August 29, 2013
The U.S. and the U.K. have now said explicitly that they are prepared to take military action against Syria without authorization from the United Nations Security Council. Congress is currently in recess until September 9, but members are asking President Obama to get their approval before intervening in Syria. Other members, such as former Democratic senator and anti-Vietnam-war protestor John Kerry are beating the war drums, saying in a news conference Monday that the alleged actions of the Assad regime are a “moral obscenity.”
Other, more circumspect, lawmakers — such as Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., of Washington — have warned against allowing the U.S. to involve troops in a Syrian civil war.
Moral obscenity or no, candidate Obama recognized that it’s Congress, not the UN, which must authorize military action. He even told The Boston Globe in late 2007 that “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.”
Even should Congress authorize military strikes out of an understandable willingness to keep the Assad regime from committing war crimes, intervention is likely to have terrible consequences.
First, there’s a lot we don’t know about the attack which killed possibly more than 1,000 Syrians, including just how many were killed and which weapons which were used. The Assad regime authorized a U.N. convoy to inspect the sites of the attacks to determine whether chemical weapons were used. However, the convoy was not able to inspect the sites because it was met with sniper fire on the way. The Assad regime has denied responsibility for this as well.
Before inserting ourselves into a civil war, it’s reasonable to expect more than John Kerry’s alluded-to-but-as-yet-unseen footage to prove that the attacks involved chemical weapons and that the Assad regime is responsible.
The second big issue concerns the basis on which President Obama would supposedly go to war with Syria. On Monday the office of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, claimed Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons meant the nation had crossed Obama’s “red line” for military intervention.
This is an odd place to draw lines. What’s interesting as terms like “red line” get thrown around is that President Obama never actually laid one down. He used the term, but then didn’t detail what would constitute crossing it, making it meaningless in practice.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Obama said at a news conference last August was this. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
The Assad regime is very likely committing human rights violations and does not appear to be fully cooperating with international law. And yet, there are many nations around the world of which this could be said. The U.S. is broke, and our international reputation is in tatters. Now is not the time to involve ourselves in conflicts in which we do not have an immediate and pressing stake.
But perhaps the most complicating factor is that the rebel forces that stand to benefit from U.S. military intervention have strong ties to Al-Qaeda.
Both sides of the conflict in Syria are extremely problematic. This probably factors into why only 9 percent of Americans support military intervention. It’s time for our senators and representativesSto respect the will of the American people and respect the Constitution, instead of talking about imaginary and arbitrary “red lines” and “moral obscenities.”
This piece was originally posted at Doublethink magazine.