Friday, September 6, 2013

Just Say No

President Obama has gone to Congress seeking authorization to bomb Syria, an authorization he insisted he didn't need until just the other day, but it's difficult to see the point of such an attack. We'll kill several hundred, maybe several thousand Syrians, many of them civilians, in order to punish Bashar Assad for the crime of killing several hundred other Syrian civilians, and what will we have accomplished thereby?

President Obama got himself into his current predicament when in a bit of bravado he gave everyone to understand a year ago that if chemical weapons were used by the Assad government Assad would be in deep trouble. At that point the President should have had contingency plans on the table ready to be implemented if in fact those weapons were used by the Syrians. Subsequently there were indications that chemical agents were in fact employed by the Syrian army against the rebels, but no measures were taken nor was anything much said about it.

Nevertheless, by that point those contingency plans should certainly have been fully developed if not implemented, but they were not. Now chemical weapons have manifestly been used, though it's not clear by which side, and for the past month we've been told that the President is still "weighing his options." The weighing should have been done a year ago. What has the President been doing since he first warned Syria against their use?

Mr. Obama also told us that he doesn't need Congressional authority to punish Syria militarily. But when Britain opted out, the President, in a fine example of "leading from behind" went to Congress to request an authorization to attack. This came after waxing absolutely loquacious about what kind of strike he had in mind, as if to assure the Syrians that it wouldn't really hurt too much and they certainly needn't worry about any "shock and awe." He even assured them it wouldn't last long, it wouldn't target their leadership, and it wouldn't seriously degrade their military operations. So, he seemed to be pleading with Damascus, don't make too much fuss, just let him flex his muscles to save face, and then you can get back to killing your people through more conventional means. Again, why should Congress go along with this charade?

Throughout his dithering and temporizing Mr. Obama has looked weak, indecisive, incompetent, and ineffective, and now he wants Congress to give him political cover by actually making the decision for him. His representatives have testified that the credibility of the U.S. is at stake, that we must not allow the Syrians to get away with the use of chemical weapons, but in fact, it's not American credibility that hangs in the balance, it's President Obama's credibility. He got us into a mess and to salvage his tattered reputation as a world leader he ostensibly wants to drag the country into a pointless, meaningless attack that would, like Clinton's attack on a North African aspirin factory, accomplish nothing except allow the President to posture and preen and declare that he did something.

Well, it's not at all clear to me why we should intervene in a civil war in a country in which we have no vital interest and which is surrounded by neighbors which have the military capability to punish Assad if they think it necessary.

Congress should decline to give Mr. Obama the authority he has insisted he already has for the same reason that Sheriff Andy refused to give Deputy Barney Fife bullets for his gun. Andy was afraid Barney was not competent to carry a loaded sidearm. It seems that similar considerations may apply in this current muddle.

If the President wants to do something truly meaningful and significant he should ignore the rattles at the tail of the snake and cut off the head of the serpent - in this case Iran. Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is a far greater threat to both the region and to the world. It is Iran which empowers Assad and equips him to carry out his atrocities. If we're going to launch an attack it should be an all out effort to destroy Iran's nuclear capability and to decapitate its leadership. This would be a condign and meaningful act, but alas, those who seem eager to toss a few feckless missiles at Assad have little stomach for tossing those missiles where they'd do some real good and serve a real purpose.

At any rate, the President wants approval for an attack on Syria. As Congress debates the authorization request this week our representatives need to ask what's going to happen once we've done it? What will we have accomplished? What's going to happen when the attack is over and the Syrian forces emerge from their bunkers to resume the war? What's going to happen when photos come out of Syria showing dead children, their bodies dismembered by our Tomahawks? Those photos will surely appear whether they're genuine or not. Will Israel's enemies use our assault as a pretext to attack Israel? If so, will we then be drawn into a wider war?

These are questions to which the American people deserve answers, but none have so far been forthcoming from the warhawks in the White House or in Congress.