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The California Congressional House delegation of 53 representatives includes experienced national security hands like Republican Committee Chairmen “Buck” McKeon (Armed Services) and Ed Royce (Foreign Affairs), as well as former Reagan administration official Dana Rohrbacher and U.S. military veterans Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter, Jr. and Paul Cook.
On the Democrat side there are some freshman with quite limited foreign policy bona fides, while the two longtime U.S. Senators from California have frequently voted along Democrat party lines and can be expected to continue that path.
As they all consider the resolutions this week on Capitol Hill, the California delegation might reach some rare, broadly bi-partisan consensus in opposing the legislation to authorize an immediate use of force in Syria.
I propose a yellow light on Syria: caution until the U.S. adopts a strategic plan with achievable objectives, some semblance of an allied coalition to share in the mission and to support the U.S. in the Gulf, and more understanding by and support from the American people.
President Obama is playing a losing hand. Instead of acting against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad (whom John Kerry and Hillary Clinton wooed and promoted as a reformer), and helping early to create a “moderate” Free Syrian “rebel” Force allied with U.S. interests, Mr. Obama made threats for election purposes only and failed to act on his claim that Assad must go, or to enforce his own red lines against Syrian atrocities. His policy on Syria is a hot mess and likely to get worse.
Now Obama dumps the quagmire on Congress, which sets another bad precedent. Failure to lead and a failed policy? Let’s just double down and play domestic politics with U.S. national security.
Mr. Obama is inept and ineffective, undeserving of a blank check from Congress or the American people. We know our military is capable of degrading Assad’s forces, assets, and command and control. We have not heard exactly why they should do so or what comes next.
Mr. Obama’s Syria policy makes it less likely he will act on Iran, by the way. This is the test case for Iran, and we see Obama limiting presidential authority to act, failing to build a coalition, failing to make an effective and sustained case to the American people, dithering, and telegraphing our moves to the enemy. These are all the actions of a fearful warrior and an ambiguous patriot.
The entire Syria debate is now cover for Obama’s failures. An honest debate would calculate a long list of other global atrocities that cross moral boundaries in our dangerous and fallen world. Rep. Ted Deutch, a lefty promoting the attack on Assad because of the use of chemical weapons, demonized President Bush on Iraq, but seemed not to know or care that Saddam Hussein too used chemical weapons, more than once.
We might also like to hear more about the potential consequences in the Levant to “limited” U.S. force. Do we want Assad’s regime to fall? Who would replace it? Does targeted U.S. military action imply a follow-up if there is a resulting counter-attack on U.S. Embassies or interests? Kidnappings of Americans? Russian supported cyber-terror or Iranian reaction in the Straits of Hormuz? Why is this debate, if that’s what Obama wanted so much, so muted and uninformed about American national interests, the plan to achieve them, the risks and benefits, and the regional calculus? We know that the anti-Assad Jihadist forces are so evil that they won’t halt the murder of Christians even temporarily while the U.S. President plans to attack their enemy.
If the President had long ago acted with determination, clarity, force, and efficiency, the American people would have respected and supported a presidential decision that was honestly crafted to achieve supportable objectives. But Obama doesn’t lead that way — he turns everything into a political game and an extended legal seminar. Mr. Obama never wore the uniform, but he was a law school lecturer. Nice going, voters. Our national security is in the hands of Obama, Kerry, Reid, and Pelosi? Charming.
Wait it out until we have presidential leadership worthy of endorsing. Until then, try to do no (more) harm. We have seen quite enough foreign policy failure from the Obama administration in Pakistan, Russia, China, and more. Obama lost Iraq by failing to achieve a status of forces agreement, told the enemy in Afghanistan when we would depart, sent guns into Mexico, revealed the British nuclear deterrent, and falsely claimed Al Qaeda is “on the run.”
This administration has taken the wrong side in Honduras, worked against our allies, the Czech Republic and Poland, on missile defense, and failed to defend Americans in Libya. Obama’s national security team remains unclear about the true nature of the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere, has inexplicably tried to engage the North Koreans, the Taliban, and the Mullahs of Iran, and has managed to make the U.S. even less popular in the Middle East, all while continuing to waste American tax dollars propping up the Palestinian dictatorship and bullying our only regional ally, Israel, to make a “peace” deal with another prospective anti-American terror state.
Jimmy Carter must be celebrating his rise from worst commander-in-chief ever.
Vote not yet on Syria.
Larry Greenfield is Fellow in American studies at the Claremont Institute. He served in U.S. Naval Intelligence Reserves and was publisher of the Journal of International Security Affairs.