The grossly obese Syrian officer was coming in the door of the King Khalid Military City exchange while I was coming out. I saw instantly that this was no soldier; this was a thug, a threat only to the unarmed civilians that are his kind’s prey. My eyes fell downward from his cruel face to the piece of flair gracing his olive green fatigues.
“Nice Assad button,” I sneered. Real warriors don’t wear pictures of dictators on their uniform. He glared back at me with his dark, rat eyes, not understanding my words but fully appreciating my contempt. Though Syria was a putative coalition partner, I knew I was staring at an enemy.
Not much has changed since Operation Desert Storm. The Syrian regime’s “soldiers” are still just punks fit only to oppress the defenseless, unable to even hold their own against a ragged band of barely-armed insurgents. But like the vast majority of Americans, I have grave concerns about attacking them.
The President was right to belatedly call for a vote of Congress. Unlike many people who I greatly respect, the Constitution’s carefully-written text appears to me to leave only the power to react to sudden threats with the president. By investing the power to declare war in the Congress, the Constitution places the decision to enter wars of choice squarely with the people’s representatives. As a veteran, I also understand the importance to the troops of knowing that they have voted to support you.
The President must now tell us why we should make the choice for war. And he needs to do it personally by addressing the nation before a joint session of Congress.
There can be no dodging this responsibility, no clever attempts to secure credit in case of success while shifting the blame in case of failure. We are talking about war, and the President is the Commander-In-Chief. As the commander, he – and only he – is solely responsible for everything the military does and does not do.
The toxic atmosphere of suspicion engendered by the President’s radical liberal governing style has left him no well of trust from which to draw. Sadly, but not without cause, the first unspoken thoughts that arose when the President reversed course were that this was some sort of trick designed to saddle his political opponents with the blame for a policy that was already in tatters. That was a natural consequence of five years of political choices by the Administration – when support is suddenly required, don’t expect to instantly receive it from the people you and your mainstream media pals have spent half a decade demonizing.
The Administration is full of smart people, but what it needs are wise people who understand something about human nature. Scorched earth politics burn away the relationships and trust one will need to lean on after he unilaterally draws a red line and then finds himself needing support from his opponents when the enemy steps across.
But that cannot be helped now – we are where we are, and that is on the brink of yet another war. If the President truly believes this is the right course of action, he must literally step up to the podium and place his credibility behind it. He must personally take on the responsibility for this war.
There can be no voting present. Like George W. Bush, the President himself must ask the Congress to go to war over an Arab dictator’s weapons of mass destruction. And he must, alone, bear the responsibility for the consequences.
He must answer the questions that naturally arise from his request. What form will this war take? How long will it last? What is the end state this war seeks to achieve?
These questions are basic queries that any strategist would ask. That we have no answers yet raises serious questions in and of itself.
Assad’s gang of murderers are scum, and they fully deserve whatever we might do to them. They used chemical weapons against civilians, a ghastly crime which justifies whatever penalty we choose to impose. That is not the point.
The point is whether chastising these degenerates is in our national interest. How will doing so be to the advantage of the United States of America?
That is the only standard by which we must measure our strategy. Sarin gas is horrific. So are bombs and bullets and bayonets, and their innocent victims are just as dead. We cannot punish every dictator who butchers his own people because if we tried to do so we would be doing nothing else.
Mr. President, how will it support American interests to attack Syria? This is not about our revulsion at brutality. It is about how much treasure and how many lives – especially American lives – we will sacrifice in order to attain … what? What is the goal? What conditions do we seek to establish that make mothers weeping over their son’s and daughter’s caskets worthwhile?
Assad’s regime, through its support of terrorists in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere, have caused hundreds, even thousands of American deaths. If it was simply a matter of destroying the likes of the bloated Syrian officer I met in Saudi Arabia the answer would be clear: Take them out.
But it is not so simple. Our regime enemies are engaged in a death struggle with our al-Qaeda enemies. Do we want to tip the scales from one set of psychotic criminals toward another, possibly worse, set of psychotic criminals? Why shouldn’t we just sit back and watch as our sworn enemies kill each other?
Only the President can answer those questions. And he must do so, personally, alone on the podium, before a joint session of Congress and before the American people whose sons and daughters will fight this war.