home Middle East, national security, Syria U.S. Leadership on Syria Weak, Has Been for Some Time: Time to Level with the American People

U.S. Leadership on Syria Weak, Has Been for Some Time: Time to Level with the American People

Privately, there many Republicans in this town —  in and out of government — that want to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt on the Syria matter. Up until a few days ago, I was one of them. “These people cannot be that callous,” I thought to myself, and argued with Yleem (what she thinks I’ll leave up to her post, coming soon). But after a few days of political bungling by the Administration and the Congress, what else can a reasonable Republican think?

Is Iran trafficking chemical or other WMD weapons to Syria (if they are, they are not going to stop)? Is there any information that Syria planning to use chemical weapons on Israel or other places in the region? Do international monetary transfers the past few days, weeks, or months show a pattern of concern? Is Iran playing a more active role in Syria and planning to do more? Rather than hone in on these and related questions, we’ve been treated to policy gibberish and amorphous arguments that the U.S. must come to the defense of the international order.

America looked weak last week. No American worth their mettle likes that, not even when one politically disagrees with the President. That is what is truly frustrating about Obama’s Congressional overture as well as how Obama’s legislative affairs team has handled it. It makes our Nation and the Commander in Chief look indecisive.

As for Congress, how did the Obama team expect them to react? The Left is not interested in any type of military action. None. Republicans do not trust him. Think ObamaCare, sequestration, immigration, and of course, the unresolved questions surrounding the Benghazi matter.

The Obama Legislative Affairs operation should have never counseled that securing a resolution of support would have been possible. And it was not necessary at the onset. Some Republicans will not agree, but the President could have acted quite some time ago, without Congressional approval. He could have sent a clear signal that the use of chemical weapons would not be tolerated.

By the way, the most recent chemical weapons attack was not the first:

Yet the use of chemical weapons alone, at least in my book, is not enough to justify the use of unilateral military force without Congressional approval. There needs to be a little more, such as a threat to U.S. vital national security interests. Then there are special cases, of which I think Syria happens to be one of them, where the President has sufficient authority to proceed with a preliminary action followed by Congressional consultation and possibly more.

The United States has known for decades that diplomacy alone was never going to get the regime, or the rebels for that matter, from escalating attacks on each other. Chemical weapon attacks were always a very real possibility. According to some experts, it was almost certain to take place. That is why the President has various tools in his arsenal to deal with rogue regimes such as Syria.

For example, I have yet to read one newspaper story or listen to one talking head remind people that since 2004 the United States has repeatedly declared a national emergency with respect to Syria.

Pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (or IEEPA for short), President George W. Bush, and subsequently President Obama has issued findings that there exists “unusual and extraordinary threat(s)… to the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States” posed by the Syrian regime.

IEEPA authorities allow the President to impose economic sanctions as well as engage in other robust measures (not military action) to deal with the national emergency. While IEEPA authority is not a grant to use force, it provides his national security team tools a lot of tools to deal with problem nations and other situations. With regards to Syria, there is a little more legal and policy clarity.

On December 12, 2003, President Bush into law the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 that states:

The Government of Syria is pursuing the development and production of biological and chemical weapons and has a nuclear research and development program that is cause for concern …

Syria remains dependent on foreign sources for key elements of its [chemical weapons] program, including precursor chemicals and key production equipment. It is highly probable that Syria also is developing an offensive [biological weapons] capability …

The United States also knows that Syria has long had a chemical warfare program. It has a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin and is engaged in research and development of the more toxic and persistent nerve agent VX. Syria, which has signed but not ratified the [Biological Weapons Convention], is pursuing the development of biological weapons and is able to produce at least small amounts of biological warfare agents  …

Syria is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Conven- tion or the Biological Weapons Convention, which entered into force on April 29, 1997, and on March 26, 1975, respectively …

Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs threaten the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States 

You can download the SALSRA law here. The only problem with these authorities is that there only effective if you bother to robustly and creatively use the authorities.

There very well may be a lot more to this story than policymakers can share with the American people. That is why they are elected and I have no interest in knowing the details; however, they need to do better than posting on Congressional websites gory videos without proper context. Or, as in the case of Senator Lindsay Graham, issuing very emotional and irresponsible statements about the threat of potential nuclear confrontations.

Now that the President has decided to play politics with Syria, it is incumbent on all parties to take this issue a little more seriously. Level with the American people. Stop making us look weak before our enemies.

America’s enemies, especially Iran and those who support them, are chomping at the bit for the United States to make a mistake. And, if we do, something tells me that our enemies will make themselves known.

If you would like to read more about the political and other equities at stake in this matter, be sure to read Susan Crabtree’s latest story: Why Obama Switched Direction on Syria.

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