President Obama, in trying to do the right thing and get a national discussion started, decided to have Congress vote on waging war against Syria to punish it, or more specifically to punish Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, for the gruesome gas attacks that killed more than 1,400 people in the Damascus area. Who actually committed the gas attacks remains shrouded in doubt and beset with controversy, despite the Administration’s line that there is not even a scintilla of doubt.
“I can say with high confidence that chemical weapons were used,” the President reassured us when he was talking in Stockholm, but even he treaded more gingerly around the topic of who used them.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called it “absolutely absurd” that the Assad regime would lob chemical weapons on its own people; it was currently making headway against the rebels, didn’t need that sort of thing, and knew that using chemical weapons could trigger a forceful international response, he said. Whatever the controversy, the only beneficiaries of the gas attack, if it draws the US into the fray, would be the radical elements in the opposition.
Speaking in Stockholm, President Obama made clear that deep down he was a peacenik and referred to a statement early in his career that had vaguely opposed the war in Iraq. He has meanwhile won the Nobel Peace Prize for I can’t remember what exactly. And so he had his heart in the right spot. “I didn’t set a red line, the world set a red line,” he said. “The international community’s credibility is on the line, and America and Congress’ credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.”
That’s the official rationale. A US attack on Syria would be just a punitive action for the gas attack. “Regime change” wouldn’t be part of it. Perhaps Obama’s hands had been forced after no major allies outside of France have shown any interest in this sort of foreign adventure, with the UK Parliament specifically voting against it. But he wasn’t worried about Congress developing a similarly independent streak. “I believe that Congress will approve it,” he said.
So the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 to authorize the President to wage war on Syria – well, for up to 90 days and with no American “combat” troops on Syrian soil. At this point.
But Senator John McCain, the most vocal champion of the military-industrial complex, has tacked some amendments – co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Coons from the other side of the aisle – to the resolution. And suddenly, it’s no longer a question of a merely punitive action. Force should now be used to “change the military equation on the battlefield.” The ultimate goal should be, as it was done so successfully in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, “a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government.”
In 90 days.
It’s a quantum leap forward from a “punitive action.” Everyone knows that there is no “negotiated settlement” possible between the warring parties. They didn’t start this to end up sitting around a table and palavering about sharing power or something. They’ve gone way too far. And a “democratic government?” I mean, come on. Haven’t we learned anything from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan?
These goals sit smack-dab in the middle of lala-land. They’re a sign that a massive mission creep toward the impossible has already started – before the US military has even fired the first missile.
Fellow Republican Jeff Duncan explained the phenomenon this way: he’d recently talked to some eighth-graders “who get it,” he said. “They get it that we shouldn’t be drug into someone else’s civil war where there are no good guys.”
Enjoy reading WOLF STREET and want to support it? You can donate. I appreciate it immensely. Click on the beer and iced-tea mug to find out how:
Would you like to be notified via email when WOLF STREET publishes a new article? Sign up here.