Congress will shortly start debating the Obama Administration’s request to utilize military force against Syria’s chemical weapons deployment. The Senate and House’s decision may have strategic repercussions. The best outcome is for Congress to approve an operation against Syria.
The issue requires an examination from several perspectives.
• Opponents and supporters both have strong points.
• The White House has a valid case for attacking Syria.
• Any operation should have international support; the United States must pursue a strike regardless.
Challengers argue an attack isn’t justified. They note Washington’s historical record on chemical weapons utilization plus the faultiness of intelligence used to warrant the 2003 Iraq War. The U.S. failed to initiate diplomatic/military action in the 1980s when Iraq deployed chemical weapons against Iran plus Baghdad’s Kurdish population; Russia also used similar munitions during the Afghanistan war. The final opposing point is that the last time an administration used intelligence to justify military action — the 2003 Iraq War — the information was erroneous. Opponents contend an attack against Syria is unwarranted consequently.
Many of the above points are irrefutable. The U.S. failed to pursue U.N. condemnation against Iraq and Russia for their chemical weapons usage. Iraq is a debatable situation considering it was fighting America’s principal adversary in the Middle East, Iran. Many within the U.S. national security apparatus were worried Iran might destabilize the Middle East if Tehran had defeated Baghdad. Washington’s response is debatable from either perspective. There is finally little doubt the intelligence used to rationalize the 2003 Iraq war was flawed. It was politically driven. Many Bush Administration officials manipulated the data. Much of the evidence’s legitimacy was also questionable.
An attack against Syria is warranted from several perspectives. American foreign policy credibility is at stake. Failure to act on the administration’s “red line” warning is inviting America’s adversaries to dangerously test Washington’s resolve in the current and future crisis. The most likely candidates for the above are Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, al-Qaida affiliated groups, plus possibly even China and North Korea. An attack will illustrate that the U.S. will buttress its policies with action. Lastly, it will demonstrate Washington is intolerant of any nation or group who uses weapons of mass destruction.
Congress should sanction the president’s request. It will send a message to the international community that, first, the U.S. understands the mistakes Washington made regarding Iraq’s and Russia’s use of chemical weapons; and, second, the intelligence surrounding Syria is more credible than evidence utilized by the second Bush Administration to justify the 2003 Iraq war. It will finally vindicate President Obama’s contention that American military action is necessary to “prevent or deter the use or proliferation ... within, to or from Syria, of any weapons of mass destruction” as noted in his request to Congress.
The primary groups U.S. counterterrorism officials are worried about are militant Islamists and al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate Al Nursa. Acquisition of Assad’s chemical munitions by the aforementioned may be forwarded to other militant Islamist/AQ linked groups, including al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which has demonstrated a desire to attack the U.S. homeland. A chemical weapon in the al-Qaida affiliate’s possession might have devastating effects for the United States. Preventing the above scenario is a key motivation for retaliating against the Assad regime.
An attack against Syria should entail several elements. Its principal objective must involve neutralizing Assad’s chemical weapon arsenal. The operation should preferably occur with the diplomatic/military support of the United Nations, NATO and Arab League. The ideal scenario is for Washington to persuade the North Atlantic alliance to lead the attack. It should also encourage the Czech Republic to direct the operation, given its weapons of mass destruction expertise.
Washington must act regardless of the international community’s backing or opposition. It should seek as much combat, logistical and intelligence support from its allies as possible — if it is direct military aid from the French Armee de Terre, Marine Nationale, or Armee de l’Air, intelligence from the UK’s MI6, or even the tacit approval of the Arab League, every contribution matters. Any international support will buttress the president’s contention that it is in the world’s interest to address the Assad regime’s actions.
Secretary of State Kerry correctly noted the Assad regime’s deployment of chemical weapons on Aug. 21 was a “moral obscenity.” The situation mandates an American military response. Congress should grant the president’s request. The administration should initiate an operation in tandem with a strong international support, if possible. Washington must act even if the UN, NATO and Arab League refuse to sanction the attack. Failure to reply to Syria’s chemical weapon deployment creates a dangerous strategic precedent for the United States and also, and more importantly, for the international community.
Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’