Thursday, September 19, 2013
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You know, if this whole Syria thing keeps going the way it seems to be going, I may have to do something unheard of: I may have to admit I was wrong. Shocking, I know.
It’s just been one surprise after another. First, it looked inevitable that Barack Obama was going to, all on his own, order a cruise missile strike on selected, limited targets in Syria, not to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime, but to punish it for using poison gas on civilians.
I’m no fan of either Assad or of poison gas, but as I’ve said here before, getting involved in the dog’s breakfast that is the current multisided Syrian religious conflict will bring us nothing but trouble. And I just didn’t see how a limited strike was going to do any good.
The idea, I suppose, is that Assad would lose a few government buildings, maybe a command center or two, and decide, “Aw, the heck with it, this isn’t worth it,” and get out of the chemical weapons business. Let’s just say I had my doubts.
Then, lo and behold, the lipless little troll actually agreed to give them up. Or so he says.
As I understand it, the sequence of events was this: John Kerry says, in answer to a question about how Assad could avoid an attack, “Well, he could give up his chemical weapons to international control, but there’s no way he’ll do that.”
Russia’s own crazy man, Mad Vlad Putin, goes, “Oh really?” and suggests they do just that. Assad, to the general astonishment of the entire world, says, “Yeah, sure, OK, whatever.”
So does that make it Kerry’s or Obama’s “idea,” since Kerry was supposedly speaking “off the cuff” and not making a serious offer? Or was he making a serious offer couched in an offhand remark? Or was the whole thing really Putin’s idea? Historians will no doubt be arguing about that for a long time, but hey, if it works, it works.
Clearly, that’s a big “if.” Assad could just be stalling for time, although time may not really be on his side. Since President Obama faces an uphill battle getting Congress to agree to the strike, the delay he asked for (and got) on the congressional vote gives him and Joe Biden time to work the phones for an authorization if Assad turns out to be just shining us on.
And whatever else you may have to say about Crazy Uncle Joe, he knows how to work the Senate, while Nancy Pelosi in the House has a much better track record than the current speaker of bringing her caucus in line.
If Assad does back out or drag his feet, he’s given those two some powerful points to persuade the reluctant. And I bet they won’t have to call anyone a “cheese-eating surrender monkey” or accuse them of wanting to cause another 9/11 to do it.
On the subject of that congressional vote, I confess to being a little surprised that President Obama went that way. But I shouldn’t have been. There was really no other route to take if he wanted to stay within the law.
The whole point of an attack on Syria is to punish the regime for violating international law on the use of chemical weapons. But Article One, Section Eight of the U.S. Constitution states that it’s Congress that has the power to “define and punish … Offenses against the Law of Nations.”
Now, you and I know this Congress is about as useful as socks on a rooster, but the law is what it is. And the War Powers Resolution only allows the president to commit American forces in the event of “(1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” None of that has happened here.
It’s true that multiple presidents of both parties have flouted both of those principles, aided by spineless Congresses that have refused to take action, but that’s a problem, isn’t it?
Anyway, it remains to be seen if these negotiations will result in an actual plan that everyone can agree on. And even if it does, destroying chemical weapons isn’t a matter of dragging them out to the curb Monday morning and leaving them for the trash man.
We’ve been at it with our own chemical arsenal for decades now, and we’re not in the middle of a civil war.
But if President Obama’s “red line” comment and subsequent threat of military action result in even substantial reduction in stockpiles and the cessation of use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, then I will have been entirely wrong about this, and Barack Obama will have been right.
Mark your calendars.
Posted by JD Rhoades at Thursday, September 19, 2013