I’m not arguing for or against US military action in Syria with this post. Personally, I feel it is an extremely complex issue with multiple levels of variables. My opinion remains the “danged if we do, danged if we don’t” analysis if a diplomatic resolution as the one currently on the table is not reached. I’ll also state that I do not feel that the Syrian issue should be molded into a Republican, Democrat, Obama, anti-Obama debate as that type of over simplification or partisanship does not even reach the tip of the iceberg.
It scares me that for many in Congress, decisions about Syria are not being made according to what is in the best interest of the United States but instead with eyes on what is personally best for the 2014 off-year elections and the 2016 Presidential election. It was only in June of this year when Senator Ted Cruz on the Floor of the Senate criticized President Obama for not being more aggressive in Syria. He asserted that the United States should go in and personally deal with Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons regardless of whether we did so as an individual nation or as part of a coalition that the United States must lead.
Linked and available below is a selection to that Floor address. The remainder along with additional commentary can be found on Senator Cruz’s website here.
Regardless of one’s feelings about either media outlet, one difference stands out to me. For certain Members of the House and the Senate intervention into Syria was an acceptable course of action up until the point when President Barack Obama argued in favor of intervention. Likewise, acting without Congressional approval is represented as one thing but becomes totally different when Congress has to put their votes on public record. As per sequestration, I’ve written about the topic many times. Congress failed to make the necessary budget cuts, and as a result the blanket across the board cuts took place. Politically in terms of elections, cuts will not be popular to those on the receiving end and instead of making tough and necessary decisions, Congress chose to let the automatic cuts happen and blame the President for their unwillingness to make decisions. That’s both Parties and both Chambers, but it also the sole Constitutional responsibility of the Legislative Branch. Like or dislike whoever is in the White House, with the past few Congresses nothing would be different.
Personally, I am conflicted regarding Syria. Despite all attempts to make US military intervention about President Obama and current US political discord, the events which have in some cases and might have in others regardless of who initiated the act(s) have zero to do with support or opposition to the President. So called “red lines” and so on are not concrete, were not created by Obama, Congress, the Security Council, or UN as a whole, and any existence of said “red lines” in this situation were established by world states aware of what took place in the First World War in terms of chemical weapons. Arguments over the US Constitution and War Powers Act are fruitless because both the US and world community have established precedents which adhere to the Constitution for us in the United States and War Powers where chemical or biological weapons are imminent threats to the world community. Some scholars and others disagree with my interpretations as to what is a “legal” US procedure, but many are in agreement. Some go further with the argument that “legality” only matters after the fact and even that is questionable.
As noted earlier I feel that any attempts to simplify the Syrian situation or make it into a US political argument to either support or oppose US intervention fails. There are so many variables at play that they could not all be mentioned, let alone understood in a lifetime. Like so many things as for establishing foreign or domestic policy I doubt an absolute right or wrong exists. Both short and long term there will be repercussions if the United States conducts a military intervention. Both short and long term there will be repercussions if the United States does not. As private citizens neither you nor I have all the information available. Some have issues with that, but I find those limitations reasonable because disseminating that information puts others at increased risk needlessly.
Do events in some other place, even on the other side of the globe, affect us here in the US? Yes it does and often faster and to a greater degree than we can imagine. In history since the beginning of the 20th century, weapons of mass destruction have been viewed differently, and rightfully so, from conventional weapons. The WMDs also differ as to form. For many years, we never knew if a US response to various world events would be nuclear. Would someone unleash a nuclear attack on us? Chemical and Biological weapons are other forms of WMDs with varying powers of destruction.
Basically, I think danged if we do, danged if we don’t. The question to be decided is whether do or don’t will most likely result in the least amount of dang. We’re not in that dang position because of Obama, Congress, or any other individual here in the US. We’d be in that dang position regardless of who or where in the world. We’re in this dang position because we are the United States of America and have been a World Power since the First World War.
On an academic ideological aside:
Some argue that that military intervention represents only the feelings of those inside the Beltway or connected with the industrial military complex. I find that argument to be another oversimplification. Much depends upon one’s feelings about constructivism theory in international relations.
This European Journal of International Relations article from 1998 provides an introduction to the theory in relations to IR.
This posting in The Economist gives a brief elementary overview of the history of the modern history of chemical weapons.
Ezra Klein in his Washington Post blog provides more background with a Q & A session with Professor Richard Price here:
Professor Price addresses Syria with this January entry in Foreign Affairs.
One of the more recent writings of Price on Syria argues against US intervention, but also addresses a few of the many variables at play.
I’ll agree that for many the events in Syria are merely fodder to be regurgitated for political gamesmanship and rhetoric. For many it is about a means for economic profit.
For more than many may realize, it is about the potential of allowing norms to be broken without any show of opposition to the perpetrator. That does not necessarily imply a military response. That has nothing to do with Obama or Hillary Clinton’s “red line” assertion which seems to be attached solely to President Obama because he repeated the phrase months later. While Obama’s original remarks before Hillary used the phrase “red line” about consequences, repercussions, and being held accountable imply practically the same thing, those terms are less effective in partisan rhetoric than “red line.”
From a historical sense, I would suggest that to many individuals the usage of chemical or biological weapons has a similar connection to how others feel about nuclear weapons. Are there legitimate reasons for usage or not?
Again, I’m neither arguing in favor nor against military action nor even involvement in Syria by the United States. My purpose with the aside was to provide some citations about the rationale for some form of intervention by those outside either the Beltway or Military Industrial complex. Whether one agrees with the constructivist approach to IR which I’m neither endorsing nor condemning in this post, one must recognize that many of voices surrounding the President have academic backgrounds with the constructivism school of thought.