Congress should say ‘No’ to intervention in Syria

On Monday, Congress will take up President Barack Obama’s request for a resolution authorizing the use of U.S. military force in Syria. Although substantial opposition exists from members of both parties, the fact the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 Wednesday to support a limited version of the president’s resolution gives the proposal some momentum.

We hope the opposition holds strong, the resolution is rejected and the president respects the views of Congress. Looking at all of the foreseeable outcomes (and we freely admit we can’t predict all of them), we don’t see how sending cruise missiles into Syria, or perhaps U.S. bombers, serves U.S. interests or even helps the beleaguered residents of Syria.

In the early 1980s, then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger laid out six conditions he said should be present before the United States chooses to use force in any foreign policy dispute. Those conditions became known as the Weinberger Doctrine, and, while we haven’t always adhered to them, they should be considered now. Those conditions, and our analysis of them with respect to Syria, follow:

1. Vital national interests must be involved.

Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have so far failed to make this case. It is a moral imperative, they say, because of what Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is doing to his own people. But we didn’t invade Rwanda to prevent genocide in that country, and we have engaged in no military actions against North Korea for more than 60 years, even though what the North Korean leaders have done to their people is patently immoral.

Beyond that, the president argues that, not just our credibility is at stake, but that of the entire world, if we don’t respond to Assad’s use of chemical weapons. But will we, or the world, really appear more credible — will our allies or enemies respect us more — if we send a few cruise missiles from ships several hundred miles away aimed at a few specific targets in Syria? Will Assad’s regime be intimidated by such action? What if more civilians are killed by our missiles?

2. It is paramount that the war be fought with the intention of winning.

What would “winning” mean in this case? Would we be victorious if we did no more than make a noisy point, with cruise missiles or bombs, about Assad’s use of chemical weapons? We would not be removing him from power or even safeguarding the Syrian people from all the other means of killing Assad has at his disposal.

3. Clear definition of the military and political objectives must be laid out.

See points 1 and 2, above. Our objectives have not been cogently laid out, even to the satisfaction of most members of Congress in both parties.

4. Use of force must be continuously monitored and reassessed.

That sounds easy enough, but what happens if Iran, Hezbollah or Russia or the Syrian opposition responds in a manner we failed to anticipate? That certainly occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have monitored and reassessed with little success, except for the 2007 surge in Iraq.

5. Public support for a sustained conflict must be highly likely.

Polls show that is definitely not the case for possible intervention in Syria.

6. Force should be used only as a last resort, when all other diplomatic and private options have been employed and failed.

We’ll grant that most diplomatic efforts regarding Syria have been abject failures, but it’s far from clear we’re down to the last resort. Until a few weeks ago, there were still efforts at holding a meeting in a neutral country to negotiate a peaceful settlement.

There are other issues, such as questions about whether the Obama administration has been entirely accurate in its representations of the number of deaths from the chemical attack. The same is true for Kerry’s claim that secular, pro-democracy forces are gaining power as they fight alongside rebels known to have ties to al-Qaida. That prompts the concern that any military success against Assad actually bolsters Islamist terrorists who view us as their enemies.

As the column at the bottom of this page notes, there has been a good deal of shuffling of political opinions on this issue, compared to where people stood on the Iraq invasion a decade ago. And some of that is no doubt political posturing.

But we don’t believe that opposing the war in Iraq in 2003 means you must be against intervention in Syria now. Conversely, supporting invasion of Iraq, as The Daily Sentinel did a decade ago, doesn’t require blind support for an attack on another Mideast country today.

The two cases may have similarities, but they are not identical. Furthermore, the whole country has learned something — after 10 years in Iraq and nearly a dozen years in Afghanistan — about the limits of our military, about the quality of our intelligence and about our ability to force democracy onto societies where tribal and religious animosities predate our nation by many centuries.

Better that we do all we can to disentangle our interests from that region, and that means increasing our use of domestic energy sources enthusiastically.

It also means that Congress should reject the president’s request for authority to use military force in Syria.


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Today’s Daily Sentinel editorial (“Congress should say ‘No’ to intervention in Syria”) may be both popular and correct – but for all the wrong reasons.

First, reliance on the “Weinberger Doctrine” is inherently suspect.  While Secretary of Defense, Weinberger oversaw the transfer to Iraq of the materials from which Saddam manufactured the illegal chemical weapons used in the Iran-Iraq War and against the Kurds.  Weinberger also supervised the illegal transfer of weapons to Iran, was later indicted for perjury in the Iran-Contra affair, but was then pardoned by “Papa” Bush.

Second, precisely because our “vital national security interests must be involved”, the Sentinel’s references to Rwanda and Korea are asinine.  “We didn’t invade Rwanda” to stop genocide because doing so was militarily infeasible.  We did “invade” North Korea, but – due to McArthur’s military incompetence—were repelled by the Red Chinese. 

More apropos is NATO’s/President Clinton’s air campaign against Serbia after the Bosnian/Kosovo genocides in 1995, which was initiated with only Senate approval, before the House registered a tie vote a month later, and was indisputably successful.

Third, because a retaliatory “act of war” is not the same as “war”, the nebulous concept of “winning” is irrelevant.  However, because a Congressional authorization for the use of force suspends the legal prohibition against assassinating enemy leaders, our cruise missile targets could include Assad and his cronies (“command and control elements”).

Fourth, enforcing international norms prohibiting the use of chemical weapons is a “clear definition of the military and political objectives”, but – revealingly – the “Weinberger Doctrine” makes no reference to America’s leadership role in the broader international community, because his ilk routinely disparages the U.N. as a surrender of sovereignty.

Obviously, some Americans are “against it” because President Obama is “for it”, but President McCain and/or Romney would presumably have already “done it”.

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