The Secretary of State Goes to War

Come Hell or high water, we’re bombing Syria

The Secretary of State Goes to War The Secretary of State Goes to War

Uncategorized August 30, 2013 0

Cruise missiles. Wikimedia Commons The Secretary of State Goes to War Come Hell or high water, we’re bombing Syria Secretary of State John Kerry... The Secretary of State Goes to War
Cruise missiles. Wikimedia Commons

The Secretary of State Goes to War

Come Hell or high water, we’re bombing Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry gave an impassioned plea for striking at the Syrian regime on Friday. His speech was accompanied by the public release of an unclassified intelligence assessment that gave “high confidence” to the claim that Bashar Al Assad’s forced used chemical weapons against the Damascus suburbs.

“Our choice today has great consequences,” Kerry said. “It matters to our security and the security of our allies.”

Sec. Kerry argued that everyone is watching what the U.S. will do, which puts American credibility on the line. “It is about Hezbollah, and North Korea, and every other terrorist group or dictator that might ever again contemplate the use of weapons of mass destruction.” He also framed this choice as a fundamental issue of American values to oppose tyranny.

But then Sec. Kerry made a remarkable claim about the U.N. — whose approval would be needed to make any direct intervention legal under international law. “Because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the U.N. Security Council,” he said, “the U.N. cannot galvanize the world to act, as it should.”

Thus, when American bombs fall or American missiles fly into Syria, they will be happening not under U.N. auspices but American interests and needs. Fatigue of war, he said, does not absolve us of our responsibility to act.

Yet the shape of this action remains frustratingly vague. Sec. Kerry told us a great deal about what it will not be: like Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya; not open-ended; not with boots on the ground (though even that term is always fuzzy and imprecise); and not with responsibility for the civil war.

Make no mistake: the U.S. has already taken sides in the Syrian war. Millions of dollars in aid are already flowing to various rebel groups and despite delays there are plans to send small arms to a smaller number of militias operating in the country. The U.S. has supported the Supreme Military Council, which is now collapsing under its own illegitimacy. There’s no question which side the U.S. has already taken.

So it seems the Obama administration is determined to strike at Syria, almost regardless of anything else — without U.N. support, without even British support — and nothing can possibly dissuade them. Sec. Kerry made it plain that Pres. Obama is adamant that chemical weapons use cannot be tolerated regardless of circumstance.

That leaves the U.S. with a number of untenable options for striking.

The Assad regime is reportedly moving human shields into the facilities it suspects are most likely to be in a first strike. Will Pres. Obama “shoot the hostage” to get at the regime? It remains unclear — options for striking have varied from chemical weapons facilities to military command and control outposts.

But moreover: can limited strikes actually deter the Assad regime from further heinous crimes? Funding one side of the war hasn’t done very much — if anything it emboldened both Hezbollah and Iran to take a more direct role in the war, propping up the Assad regime. How strikes might affect decisions in Damascus, Beirut — even in Russia — remains unclear.

In a statement, Pres. Obama said, “a lot of people think something should be done but nobody wants to do it.” He obviously thinks the U.S. should fill the gap, despite enormous doubts from chemical weapons experts that strikes can be carried out safely or effectively. Not even the American people seem to want to strike on Syria — in a new poll released Friday 50 percent opposed any form of direct intervention, and 80 percent want Congressional approval first.

So it’s unclear which “people” the president is referring to when he says they want him to do something about Syria.

Then again, acting for the sake of acting — the politician’s syllogism, if you will — has been the norm for America in the 21st century. So perhaps this blind push to military force is not so unusual after all.