Predictably, President Obama’s decision to go to Congress to get approval for a strike on Syria has been transformed into an issue about the president rather than one about American security interests.
As someone who is no fan of Obama, let me say that this was one of his best moments, not that there have been many. I agree that the naïve and amateurish president who has surrounded himself with the likes of Samantha Power, a woman who never saw a human-rights violation that did not demand the squander of American blood and treasure, painted himself into a corner of red lines. Yet, for the moment, at least, he judiciously extricated himself. The weaponization of human rights was postponed.
In less than a week, Obama will be in Russia for the G20 meetings. Imagine if Obama arrived amid scenes of dead civilian casualties caused by a missile that went astray or one that was targeted by faulty intelligence.
The mantra from bopping heads of military professionals about the accuracy of missiles is disingenuous. In 1999, a guided bomb hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade killing Chinese civilians. The CIA had managed to mangle the coordinates for a Yugoslav military target. In the fog of war, big mistakes happen. In Grdelica, in 1999, NATO destroyed a civilian train as mission creep escalated the air war from military targets to civilian infrastructure with inevitable results. The attacks imposed pain and suffering on the Serbian people, not on its military.
If we had awaited a complete and objective analysis of the second attack, August 4, 1964, in the Tonkin Gulf, the one that never happened, we might not have escalated the war against North Vietnam. Senator Wayne Morse would have had time to confirm, as we now know, that the attack never occurred.
If we had waited a few more months before invading Iraq and seeking regime change and democracy in a culture that possesses not a passing acquaintance with representative government, the tragedy visited upon Iraq, with hundreds of thousands of casualties and a Shi’ia tyranny replacing a Sunni one, might not have occurred. Had President Kennedy not rushed to authorize the Bay of Pigs invasion, which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequently pushed Kennedy to hold the line in Vietnam, there would have been a lot less tragedy in the world. Vietnam fell to the North. There was no domino effect, unless one thinks that the domino theory was about Laos and Cambodia. The monolithic vision of communism of those days was shattered when China and Russia, in 1969, went to war over Damansky Island and seven years later Vietnam was fighting both China and Cambodia.
There are times to go to war to defend the nation’s survival and its security and there are times when, as President Obama rightly noted, it is possible to wait. This is one of those times when we should wait because we have no strategic interest in Syria. This is one of those times when the Congress should resoundingly follow Britain’s example and say “no.”