Who, if any of us, believe a Congress and executive branch that manages to get virtually nothing done should spend two weeks publicly debating whether or not the United States should respond to Syria’s use of chemical weapons on its own people? It makes no sense. In a 24-hour news cycle, it has made and will continue to make the most powerful democracy in the world look foolish.
Yes, the Constitution requires Congressional approval before taking our country to war, such as occurred in 2002 when President George W. Bush sought approval before committing our forces to Iraq. But there are ample and justified times when the President, acting on what he believes is the national interest, commits our armed forces to limited engagements. This should have been one of those times.
However, President Obama was probably not acting solely on what was best for our national interest. After Benghazi, we know this President takes a long time to “gather the facts” about what may have actually occurred. But for more than a week, the leaders of the President’s team and his national security infrastructure have concluded without a doubt that Syria was guilty of his heinous crime against humanity. The President seemed poised to justifiably take action. That would have been fine with me.
We all know that the finest military in the world has been preparing for weeks or months for a possible action in Syria, so there is no doubt we have the resources in place. But instead of acting in a timely fashion, President Obama decides at the 11th hour to seek Congressional approval, and now the circus is under way.
No doubt, someone convinced President Obama to seek cover for either striking or not striking against Syria. He now has 435 members of Congress, commentators from all sides and polls from the right and the left to muddle the issue. It is the safest place to be. The problem is that the credibility of the United States diminishes with every day that the use of chemical weapons goes unchallenged.
Yes, many Americans and most countries around the world (see Britain) have grown weary of wars that are based in sectarian and historical events inside a country. I know I am, but not because we took action. I grow weary because I look at Iraq and Afghanistan and realize we committed billions of dollars and precious American lives only to have the bad guys just crawl out from under their rocks to continue their ideological wars (see Taliban) because we chose to leave.
But using chemical weapons to kill your own citizens? Short of a nuclear war, it is the most offensive act any group or government can take. Can we morally justify not taking action that sends the message that this will not be tolerated? Can we sit back and do nothing while hoping someone joins us because we don’t want to go alone? Hey, if Britain isn’t coming along, who is?
Once President Obama was convinced that the Syrian government had indeed used chemical weapons to kill children, he should have notified Congressional leaders and launched whatever attack the military generals recommended. Instead of what is going on now, Americans should have had our regular programming interrupted with the President announcing to the nation that we would have struck Syria’s military assets in response to the use of chemical weapons. We would have put the stake in the ground that such actions will not be tolerated.
So tonight the President speaks from the Oval Office to tell Americans what they already know: Killing your own citizens with chemical weapons is way over any red line. However, after a couple of weeks spiced with politically motivated debate and Americans fear of the military getting bogged down into another internal civil war, we will probably stand down. President Obama had his moment to act, but now he will be joined by Republicans and Democrats in Congress as the country’s credibility trends downward.
Would any action change what is going on in Syria? Probably not. Perhaps as part of an overall strategy, a timely strike might have emboldened the opposition, but who really knows? In fact, who really knows who the opposition is? Most of these conflicts are far too complicated to resolve without a singular focus and a vision for what happens after the military does its job (see Iraq). Nevertheless, conservatives, progressives, libertarians and any other demographic breakdown could look at our country as taking a stand to say, “No, no one is going to use chemical weapons to kill the innocent.”
Something about that feels right.
Davis Lundy is a former newspaper journalist and a 33-year resident of the Chattanooga area.