Several days ago, I suggested that American military
action in Syria, the use of chemical weapons by Syrians
against their own people notwithstanding, was not
advisable. I enumerated the American past experience
in the Middle East, going back to the Versailles
Conference of 1919 when Euro-U.S. interference and
involvement in the region began, and continuing with
our inability to control events during the so-called
“Arab Spring" and its aftermath. I did suggest that some
serious effort should be made to punish those who used
the chemical weapons against civilians, which was clearly
a horrendous war crime.
Since I wrote my thoughts in “What Should Be Done” on
these pages, no military action by the U.S. has taken
place, but the Obama administration has ordered military
preparations to make such action imminent. Before
ordering that action, President Obama, as commander-
in-chief, decided to ask for the support of the U.S.
Congress, and hearings for this are now taking place.
It is not clear what Mr. Obama would do if he fails to
receive congressional support. He has said it is not
necessary, but he has asked for it anyway.
I would agree with the president that the proposed
limited action, presumably bombing of Syrian targets
(but no U.S. troops on the ground), does not require
congressional approval. His gesture is clearly a political
one. If he fails to get approval (more likely in the U.S.
house than in the U.S. senate), he thus can rationalize
his failure to observe his earlier warning to Syria that
he would act if the “red line” of chemical weapons use
was crossed. If he does get approval, he can share any
blame that might result from U.S. action with the
Republican opposition. His greatest risk would be
taking action without the approval of both houses of
In the case of British Prime Minister David Cameron,
he called Parliament back into session and sought
approval for British action in Syria from a House of
Commons his party clearly controlled. But in an
historic turn of events, the House voted against his
request, the first such action there since 1782 when the
British leader Lord North asked for further military
action against the rebellious American colonies, and
was turned down. Mr. Cameron promptly withdrew his
nation from the Western alliance planning to take action.
Only France today remains firmly committed to action
Since there is very little support in the U.S. (and, to be
fair, within the Obama administration) to commit troops
to any action in Syria, the obvious choices seem limited
to various aerial attacks by planes or missiles against
Syrian military assets, including their remaining
chemical warfare supplies. The question is: What
meaningful result can occur from such a limited action?
This question is especially pertinent since any element
of surprise is presumably gone with all the publicity to
our intentions in the region. A decisive military action
or a highly successful special military operation might
be justifiable now, but there is no indication yet that our
military has that in mind, nor that Mr. Obama would
But is Mr. Obama’s personal credibility, following more
than a month of hesitation and delay, worth the
expenditure of an expensive but only probable symbolic
gesture? And what of that always critical factor, the
unintended consequences, of any action we might take?
“Uninentended consequences” have been, so far, the major
reality of our involvement in the seeming permanently
hostile (to the U.S.) Middle East.
I do not share the same rationale that most U.S. “isolationist”
officials and commentators have brought forward so far. I do
not believe that the U.S. can retreat from its unique role in the
world, nor be indifferent to threats, violence and subversion
to the world’s democracies. But I do think that the use of
American power, military and economic, must be employed
more wisely and effectively than it has been recently. Nothing
from the Obama administration so far indicates that any
proposed military action would fulfill that goal.
Until and unless Commander-in-Chief Obama can prepare
and execute a military action that would make a positive
difference in the Middle East, Congress should withhold its
support and consent.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.