- - Thursday, September 11, 2014

In anticipation of a sober announcement about airstrikes over Syria, I was optimistic. The one adviser that has bona fide influence over President Obama is public opinion. I assumed public opinion had grabbed him by the collar and demanded he take serious action against the terrorists. The buzz about airstrikes surely was just one part of a comprehensive strategy for taking out the Islamic State that our president would boldly announce on the eve of 9/11.

I was getting choked up just thinking about it. In preparation, I began drafting a column about the importance of second chances and do-overs. Pen in hand, at 9:01 last night, I listened eagerly for that golden nugget I’d use to convince my fellow critics to check politics at the door and rally behind our commander in chief during war.

Wait, what just happened? The speech is over. My pen is still in the same position. More airstrikes, that’s it? Our strategy in Syria will be like our strategy in Yemen and Somalia. Am I missing something? We captured a terrorist leader or two in those areas, but by no means are we victorious. Great. To say our strategy in Syria will be like Yemen and Somalia is like saying my weight loss plan will be like Chris Christie’s. (No offense, governor.)

Honestly, I’d rather the president do nothing at this point than carry out piecemeal military action based on his knee-jerk reaction to plummeting opinion polls. Yes, I said it. Doing nothing is a better strategy than airstrikes alone. Airstrikes should be a part of a well thought out stratagem. Without proper planning, the unintended consequences will increase the violence. There are too many lives at stake, too many unanswered questions.

The Islamic State is provoking us. They’re goading us into direct conflict with them. Are we charging like a bull straight into a non-Islamic Islamic red flag? What’s the objective in Syria? What’s the plan if the airstrikes aren’t enough? There will never, ever be boots on the ground in Syria? Who is going to clean up the backlash from the airstrikes?

No rational person is for war. Yet, sometimes in an ironic twist, just war is the instrument of peace to eradicate an evil. “Just war” is the distinction. The Catholic Church’s Just War Doctrine lays out criteria that must be met in order to morally use military force:

“The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration …

• the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

• all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

• there must be serious prospects of success;

• the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated …

… The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.”

As part of a coalition of nations responsible for the common good, the United States of America better be damn well certain we’ve met the just war criteria before we proceed with airstrikes. I would argue that we’ve met all but one, the last one. In this situation, because our use of arms is incomplete, it could very well produce disorder more grave than the evil it intends to eliminate.

There will be backlash from the airstrikes. Our so-called plan is to leave that problem to the Syrian rebels to handle, the rebels we’ve all but ignored until now. We’ll arm them, but flee when ground tension escalates, because, hey … he’s gotta keep his campaign promise … no boots on the ground! Is this part of Mr. Obama’s plan to increase humanitarian efforts, to leave the rebels to defend themselves against mass slaughter that will surely increase in the wake of American airstrikes?

For the sake of our troops, for the sake of their families, to honor those already wounded and the lives already lost, we must prepare for unintended consequences before we strike.

“We will hunt you down,” Mr. Obama warned those who threaten America. Yet the subtext is, “…But only if you stand in plain view, waving a giant white flag visible from the sky during airstrikes. We won’t send troops to hunt you down on the ground, and we promise to withdraw our troops in Afghanistan. Sure, it means that soon you can safely hide out in Afghan caves. But really, we’ll hunt you down.”

By reiterating his pledge against ground force, and his pledge to withdraw forces in Afghanistan, he assured terrorists that under his administration, there will only ever be mealy mouthed military action. The unintended consequence is that, unless President Obama’s plan is fortified, he’s created an incentive for terrorists to inflict as much damage as possible before the United States of America elects a new commander in chief.

Quite frankly, armed force is desperately needed in Syria because of Mr. Obama’s knee-jerk foreign policy. In a vain quest for rock star status, he prematurely withdrew troops in Iraq in order to appease public opinion, not because it was the right thing to do. He ignored repeated warnings from Generals. He ignored signs of unintended consequences. Let’s not make the same mistake twice.

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