Making his case for military intervention in Syria, President Barack Obama hasn’t yet gotten down the right talking points, calling a Cruise Missile strike “firing a shot across the bow.” Whether he’s a reluctant customer or not in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, Barack put U.S. prestige and his own credibility on the line warning in 2011 President Bashar al-Assad about “red lines” for using chemical weapons. There’s no putting his toe in the water firing Cruise Missiles. No matter how Barack wants to paint a “narrow” military operation to respond to al-Assad’s Aug. 21 poison gas attack, there’s nothing limited about acts of war. While there’s been reports of sporadic chemical weapons use over the last two years, the poison gas attack of East Damascus painted the president into a corner. With the death toll ranging from 355 to near 1,400, there’s no more wiggle-room.
Obama’s problem selling Congress and American public on a “narrow” mission makes no sense. All the gunboat diplomacy has made the point to al-Assad about the use of chemical weapons. Calling any expected U.S. action a “limited, narrow act,” Obama minimized what’s obvious to everyone, including himself: That al-Assad must go. Instead of listening to Bashar talking about fighting to the death, Obama should ask himself a very basic question: Would a partially wounded al-Assad be more a threat to U.S. national security? If Obama made the case on PBS’s “New Hour” that al-Assad’s chemical arsenal is a threat to national security, once attacked, he’d be far more dangerous to the U.S. and the region. After less than three years of civil war, al-Assad has already killed over 100,000 civilians and displaced a million more. If Obama’s willing to fire Cruise missiles, he’s ready get rid of al-Assad.
When former President Bill Clinton led a NATO-backed bombing campaign against Serbian strongman Slobodan Milocevic March 24, 1999, it didn’t take long for the dictator to surrender June 3, 1999. Not one U.S. soldier died in combat operations to stop genocide and free Kosovo Clinton achieved the mission with Cruise Missiles and smart bombs, establishing a new precedent for modern-day warfare. If and when Obama decides to launch Cruise Missiles, he needs to think carefully about the Pentagon’s strategy and mission. Leaving al-Assad in power to uncork what’s left of his chemical weapons would not be a good thing. “We’re not considering any open-ended commitment. We’re not considering boots-on-the-ground,” Obama told reporters meeting with Baltic leaders. While that’s a step in the right direction, leaving al-Assad in power would be a mistake.
Clinton’s 1999 NATO-backed bombing campaign achieved the mission of getting rid of Miloscevic without risking U.S. soldiers. Whether Obama admits it or not, a throw-away Cruise Missile attack would accomplish little. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN that the mission should be getting rid of al-Assad. McCain has backed for a year-and-a-half degrading al-Assad’s military and establishing no-fly zones in Syria. He backs the Free Syria Army’s Supreme Military Council Chief of Staff 56-year-old Brig. Gen. Salim Idris’ attempt to restore peace and order to Syria. With or without al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons, the civil war has dragged on too long to allow it to continue. “The United States government now knows at least 1,249 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children,” said Secretary of State John Kerry making the administration’s case to go-it-alone if necessary.
Calling al-Assad’s poison gas attack “a crime against humanity,” the White House continues to justify military intervention. Whether or not the British—or any other country—stay out, the U.S. must take the lead and do what’s right. Recent polls show the American people gun-shy about getting into another Mideast War. Yet those same polls show that more people support an operation that doesn’t involve U.S. boots-on-the-ground. Obama’s talk of a “limited” or “narrow” mission doesn’t properly define what needs to be accomplished. Whether or not al-Assad threaten’s U.S. national security or any other country in the region, the White House must decide how many more civilians deaths can be tolerated in Syria. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for U.S. military involvement over a year ago to stop the intolerable humanitarian disaster in Syria.
Whatever U.N. inspectors find, Obama must act consistently with U.S. values and foreign policy. If all other world powers turn a blind eye on al-Assad’s poison gas attack, Obama must do what’s right advancing U.S. foreign policy. While it was easy to look the other way during Reagan years when the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds at Halabja March 16, 1988, Obama doesn’t have the same luxury. When Barack won the Nobel Peace Prize Oct. 9, 2009, it carried with a heavy burden. While he’d like to turn the other cheek, his Peace Prize prevents him from ignoring atrocities, something unmistakable with all the shroud-wrapped bodies of dead children. Getting resistance from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, Obama needs to sharpen his talking points, clarify the U.S. mission and remind the American people why as commander-in-chief it’s necessary to act.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.