I would like to thank Bryan Preston for writing a serious and excellent article in which he carefully lays out his disagreement with me on the issue of a congressional resolution in favor of a military strike on Syria. The conservative movement needs such a debate, and it has to be carried out in the manner in which Preston has written his remarks: without ad hominem comments, without distortion of an opponent’s argument.
I am actually in agreement with a great deal of what Preston says. I agree — and I am sorry if the way I stated my case caused confusion — that one can oppose support of this particular resolution without moving into the camp of isolationism. Preston himself is proof of this: he is an internationalist, understands well the role played in the world by the United States, and usually supports military action against America’s enemies. One would never confuse him with Rand or Ron Paul.
As readers know, two days ago I called Barack Obama an incompetent president and perhaps the worst our country has ever had, at least in the 20th and 21st centuries. So, I agree that Barack Obama is the elephant in the room. Every charge Bryan makes against him I second. Like him, I believe he has been a disaster for our country, and in foreign policy especially Obama has shown almost from the start that he was not suited for the job.
Indeed, he went after Colonel Qaddafi in Libya after the Libyan dictator had actually moved to dismantle his own nuclear capability and had begun to ease up on the terrorist activity his state had long sponsored. He moved to push him out of power on the grounds that if he did not act, Qaddafi might slaughter thousands of his own citizens. At the same time, Obama did nothing about the already existing pattern of slaughter by Assad in Syria — Obama’s administration, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was calling Assad “a reformer.”
It is not surprising that Obama has done little to make a case in favor of his own desired resolution. After all, he has not made a case for his cherished Obamacare, which is collapsing at the seams and for which he has had to call in Bill Clinton to make the case for him.
In the case of Syria, I agree that by announcing that the strike would be limited and of no consequence, Obama has already vitiated any salutary effect it might have. Moreover, he has given Assad assurance that he does not have to worry about regime change, and that the strike will not even substantially affect his regime’s military capability. It is my hope that in exchange for support from Republicans, the administration will do more than merely carry out what was their initial plan. That, at any rate, is what Lindsey Graham tried to negotiate with the president at the White House.
I can understand Bryan’s reluctance to trust the likes of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel in particular. I was among those who opposed Hagel’s nomination for secretary of Defense and Kerry’s for secretary of State. Kerry’s long-standing leftist agenda certainly was valid ground for lacking trust, as were Hagel’s positions on Israel. But I was hopeful and surprised to see Kerry step up to the plate. Yesterday he called the United States “the indispensable nation.” As he defended America’s positive role in the world, he sounded quite the opposite of Barack Obama, and nothing like the leftist and anti-Vietnam War agitator of years past.
Yes, I also wait for verification. But I support the resolution on the grounds that the weakening of presidential power is dangerous. In the current situation regarding Iran — for which Syria is actually a proxy — failure to act is a signal to the mullahs that the U.S. word amounts to little. They will read inaction as an announcement that they can speed up and obtain a working nuclear bomb, and that they have little reason to fear the Obama administration will do anything to stop them.
Iran — not Obama — is the real elephant in the room. Wish as we might, there is no civil society of a democratic nature or a culture of democracy that would allow us to create a Jeffersonian democracy in the Middle East. There is a reason, after all, why only Israel — often the only nation Obama pressures — is the only real democracy in the region.
On the issue of the nature of the opposition to Assad in Syria, some observers have argued that a good part of the opposition is in fact secular and not Islamist. In the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth O’Bagy claims:
Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and al-Qaeda die-hards. The jihadists pouring into Syria from countries like Iraq and Lebanon are not flocking to the front lines. Instead they are concentrating their efforts on consolidating control in the northern, rebel-held areas of the country.
From her own experience covering the front lines in Syria, she believes that “moderate opposition forces … continue to lead the fight against the Syrian regime.” I know that our colleague Barry Rubin says this is because O’Bagy sees the Muslim Brotherhood as secular liberals, and they make up the very forces she writes about.
I have not been there, and can only report what this journalist writes. I hope she is correct and that Rubin is wrong. When she was in northern Syria last August, O’Bagy witnessed “nearly daily protests by thousands of citizens against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in areas of Aleppo.” I agree with her that it is in the U.S. interest to support whatever truly moderate forces still exist and to bolster their fight against the Assad tyranny.
Writing in Commentary, Abe Greenwald makes the following argument for intervention:
If you think not acting is good, look at what inaction has done so far: It’s allowed for more than 100,000 dead; the repeated use of chemical weapons; and the strengthening of Assad, and thus of Iran and Russia as rising powers who oppose an American-led global order. Perhaps worst of all, American inaction has reinforced the idea for thousands of Syrians (and Arabs and Muslims generally) that they should not look to America for help when fighting off tyrants. Even if one is not sentimental about such things, this is hugely problematic because it has driven these thousands into the arms of Islamist radicals they increasingly see as the only hope for support in fights of liberation. If this is the wisdom of restraint, we’ve become wise beyond comprehension.
I think Greenwald is correct. The United States has a role to play as a defender of a free and peaceful world. President Obama’s goal is to save face for himself; to appear that he has acted as he had promised after his self-imposed “red line” was crossed, and then to go back to his usual failed policies. His own aims for Syria are rather meaningless, and as Greenwald says, will only make things worse after the missiles fall.
But to do nothing harms not just Obama, but our country and our standing in the world. When push comes to shove, I still think we cannot afford to risk losing by doing nothing. Hence I still support the resolution in favor of a military strike in Syria.
image illustration courtesy shutterstock / Nneirda