This article was originally written while the president was considering action in
syria a month ago.
The Congress is being asked to approve a limited military strike on the Syrian government. The aim appears to be punishment for using chemical weapons against their own citizens. The House Republicans have a unique chance to change the perception of Republicans among younger voters; the House leadership could be the anti-war party which may increase their support in future elections. Will the leadership of the House use this opportunity to stand firmly against this use of power?
What is the purpose of this operation? The administration’s military and foreign policy leadership could not provide a clearly articulated explanation of the Syrian policy. The Secretary of Defense and State gave contradictory views of the Syrian civil war while appearing before Congress. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff could not give expectations or an exit strategy. What is the point of this action?
We participated in military action in Libya to help the rebels overthrow Kaddafi. The result was a government that has not solidified the country under democratic principles. Last year Ambassador Stevens and three aides were killed by terrorists. Our two governments have had cool relations since then. This is not a good outcome.
We supported the overthrow of President Mubarak in Egypt. As a result the Muslim Brotherhood assumed control of the country. They were the forerunner of the terrorist groups which became Al Qaeda. The purging of military leadership loyal to Mubarak threatened them. It is not surprising that they engineered a coup. We supported groups hardly inclined toward American interests.
In the Middle East complex groups are not often allied with Western values. We do not appreciate Islamic values. A 14 century argument between Shiite and Sunni involves the correct line of succession from Mohammed. Americans do not appreciate the depth of religious fervor among those in this region. We grow weary after 10 years of war, while the terrorists have worked for decades to gain an advantage.
Our financial situation is quite poor with a national debt of almost $17 trillion. Warfare is a financial burden that must be critically considered. Along with the social burdens of the welfare system, foreign entanglements have cost many great powers throughout history. At $1.5 million per Tomahawk missile this mission will cost hundreds of millions plus the cost to position the ships and manpower. Is this a wise use of our resources? With the budgetary restraints, will we be able to replenish our stock of weapons?
The administration claimed to have the power to undertake military action without the approval of Congress. Secretary of State Kerry announced the intended action and then was quickly overruled. The President decided to get Congressional approval suddenly. Last year he announced that the Syrians would cross the “red line” if they used chemical weapons. In Europe this week he indicated that the “red line” was set by others. An indefinite policy emboldens enemies.
The overwhelming opinion of Americans is opposed to intervention. In a democratic republic should a President take us to war without the support of the people? His efforts to create a coalition have not been successful as Britain has withdrawn following the parliamentary rejection of Prime Minister Cameron’s proposal. France is a qualified supporter. A coalition of two is far less than the mission in Libya. The President chided Bush when he engaged with Iraq, though his coalition was more robust. Our international support is quite limited also.
Senator McCain states that we should help the moderates in Syria. Undoubtedly, there are such people, but are they the major opposition to Assad? Rebels are being supplied by radical Islamists. Many are allied with Al Qaeda. Iran has supported Assad, but they could easily play both sides for insurance. The Russians support Assad and are tweaking the President.
Most likely Assad has used chemical weapons in the past. Do we know with certainty that the rebels have not used chemical weapons on civilians more recently to draw in outside forces to turn the tide? Assad’s forces have made great strides against the opposition. Most analysts feel that his army is winning. Why would he use chemical weapons at this point? What is he to gain by this action? The rebels have much to gain. Islamists have shown willingness in the past to kill civilians.
Some argue that we must act to send a message to Iran to halt their nuclear ambitions. The international restrictions imposed during the past several years have not stopped the Iranians and this military action will not deter them. A limited military action with limited objectives will hardly shield Israel from the existential threat from Iran. The likely result is that Syrian sympathizers will attack Israel for retribution and as a unifier of Islamist forces.
The policy being negotiated in Congress is to allow an attack for days (not weeks); there would not be any boots on the ground; no regime change is intended; the effort is to punish Assad for using chemical weapons. What about the nearly 100,000 dead civilians killed by conventional weapons? Does it matter how they died? Does this civil war directly threaten us?
The cost of imported oil will certainly increase on the spot market because of the uncertainty created by war. Is there any benefit to our country in paying higher gasoline prices? How will this help our struggling economy? This does coincide with the administration policy of increasing gas prices to lessen use of petroleum products and limit carbon emissions.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost $1trillion and countless lives and wounded American soldiers. Many will question the decisions to go to war in these nations. The results are mixed with the military winding down in Afghanistan. The Iraqi effort ended with a hasty retreat at night. Neither country is a stable ally after all our spilled blood. Why would the Syrian effort result in a better outcome?
The President has yet to articulate a cohesive rationale for intervention in the Syrian civil war. This might benefit the Saudis more than us. Chemical weapons threaten our troops in foreign lands. Terrorists might us such means to damage our homeland. If we are determined to rid the world of such weapons, it would take a more determined effort than the pin-prick being contemplated.
The President has requested the Congress concur with his decision to attack Syria. He wants to share the political fallout should this action have a negative outcome. If they refuse to support his request, then he will blame them for the continued deaths in the Syrian civil war. Assad is a bad actor. However, his opposition may be worse.
Only a few years ago, Secretary of State Clinton called Assad a reformer. Secretary of State Kerry has had good relations with Assad in the past. Mixed messages confuse others, including our enemies. We need a coherent policy before we undertake another war.