Julien: After much deep and profound brain things inside my head, I have decided to thank you for bringing peace to our home. And to make you feel good, I’m going to give you this lovely parting gift.
Alex the Lion: No, I couldn’t. Really, I can’t take your crown.
Julien: Oh, that’s OK. I’ve got a bigger crown. It’s got a gecko on it. Look at him shake! Go, Stevie, go!
—Sacha Baron Cohen as the voice of King Julien, and Ben Stiller as the voice of Alex the Lion in Madagascar
While President Obama continues to work through the machinations of his considerable intellect (read: ego), I remain sorely troubled about our potential action in Syria.
Over the last couple of days, the administration has trotted out Secretary of State John Kerry to make a speech, and has released a report from the “Intelligence Community” purporting to make the case that the Assad regime used chemical weapons in a rocket attack on August 21 outside Damascus. As an initial point, why is it John Kerry that’s addressing the American people on this issue, and not the President? This is a big deal, and a leader needs to lead, not send out his lackeys. And if the case is as strong as they claim it to be, then a great lawyer/scholar/orator like Obama should have no problem wrapping himself up in it before the American people. That he isn’t in itself casts doubt on the whole thing.
Further, while the intelligence report and Kerry’s speechifying appear to make a strong case that Assad used chemical weapons, that case still remains a matter of taking their word for it. They claim to have reports, and videos, and eyewitness accounts, and intercepted communications, but they haven’t actually shown us any of it. If it’s all as damning as they say it is, why not lay them out for all the world to see? Surely if there is a universally-recognized “international norm” against the use of chemical weapons, if the evidence is as good as they claim there would be an immediate global consensus for taking action against the Assad regime. Surely if the case is as iron-clad as they tell us, they would have no trouble getting authorization from Congress to take that action. Surely if they have Assad as dead-to-rights as they are advertising, they would easily persuade the American people to support an attack.
All of which begs the question: why haven’t they put their actual cards on the table?
Unfortunately, the intelligence brief suggests a troubling possible piece to that puzzle. Part of the supposed case against Assad includes evidence of preparations of chemical weapons in the days prior to the attack:
“We have intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel – including personnel assessed to be associated with the SSRC – were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack. In the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack.”
This is part of the logical case that (a) we know we have these weapons, (b) we know they prepared these weapons, (c) we know they used something, and (d) the aftermath was consistent with the use of chemical agents. But notice something here. The intelligence community doesn’t say they obtained evidence of preparations after the fact; they say “[i]n the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack.” In other words, taking the report at face value, we knew the Syrians were getting ready to use chemical weapons before they actually did it.
Now, if it’s as critically important to stop the use of these things as we’re being told, it is criminally inexcuseable that the administration had this information before the attack and did nothing to prevent it. There was no pre-emptive strike. There was no leak to the New York Times. There was no phone call to Damascus or Moscow. There was no warning to the rebels on the ground. You can be sure that had there been, the administration would be beating you over the head with it. Their silence on this count is deafening, and damning; they aren’t even attempting to lie about it.
Further, even if we give the administration the benefit of the doubt and indulge in the assumption that Assad deliberately used chemical weapons, there remains the enormous issue of what business that is of ours. We’re told it’s all about enforcing “international norms,” but if that’s the case, there’s a strange absence of anyone in the international community standing with us. Not Germany. Not Canada. Not Australia. Not even the Brits. The French might or might not support us, but no one has much cared what the French do or say since about 1940.
One suspects the Israelis would just as soon we didn’t attack Syria, but they’re too busy preparing for the retaliation from Damascus and Tehran to comment right now.
Then there’s the matter of the bizarre dilly-dallying and the constant leaks of everything about an attack except the exact moment and location. If this were truly about protecting some legitimate American interests, how can you explain waiting what is now eleven days and counting before responding?
We’re probably going to hit you. Really. Maybe. We really mean it this time. Sort of. But if we hit you, it’ll only be once. Lightly. We’re not kidding. We think.
By now, Assad has had plenty of time to secure anything of consequence and take himself and his family on a vacation out of the country. And he knows that if we attack, it’ll only last a day or two, so he knows that once we stop it’s over and he’s safe to come back and return to business as usual.
It isn’t apparent to me—and the administration hasn’t articulated—what, exactly, a strike in Syria would accomplish at this point. They swear it’s not about regime change, and if they keep their word that any strike would be short-term and limited it’s doubtful that it would achieve that. If it were about significantly weakening Assad’s ability to wage war, the delay and leaks have all but eliminated any potential for achieving that. I don’t see it as being any sort of meaningful punishment, and I’m not sure it sends any kind of message to Assad or to Iran, particularly the longer we take to send it. There’s no argument that launching an attack is going to make the situation in Syria or in the region better. What is certain is that it will result in yet more dead people.
At the end of the day, I fear this is all about Obama’s internal tension between his political sensibilities and his gigantic ego. At his core, he’s loathe to use any kind of military force; it’s just not in his DNA to fight. But he shot off his mouth by issuing his galactically stupid “red line” ultimatum, and now having been called on it (so we’re told), he’s painted himself into a corner. This is why it’s taking him so long to make a decision; he can’t bring himself to launch an attack, but he now has little choice if he is to save face.
This is what happens when you hand the keys to an amateur.
BENGHAZI NOTE: It’s been 355 days since a military-style attack on sovereign U.S. soil killed four Americans, and there has yet to be any response from this administration. There’s been no missile strike, no bomber attack, and still no address by the President to the American people. Yet it’s critical that we take military action to respond to an attack in Syria by Syrians against Syrians.