The attack on Syria has already failed

As a nation we should have a commitment to real diplomacy and finding solutions to problems other than just resorting to force. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, September 4, 2013 — The moment Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama began making speeches instead of launching missiles, the attack on Syria had already failed.

For an attack against covert weapons caches to work, it must be swift and decisive, executed with surprise and precision. Once you warn the enemy and dither for almost two weeks, the targets have been moved, the relevance of your action has been diluted, and you look like a bully swinging a clumsy fist and missing your target.

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Threats and angry words make you look weak if you don’t follow them promptly with appropriate action. The time for that kind of response has already passed.

Based on the administration’s own evidence, the timeliness of this proposed attack is fundamentally suspect. If they are to be believed, this is not a sudden “moral outrage” to be reacted to in order to prevent more of the same. This may be the 15th time the Assad administration has used WMD over the course of the last year.

If the use of poison gas is totally unacceptable, why are we only acting now? Why did we not strike at the perpetrators months or even a year or more ago? What peculiar timetable are we following? It doesn’t seem to have much of a direct relationship to events in Syria.

Obama was right to agree to present his case for action against Syria to Congress, though his claim that he doesn’t really have to do so is spurious. He should have presented his evidence in secret, weeks ago, before there was any serious public talk of attacks on Syria. Then, having secured Congressional approval, he could have acted quickly, and perhaps even successfully.

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Obama may have the dinosaur Republican war hawks on board for his attack now and some support from congressional GOP leaders like John Boehner, but there is going to be major opposition among rank and file House members. They can read the polls and know that 80 to 90 percent of the public opposes action against Syria.

Over 100 House members signed a letter demanding respect for their oversight authority, so it will not be an easy debate. Losing the vote in Congress, or even having a substantive debate, just makes Obama look weaker and less effective. He might be wise to consider cutting his losses and moving on.

Republican candidates around the country have latched onto the Syria issue as a way to attack the administration and the incumbent establishment of their own party at the same time. Press releases are flying in every state, making it very scary for any sitting member of Congress to stand with Obama on this issue.

Retired Air Force Colonel Rob Maness is running for Senate in Louisiana. He attacked both his primary opponent and sitting Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu in a recent press release which was typical of what many candidates are saying:

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“The United States does not have a vital national interest in Syria, and our allies in the region are not in imminent danger. While the civilian death toll in the Syrian civil war is disturbing, the lives of our sons and daughters serving in United States military should not be risked in a mission that lacks full justification.”

Foreign Policy advocacy groups across the political spectrum have raised concerns about the possible attack. Robert Kenyon of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy wrote:

“This is simply a continuation of the meddlesome Middle East policy advocated by groups like the Council on Foreign Relations and espoused by the bipartisan political establishment. This policy has failed repeatedly since WWII, and the result will be no different this time, should Congress authorize force in Syria.”

Some are asking whether this is even the right way to approach the entire issue. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon observed that “the use of chemical weapons is a violation of international law and a war crime.”

The use of poison gas on civilians has been a war crime for almost 100 years. Why is the proper response military rather than through law enforcement and the courts?

Why not attempt to apprehend President Assad, or at least charge him and begin war crime proceedings? Let him be held personally responsible rather than bombing Syria’s infrastructure and potentially killing more civilians. This approach ultimately worked with Milosevic. It could work here.

With the time which has already passed and the further delays for Congressional approval, it is absolutely certain that any response will be ineffective and counterproductive. If we respond to the deaths of hundreds of innocent Syrians with the deaths of hundreds more, we will look like nothing more than a clumsy bully flexing his muscles.

As a nation we should have a commitment to real diplomacy and finding solutions to problems other than brute force. Perhaps when Congress convenes to discuss this situation, some strong arguments will be presented for more creative solutions to the Syria problem.

If our only responses in Syria are missiles, escalation and more direct involvement in the conflict, then we have already failed; not just because the right moment to strike has long passed by, but because we have failed to use more effective and appropriate means which are at our disposal.

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Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle has been writing political analysis since the 1980s for newspapers, magazines and now online journals. He is currently Execitive Director of the Center for Foreign Policy Priorities, is on the board of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, and served four years as National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

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