The latest on Syria
I haven't written anything on Syria, largely because we don't have an explicit position (UPDATE, see below), and whatever I write will be outdated by the time anyone reads it. Events on this are happening so fast that they are getting outstripped almost immediately. Nonetheless, today has a few interesting developments.
You'll recall President Obama's "Red Line" statement on Syria from a year ago (August 20, 2012):
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the president said a year ago last week. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
Today the President is being challenged by some on the Red Line statement, and is defending himself apparently, per the Weekly Standard which has the video:
"First of all, I didn't set a red line," said Obama. "The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are [inaudble] and passed a treaty forbidding their use, even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty. Congress set a red line when it indicated that in a piece of legislation entitled the Syria Accountability Act that some of the horrendous things happening on the ground there need to be answered for. So, when I said in a press conference that my calculus about what's happening in Syria would be altered by the use of chemical weapons, which the overwhelming consensus of humanity says is wrong, that wasn't something I just kind of made up. I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There's a reason for it."
He's clearly right for some of it. I'm not saying I understand why one cause of death is so much worse than any other, but clearly the world community decided it was when it passed the Chemical Weapons Treaty. And this isn't a DEM v. GOP thing, as was made clear when Speaker of the House Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor agreed with the President. In fact, the latter specifically agreed with the President (via HotAir.com):
The United States’ broader policy goal, as articulated by the President, is that Assad should go, and President Obama’s redline is consistent with that goal and with the goal of deterring the use of weapons of mass destruction. It is the type of redline virtually any American President would draw. Now America’s credibility is on the line. A failure to act when acting is in America’s interests and when a red line has been so clearly crossed will only weaken our ability to use diplomacy, economic pressure, and other non-lethal tools to remove Assad and deter Iran and other aggressors.
Note that the UN Secretary General isn't particularly keen on the idea of strikes not authorized by the UN. Nevertheless, the part about "Regime Change" is a sort of new development, which many are ascribing to trying to win over more GOP supporters:
While stressing that Washington's primary goal remained "limited and proportional" attacks, to degrade Syria's chemical weapons capabilities and deter their future use, the president hinted at a broader long-term mission that may ultimately bring about a change of regime.
"It also fits into a broader strategy that can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic, economic and political pressure required – so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability, not only to Syria but to the region," he told senior members of Congress at a White House meeting on Tuesday.
Obama has long spoken of the US desire to see Assad step down, but this is the first time he has linked that policy objective to his threatened military strikes against Syria. It follows pressure on Monday, from senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, to make such a goal more explicit.
It appears to have worked based on the response from both House and Senate GOP leadership.
Among other provisions, the draft, which was obtained by Reuters, sets a 60-day limit on U.S. military action in Syria, with a possibility of a single 30-day extension subject to conditions.
Obama is asking Congress to back his call for limited U.S. strikes on Syria to punish President Bashar al-Assad for his suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians during a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.
The compromise deal reached by Senator Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican, includes a provision banning any use of U.S. armed forces on the ground in Syria, according to the draft document.
I'm not a huge fan of any of this, but that last part is somewhat troubling to me. Why are we explicitely taking things off the table before we even begin? Is telegraphing our own "red lines" a good tactic? I don't want ground troops in there anymore than anyone else does, but banning it before we start seems myopic to me. What if something arises that neccessitates special forces guys on the ground directing strikes, but we've said they are ruled out. For that matter, would this be entirely binding? In his role of Commander in Chief, isn't the President the one who decides what is needed? A sense of Congress might have served a better distinction here than alerting our "enemy" that, "hey, don't worry that there'll be people guiding in our missiles." The first time we hit on a non-military target through bad INTEL there'll be people clammoring for our heads.
On top of that, are we sure the rebels are the good guys? Some don't seem certain of that:
More than two years into Syria’s civil war, radical Sunni Islamists are emerging as the prevalent force seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad, according to military analysts in Europe and the Middle East. Their influence is among the biggest challenges facing the U.S. and allies such as Saudi Arabia as they decide which anti-Assad forces to back and how.
“Two of the most powerful insurgent factions in Syria are al-Qaeda factions,” Evan Kohlmann, senior partner at Flashpoint Partners in New York, said by telephone. “Even were the Assad regime to fall and there be some kind of takeover by rebels, there’s not a clear understanding that everyone here will be able to agree and form any kind of government.”
Again, The American Legion doesn't have a specific policy or resolution on this (UPDATE, see below), so I am more curious what you guys think. It's making strange bedfellows, that much can't be denied, and the "good guys" don't seem all that good. But can we just sit back while chemical weapons are deployed? I just don't know....
UPDATE: Looks like I jumped the gun, as Senator McCain has come out AGAINST the proposal....because it doesn't go far enough.
McCain, who has long favored stepped-up U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war, said he opposes the resolution crafted by fellow Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Bob Corker of Tennessee. The resolution puts a 90-day limit on action and says no American troops can be sent to Syria.
McCain reportedly wants more than cruise missile strikes and "limited" action; he wants to tilt the direction of the civil war. He has, though, said he doesn't want combat troops on the ground in Syria.
UPDATE x2: Turns out we do have a position on this, somehow I missed it when it went around.
American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger is urging Congress to consider national interests carefully before deciding whether or not to take military action against Syria.
"While we have not addressed the Syrian situation as such, we commend Congress for its due diligence under its Constitutional authority," Dellinger said. "The American Legion also urges Congress and President Obama to be guided in their decisions by principles outlined in our organization’s relevant resolutions. That is, American national interests should be clearly identified and defined before military action is taken."