President Barack Obama said that an introduction of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war would constitute a "red line" with "enormous consequences" that "would change [his] calculus." That was a year ago. This past March, Obama said, "We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people, or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists. ... We will hold [Bashar al-Assad] accountable."
Credible sources -- including Britain, France and U.S. intelligence agencies -- accuse the Syrian government of using chemical weapons on two or more occasions, once last December and possibly twice during March. Obama took no action.
Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry again made an allegation of another use of chemical weapons, this time resulting in the deaths of up to 1,000 men, women and children. "It is undeniable," said Kerry, that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons. Obama officials now say, off-the-record, that a military strike of some sort -- probably cruise missiles -- is just a matter of when.
Let's back up, ask some questions and revisit a few assumptions.
Former Secretary of State and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell issued the "Powell Doctrine" and received praise from Democrats and Republicans, doves and hawks. Powell set forth several conditions for the commander-in-chief to meet before using the military. A military mission, according to Powell, must first and foremost be vital to our national security. The mission should be clearly defined, have an exit strategy, use overwhelming force to achieve its objective and enjoy popular domestic support.
A military mission in Syria satisfies (SET ITAL) none (END ITAL) of those conditions. Is the objective to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad? Will firing some missiles accomplish this objective? If not, then what? If so, what comes next? Should the "rebels" succeed, will the new government be any less hostile to the U.S. and treat its people -- especially the opposition -- any better?
As for popular support for a military action against Syria, there isn't any. A Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that only 9 percent support military action in Syria. If it were proved that Syria used chemical weapons, support increases to 25 percent, with 46 percent opposed.
Finally, recall that Kerry confidently calls it "undeniable" that the Syria government used chemical weapons. He cites various intelligence sources. Yet, Kerry, when running for president in 2004, accused George W. Bush of a "rush to war" on "faulty intelligence."