Seeking a sensible decision on Syria

A week from now, Congress may be in the midst of debating whether to approve President Barack Obama’s proposed resolution authorizing the United States’ use of force in Syria. It will undoubtedly be a tense debate.

A few Obama critics are suggesting the president chose to go to Congress for approval to have support in case his military plans go awry. There may, indeed, be some CYA calculations in Obama’s decision, but it is the right one, nonetheless.

It would be a serious mistake, and raise constitutional concerns, if Obama were to unilaterally order air or missile strikes on Syria when there is no evidence of an immediate threat to the United States or it’s allies from the horrific civil war taking place in Syria.

Furthermore, there are questions for which Congres seeks answers, such as: What is our goal in taking any military action in Syria?  What are the ramifications of intervention?

Those are tough questions to answer, and already the White House is putting on a full-court lobbying press with members of both parties. But congressional support is far from certain.

At least on this issue, the dissent isn’t coming down along rigidly partisan lines. Some Democrats have joined Republicans in publicly saying they don’t think Obama has made an adequate case for intervening in Syria, especially without the support some of our key allies like Great Britain.

Republicans are divided between the war hawks, some of whom don’t believe Obama’s proposed military plan goes far enough, and the isolationists who want to the United Staes to stay out of the fray altogether.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the use of force resolution the president submitted is far too open-ended, and it will need to be more limited in scope if it is to win approval.

If all that weren’t enough, there was news on Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to send several Russian lawmakers to lobby against U.S. intervention in Syria.

It sounds as if the debate could turn into a three-ring circus, but it is far too serious to become just a spectacle.

Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad has been responsible for the deaths of roughly 100,000 of his countrymen, and the evidence is strong that his forces used chemical weapons two weeks ago. He deserves to be punished.

But, many of the rebels fighting him are aligned with al-Qaida terrorist groups. Helping them is hardly in our own interest.

Moreover, the president’s claim that we need to “fire a shot across the bow” of the Assad regime to convince Assad and others we won’t tolerate the use of chemical weapons seems like a weak justification for the use of our military resources, with little evidence it will be successful. Many observers fear it will only make Assad stronger.

We appreciate the president taking his case to Congress and having a very public debate on this issue. But he has a long way to go to convince most Americans and many members of Congress that it’s the right thing to do.


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By delaying punitive strikes in Syria until Congress reconvenes, President Obama has placed the onus on 535 would-be military and/or foreign policy “experts” to expose their respective renditions of America’s “national interest”.  While military adventurism “by committee” is inherently suspect, so too is our too-toxic partisan political environment.  So, President Obama expressly reaffirmed his constitutional prerogative as Commander-in-Chief to act unilaterally and/or contrary to Congressional consensus—if he so decides.

The moral rationale for punishing the Assad regime’s use of sarin begs the question of why gassing one’s own population is morally more reprehensible than using conventional weapons.  Arguably, genocidal killing with nerve agents is more “humane” (but certain) than indiscriminately killing with bombs and/or bullets (even if some are un-maimed).

The legal question is also problematic, because the Geneva Convention’s protocol (1925) does not prohibit Syria’s use of “asphyxiating, poisonous, or other gasses” within its own borders in a civil conflict.

The unequivocally prohibiitve Chemical Weapons Convention (1993) is now considered “customary international law”—which is presumptively enforceable by the international community (even though Syria has never ratified it).

International legal and moral legitimacy – achieveable only through “due process” – were forfeited by Bush/Cheney in 2002, who hubristicallly ignored Colin Powell’s advice and cynically short-circuited U.N. inspectors while citing deliberately skewed “intelligence”.  President Obama isn’t repeating that “high crime”. 

In 2002, the only unimpeachably legitimate grounds for invading Iraq were Saddam’s violations of 16 U.N. Security Council resolutions—for the U.N. (not just us) to enforce.
Today, the Arab League’s “call for action” may trump Russia’s and/or China’s veto.

Meanwhile, Rand Paul has exposed his application of “libertarianism” to international relations by effectively siding with genocide – because Assad is “protecting Christians” and opposing Al-Qaeda (just like we abrogated international accords in Viet Nam to support Diem, who was aiding Catholics, killing Buddhists, and “fighting communism”)!

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