For a few days, President Obama almost had us convinced. Not that we should use military force to punish Syria, but that he actually was going to take responsibility for something.
But Saturday’s sudden announcement shocked even those closest to Obama. Instead of just attacking Syria, Obama decided to ask Congress for another “authorization for the use of military force” (AUMF). Which means that, as he has on everything from Obamacare to Benghazi, Obama chose to let someone else take responsibility for his actions.
The case for intervention in Syria’s civil war is mighty thin. Secretary of State Kerry presented an intelligence estimate last week that said our intelligence agencies had “high confidence” that Assad had used chemical weapons on his people. On Sunday, Kerry told MTP’s David Gregory that new information -- from soil tests, hair samples and such -- confirmed the use of Sarin gas on some Syrians.
Kerry said, “So this case is building and this case will build,” leaving the door open, but for what? For more Obama calls for action by someone else. On Saturday, he gave a Rose Garden statement which said, in part, “We should have this debate because the issues are too big for business as usual.” (If you hear a tinny echo in that rhetoric, you should. It’s the same “we can’t wait” tune by which Congress was mesmerized into the stimulus, Obamacare and so many tax and debt ceiling increases.)
When Congress comes back into session (under its leisurely vacation schedule, it’s due back on September 9) the Senate and House will receive some communication from Obama proposing some sort of AUMF version 2.0. They will hold hearings on it, debate it, amend it, and probably pass something approximating it.
The fact that they’ll probably pass something is due to the fact that the Republican “leadership” of national security affairs -- at least the only ones who get media attention -- is comprised of Obama’s most dedicated allies in Congress, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
Making the rounds on all the Sunday talk shows, Kerry rebuffed David Gregory’s characterization of the intel justifying the strike as a “slam dunk.” Kerry said the phrase should be retired from our political lexicon.
The question isn’t whether the intel is right or wrong but whether there’s an American national security interest that will be significantly furthered by such an attack.
When Congress passed the first “AUMF” soon after 9-11, it wasn’t a declaration of war: it was a “to whom it may concern” letter authorizing war on anyone and any nation that had participated in the 9-11 attacks. The debate we had in 2002, while the buildup to the Iraq invasion was going on, wasn’t about a new AUMF or even changes to the year-old one. It was, crucially, about whether Saddam’s WMD posed a real and present danger to the United States.
President Bush and Colin Powell convinced us that they were. Today, President Obama hasn’t even bothered to try to convince us of anything.
What we have, instead, is Vichy Jon Kerry’s statement that it’s our responsibility to punish Assad. The only substitute for a presidential justification for war was Kerry’s Sunday statement that, “I can’t contemplate that the Congress would turn its back on all of that responsibility and the fact that we would have in fact granted impunity to a ruthless dictator to continue to gas his people.”
Kerry must have meant to say “immunity,” but whether or not he did, just what responsibility is he talking about?
To Obama we have a duty to punish Syria that arises not from an American national security interest in the Syrian civil war but from some moral calculation that floats above national concerns. He wants a “shot across the bow” for Assad to warn him that if he continued to gas his people we’d do something else. Or not.
But a shot across the bow -- whether you’re Captain Teach or Obama -- is meant to miss the target. Obama has said as much, denying any intent to overthrow Assad or even damage his regime significantly. He’s made no threat that America would remove Assad if he crosses Obama’s “red line” again, or any number of times. If the warning shot only threatens another one that will miss the target again, what’s the point?
It’s pointless to even overthrow Assad. Russia is building billions of dollars in ports around Syria. Iran, which is in an effective terrorist partnership with Syria, has hundreds (or maybe thousands) of terrorist Al Quds Force troops there. Those two Assad allies will ensure that any replacement for Assad will be as bad or worse. Again, what’s the point?
There is none. A limited military strike -- even repeated strikes such as Obama proposes - cannot cause an outcome beneficial to the United States. Given those facts on the ground, there is no other possible result, and Congress should enthusiastically turn down Obama’s request for AUMF 2.0.
The Obama/Kerry justification for action against Syria is nothing more than the old liberal nostrum, “responsibility to protect.” Under R2P, the United States -- in the absence of any national security threat to it -- shoulders the responsibility to protect other nations’ civilians from their government’s depredations. Obama has tried to evolve that into another R2P, “a responsibility to punish.”
America, according to Obama, seeks only to repaint the “red line” Obama naively drew when last year he told Assad that if Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, it would change the “calculus” of Obama’s thinking.
Assad obviously believed that Obama couldn’t handle simple arithmetic far less calculus so he used chemical weapons, probably repeatedly, and cared not at all about what Obama would do. So by punishing Assad’s regime with an attack using dozens of cruise missiles, Obama thinks he can repaint the red line and prevent the future use of chemical weapons by Assad.
The problem with Obama’s rendition of the “responsibility to punish,” née protect, is that it fails to differentiate between those peoples and nations in which we have a national security interest and those we don’t. Syrian sponsorship of terrorism is so obvious even the State Department recognizes it. So it’s one thing to say that we have a responsibility to protect the Israelis or the Brits, but to extend that to the Syrians is tantamount to extending it to the North Koreans.
R2P, under Obama’s formulation or any other, has nothing to do with U.S. national security.
The only reason for America to use its military power is to respond to or prevent an attack on us or our allies. To state the obvious, we have no duty to protect Syrians or residents of any nation that isn’t a real ally such as Israel (and to the exclusion of almost everyone else).
May Obama have the same luck as British Prime Minister David Cameron, who -- submitting a war resolution to Parliament last week -- became the first Brit PM to be turned down since 1782.