Syrian Knowns and Unknowns
1) Red lines: Does anyone believe we would be on the eve of a war with Syria had not Barack Obama on two occasions -- echoed on two others by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- warned Bashar Assad of red lines surrounding the use of WMD?
Take those empty threats away, and one of two things would have more likely happened. First, there might not have been use of WMD, given no need to test or humiliate a perceived weak Obama. Or we would still be arguing over who actually used them. Not long ago, Senators Obama and Kerry would have lambasted the present impending intervention as a rush to war for the restoration of a president’s ill-advised forfeiture of credibility.
Fairly or not, the war is now seen as one to save the credibility of Obama’s pontification and Kerry’s sermonizing.
2) Authorizations: To go to war, a president usually seeks at least one of four requisites: authorizations from both houses of Congress, clear public support for action, plenty of allies, and cover from the UN in the form or a resolution or at least long discussion. Obama had obtained none of the four -- despite arguing in the past that all four were necessary to do precisely what he is now doing.
Why do the American people, the Congress, our allies, and the proverbial “international community” on this rare occasion unite in not seeing the logic of Obama’s war?
3) The Military: Should not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs be an architect of the intervention? Yet Chairman Dempsey has made an astounding array of disturbing statements on Syria: “I think intervening in Syria would be very difficult. ... And I think that the current path of trying to gain some kind of international consensus is the proper path, rather than take a decision to do anything unilaterally.”
His concerns about the task are thematic in everything he says: “The U.S. military has the capability to defeat that system, but it would be a greater challenge, and would take longer and require more resources. ... The air defense picture in Libya is dramatically different than it is in Syria. ... Syria has five times more air defense systems, some of which are high-end systems.” And he warned, “This is about a 10-year issue, and if we fail to think about it as a 10-year regional issue, we could make some mistakes.” He summed up, “We have learned from the past 10 years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state. ... We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action. ... Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides.”
I cannot recall, on the eve of war, the nation’s top military officer so pessimistic about the chance of achieving anything significant.
If our top commander seems dubious, who then is going to lead us unabashedly to victory?