Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Don't Strike Syria Yet
Watching President Obama's Saturday presser was alike a re-run from Welcome Back Carter. One could imagine our enemies guffawing, our allies wincing as our president tries to walk back his own red line: an ad lib that has elevated the presidential teleprompter to national security lynch-pin.
Obama was right to call for a vote, but not for the reason he called it. The Constitutional Conservatives, in my view, have won the debate about the need for Congress to declare war before the president wages war.
That is not why Obama is seeking a vote; this a grandiose exercise in covering the presidential derriere. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, and regardless of what he does in response to that vote, Obama has positioned himself to blame Congress. One wonders, listening to Obama, whether he believes himself: he interrupts our Labor Day weekend to inform us of an urgent situation that warrants a Congressional vote in ten days or so, not that he needs a vote. Then he hits the links.
The process of Congressional hearings, however, can help us as a nation to understand a situation that mystifies many of us. This may be a function of a press that never had the inclination to scrutinize anything this administrations says. Or it may be that the intelligence is just that incomplete. It is time to find out.
There are many questions about Syria that need to be answered before this country takes any military action -- no matter how limited in scope or duration. The use of chemical weapons to kill women and children -- who can forget those photographs? The images, the acts that resulted in them, were simply monstrous. Yet, as I watch the news coverage, I am unconvinced that the Assad regime gassed these victims. It may well have, but it appears that the rebels have chemical weapons as well. That gives rise to a reasonable doubt as to who is culpable. If we don't know who is responsible for the use of chemicals, we cannot be sure that our use of force would punish the perpetrators.
Then there is the issue of the rebels. Some pundits maintain that the opponents to the Assad regime are "moderates" -- that the al Qaeda types, in contrast, are in the north of Syria (and presumably could not have gassed the women and children). Rebels don't stay still; that's why the situation is -- literally -- fluid.
Who are the good guys in Syria? (Are there any good guys?) Who are the bad guys? It seems to me that there are bad guys on both sides of the Syrian war, and that rather than trying to pick the lesser of two evils, we should wait for now.
Congressional hearings may convince me otherwise. Those hearings need to be thorough and searching. Unless they reveal something new, my preference is that Congress deny the authorization of force at this time. I am unconvinced that America's national security requires a strike now. I am fearful that a strike may harm more civilians. And I fear that a strike will prompt retaliation aimed at Israel, at which point we might find ourselves in the middle of a regional, maybe even global war.
Some argue that American prestige will suffer unless Obama wins this vote. It is too late for that. Vladimir Putin and the rest of the world has taken the full measure of Obama. No Congressional vote can change that.