Is it March 2003 again?
Obama administration officials recoil at comparisons of the buildup to the Iraq War and this week’s escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Syria. And they’re right to a point — the situations are different: Invading Iraq had the potential to destabilize the Middle East (as if it ever were actually stable), while opening military action against Syria could start World War III.
Why the distinction?
When Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama last year said Syrian President Bashar Assad must not cross the “red line” of using chemical weapons (a violation of international law) in his country’s ongoing civil war, the U.S. president set in motion a virtually unavoidable conflict — one pitting the United States and its allies (though on this issue, they are few) against not only Syria, but also its backers ... Russia and Iran. Now that Assad’s regime has used chemical attacks at least 14 times by some accounts — the most recent killing 1,429 people including 400 children, according to the White House — Obama’s bluff has been called and the president feels compelled to act.
His plan — as has been made inexplicably and foolishly clear — is to launch a “limited and narrow” strike against Syria. The goal is not to destroy the chemical weapons stocks nor even overthrow Assad. Obama simply wants to send a message, the administration has said. But it’s a message that has no specific goal, nor the backing of the international community, the United Nations or even our staunchest allies in the United Kingdom.
Why? Perhaps because the stakes are so high.
Even a “warning shot”-style attack on Syria inevitably would prompt Assad’s retaliation. But Syria’s immediate response is unlikely to pose a threat to the U.S. itself. The real danger would be to Syria’s neighbors: Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and, especially, Israel (a hated force in the Middle East). And if Israel is attacked by Syria in response to the U.S. military action, all hell breaks loose.
The dominoes would keep falling until war touches every nation.
Yet Obama is ready to proceed not only without international backing, but also without the consent of the U.S. Congress (echoing Obama’s move in 2011 to involve the U.S. military in months of operations against Libya without legislative approval).
U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., who spoke Wednesday at an Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce event in Ottawa, joined 114 of her Republican and Democratic colleagues this week in sending a letter to Obama urging the president to seek Congressional approval of military action against Syria.
“As there is no immediate threat to our homeland, President Obama owes the American people the opportunity to have their voices heard as he brings this issue before Congress and seeks its approval,” Jenkins said Wednesday in a press release. “I stand ready to return to Washington at a moment’s notice to debate this issue and will be signing a letter to the president asking that he get consent from Congress as prescribed in the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973. While I will stand opposed to this military action, many will favor intervention, but a public debate must be had.”
Obama himself appeared to support Jenkins’ sentiment in 2007, when first running for president.
“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” then-candidate Obama said (his then-opponent Joe Biden, now vice-president, agreed). “As commander-in-chief, the president does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the president would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”
Attacking Syria, of course, is not self-defense. Instead, Obama now is twisting the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war — which candidate Obama and his fellow Democrats long railed against — to avert a possible future attack on the United States using chemical weapons.
“What’s happened has been heartbreaking,” Obama said Wednesday in a PBS interview about Syria’s earlier chemical attacks. “But when you start talking about chemical weapons in a country that has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, where over time, their control over chemical weapons may erode, where they’re allied to known terrorist organizations that, in the past, have targeted the United States, then there is a prospect, a possibility, in which chemical weapons that can have devastating effects could be directed at us. And we want to make sure that that does not happen.”
Sound at all like the justification for invading Iraq?
Americans of all political stripes are tired of war — particularly unnecessary wars that do little to advance U.S. interests. A new NBC News poll indicated Friday that respondents were split on jumping into the Syria conflict even if U.N. investigators verify Assad’s regime is guilty of attacking its people. But 80 percent — a resounding majority — said the president should seek Congressional approval before taking military action.
The prospect of Obama asking lawmakers’ permission seems dim, however, as participants in an unclassified conference call Thursday between the White House and key legislators indicated the president would not ask Congress to return early from recess to vote on the matter. Why? Because Obama fears Congress — like the British parliament — will tell him no, according to CNN, which reported on the call.
President Obama would do well to consider that the biggest risk comes not from lawmakers who might disagree with his plans, nor the vague prospect that maybe possibly perhaps chemical weapons could be used against the U.S. at some point in the future. The most frightening threat very well could be his own itchy trigger finger.
— Tommy Felts,