I have to admit, I thought tonight’s speech was going to go in a different direction: I figured that Obama would essentially concede a temporary defeat, but ask Congress to give him the authority to attack Syria after a certain period of time if it didn’t hand over it chemical weapons. Instead, he back-pedaled even farther, taking the Congressional authorization vote off the table (at least temporarily). I suppose he recognized that facing certain defeat, he couldn’t fudge it by asking for authorization for a date specific in the future. It just would’ve looked like an end run around his losing proposal.
That being said, the senatorial Bobsey Twins, McCain and Graham, have co-opted two Democratic hawks, Carl Levin and Chuck Schumer to form a Gang of Four. They’re proposing exactly what I wrote above–that Congress authorize Obama to strike Syria if he concludes Syria isn’t honoring its pledge to rid itself of chemical weapons. While I don’t know the tone of the debate in Congress these days, I’d be surprised if the majority would go for this. As I wrote, it’s an end-around Obama’s original plan. If the American people don’t want us attacking Syria now, why would they approve attacking it in 60 days if Syria still had chemical weapons?
All of Obama’s rhetoric about the horror of Assad’s use of chemical weapons, while true, continue to mask the fact that there is no real substance, no plan to respond to it in coherent fashion. Outrage and high dudgeon are essentially poses unless you have a broader vision of what you’d like to accomplish. Launching a bombing strike is not a plan, it’s a tactic. A short-term act that has little or no substance in the long-run. In fact, a military assault of a few days may make things worse in the long-term.
Another problem with Obama’s approach is that it focuses too narrowly on chemical weapons, when Assad is a butcher willing to use all manner of weapons to achieve his aims. The U.S. president also overlooks that the rebels too are not much better than Assad. While there may be “good” rebels along with the “bad,” the latter have taken the lead in the fight against Assad. We have to assume that if Assad was overthrown the country would not be ruled by the Muslim equivalent of choir boys. In fact, the rebels could very well end up being worse than Assad. At least, to refer to the proverbial phrase about Mussolini, Syria’s leader ‘made the trains run on time.’ While Assad was a tyrant, his family dynasty was one his people managed to live with for four decades. If Al Qaeda ran Syria, there would be even more rivers of blood running down the streets than now, and trains definitely wouldn’t run on time.
Turning now to Assad’s chemical weapons: the suggested plan sounds very shaky. Personally, I don’t believe either Syria or Russia intend to carry it out in any meaningful way. Unless there was a threat of an imminent attack. Then Assad, like Sadaam before him, would make endless last-minute offers that conceded points he’d been adamant about only days before. Tyrants tend to behave this way. If Assad were smart, he would make a dramatic flourish and actually dismantle his chemical weapons stockpile. It would be a decisive act that showed a willingness to compromise and earn him points in international public opinion. But tyrants aren’t in the business of being magnanimous. They’re in the brutality business. So it’s doubtful Assad will be smart about this.
The only silver lining in Obama’s defeat (as far as he’s concerned) is that the drama that unfolded in Congress brought the U.S. to the brink of intervention. It will that much easier to obtain the support of the American people for an attack the next atrocity Assad’s toadies commit.
My modest proposal is that the United Nations enforce a total weapons embargo on Syria, both sides. Because this would still leave Assad with a substantial advantage in air power, I’d also urge a No-Fly zone be established. It might take time to establish an equilibrium in the fighting. But eventually, either the rebels would win through sheer staying power; or there would be a stalemate in which neither side could beat the other. The benefit of my proposal is that each side would be killing each other a single bullet or dagger at a time, rather than with bombs, rockets, and gas. War is a lot more laborious and exhausting when you’re using slingshots rather than helicopter gunships.
Finally, I would like to induct several new members in the Jewish communal Hall of Shame. I’m not talking about the ADL, AJC or Aipac. They’re already members and have been for years. Everyone knew they’d be pro-war. I’m talking about J Street (which I’ve reported here), Americans for Peace Now, and Israel Policy Forum. The first two wimped out on the Congressional vote deciding that silence was the better part of valor. Israel Policy Forum actually went all-in with the Lobby and supported a military attack. Jewish Voice for Peace also doesn’t appear to have taken a position. But I believe that is because the group has confined itself to dealing only with the Israel-Palestinian conflict.