So, I have spent much of the last two weeks contemplating the logic of war, what should determine if we send troops into the field and kill and destroy people of a far off land. I think, and I hope, I took a fair look at the decision-making involved. You can see my prior posts here.
That said, where does that leave us?
I believe wholeheartedly that Barack Obama made the right decision in 2012 when he refused to get involved directly in the Syrian Civil War. None of the arguments I have heard, to this day, make me believe that anything we could have done would have dramatically altered the landscape in such a way to benefit us in any significant way.
That doesn’t mean we couldn’t have had an effect.
First and foremost, we could have pushed a diplomatic solution long ago. Yes, it would have required agreement by Russia and China…but isn’t that what diplomacy is always about? And don’t tell me it was impossible. Today, with the deal the Syrians are making with the Russians, we are seeing how impossible such a path was. Simply put, our diplomatic forces failed miserably.
Additionally, if we wished it, we quite easily could have pushed Assad out of power. But to what end? To allow a host of rebel groups, most of whom are to one degree or another Islamists, and many who have direct ties to terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, to take control of a key piece of real estate in the Middle East? There was no western-style democracy to be had in Damascus. Every alternative was a bad one.
Then, for reason unknown to this day, President Obama drew his now infamous ‘red line’. This may go down in history as one of the most inept Presidential statements ever. In one single sentence, Mr. Obama placed the credibility of the U.S.A., not to mention the credibility of his own Presidency, on the line if Assad or the rebels ever decided to use their chemical weapons stockpiles.
Imagine: placing the credibility of the greatest nation on earth on the decision-making of dictators and Islamists groups, who would happily die for the greater good that they envision.
That was madness.
Everything that has occurred on this side of the pond since has largely occurred because Mr. Obama said something extremely stupid in that press conference.
To compound this initial mistake, which could have been corrected by an apology, Obama then went on to double down, as he built a case for war against Syria.
At this point, he has laid this mess on the laps of Congress, because frankly, he had no where else to go. He couldn’t go to the public, because they are about 90:10 against the concept; heck, his own wife is not on board. He couldn’t go to the United Nations, because his leverage there may be less than mine. He tried to go to America’s great backup plan, the United Kingdom, and David Cameron failed in epic proportions to muster the votes needed for military action.
Now, Obama stands alone. And honestly, this is unique in his entire political career. Obama has always made sure he had political cover for every decision he has ever made. That is one reason he has tried to go back to Congress; he believes that their support may give him the cover he needs to take the country to war again.
So, the question remains: what should Congress do? This is a terrible decision all around. First and foremost, the President already had the power to attack Syria under the War Powers Act. I wholly believe this, although I have made much hay about Obama’s hypocrisy on the subject (he openly opposed those same powers when George W. Bush was in office).
If Congress blocks military action, the President and the country will be further diminished in the eyes of the world. If they vote for military action, Obama could take the country on another unnecessary and possibly dangerous adventure in the Middle East…and we all know how well those have gone in the past.
In other words…damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
In a last-minute brilliant move by Vladimir Putin (brilliant for him; not so good for the United States), Putin offered a roadmap to peace. He would allow the Syrians to give up their chemical weapons, in exchange from protection from military attacks from the West.
This is, of course, ridiculous policy after the past few weeks. First and foremost, Assad has been accused of wars against humanity. So all he has to do is give up the weapons for which he is accused of those crimes? It is like allowing a murder to walk following a shooting, if only he hands over his gun.
It should be interesting how Democrats play this. For the last several weeks, Obama supporters like John Kerry and Harry Reid have made the case that Assad is the modern Hitler. So now, if we allow Assad to stay in power…the natural progression of their logic is Barack Obama is the modern Neville Chamberlain.
Secondly, we all know this is a delay tactic. Much like Saddam Hussein, time is on the side of the tyrant. The longer he survives, the more time he has to wipe out his enemies, in what ever manner possible. Furthermore, if you see news reports in the German press, there is an open question to whether Assad ever was inclined to use chemical weapons in the first place. This raises the question: is he even in control of his weapons? And if he isn’t, that means that he benefits from any steps the international community takes, by allowing him to consolidate his power.
Furthermore, the reality is Assad will never give up his chemical weapons. Not really. Even if he gave up every ounce of weapons he has today, he will forever have the capability to make more. Chemical weapons are a low-cost entry in to the world of weapons of mass destruction. He may talk about eliminating his stockpile; he may even let inspectors come and look at his weapons depots. But the possibility of him handing over his trump card, including potential capabilities to produce future weapons, is next to nil.
So, the joke is on us if we even consider this proposal for a nanosecond.
On September 10th, the President plans to talk to the American people. I have no idea what he plans to say. At this point, I almost don’t care. The last few weeks of foreign policy from this administration has been a comedy of errors, and sadly, none of it is funny. As they have made their case for war, their support for war among the public has dramatically dropped; as much as 20% in a recent poll over the past week. In other words, the more Obama makes his case, the more people are opposed to it. So what difference will a Presidential primetime speech make? Likely, none at all.
So, Congress is likely to shoot down Obama’s war proposal; possibly even the Senate. That will be one of the loudest votes of no confidence in an American President in modern times. The decision-making will then shift to the Kremlin, where Putin has outplayed Obama, and he now holds all the cards. And where Obama goes from there, nobody knows. But America will be weaker off for it.