The U. S. Constitution rightly puts the military under civilian control by giving Congress the power to declare war and by making the president the commander in chief. But what happens when Congress is not in session and the Commander-in-Chief is AWOL? Then you get Syria.
With Congress not returning from its summer recess until September 9, 2013, and the White House proclaiming through its Secretary of State, former Vietnam Vet Against the War John Kerry, that the U. S. has “irrefutable evidence” that Secretary Kerry’s former dinner partner, Bashar Assad, has used chemical weapons against his own people, our Peace Prize–winning President finds himself in a bit of a pickle, to say the least.
“This war, like all wars, must end,” pronounced President Obama back in May, declaring a unilateral end to the U.S. war on terrorism directed against our own country. “That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.” Yet the bad guys didn’t get the message, for despite the celebrated execution of Osama bin Laden by the formerly secret – and now largely depleted – Seal Team Six, al Qaeda is more active than ever and the U. S. is on the run, having to close embassies in the face of anticipated attacks because it cannot or will not defend them.
Some wars, though, evidently must be started, for that is what history also advises and the president himself demands – or does he? While running for re-election just over a year ago, President Obama announced on August 20, 2012, that “We have been very clear to the Assad regime … that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” Yet on Wednesday, September 04, 2013, the president claimed in Stockholm that “I didn’t set a red line; the world set a red line,” putting the credibility of the “international community” and of Congress – not of the White House – on the line.
The administration’s wishes notwithstanding, there is no “international community” regarding Syria. No international organization has endorsed an attack; China and Vladimir Putin’s “reset” Russia wield an insurmountable and inevitable veto against any U. N. action; and the Parliament of America’s historically closest ally, Great Britain, has rejected its own Prime Minister’s request to get involved. Congressional ratification of a treaty “condemning” the use of chemical weapons is equally meaningless; either deploring the use of weapons of mass destruction does not automatically require the U. S. to go to war to avenge their use or the President has forgotten Secretary Kerry’s characterization of the Iraq war as “”the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
No U.S. military response at this time can possibly send a “clear message” for the president has none to send: His administration has no overarching foreign policy strategy and its only tactics are political. Somebody’s “red line” has been crossed – but not his – and it’s up to somebody else to do something about it, for the President cannot and will not act decisively.
In a 2011 Washington Post column, former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson observed that the Obama administration “lacks a consistent foreign policy philosophy [but] has nevertheless established a predictable foreign policy pattern. … [A]fter an internal debate that spills out into the media, the president decides he must do something. But hoping to keep expectations low, his actions are limited in scope. By this point, a strategic opportunity is missed and the protesters in country X feel betrayed.” Witness Tehran, Cairo, Benghazi, and now Damascus.
Former General Barry McCaffrey of Operation Desert Storm fame put it more succinctly. In a September 2, 2013, interview with Fox News, Gen. McCaffrey observed that the kind of half-hearted military attack for which the president is trying to drum up support won’t likely achieve its stated purpose and might even leave Assad more emboldened. The President, he said, “was so far out on a limb it was pathetic.”