Pulling a U.S. attack on Syria back from the brink, President Barack Obama punted crisis to Capitol Hill, giving Congress a chance to voice the peoples’ opinions. While Obama seeks Congressional approval for his intended “narrow” military operation against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using Sarin nerve gas in East Damascus Aug. 21, the White House reserved the right to act on behalf of U.S. national security. In the wake of WW II, former President Harry Truman exercised the 1941 War Powers Act, enabling him to bypass Congress when it came to waging war. Truman’s actions followed Franklin D. Roosevelt’s in establishing the Imperial Presidency, enabling him to start the Korean War. By the time 55,000 American troops were lost in Viet Nam, the Congress passed the 1973 War Powers Resolution to limit the executive branch’s war-making capacity.
Obama’s decision to punt the debate to Capitol Hill had less to do with a Constitutional debate over the War Powers Act than some guidance regarding the mission in Syria. “Obama announced yesterday, directly or thorough implication, the beginning of the historic American retreat,” said Syria’s official al-Thawra newspaper in a front-page editorial. More public statements by the Syrian government about a lack of U.S. resolve practically guarantees approval not, as the president originally envisioned, but a wider, more extensive operation. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will advocate intervention to depose al-Assad. Something that makes a lot more sense than simply sending al-Assad “a shot across the bow.” With Secretary of State John Kerry identifying today Sarin nerve gas as the culprit that killed hundreds of Syrian civilians, the Congressional debate will heat up.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called U.S. evidence of a Sarin nerve gas attack by Bashar al-Assad “rubbish,” paving the way for some lively discussions when the G20 meets Sept. 5 in St. Petersburg. While a staunch ally of al-Assad, Putin has committed no troops to Syria, signaling Russia plans to do nothing to save al-Assad. If Vladimir ordered the Red Army into Syria, like he did in the 2008 South Ossetia War in Georgia, the U.S. would back down. Paying lip service to defending Syria, Putin has concerns about losing one his best arm’s clients in the Middle East. Whether admitted to or not, Putin’s opposition to U.S. actions in Syria expose the ongoing Cold War mentality, where Russia seeks to keep the U.S. or its allies from dominating the Mideast. Anticipating air-strikes, al-Assad has already relocated military hardware into civilian areas where it’s outside the U.S. reach.
Rebel groups expressed disappointment over Obama’s decision to let Congress debate a Syrian military response. “As the days go by, more people get killed by the hands of this regime. Further delay for action gives them a chance to change the position of their weapons,” said Syrian army defector Mohammad Aboud, Deputy Commander of the eastern joint command of the Free Syrian Army. Obama’s pause causes more anxiety, not less in Syria, while the Pentagon plans news strategy, beyond the first conceptualized Cruise Missile attack. Meeting in Cairo, the Arab League stopped short of endorsing U.S. action, while, at the same time, fingering al-Assad for the Sarin nerve gas attack in Damascus suburbs. Like Russia, Iran stands by Syria but won’t get involved, other than ordering its Lebanon client Hezbollah to fire missiles across Israel’s northern border.
Stopping Syria from using chemical weapons is Obama’s first test of whether or not he can stomach containing Iran’s feverish pursuit of A-bombs. If Obama is hesitating on the matter of Syria, the clearly on the question of attacking Iran—a move that is expect to be far more complicated—Obama will hesitate much more, and thus chances Israel will have to act alone have increased,” said Israeli Army Radio. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said today the U.S. Congress has no right to authorize an attack on Syria. He thinks only the U.N. Security Council has the international authority to authorize any military action. Zarif knows that Russia and China will block any attempt to authorize force in the U.N. Security Council. What Zarif and others don’t get is that the U.S. could easily fall into an isolationist mood, letting the bloodshed in Syria continue unabated.
Catering to anti-American sentiment in the Arab world after the Iraq and Afghan wars, Putin stirred the pot after Kerry pointed to irrefutable evidence on al-Assad’s culpability in the Aug. 21 Sarin nerve gas attack. “I am convinced that the chemical attack is nothing more than a provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict,” said Putin, swallowing al-Assad’s Cool-Aid that rebel forces loyal to Israel carried out the poison gas attack. Angered by Obama’s June 14 decision to begin arming Brig. Gen. Salim Idris’ Free Syrian Army, Putin looks for any chance to discredit the U.S. When you consider the sacrifices made by the U.S. in terms of blood-and-treasure in the Afghan and Iraq Wars, is it any wonder why Obama and the American public are gun-shy for a new Mideast conflict? When Congress begins debating Syria Sept. 9, the rest of the world will see firsthand real American values of unselfishly sacrificing for the greater good.
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.