In geopolitics as in medicine the first rule is do no harm. I am at a loss to see where any conceivable military action stands to either deter Assad from using chemical weapons in the future or reduces the risk to innocent civilians in Syria. Doing something for the sake of doing something only occasionally yields success. And, as far as I've read, the limit of our strategy in Syria is to do something.
Philosophically, I believe in the use of military power and I believe military force can be transformational, ask Japan and Germany. I also believe that the ill considered use of military force makes us look weak and stupid (any number of missile strikes by Bill Clinton, our involvement in Somalia, etc.). Right now I'm much more in sympathy with my colleague Daniel Horowitz than I am with my colleagues advocating a military response. In fact, I strongly oppose military intervention in Syria.
There is no genocide in Syria. The only ethnic cleansing is being done by the people we would be aiding. The chemical non proliferation regime is not in jeopardy because Syria already has chemical weapons and doesn't seem to be providing them to anyone else. We are not trying for regime change. And, of course the Syrian rebels are mostly al Qaeda.
In short, this would be a military strike with no objective other than killing some luckless Syrian conscripts... and innocent bystanders.
I'm also a realist. Our Congressional caucus is running like scalded dogs from the idea of standing up to Obama. Really, why should they show more courage on Syria than they have on any other confrontation with Obama? When a vote finally takes place I fully expect them to give Obama carte blanche to do what he wishes.
Some will vote because the are afraid of being called out the next time Assad decides to kill people. More will follow the blandishments of the GOP “smart set” and vote out of some misguided sense of protecting the credibility of Barack Obama.
One such example appears is that of James Ceaser of the University of Virginia whom Bill Kristol tells us is a leading conservative thinker. (I don't move in those circles so I just have to take his word for that.)
Republicans should support some version of the authorization of force resolution. They should do so even if they think that the President’s policy will prove ineffective, do no good, waste money, or entail unforeseen risks; they should do so even if they think he has gotten the nation into this situation by blunders, fecklessness, arrogance, or naiveté; and they should so even if, and especially, if they have no confidence in his judgment. The simple fact is that the nation and our allies will be at further risk if the world sees a presidency that is weakened and that has no credibility to act. Partisans may be tempted to see such a result as condign punishment for the President’s misjudgments; they may feel that he deserves to pay the price for his hypocrisy and cheap and demagogic attacks on his predecessor. But at the end of the day, Republicans need to rise above such temptations; the stakes are too high.. The weaker the president’s credibility on the world scene, the more the need to swallow and do what will not weaken it further. President Obama is the only president we have. That remains the overriding fact.
And there is the important matter of the future–a future that may one day have a Republican in the presidency. The precedent of setting too low a threshold for blocking presidential initiative in foreign affairs is unwise. Of course Congress has the right, even the obligation, to stop action that member of the legislature believe would be disastrous. But short of that, it is wiser to maintain a good deal of discretion in the presidency. In the case at hand, all of the hyperbole about war aside, the real objection is that the President’s policy will prove to be ineffective or humiliating, not disastrous. That is not sufficient reason to weaken the discretion of the president or open the door next time to more gratuitous partisanship by the Democrats.
Were the basis of Dr. Ceaser's essay factual one would be inclined to agree with him. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
In our system of government the authority of a president may pass by virtue of succession but his influence and credibility do not. One needs only look at the utterly benighted reign of Jimmy Carter to see how presidential credibility can be frittered away and regained. Any new president is going to be challenged by domestic and foreign political opposition and he can't borrow his predecessor's accomplishments. He must stand alone. While Obama is, unfortunately, the only president we have now he is not the only president we will ever have.
Dr. Ceaser's concern about Democrats acting in a similar manner is rather bizarre as it was the late unlamented Democrat John Murtha who advocated depriving the US military of resources in Iraq, thereby deliberately creating more casualties – he called it “a slow bleed” – and increasing pressure on President Bush to end our war there. This was not in response to any Republican challenge to Clinton, it is simply their nature.
The reason we are in this mess is because Barack Obama is temperamentally ill suited for the presidency. Assad used chemical weapons... and Russia and Iran are backing Assad... because they have taken the measure of Obama and they have, correctly, determined that his is a weak and petty little man who is only capable of weak and petty responses. His military strike at Syria is precisely such an action.
Instead of taking Creaser's advice and acting like a doting parent who caves into a tantrum-throwing toddler in the supermarket (we mustn't hard the precious little thing's self esteem), Congress owes it to the nation and to the office of the president to put Obama in a time out.
Rather than taking a page out of Obama's playbook and voting “present”, Congress should keep Obama from doing still more damage to US prestige and security abroad, even if they won't act to do so on the domestic front. They should vote no and let him own the results, good or bad.