Monday, September 02, 2013

To vote for bombing Syria

Now all those politicians who were criticizing Obama for moving unilaterally on Syria without the imprimatur of a Congressional resolution have to decide whether or not to support the administration plan to send missiles into Syria. This vote should be upon the merits of the proposal, not a partisan vote to either support a president of one's own party or to oppose a president of the other party. Let's hope that is how our representatives are approaching the vote. Such votes are usually not whipped and that is how it should be.

It's a really tough call. I've been divided on how I would vote. We need to stop leaders from using chemical weapons on their own people, but I don't really accept that killing a thousand people with chemical weapons is so much worse than killing a hundred thousand with conventional attacks.

The rest of the question is whether what the President plans to do will accomplish anything or would just be a pinprick to uphold Obama's warning of crossing a red line but wouldn't actually do anything. Then we have to worry about the message we have just given Iran about whether the international community has any will to stop them in their plans for nuclear weapons. I think we've been sending a message for a decade that the answer to that is a resounding "no." And no missiles sent into Syria would change that message. We haven't done anything to them for all the support they gave to those killing American troops in Iraq. And we know that Iran is supporting Syria.

If I were in Congress, I would have to be assured that the goal in attacking would be more than a token show of force to give Obama's red-line statements a little force without actually doing anything more. Otherwise, what is the point? If all Obama is proposing is a pusillanimous "shot across the bow," I would vote against the resolution. However, if he really plans to seriously degrade Assad's military ability to wage war against the rebels, specifically those rebels which are not allied with al Qaeda, I would vote for the resolution. However, those are big "ifs" and it may well not be possible to give such assurances. In that case, I would doubt that any missile attack would accomplish any of our strategic goals.

One thing is sure is that, by deciding to go to Congress for approval of attacking Syria, Obama has weakened his usual position on executive authority to conduct military policy.

The Senate is already planning to scale back the resolution that the administration has put forth.
It took less than 24 hours for lawmakers to realize that the draft authorization for the use of military force sent to Congress by President Barack Obama would open the door to a prolonged war with Syria.

That’s not something that Obama or top administration have been publicly pushing for — all indications are that the plan is for targeted action to deter the regime of Bashar al-Assad from further use of chemical weapons. But, as became clear on Capitol Hill on Sunday, Congress has no appetite for the broader mandate that the White House technically proposed.
How typical that the written resolution was much broader than what Obama the "limited, narrow" action Obama was talking about publicly. And the result of going to Congress is that Obama has laid his effort open to this sort of interference.

David Rothkopf writes in Foreign Policy that one of the major consequences of Obama's decision to go to Congress has "just dialed back the power of his own office."
The president's own action in Libya was undertaken without such approval. So, too, was his expansion of America's drone and cyber programs. Will future offensive actions require Congress to weigh in? How will Congress react if the president tries to pick and choose when this precedent should be applied? At best, the door is open to further acrimony. At worst, the paralysis of the U.S. Congress that has given us the current budget crisis and almost no meaningful recent legislation will soon be coming to a foreign policy decision near you. Consider that John Boehner was instantly more clear about setting the timing for any potential action against Syria with his statement that Congress will not reconvene before its scheduled September 9 return to Washington than anyone in the administration has been thus far.

Perhaps more importantly, what will future Congresses expect of future presidents? If Obama abides by this new approach for the next three years, will his successors lack the ability to act quickly and on their own? While past presidents have no doubt abused their War Powers authority to take action and ask for congressional approval within 60 days, we live in a volatile world; sometimes security requires swift action. The president still legally has that right, but Obama's decision may have done more -- for better or worse -- to dial back the imperial presidency than anything his predecessors or Congress have done for decades.
Of course, there is no definite reason to believe that future president will be bound by this precedent rather than other precedents of presidents proceeding without congressional approval. I do know that discussions with my students in my AP Government class of presidential power in foreign and military policy will have to be updated for this year.

Of course, the irony of the President and Secretary Kerry's positions reversing their own statements about what should be done in such situations is too delicious to ignore. Rand Paul was able to turn around Kerry's words on Vietnam against him by asking how we could ask American troops to die for a mistake. Of course, Obama is not planning to put any troops on the ground. For now. But there were other reasons to feel almost sorry for the position John Kerry was put in on the Sunday shows. As Charlie Martin notes,
It took some real talent for Obama to make me feel bad for Kerry. Kerry is a generally reprehensible person, but in this episode he had to:
explain why Obama was right to delay the action he clearly called for yesterday
lie straight-faced (“a horse walked into a bar…”) to claim that the Cabinet had been consulted before Obama changed tacks, when Chris Wallace was quoting the White House that the Cabinet hadn’t been consulted
as well as generally supporting the Presidential power that he and Obama ran against in their campaigns.

Just remember, at these prices, we call them escorts.
Ooh. Slash.

Remember when John Kerry was all impressed with Bashar Assad and called him "my dear friend." And as Nancy Pelosi tries to rally Democrats to vote for the resolution, let's remember Pelosi's visit to Assad. Bot the Kerry and Pelosi visits provided ample propaganda value to Assad.

And Obama has had to reverse everything he has ever said about American military force. Victor Davis Hanson writes,
One of the problems that Barack Obama has in mounting an attack against the Assad regime is that the gambit violates every argument Barack Obama used against the Bush administration to establish his own anti-war candidacy.

The hypocrisy is so stunning that it infuriates his critics and stuns his supporters.

Deriding the Iraq war was Obama’s signature selling point. He used it to great effect against both Hillary Clinton (who voted for the war) in the Democratic primaries and John McCain in the general election. For the last five years, disparagement of “Iraq” and “Bush” has seemed to intrude into almost every sentence the president utters.

And now? His sudden pro-war stance makes a number of hypocritical assumptions. First, the U.S. president can attack a sovereign nation without authorization from Congress (unlike the Iraq war when George W. Bush obtained authorization from both houses of Congress). Even if Obama gets a no vote, he said that he reserves the right to strike.

Second, Obama assumes that the U.S. must go it alone and attack unilaterally (unlike the coalition of the willing of some 40 nations that joined us in Iraq).

Third, it is unnecessary even to approach the UN (unlike Iraq when the Bush administration desperately sought UN support).

Fourth, the U.S. president must make a judgment call on the likelihood of WMD use, which is grounds ipso facto to go to war (unlike Iraq when the vast majority of the 23 congressionally authorized writs had nothing to do with WMD [e.g., genocide of the Marsh Arabs and Kurds, bounties to suicide bombers, harboring of international terrorists, violations of UN agreements, attempts to kill a former U.S. president, etc.]).
Hanson goes on to use Obama's own words to indict Obama's actions today.

While pointing out Obama's hypocrisy is always entertaining, his actions in Syria or rather his lack of action up to now is really what should be indicted. He missed his opportunity to be more influential in overturning Assad and helping those rebel forces which are not allied with al Qaeda by staying out of the conflict in the early days. Obama promised to send arms to the rebels and still hasn't done so. He made this red-line statement without seemingly any real thought or preparation for what to do if Assad crossed that line. His decision to go to Congress seems to have been a last-minute decision. And somehow, making that statement in the Rose Garden and then leaving in a motorcade to play golf doesn't send the right signal. Couldn't he have spent the afternoon on the phone with Congressmen rather than on the golf course? And what does it mean to say that he has the authority to attack Syria but is seeking authorization before he does so?

As Fred Hof writes, the administration has displays "a mystifying lack of US preparedness."
The events of the past ten days suggest that there was no administration forethought to the possibility of a major chemical incident in Syria; there was no plan in place to respond to a major chemical attack by a regime that had already demonstrated its deep and abiding contempt for the president and his red lines. The results of this mystifying lack of preparedness have been abysmal. Secretary of State John Kerry responded quickly with a very convincing replica of presidential leadership, making a strong case for the inadmissibility of the regime’s action and the crying need for a strong American and Western response. Over the next few days Kerry’s clarity was blurred repeatedly by statements emanating from the White House and Pentagon. What effect this uncertain trumpet may have had on the shocking, disgraceful, yet understandable vote in Britain’s parliament is not known, but the spectacle of the secretary of state making the case while other senior officials temporized and agonized is not one to which historians will assign high grades in the annals of presidential leadership.

Indeed, presidential uncertainty and talk of a loud but meaningless “shot across the bow” of the Assad regime no doubt leads some to believe that his call for a vote in Congress is less a bow to American constitutionality than a further attempt to kick the can down the road. This is why the president should have been prepared from the outset to make clear his desire to seek congressional approval. There is not a thing wrong with his official desire to act constitutionally, or his political desire to have a broad array of domestic accomplices. Yet the conclusion that he is motivated by skepticism and even disbelief in the endeavor itself, even if it is a patently unfair finding, is impossible to dismiss out of hand given his behavior over the past ten days and his approach to Syria over the past two years. It is a conclusion that, if permitted to grow roots, can have a corrosive effect on American credibility around the world. It is a conclusion whose dismissal is not facilitated by the president’s decision not to call the Congress into special session immediately.
Peter Wehner summarizes all the mistakes that Obama has made regarding Syria.
The list of mistakes by Mr. Obama includes, but is by no means limited to, declaring two years ago that Assad must go (and doing nothing to achieve that end); declaring one year ago that if Syria used chemical weapons it would be crossing a “red line” that would constitute a “game changer” (Assad crossed the “red line,” for months nothing happened, and whatever Obama does, he’s made it clear it will not constitute a “game changer”); signaling to our enemies, in advance, the details of our expected operation–thereby making a strike, if it occurs, the most telegraphed and reluctant military action in American history; doing a miserable job building a coalition to support a military strike (Obama’s “coalition of the willing” might include all of two nations); doing a miserable job building support among the American people (they are decidedly unenthusiastic about a military intervention in Syria); and signaling he was going to bypass congressional authorization for military use of force before reversing course and declaring on Saturday that he would seek authorization–but only after Congress returns from its summer recess (thereby sending the message to Congress, the American public, and the world that there’s no real urgency to a strike, despite the secretary of state saying that what Syria has done is “morally obscene”). This is Keystone Cops material. 

We can rehearse all these mistakes, but now Obama has asked Congressmen to vote and they will need to step back from the politics and make a decision on the basis of what is best for the United States based on the intelligence we now have. As Wehner writes,
So what is the best outcome we can reasonable hope for? What is the worst outcome we should be most prepared for? What are the odds of each one happening? How likely, and in what ways, will Syria retaliate? How reliable is the FSA? Is Jabhat al-Nusra (an al-Qaeda affiliate) “generally acknowledged to be the most effective force fighting al-Assad,” in the words of CNN’s Peter Bergen? If the (relatively) moderate rebels did receive the aid they need, what are their chances of success? And what would success look like? Taking control of Syria (which is hardly likely)? Taking control of parts of Syria? Participating in a coalition government? Comprised of whom?

These are just some of the difficult, and largely unknowable, questions one has to ask prior to endorsing a military strike.

There would be a significant cost to doing nothing in Syria. There could be significant benefits if we act militarily (including delivering a damaging blow to Syria’s sponsor states, Iran and Russia, as well as to Hezbollah). And it’s also possible that things could be worse–from the standpoint of America, Israel and the region–if Assad is attacked and/or overthrown and jihadists emerge in a dominant position. “The hard truth is that the fires in Syria will blaze for some time to come,” according to Ambassador Ryan Crocker. “Like a major forest fire, the most we can do is hope to contain it.”
Decisions like this are not easy. The intelligence and predictions of results are never dependable or clear. That seems to be why Obama is proposing such "narrow, limited action," but is not explaining why what he proposes would be anything more than a futile "shot across the bow."

17 comments:

Gahrie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gahrie said...

I think when it comes to WMD, we should adopt the Ryan Doctrine. Instead of responding by declaring a war or otherwise attacking the country involved, which usually accomplishes little besides getting a bunch of clueless soldiers killed, we should target the regime's leadership instead and assassinate those who gave the order to use the WMD.

mark said...

So, we take out Assad. And then?
There may be situations in which that seems a logical option. But Syria?

Last, First, MI said...

Gahrie,

It's never that simple. If you kill Assad, besides eliminating an old friend of John "I was for Assad before I was against him" Kerry and Nancy "You have to bomb Syria to find out what's in it" Pelosi, you still have the chemical capability in the hands of regime internal successors and/or the regime's opponents.

Perhaps the best idea would have been to avoid using a spiffy phrase like "redline" without thinking or perhaps not embracing a creep like Assad in the first place.

Last, First, MI said...

Mark,

He's your guy - you voted for him twice. What do you want him to do?

mark said...

equitus,
Not sure. I hope he does what he feels is morally right, and not what is politically expedient or influenced by his "red-line" mistake.

It's a difficult issue with human suffering at stake. By the glibness of your question and post to Gahrie, it's obvious that you couldn't care what happens as long as you can score political points. You continue to disgrace yourself and your fellow conservatives.

Gahrie said...

Last:

And if the successors continue to use WMD, you take them out.

Otherwise, let them continue to kill each other, and then deal with whoever wins.

Last, First, MI said...

Gahrie,

That's a lot of killing - where does it stop?

I worry that an Assad/Alawite government will lash out at Israel or increase the frequency and magnitude of chemical attacks if we really make an effort to take them down. It is quite possible that they could even deliver biological agents against targets of their choice if they feel that they are cornered and on the ropes.

These activities can be done in ways that make conventional targeting very difficult. Unless we are prepared to flatten entire cities in the pursuit of chemical and bio-weapon stores or their corresponding delivery systems, we won't be able to prevent their use.

Syrian army facilities have already been overrun and looted across the country. If chemical weapons have not been among the captured stores yet, its only a matter of time. If the opposition is victorious, then there will be a wholesale transfer of these weapons to the victors. The same tactics used to protect or deploy them will be just as available to the new owners.

Given that any military action must be undertaken with Israel as a potential "human shield" and/or Russian military elements mixed into the the theater adding further potential for unintended consequences, I'm not sure there is an outcome of any real value to our national interests.

Our best bet is to do what we can to shore up Jordan and to work with the EU to move Turkey back to a rational actor. Right now Turkey is very concerned about Syria and this presents an opportunity to help bring them back into the fold.

Last, First, MI said...

Mark,

What was "glib" about asking what you want Obama to do?

I know you would rather trade insults but we could be having a debate, if you like. I hope he does what is best in the interests of the United States. Granted, that would be a huge departure from past practices but there's always a first time.

The redline comment was a mistake. It's also a huge mistake to undertake military operations in such a manner as to tip the intended target as to the intensity, duration, etc, of the impending operation. We can look at Obama's 2014 withdrawal caveat applied to the watered down surge in Afghanistan for an example. These are things done in consideration of domestic political outcome and while they may achieve the desired results here - with the help of a fawning media - they been a disaster abroad.

This strikes me as a core truth about you and the man you have helped deliver to the White House:

I hope he does what he feels is morally right, and not what is politically expedient....

You really must have bought into that whole "HOPE" thing. You know he won't change. Political expedience is what he has in place of morality or even a sense of responsibility for the people he sends into danger. If that wasn't the case, Obama would not have let our people die in Benghazi without attempting to help, would he?

Gahrie said...

That's a lot of killing - where does it stop?

This sounds callous..but it is not our problem. They have been killing each other in that part of the world, for good reasons and bad, for centuries, and will most likely continue to do so far into the future.

It is quite possible that they could even deliver biological agents against targets of their choice if they feel that they are cornered and on the ropes.


The beauty about the Ryan Doctrine, is that this becomes an intensly personal question for leaders, instead a bit of political calculus.

Unless we are prepared to flatten entire cities in the pursuit of chemical and bio-weapon stores or their corresponding delivery systems, we won't be able to prevent their use.

Which is why you go after the decision makers instead. We kill Assad, and announce that we will also kill any leader in the future who uses WMD.

Last, First, MI said...

Gahrie,

People like Assad and certainly the AQ elements on the ground in Syria will hide amongst civilians - we've watched them do this for decades - which will preclude the use of massed firepower against them. Picking off an individual is difficult particularly when we announce our plans in advance but it's just about impossible to do unless you are willing to kill many, many innocent civilians in the process.

Over the years the term WMD has been expanded to include everything from NBC agents to pressure cookers at marathons. Declaring WMD use as a crime punishable - by the United States - puts an obligation on us that might be difficult to define as well as carry out with the desired results.

Right now our enemies are killing themselves with tragic effect upon many Syrians that would have nothing to do with either side if allowed such an opportunity. Unfortunately we cannot help them. Your point about these people killing themselves is exactly right and it is at this point I would say that our national interest is to stay out of the way and protect our allies in Jordan, Turkey and Israel.

Gahrie said...

Declaring WMD use as a crime punishable - by the United States - puts an obligation on us that might be difficult to define as well as carry out with the desired results.

Perhaps....but we have already done so....decades ago. Furthermore we have stated that we might use WMDs of our own to respond to the use of WMDs.

mark said...

equitus,
Sorry, but your perverse jokes about rapists, pedophiles and people enjoying abortion as a blood-sport make you uniquely unqualified to judge anyone's motivations or morality, let alone "having a debate".

Last, First, MI said...

Mark,

Run, hide, whine...but don't dare debate me because you are unable and you know it. Trading insults with you has become tedious and a waste of time but I did enjoy, I am sorry to admit, throwing some of your own crap back in your face.

Come here to debate if you like, otherwise you're just the kid in the back of the room craving attention.

Last, First, MI said...

Gahrie,

I wouldn't want to use WMDs against the Syrian population to protect them from Syrian chemical warfare. We've eliminated chemical and biological agents from our inventory so that leaves nukes. I don't think we'd nuke Syria unless they used their bugs or gas against us, do you?

I just don't see any US interest served in enaging in this conflict and maintain that it is in our interest to leave our involvement limited to shoring up our allies.

mark said...

Poor equitus. A legend in your own mind. You forget that the last "debate" you had was fiction:

Last, First, MI - "Why does the left embrace the racist, genocidal policies of Margaret Sanger?"

Mark - "I don't know who David Foster is but I'd have his baby.'

Last, First, MI - "?!"

Mark - "Really? Do you actually expect me to explain why I have no morals when I'd rather give David Foster a tongue bath than make an inept attempt to explain why I am nothing more than a left wing bootlick?"

Last, First,"Well, yes, Mark. I would think that if you feel so strongly about something, you would not hesitate to stand up for your beliefs. You might even want to explain why it is that you think the quaint idea of a nuclear family is outmoded in the face of a state supported single parent model, or even better, a government funded abortion mill alternative."

Mark - "Republicans have launched a war on women!"

Last, First, MI - "Calm down, Mark. Take a breath and tell us why you think the left has ignored the national tragedy of abortion mills and the likes of Kermit Gosnel."

Mark - (Swooning) "David Foster is dreamy."

Last, First, MI said...

Mark,

You cited a good example of the point I made at 5:49. Your unwillingness/inability to debate was duely mocked.

Continue to evade - it just shows you cannot defend Obama's disasterous perfomance in this thread just as you were not willing to take a stand in the thread regarding the left's war on babies.