I’ve been tough on President Obama for some time now in these blog postings because of his commitment to the surveillance state and his willingness to shred the Constitution in the process. So today I want to congratulate him for deciding to ask Congress for authorization to use military force against the Syrian regime.
We have a Constitution we need to respect after all and it envisions a substantial role for Congress in determining when, where, and how U.S. military force will be used. Whatever you may think of his substantive position on Syria, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about using military force and the President has chosen the right way.
He deserves credit for that.
As for what he is asking Congress to do, I’ve been trying to come up with something meaningful to say, but most of what I’ve written adds very little to what you already know. What happened in Syria is a violation of long-standing international norms and a crime against humanity. But whether we can or should do anything in response is much harder to say in my opinion.
On the one hand … on the other hand; that’s mostly what I had come up with. And then I ran across this opinion piece which pretty much sums up how I feel about things. I urge you to read it. Without providing a definitive answer, it’s quite powerful I think.
I’m not at all sure what Congress should do. I think this is a very close call, one on which people can legitimately disagree. As those of you who have read Connected know, I’m not a big fan of the use of military power except in cases of legitimate self-defense. Having said that, I also think there are a limited number of other justifications for the use of force.
For one thing, I think the international community should stand up to those who would use military force to change internationally recognized borders. That’s why the first President Bush did the right thing in resisting Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. By contrast, his son’s use of force to overthrow Hussein and to try to reshape Iraq in America’s preferred image was a tragic mistake, one for which the United States paid a heavy price.
The use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons is another case where the use of force may be justified.
“Here’s my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community: What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?” President Obama asked on Saturday. It’s a very good question.
But there are other good questions as well.
Having publicly ruled out boots on the ground or any sustained involvement in the Syrian conflict, will any message the President tries to send to the Syrian regime be effective? Can the U.S. military substantially degrade the capability of the Syrian armed forces to use poison gas again? Will the strike the President contemplates be powerful enough and sustained enough to serve as an effective deterrent while avoiding horrific collateral damage to innocent civilians?
These are not simple questions to answer so I’m pleased Obama has asked Congress to think about them and is not trying to force a hasty decision. Congress needs to think about them for sure, but so do the rest of us.
Some will complain that the rest of the international community does little or nothing, leaving it to the United States to carry the burden. But in part that’s because Russia and China can effectively veto international action under U.N. auspices.
In the end, a military response poses many risks. But so too does the failure to act. This is a serious issue and I have nothing but contempt for those politicians who seem to focus on how this will play politically rather than on what the best choice is for the United States among a host of bad options.
Because there are only bad options, no good ones.