I’ve been following the debate in the Senate committee over congressional authorization for a military strike in Syria. The stated objective of the Obama administration is to send a clear message (“a shot across the bow”) that those who use chemical weapons will be held accountable to international standards prohibiting their use. Corollary objectives are to degrade the ability of the Assad regime to carry out another chemical attack and to generally weaken the military capability of a government that is killing its own citizens. The administration (and now the committee) is precluding “boots on the ground” as a part of the authorization. It was stated that what is contemplated by the authorization does not include regime change in Syria. Resolution to the crisis (it is hoped) will result from diplomacy with the ultimate objective being a transfer of power from the Assad regime to a duly elected government. But the overriding position is clear. Assad has got to go.
Secretary Kerry made a compelling case (I thought) for laying the responsibility for the chemical attacks at the feet of Assad’s regime. Intelligence indicates that the missiles that delivered the gas were fired from government held sectors and were in all instances targeted at territory held by rebel forces. That’s pretty much indisputable. Only Putin of Russia (an ally of Syria) claims that chemical weapons were not used against all evidence to the contrary. Gas masks were distributed to government forces just prior to the attack.
It strains credulity to believe that rebel forces were somehow responsible for the attacks. It is doubtful that the rebels have access to the quantity of nerve gas that was used, or to the delivery systems used to deploy it. And it is well known that the regime has huge stockpiles of the stuff. Besides which why would the rebels gas themselves? There was more evidence given but suffice to say chemical agents were used and who used them is certain.
The question is what to do about it. Like it or not we are looked to as a world power; as the world’s Superman. If we are to be a beacon to humanity, if we hold to the principles on which this nation was founded, can we do nothing? And if we do nothing who are we as a people? What do we stand for? A tougher question is whether it’s a matter of our national security to act. To tell you the truth I’m not sure. But I understand the arguments for why it is. I believe we must act. Our national soul depends on it. If we don’t act what are we going to say to the people of Syria that are asking for our help?
But is a limited military strike the best option? Can it be effective? Will anything have changed? Will it make the situation any better for the Syrian people? Could it make their situation worse? At the end of the day Assad will still be in power. Removing Assad from power seems to be the only true hope of ending the civil war. And even then there are no guarantees. Syria could descend into sectional violence and lawlessness. What will ultimately take the place of the Assad government? And can we really limit our involvement once we do get involved? This is where it all gets so sticky.
Some senators voted against the resolution citing the unknowns. Others proposed amendments to the resolution because they didn’t feel it went far enough. Others felt the mission was too loosely defined. Still others sought to amend the resolution to limit even the tactical options of the President. As a people we don’t want to get involved in another war, that’s for sure.
I listened to commentary from people like Chris Matthews. He said something to the effect that in order to prevent the people of Syria from being gassed we’re going to bomb them instead. What is being contemplated is a surgical strike aimed at knocking out the Assad’s capability for waging war. A limited strike against high value targets like senior cabinet, military commanders, and military installations. Our military maintains that even though we announced our intention well in advance we’ll still be able to carry out that mission. God help us if we wind up bombing civilians. The people of Syria have suffered enough.
Donald Rumsfeld (remember him? He got us into the Iraq war) stated that it is better to do nothing than not do enough. What exactly “enough” is he didn’t say. So what options do we have, really? Arm the rebels? We’re already (cautiously) doing that. The problem is figuring out exactly who we’re arming. What are our capabilities? Hey if you want to kill a snake you crush the head. It would have been better for everyone concerned (including the people of Iraq) to take out Saddam instead of waging war in Iraq.
So maybe this is the best we can do. Bloody Assad. Weaken his ability to wage war. Isolate him. Maybe that will bring him to the table. Word is there are already defections by senior cabinet officials. But do something we must. This may not be the optimum solution but it doesn’t seem the will exists among the American people to do much more. We’re already seriously divided on a limited strike.
I came to my position from monitoring the debate and thinking about it. My position could change. It’s how I see it now. What should our response to Syria be?