1. The President of the United States, with the authority to engage in limited military action under the War Powers Act has asked the Congress to “authorize” a strike against the user of chemical weapons. We did not fight Hitler because he gassed millions nor did we fight Saddam Hussein when he gassed Kurds and Iranians. That we blinked twice is no reason to ignore this violation of the post WWI prohibition on use of chemical weapons. The Chemical Weapons Convention was ratified by the U. S. Senate and we should enforce it. Children died in their sleep gassed by a madman against all the norms of the civilized world and all its religions. Surely at least one nation has the capability and the will to stand for those norms and if no one else will then let it be the United States of America.
2. The fact that the Security Council of the United Nations is stymied by Russian and Chinese vetoes and cannot do anything about this should not prevent us from joining with our allies France and Turkey and taking action to degrade Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons against those of his people who are not of his religious sect.
3. At the close of WWI the world looked to the United States for leadership. All the major nations adopted and joined the League of Nations and our Congress said no. We drew into ourselves and began a twenty year period of isolationism and Fortress America. As late as 1937 the Congress refused to join the World Court which had been a TR-Taft idea. I believe that was the last vote of the US Congress where isolationism won. After 76 years Congress should not go back to isolation.
4.. After WWII America accepted the world’s call to leadership and in fact led the free world in a forty + year Cold War with Communism eventually becoming the world’s only superpower when the Soviet Union imploded in part due to the pressure of the arms race with the US. If Congress rejects this Presidential request we abdicate that leadership and I guess we hand leadership over to China which practices its’ own form of isolationism, i.e. involvement only when it benefits her economically (sort of like the turn of the century American dollar diplomacy).
5. If the Congress now votes NO on the President’s request we send a green light to the two bit dictators of the world to do what they want when it comes to chemical weapons and nuclear weapons. Assad will use the chemical weapons again and with a demoralized rebel opposition he will ultimately retain control of Syria. His alliance with Iran and Hezbollah will pose a threat to the security of Israel. When the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah troika attacks Israel what will we do? Hold another debate in Congress while Assad gasses the Israeli’s, and then send in troops. Or if they first invade the Sunni Moslem states do we do nothing because we don’t want to get involved?
6. When Iran produces its’ nuclear weapon and the world draws a line in the sand will anyone in Iran believe that any nation will enforce that line. Not China which is engaged in economic trade with Iran; Not Russia which is trying to recapture Putin’s imagined good old days of the USSR; Certainly not America the new paper tiger.
7. When the boy dictator of North Korea pushed to the wall by the starvation of his people and the collapse of his economy looks south will he hesitate to invade and use his nuclear weapons because of the U. S. commitment to South Korea and the presence of our troops? And when he invades do we then refight the Korean War.?
8. In the 1930's decent Americans opposed involvement in European affairs because they had been lied to during WWI by the false propaganda of the Allies about German atrocities (which of course proved true in WWII). And, similarly many opposed tough action against Japan in China because some believed that the Japanese were being provoked and anyway we were protected by the two great oceans - well then came Pearl Harbor and millions of Americans had to go to war. That we were lied to about Iraq is now incontrovertible but we must not make the mistake of now not believing the truth when presented to us.
9. The President shouldn’t have tossed the ball to Congress. But, he did. So now it’s the responsibility of the Congressmen and women to do the right thing. The easy vote is NO. That’s what the polls show (by the way a war never won a poll in this country before it started). A YES vote is much tougher because one would have to explain to a skeptical public that this limited strike is “limited”. Of course if the Congress votes a limit and the President ignores the limit he could and should be impeached and removed from office. Similarly if the Congress votes No and he acts anyway he should be removed. But it’s never that simple -- we will probably see either one house vote in the affirmative and the other in the negative or one house not cast a vote. Whichever, Congressional inaction will be ambiguous and put the entire matter back on the President’s desk - where, as Harry Truman said, the buck stops.
10. In the 1990's President Clinton engaged in a 78 day air war against Serbia to end that state’s attempt to exterminate the Kosovars. At the end of that air campaign, no American soldiers had died, the Serbs bounced the communists and began a democratic experiment and Kosovo was free. The Clinton intervention in Kosovo succeeded - the Obama one in Libya did also.
Since its founding the United States has been a symbol of many things. To many it has stood as the Statue of Liberty stands in NY harbor as the symbol of freedom and liberty for all and progress for mankind. As a nation we haven’t always done the right thing and we have our historic blemishes (treatment of Native Americans; paternalistic attitudes toward our Caribbean and Central American neighbors, failure for one hundred years to enforce the civil rights of many of our citizens). But, usually we have been on the right side of history - even when it took a while - emancipation of our slaves; participation in and leadership of world organizations; standing against fascism, Nazism, militarism and communism; and the liberation of countries without attempting to then govern or control them (Europe after WWII, Japan, Libya, Serbia and Kosovo).
Winston Churchill said that you could count on the Americans to do the right thing after they tried everything else. Couldn’t we just once prove him wrong? Couldn’t we stand tall in Syria against the use of chemical weapons and against the madness of dictators? Some say we should have moved two months ago; while others say wait and see what happens. It is already later than it should be - but it is not too late to do the right thing early.
7 September 2013