On Syria: Not At This Time

John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, Martin E. Dempsey

For two years, President George W. Bush made a public case for an invasion of Iraq. He built public support, international support, and congressional support. His administration documented CIA intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein’s personal cheerleading over 9/11, the dictator attempting to assassinate President George H. W. Bush after the President had left office, Al Qaeda’s use of Iraq as a training ground for further attacks on our interests, and then he explained how this all merged into a real and tangible threat to our national security interests. The United States and its allies prosecuted the case before the UN Security Council getting more than 16 resolutions over a decade leading up to Bush’s push.


“This Administration’s foreign and military policies make all the sense of a homeless schizophrenic off his meds running down the Washington Mall.”

Despite his multi-year, multilateral effort to build support, in the aftermath of the war the Democrats called those two years a “rush to war” and attacked the large multilateral effort as nonexistent. In 2004, our present Secretary of State, then a Democratic candidate for President, went out of his way to insult those countries then aiding the effort in Iraq.

If what George W. Bush did was a rush to war with a nonexistent coalition, what the hell is this effort to bomb Syria?

What exactly is the American national security threat of a Syrian civil war, which has pulled in and financially harmed Hezbollah? What exactly is the American national security threat when a regime that hates America is fighting a rebel alliance that hates America and is supported by Al Qaeda?

National Review makes perhaps the most credible case for an attack and it is an intellectually weak case. The Editors, who’ve called for taking out Syria since we invaded Iraq, write, “If we don’t act in this case, after all this windup, Iran and Hezbollah will take note of how little our admonitions to not acquire or use weapons of mass destruction really mean. We can’t know exactly what would come of our self-inflicted humiliation, but it would be nothing good. For that reason, we would vote ‘yes’ on the authorization…”.


The argument National Review makes is a child rearing argument. If one tells one’s child to stop or get a spanking and no spanking comes, the child will act worse. This is not a parent-child situation. This is a situation between sovereign powers and, in the run up to the discussion, we are told by the Administration that launching missiles into another country is not an act of war. One wonders if the Administration would feel the same way if Syria launched missiles into the United States.

“Congress should not authorize blowing up another country just so an unserious President can save face.”

The Wall Street Journal echoes National Review with this conclusion: “The reason to do this and authorize the use of force is not to save this President from embarrassment. It is to rescue American credibility and strategic interests from this most feckless of Presidents.”

To those, including National Review and the Wall Street Journal, who argue that our credibility is on the line and we will no longer be taken seriously unless we act — we have already passed a point at which people stop taking us seriously. Bombing Syria will not suddenly restore credibility.

In fact, there is nothing that suggests this civil war has short term or long term national security implications for the United States. Those implications may be there, but they have not been made. Claiming Iran and Hezbollah “will take note of how little our admonitions … really mean” has no weight in light of a multi-year failed effort to stop Iran from nuclear armament and Hezbollah from continuing its war against everybody else in Lebanon and northern Israel.


This all begs the question: where are the grown ups?

John McCain playing poker on his iPhone during a hearing on Syria is not grown up. Barack Obama flippantly declaring a red line is not a grown up. John Kerry’s refusal to describe the missile strike as an act of war is not the action of a grown up. John Boehner and Eric Cantor seeking to use an act of war as leverage in budget negotiations is not a grown up thing to do.

About the only grown up out there seems to be General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said an operation in Syria would necessitate troops in Syria, but believes, “rebels fighting the Assad regime wouldn’t support American interests if they were to seize power right now.” He can’t even say what we are seeking in Syria. So much for claiming the United States needs to bomb because of our credibility and interests.

We must also revisit the situation in Iraq.

The intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was wrong. We know Iraq had them as, like in Syria, we have seen pictures and interviewed survivors. But by the time we got there, the weapons were no more. The CIA got it wrong. Even assuming the CIA and military got right where to target Syria to make it hurt, the President’s dithering has given Syria time to move and protect its assets.

A strike now is nothing more than the President trying to salvage credibility he dithered away over several years of ignoring Syria to focus on Libya only to see it blow up in his face. Striking now in an act of war the President refuses to call an act of war and making it known that the act is designed to hurt, but not end, the Assad regime, is an effete response only a liberal ninny could come up with. To be sure, Syria would take it as an act of war. In fact, in all the President’s dithering we should not be surprised if Syria has diverted resources to make sure we feel pain. They have certainly had time to do it.


The President could not say why we should engage in Libya, but not Syria. Now he wants us to engage in Syria because of a red line that has been crossed, but would not actually engage when the red line was first crossed. He would not engage when more than 100,000 Syrians had been killed with conventional weapons, but suddenly feels compelled to. And if in Syria, why not North Korea? Why not Iran? On what basis was Libyan assistance appropriate, but not Syrian, and now Syrian assistance is appropriate, but not others?

Nearly 30,000 people have suddenly disappeared in North Korea. Using Libya and Syria as the only real examples of President Obama’s military intervention seem to suggest we should bomb North Korea next. But we will not because they have nuclear weapons. Does that not then give other dictators incentive to hurry up and get nukes so they can’t be spanked by their American parent? Doesn’t this also suggest, if North Korea does have nukes and we are prevented from being World Policeman there, unlike Syria, that American foreign and military policies need serious re-evaluation?

Spreading democracy to the ends of the earth unless relevant countries have nuclear weapons is not a foreign policy for grown ups. It is, however, a catalyst for Pakistan and North Korea to set up shop as nuclear arms traders.

This Administration’s foreign and military policies make all the sense of a homeless schizophrenic off his meds running down the Washington Mall. They make even less sense when coupled with Administration rhetoric on the sequestration making it impossible for the military to do anything with the military. This is John “suspend my campaign and race back to Washington as a show of influence” McCain level un-serious. They call the Ft. Hood shooting “work place violence” instead of “terrorism” and they call an act of war . . . what? Kinetic military action? Words mean things and this Administration has yet to seriously put honest words together to explain what it intends and desires.


The President could possibly make a case that we need to do something in Syria, even with the supposedly dire constraints of sequestration in effect and no otherwise rational, consistent policy. But the case is not made. There may be American national security interests at stake. But the plan as it has been explains suggests there are none other than a President trying to save face. And Congress should not authorize blowing up another country just so an unserious President can save face.


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