Syria: Playing the Waiting Game

By David T. Jones on September 7, 2013

Washington, DC - Having yielded the Syria-missile strike portfolio to Congress, President Obama spent a few days in Russia for a G-20 meeting hosted by President Putin.

It might have been useful (albeit marginally) to meet with Putin over a range of bilateral issues on the periphery of the G-20.  However, the president, in what must be considered virtually a fit of sandbox-level pique, earlier cancelled their meeting when Putin’s provided sanctuary/refugee status to Edward Snowden, who stole and released massive amounts of highly classified U.S. electronic intelligence data and collection plans/techniques.  So while we assume that we know Russian attitudes toward any military intervention in Syria (implacably negative) having this reaction directly from the Putin’s mouth still might have indicated other topics open to mutual accommodation, e.g., missile defense, Iranian nuclear program.

But we are left with the prospect of “go it alone” (or with the French if one considers such assistance more than poisoned apple helpful) in attacking Syria to punish the Syrian government for allegedly using chemical weapons.  

Obama_Syria.jpgIt is instructive that all ostensible allies and countries theoretically concerned with Syrian domestic structure and political status have declined to do more than “hold our coat” at best.  Thus you have the UN SYG stating that action should be taken against Assad (presuming his government used CW), but insisting that action taken without a UN mandate would be illegal.  And you have the NATO SYG saying in effect that Assad should be punished while simultaneously saying NATO isn’t going to do anything kinetic/physical.  (In the past, the “NATO” abbreviation has been said to stand for “No Action; Talk Only.”)  The Arab League has refused to endorse a U.S. military strike.  Indeed, other than Israel, which would be delighted if the entire region returned to depopulated prehistoric desert with Israel as the regional oasis, we are hard pressed to identify any country that is “willing” on this one.

So now the U.S. Congress is being asked to pull Obama’s chestnuts from the fire that he personally started and fueled.   Even the theoretically limited mandate being bruited about (90 days) would be longer than the air strikes against Serbia in 1999 (78 days) with no apparent restriction on the number of strikes or targets.  In such a timeframe, we could bomb Syria, if not back to the Stone Age a la Curtis LeMay’s famous threat against Hanoi, at least back to the 19th century.

Historically, there has been a patriotic tendency for the U.S. population and Congress to rally-round-the-flag and give the president considerable leeway to exercise foreign policy.  Hence, holding their noses and fearful of weakening further an already damaged presidency, Congress may provide a limited authority for U.S. military attacks on Syria.  Indeed, the media is replete with stories of the intense efforts Obama/USG administration is expending to secure sufficient votes to pass the resolution.  And what “quid” would its assorted opponents demand:  Indefinite deferral of Obamacare implementation?  Dropping efforts to ease immigration for illegals?  Ending the Attorney General’s attacks on state voter registration regulations?  Killing the Keystone Pipeline?  Promises of campaign funding?  Enough “pork” projects to make Chicago stock yards look like a 4-H project?    

The president has many levers to call upon, including Tuesday’s scheduled national address on the vital nature of the operation.  So it is useful to recall that the military draft was extended in 1941 by a one vote margin in the House--immediately prior to Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Proponents of U.S. military action profess that U.S. “credibility” is at risk if we do not take salutary action against Syria.  That judgment is a red herring canard.  But with his “red line” statement on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, Obama bluffed during his 2012 reelection campaign designed to buttress his weak foreign policy credentials.  Assad has “called.”  So we need to examine just what “credibility” means and to whom.

Is there any question, for example, that we would not respond to an attack on our NATO allies?  Against Asian allies such as South Korea, Japan, or Taiwan?  Against Israel?  Any question that we would continue to adhere to trade and investment agreements?  

Just where specifically is our “credibility” at risk?

The aphorism says that there is nothing wrong with a one-track mind, if you are on the right track.  Unfortunately, we seem to be avoiding all of the “bridge out” signals while steaming full speed ahead toward the abyss.


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