced by the Benghazi raid, indicates it may have a similarly disappointing outcome.
It is plainly time to say no. It is time to heed the warning of President Eisenhower against limited wars, unbalanced budgets and the military industrial complex.
Syria is, indeed, the time to draw a red line. But the line should be against military adventures.
Early signs say it will be hard for President Obama to win congressional authorization for military action in Syria. That could change; lawmakers might re-write the president’s draft authorization into something they can live with, ultimately allowing Obama to go forward. But whatever happens, Republicans have a compelling case for rejecting the president’s request. Based on off-the-record conversations with some of them, this is it:
1) The chemical weapons evidence. The Obama administration appears to believe that conclusive proof that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians creates an unassailable case for U.S. intervention. A few lawmakers will likely challenge whether the proof is really conclusive. But a far larger number will accept the evidence that Assad used chemical weapons – and still reject intervention.
Those lawmakers will argue that Obama did not intervene when Assad used conventional weapons to slaughter thousands of innocent people; the death toll in the two-and-and-half-year civil war is put at 100,000. What is different now? They will also point to the various atrocities and human rights violations around the world in which the United States has not intervened. American involvement, they will argue, should be contingent on a genuine U.S. national security interest, not the simple fact that an awful thing has been done.
2) The blank check problem. Lots of lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, believe Obama’s draft resolution gives the president too much power. The draft would grant Obama the authority to use armed force “as he determines to be necessary and appropriate” in connection with weapons of mass destruction in Syria, for the purpose of preventing the future use or spread of those weapons, or, more generally, protecting the U.S. and its allies.
For many lawmakers, that’s too broad a mandate. But a significant number of members might reject even a narrowed version of the resolution on the grounds that, once the use of force is authorized, Congress as a practical matter will have little control over how the president exercises it.
3) The nature of the Syrian opposition. Many Republicans will never be convinced the U.S. can come to the aid of good rebels in Syria without also helping bad rebels in Syria. It’s just too complicated, they believe, and there are simply too many bad guys. Why risk aiding al Qaeda or its affiliates? These Republicans remain unconvinced by arguments from fellow GOP lawmakers like John McCain, who point out that in the Libyan operation the U.S. essentially set up a safe area for good rebels in Benghazi. Given what happened later in that Libyan city, the skeptics will remain unconvinced.
4) The lack of confidence in Barack Obama. There’s no doubt the president has been extremely reluctant to take action in Syria. He also showed terrible judgment by painting himself into a corner with his 2012 “red line” comments on chemical weapons. For those reasons, and more, some Republicans will argue that they simply cannot entrust special warmaking powers to a president who they believe is not competent to use them.
5) The “first to die” dilemma. Some Republicans are so war-weary that they would be loathe to authorize any military action in the absence of an actual attack on the United States. When Sen. Rand Paul re-phrased John Kerry’s words from Vietnam – Kerry famously asked, “How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?” which Paul changed to “How do you ask a man to be the first to die for a mistake?” – the senator from Kentucky was signaling that there is virtually no way lawmakers like him will ever support a Syrian initiative.
How many Republicans hold some or all of these beliefs? Quite a few. Perhaps in anticipation of a close vote, a new argument is circulating among pro-interventionists which says that protecting the prerogatives of future presidents is so important that Republicans should support Obama’s Syrian action even if there is no good case for doing so.
Rejecting Obama could permanently weaken the presidency, argues political scientist James Ceaser in an article cited by influential conservative commentator William Kristol. Therefore, Republicans should vote to authorize force “even if they think that the president’s policy will prove ineffective, do no good, waste money, or entail unforeseen risks…even if they think he has gotten the nation into this situation by blunders, fecklessness, arrogance, or naiveté; and…even if, and especially, if they have no confidence in his judgment.”
That will be a very hard sell for Republicans. In the end, many will carefully consider all the evidence and then vote their instincts. And that will mean a vote against Barack Obama.
Sen. Bob Corker: “What is it you’re seeking?”
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “I can’t answer that, what we’re seeking.”
- Senate hearing on the use of force in Syria, Sept. 3
We have a problem. The president proposes attacking Syria, and his top military officer cannot tell you the objective. Does the commander in chief know his own objective? Why, yes. “A shot across the bow,” explained Barack Obama.
Now, a shot across the bow is a warning. Its purpose is to say: Cease and desist, or the next shot will sink you. But Obama has already told the world – and Bashar al-Assad in particular – that there will be no next shot. He has insisted time and again that the operation will be finite and highly limited. Take the shot, kill some fish, go home.
What then is the purpose? Dempsey hasn’t a clue, but Secretary of State John Kerry says it will uphold and proclaim a norm and thus deter future use of chemical weapons. With a few Tomahawk missiles? Hitting sites that, thanks to the administration having leaked the target list, have already been scrubbed of important military assets?
This is risible. If anything, a pinprick from which Assad emerges unscathed would simply enhance his stature and vindicate his conduct.
Deterrence depends entirely on perception, and the perception in the Middle East is universal: Obama wants no part of Syria.
Assad has to go, says Obama, and then lifts not a finger for two years. Obama lays down a “red line,” and then ignores it. Shamed finally by a massive poison gas attack, he sends Kerry to make an impassioned case for righteous and urgent retaliation – and the very next day, Obama undermines everything by declaring an indefinite timeout to seek congressional approval.
This stunning zigzag, following months of hesitation, ambivalence, contradiction and studied delay, left our regional allies shocked and our enemies gleeful. I had strongly advocated going to Congress. But it was inconceivable that, instead of recalling Congress to emergency session, Obama would simply place everything in suspension while Congress finished its Labor Day barbecues and he flew off to Stockholm and St. Petersburg. So much for the fierce urgency of enforcing an international taboo and speaking for the dead children of Damascus.
Here’s how deterrence works in the Middle East. Syria, long committed to the destruction of Israel, has not engaged Israel militarily in 30 years. Why? Because it recognizes Israel as a serious adversary with serious policies.
This year alone, Israel has four times conducted airstrikes in Syria. No Syrian response. How did Israel get away with it? Israel had announced that it would not tolerate Assad acquiring or transferring to Hezbollah advanced weaponry. No grandiloquent speeches by the Israeli foreign minister. No leaked target lists. Indeed, the Israelis didn’t acknowledge the strikes even after they had carried them out. Unlike the American president, they have no interest in basking in perceived toughness. They care only about effect. They care about just one audience – the party to be deterred, namely Assad and his allies.
Assad knows who did it. He didn’t have to see the Israeli prime minister preening about it on world television.
And yet here is Obama, having yet done nothing but hesitate, threaten, retract and wander about the stage, claiming Wednesday in Sweden to be the conscience of the world, upholding not his own red line but the world’s. And, incidentally, Congress’s – a transparent attempt at offloading responsibility.
What should Congress do?
To his dovish base, Obama insists on how limited and militarily marginal the strike will be. To undecided hawks such as Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who are prepared to support a policy that would really alter the course of the civil war, he vaguely promises the opposite – to degrade Assad’s military while upgrading that of the resistance.
Problem is, Obama promised U.S. weaponry three months ago and not a rifle has arrived. This time around, what seems in the making is a mere pinprick, designed to be, one U.S. official told the Los Angeles Times, “just muscular enough not to get mocked.”
That’s why Dempsey is so glum. That’s why U.S. allies are so stunned. There’s no strategy, no purpose here other than helping Obama escape self-inflicted humiliation.
This is deeply unserious. Unless Obama can show the country that his don’t-mock-me airstrike is, in fact, part of a serious strategic plan, Congress should vote no.
John McCain changed the administration’s authorization resolution to include, mirabile dictu, a U.S. strategy in Syria: to alter the military equation (against Assad). Unfortunately, Obama is not known for being bound by what Congress passes (see, for example: health care, employer mandate).
When Obama tells the nation what he told McCain and Lindsey Graham in private – that he plans to degrade Assad’s forces, upgrade the resistance and alter the balance of forces – Congress might well consider authorizing the use of force. But until then, it’s no.
I see the Obama “reset” is going so swimmingly that the president is now threatening to go to war against a dictator who gassed his own people. Don’t worry, this isn’t anything like the dictator who gassed his own people that the discredited warmonger Bush spent 2002 and early 2003 staggering ever more punchily around the country inveighing against. The 2003 dictator who gassed his own people was the leader of the Baath Party of Iraq. The 2013 dictator who gassed his own people is the leader of the Baath Party of Syria. Whole other ball of wax. The administration’s ingenious plan is to lose this war in far less time than we usually take. In the unimprovable formulation of an unnamed official speaking to the Los Angeles Times, the White House is carefully calibrating a military action “just muscular enough not to get mocked.”
That would make a great caption for a Vanity Fair photo shoot of Obama gamboling in the surf at Martha’s Vineyard, but as a military strategy it’s not exactly Alexander the Great or the Duke of Wellington. And it’s trickier than it sounds: I’m sure Miley’s choreographer assured her she was “just muscular enough not to get mocked,” and one wouldn’t want to see the United States reduced to twerking arrhythmically to no avail in front of an unimpressed Bashar Assad’s Robin Thicke. Okay, okay, that metaphor’s as thinly stretched as Miley’s talent, so what does unmockable musculature boil down to? From the New York Times: “A wide range of officials characterize the action under consideration as ‘limited,’ perhaps lasting no more than a day or two.”
Yeah, I know, that’s what Edward III said about the Hundred Years’ War. But Obama seems to mean it:
An American official said that the initial target lists included fewer than 50 sites, including air bases where Syria’s Russian-made attack helicopters are. The list includes command and control centers as well as a variety of conventional military targets. Perhaps two to three missiles would be aimed at each site.
Got that? So, if you’re a Syrian air-base commander, you might want to think about moving those Russian helicopters, or at least yourself – perhaps to that black-eyed cutie’s apartment, above the restaurant where the kibbeh with the pomegranate sauce is to die for, just for the night, until the Great Satan has twerked his ordnance at you twice or thrice and gone away to threaten the Yemenis or Somalis or whoever’s next.
In the world’s most legalistic culture, it was perhaps inevitable that battle plans would eventually be treated under courtroom discovery rules and have to be disclosed to the other side in your pre-war statement. But in this case it doesn’t seem to be impressing anyone. Like his patrons in Tehran and Moscow, Assad’s reaction to American threats is to double up with laughter and say, “Bring it, twerkypants.” Headline from Friday’s Guardian in London: “Syria: ‘Napalm’ Bomb Dropped on School Playground, BBC Claims” – which, if true, suggests that even a blood-soaked mass murderer is not without a sense of humor. Napalm, eh? There’s a word I haven’t heard since, oh, 40 years ago or thereabouts, somewhere in the general vicinity of southeast Asia.
The BBC footage is grisly; the British media have been far more invested in the Syrian civil war than their U.S. colleagues. But what’s the net effect of all the harrowing human-interest stories? This week, David Cameron recalled Parliament from its summer recess to permit the people’s representatives to express their support for the impending attack. Instead, for the first time since the British defeat at Yorktown in 1782, the House of Commons voted to deny Her Majesty’s Government the use of force. Under the Obama “reset,” even the Coalition of the Willing is unwilling. “It’s clear to me that the British Parliament and the British people do not wish to see military action,” said the prime minister. So the Brits are out, and, if he goes at all, Obama will be waging war without even Austin Powers’s Union Jack fig leaf.
“This House will not fight for king and country”? Not exactly. What the British people are sick of, quite reasonably enough, is ineffectual warmongering, whether in the cause of Blairite liberal interventionism or of Bush’s big-power assertiveness. The problem with the American way of war is that, technologically, it can’t lose, but, in every other sense, it can’t win. No one in his right mind wants to get into a tank battle or a naval bombardment with the guys responsible for over 40 percent of the planet’s military expenditures. Which is why these days there aren’t a lot of tank battles. The consummate interventionist Robert Kagan wrote in his recent book that the American military “remains unmatched.” It’s unmatched in the sense that the only guy in town with a tennis racket isn’t going to be playing a lot of tennis matches. But the object of war, in Liddell Hart’s famous distillation, is not to destroy the enemy’s tanks (or Russian helicopters) but his will. And on that front America loses, always. The “unmatched” superpower cannot impose its will on Kabul kleptocrats, Pashtun goatherds, Egyptian generals, or Benghazi militia. There is no reason to believe Syria would be an exception to this rule. America’s inability to win ought to be a burning national question, but it’s not even being asked.
Let us stipulate that many of those war-weary masses are ignorant and myopic. But at a certain level they grasp something that their leaders don’t: For a quarter-century, from Kuwait to Kosovo to Kandahar, the civilized world has gone to war only in order to save or liberate Muslims. The Pentagon is little more than central dispatch for the U.S. military’s Muslim Fast Squad. And what do we have to show for it? Liberating Syria isn’t like liberating the Netherlands: In the Middle East, the enemy of our enemy is also our enemy. Yes, those BBC images of schoolchildren with burning flesh are heart-rending. So we’ll get rid of Assad and install the local branch of al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood or whatever plucky neophyte democrat makes it to the presidential palace first – and then, instead of napalmed schoolyards, there will be, as in Egypt, burning Christian churches and women raped for going uncovered.
So what do we want in Syria? Obama can’t say, other than for him to look muscular without being mocked, like a camp bodybuilder admiring himself in the gym mirror.
Oh, well. If the British won’t be along for the ride, the French are apparently still in. What was the old gag from a decade ago during those interminable U.N. resolutions with Chirac saying “Non!” every time? Ah, yes: “Going to war without the French is like going hunting without an accordion.” Oddly enough, the worst setback for the Islamic imperialists in recent years has been President Hollande’s intervention in Mali, where, unlike the money-no-object Pentagon, the French troops had such undernourished supply lines that they had to hitch a ride to the war on C-17 transports from the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force. And yet they won – insofar as anyone ever really wins on that benighted sod.
Meanwhile, the hyperpower is going to war because Obama wandered off prompter and accidentally made a threat. So he has to make good on it, or America will lose its credibility. But he only wants to make good on it in a perfunctory and ineffectual way. So America will lose its credibility anyway.
Maybe it’s time to learn the accordion…
Barack Obama knows that America’s military is a big stick, but unfortunately Roosevelt’s advice about speaking softly doesn’t seem to have stuck. Because Barack Obama recklessly shot off his mouth about a “red line” in Syria, he’s demanding that our nation insert itself into a civil war between terrorist groups, both of which have chemical weapons, to protect his ego. Happily, the American people recognize what a foolish move this would be. A Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that only 9% of Americans currently support bombing Syria. This is why Barack Obama has punted his Syrian War to Congress. He’s hoping that it’ll be foolish enough to vote in favor of war to give him the political cover he needs to bomb. Not only should Congress vote against the war in Syria, if Obama bombs that country anyway, Congress should immediately cut off funds for the war and move to impeach him. Why?
1) We don’t have a son-of-a-b*tch in Syria. During the Cold War, America used to semi-regularly ally itself with some rather unsavory leaders and groups. The oft repeated rationale for supporting a dictator in those days was, “He may be a son-of-a-b*tch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch.” In other words, both sides are bad guys, but this bad guy would work with us instead of the Soviets. In this case, we don’t have a dog in the fight. It’s a civil war between two groups that both despise us and will continue to hate us. Why risk American blood and treasure for people who will hate our guts no matter what we do?
2) Why act as Al-Qaeda’s Air Force? Barack Obama is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even he should know that Al-Qaeda attacked America on 9/11. Well now, Bin Laden’s boys are teamed up with the rebels that are fighting Bashar al-Assad. We just spent a decade killing as many members of Al-Qaeda as humanly possible in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan; so how much sense does it make for Barack Obama to help Al-Qaeda take over Syria by bombing Bashar al-Assad? Bashar al-Assad may be our enemy, but we should be thrilled he’s killing Al-Qaeda and getting more of his terrorist pals in Hezbollah offed in the process.
3) What makes anyone think Obama can pull this off with no repercussions? What is there in Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House that makes anyone think he’s likely to handle this well? The fact that he didn’t kill a drone program George W. Bush set up? Because he was too distracted playing cards with Reggie Love to screw up killing Osama Bin Laden? Bush essentially won Iraq and Obama screwed up pulling out of that country and has put a hard-earned victory at risk. He’s also on track to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Afghanistan. His incompetence got Americans killed in Benghazi, Libya. In Egypt, Obama helped get rid of a relatively friendly dictator in favor of anti-American, pro-terrorist theocrats who lasted just over a year before they were thrown out of power by an Egyptian public that seems to hate Obama almost as much as the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet, we now think Obama is going to insert himself into a terrorist-heavy civil war in the Middle East without creating as many problems as he solves? That’s like emptying a box of live spiders in a teenage girl’s slumber party and not expecting any screaming.
4) It invites retaliation from Iran and Hezbollah. Many conservatives believe that if we have a choice between bombing Iran or letting it acquire nuclear weapons, we’d be better off to bomb Iran. However, that is supposed to be a last resort after every other measure has failed. Given that Iran and Hezbollah are actively supporting Bashar al-Assad, bombing him means actively opposing both of them in a war. Could they retaliate against us with terrorist attacks? That’s certainly possible. Will they go after Israel to get at us? That’s highly likely. Will Israel respond to those attacks? Yes, Israel will. Could this set off a larger regional war? Again, that’s certainly possible. While Iran and Hezbollah have much more to fear from us than we do from them, you don’t walk up and kick a bee hive just because President Prissy Pants has worked himself into a huff.
5) It’s not in our national interest to bomb Syria. Costly though it may have been, it was in our national interest to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan over 9/11 and to target an aggressive enemy of America like Saddam Hussein in Iraq. That being said, had we known in advance how long our troops would be stuck in Iraq, it’s highly doubtful that we would have ever invaded. On the other hand, what’s the rationale for bombing the side that’s fighting Al-Qaeda in Syria? Both sides hate America. Both sides cooperate with terrorists. If anything, since Al-Qaeda is determined to kill Americans and Assad is not, the current dictator in charge is probably the lesser of two evils. Moreover, encouraging other nations to join us in imposing harsh sanctions on Syria would be just as effective as bombing when it comes to discouraging the use of WMDs without being as provocative. So, what argument is left? Are we supposed to bomb Syria to avoid looking “weak?” Well, if people have that impression, they can ask Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, and Anwar al-Awlaki what they think about that if they’re willing to search through the bowels of hell long enough to find them.