- - Monday, September 9, 2013

Going to war may be the worst of the bad options

Team Obama’s public campaign to embroil the United States in Syria’s civil war has kicked into high gear. President Obama’s senior subordinates have been warning incessantly about the costs of inaction and making preposterous promises about the benefits of conducting a limited attack on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Mr. Obama was set to throw himself into the sales pitch, too, with a saturation round of TV appearances Monday night and an address to the nation Tuesday.

Will all this lobbying work? Will skeptical legislators ignore their constituents — who overwhelmingly recognize the folly of this proposal — and do as the White House and some Republicans demand? Not if the common sense of most Americans prevails, as common sense tells us our attacking Syria will not make things better. Rather, it likely will make matters worse, and probably much worse.


Here’s a sanity check on the case being made by the proponents.

The principal argument of advocates of a new authorization for the use of military force has two facets: First, the United States has an international responsibility to act in the face of chemical weapons use. Second, if we don’t, Mr. Assad, Iran and others will employ them with impunity, and the mullahs in Tehran will no longer fear our red lines on their nuclear programs.

The United Nations, the left and others hostile to American power have long sought to subordinate it to the dictates of the so-called “international community.” The doctrine of a “responsibility to protect” was tailor-made for this purpose: It furthers the notion that the use of force is only legitimate when a U.N. mandate has been provided or, where that’s not possible (owing to Russian or Chinese vetoes), where some other grounds can be found for invoking an international authority.

More to the point, “responsibility to protect” ensures that the U.S. military’s finite — and currently seriously overstretched — resources will be put to use punishing those whose barbarism violates “international norms,” the enforcement of which becomes defined as a vital American interest. Consequently, a vote for Mr. Obama’s Syria resolution is a vote to legitimate and authorize the transnationalist grab for control of the only armed forces we have, at the expense of our sovereignty and, inevitably, of our security.

As to the possibility that, absent our attack, we will confront more chemical weapons use, it cannot be ruled out. On the other hand, no one — no one — has explained how “degrading Mr. Assad’s capabilities” and “changing the momentum of the battlefield” (as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution demands) will ensure greater control of the Syrian dictator’s vast chemical arsenal. In fact, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, has testified that the U.S. strike will target the regime’s weapons used to protect that arsenal.

Even in the absence of such a deliberate purpose, we have to assume that either the designated terrorist group allied with Mr. Assad (Hezbollah) or the one dominating the opposition (al Qaeda) will gain access to some of these arms. Consequently, those voting for the president’s resolution have no claim to a higher moral authority than the opponents when it comes to preventing future examples of the horrific incidents captured in videos of Syrian victims that the administration is shamelessly exploiting to buffalo legislators.

Then, there is the ultimate appeal being made to patriots — in and out of the Congress — found in the assertion that not just the president’s credibility, but the nation’s, is on the line. Some Republican legislators and a number of former officials of GOP administrations have embraced this argument. They warn that the repercussions of defeating Mr. Obama this time will be to damage confidence in America for the duration of his presidency, with potentially devastating effects.

Unfortunately, inordinate damage has already been done to our leadership in the world as a result of nearly five years of what passes for this president’s security policymaking. This has been the predictable effect of the Obama Doctrine, which I have reduced to nine words: emboldening our enemies, undermining our allies, diminishing our country. As Norman Podhoretz trenchantly put it in The Wall Street Journal on Monday: “[Obama’s] foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish . The fundamental transformation he wished to achieve here was to reduce the country’s power and influence.”

As a result, the question before the Congress this week is not whether U.S. credibility will be degraded by its repudiation of what is, in fact, more of a Gulf of Tonkin-style blank check than a restrictive authorization for only a limited military action. Rather, it is this: Will we be able to measure the marginal additional harm done to our nation’s prestige, power and influence — all ingredients in its credibility — given the damage Mr. Obama has already done to them?

It was predictable, and predicted, that the whirlwind Mr. Obama has sown would be reaped eventually. That moment may be at hand. Thanks in no small measure to the decisions made to date — including those that have hollowed out our military, reduced our presence and power-projection capabilities and contributed to the metastasizing of the Islamist cancer — there are no good options in Syria. Unfortunately, the worst of them at the moment appears to be our going to war there, and Congress should decline to do so.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan. He is president of the Center for Security Policy (SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for The Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program “Secure Freedom Radio.”