Nations go to war for all sorts of reasons. Some righteous, some profoundly silly. In 1731, a British brig commanded by a Robert Jenkins was boarded by a Spanish garda costa lugger off the coast of Spanish Florida. The Spanish naval officer accused Jenkins of smuggling and cut off his ear and told him he’d do the same to George II if he caught him smuggling. Parliament was not amused and declared war giving us the War of Jenkins Ear. What we are looking at today is a war that is nothing more than the War of Obama’s Ego.
From all reports we are on the cusp of intervening in Syria’s civil war. According to various reports that we may be within hours or days of a multi-day strike against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:
Western powers have told the Syrian opposition to expect a strike against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces within days, according to sources who attended a meeting between envoys and the Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul.
“The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva,” one of the sources who was at the meeting on Monday told Reuters.
This is an action we should not be taking. It is not in our national interests. So how did we get here? Amateur hour leadership by Obama.
About a year ago, August 12, 2012, Obama made the following statement:
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized, that would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
This is the kind of slipshod, semi-literate pronouncement that has become the hallmark of this administration’s foreign policy. A line is drawn but the line is nebulous. At a time when clarity of communications is paramount, especially given the notorious propensity of Obama towards vacillation, the administration may very well have convinced Assad that he could use chemical weapons without significant repercussions.
In an interview during a diplomatic trip to South Korea, Sen. John McCain—one of the administration’s fiercest critics on Syria policy—said that recent statements by Dempsey signaled to Assad that he could escalate his use of chemical weapons against his own population without significant international consequences.
“General Dempsey has to be embarrassed,” McCain said about Dempsey’s letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Elliott Engel (D-NY) on August 19, in which Dempsey said the U.S. should not intervene militarily in Syria and that even destroying Assad’s air force was not a good idea.
“It would not be militarily decisive, but it would commit us decisively to the conflict,” wrote Dempsey, the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S. “Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides…We should evaluate the effectiveness of limited military options in this context.”
The only reason that we have been forced into this position is the completely feckless stewardship of American foreign policy under Obama. The world has seen Obama toss away a hard fought military win in Iraq. By failing to negotiate a status of forces agreement he has enabled the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq and forced the Iraqi government to cozy up to Iran for protection. His ham-handed treatment of Afghanistan President Karzai and undone the hard work under Generals Petraeus and McChrystal. The North Koreans and Iranians continue to pursue nuclear weapons. Libya was delivered into the hands of al Qaeda and our diplomatic mission there slaughtered. Egypt was delivered to Obama’s preferred Middle East partner, the Muslim Brotherhood, and only the realism of the Egyptian army has saved Obama from himself.
By drawing a “red line” at chemical weapons usage in Syria (he hasn’t drawn a red line at cannibalism or the massacre of prisoners by the people he wants to support) he is forced to do something to keep the world from laughing out loud at his silliness rather than just laughing in their sleeves.
It will take decades for American prestige abroad to return to what it was on the eve of Obama’s inauguration.