Appearing in the Rose Garden Saturday, President Obama said two good and extremely important things: that he wants to attack Syria because of its use of chemical weapons, but that he will ask Congress to support him first.
But the implementation of his strategy is likely to backfire with nightmarish results for the United States, both because of his incomprehensible delay, which I discuss in a companion piece below, and the limited nature of the strikes he is contemplating.
Let’s start with what he is doing right.
Obama’s sudden decision to seek a vote on Capitol Hill is what the Framers wanted. It’s what a country that is divided on action against Syria needs. Buy-in from Congress will give the action more force, making it truly an attack by the United States, not by an isolated chief executive. And all the backseat drivers in Congress with their fingers in the air waiting to pounce on the commander in chief and sap the will of the nation the minute something goes wrong will now have to get on the record first.
The decision to attack Syria is also correct, though not unless the aim is to get rid of Bashar Assad, as I have discussed. But holding Syria accountable is the right thing to do if it’s done right.
Use of chemical weapons must be opposed and stopped in its tracks. This is not just a humanitarian gesture and a confirmation of our deepest values as a compassionate people. It is an national security exigency.
If WMD use is permitted to go unopposed, our enemies – both nations and terrorists – will begin stockpiling them or add to existing caches. And they’ll start using them. Yes, WMD is worse than most conventional weapons, because it generally kills more people faster and in a more gruesome manner.
WMD is a particular peril for the United States, where the prospect of mass casualties from states or groups eager to use terror against us is our greatest national security threat. Remember, we went to war against Iraq because we believed Saddam Hussein had WMD and might make it available for use against us.
U.S. interests are advanced by world stability, which WMD completely undermines. If we fail to stop Syria from flinging chemical weapons around, two of our most important allies, South Korea and Israel, will be in deep jeopardy, since North Korea and Israel’s enemies throughout the Middle East will be emboldened to use WMD against them. And of course, we will have to come to our allies’ defense.
What’s more, our resistance to WMD like chemical weapons is seen as a stalking horse for how we will treat countries that seek to develop nuclear weapons. A failure to act against Syria will surely embolden Iran to complete its nuclear weapons program without much further delay.
Obama must attack Syria, but he must consult with Congress first. His policy now states that he will do both, and I give him credit for it.