I’m glad to see that President Obama will at least seek congressional approval before launching an attack on Syria, although he announced it in a rather disingenuous way – claiming he already has the authority to take action and then trying to sound magnanimous by going ahead and seeking the vote anyway.
But the question now is: Should Congress authorize the attack?
The answer has to be based on strategic realities. I don’t have access to all the intelligence the president has, but let’s assume for the sake of this discussion that evidence Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people is incontrovertible. In that case, he is guilty of mass murder on a scale that would warrant him the death penalty if he were a resident of many U.S. states.
I agree that he should not be allowed to get away with it.
But does Obama’s proposed action really accomplish anything that addresses either Assad’s crimes or America’s strategic interests?
The president assures us that the mission will be limited, and that we will place no boots on the ground. This appears to be a high priority for him, as his announcement on Saturday referenced the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan of which Americans have grown weary. He wanted to make it clear that we are not entering into another such open-ended conflict.
All right, but if that’s the case, what are we going to accomplish with a quick, limited strike against Syria? Unless the attack kills Assad, which does not appear to be the objective, he will remain in power. Unless we destroy extensive strategic assets, which is unlikely with just a few days of bombing, we will not significantly impact the Syrian regime’s ability to wage war on the rebels.
So it might make us feel better to blow a lot of things up in Damascus, but in any sort of strategic or practical way, it’s hard to see how this action holds Assad accountable for what he’s done. I’m not sure how Assad is personally worse off the morning after the attack than he would have been the night before.
There is also the tricky matter of Syrian ally Iran promising to launch attacks against Israel in retaliation for our threatened action. Is Obama prepared for the fallout if Israel responds in kind? Or will he plead with the Israelis not to respond, and if so, will Benjamin Netanyahu cooperate? And if Netanyahu doesn’t . . . just what might Obama have started?
He’s been saying his entire presidency he does not want to get into a conflict with Iran. Is he prepared for what will happen if his own attack on Syria inadvertently starts one?
When Obama was a senator, it was very easy for him to criticize U.S. wars as too long, too difficult, too costly, too deadly . . . because military action that actually changes things requires more than a few days’ worth of bombs being dropped and missiles being launched. Now that he is president, he is finding out that when some dictator commits atrocities and you feel you should “do something,” it’s not that easy to do something that really makes a difference.
Obama himself said that the U.S. military cannot resolve the civil war in Syria, and he is correct. That being the case, then, how will the situation be improved if we attack Syria? Obama hasn’t said, and until he does, I don’t see a justification for authorizing the action he proposes.
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