Wednesday, December 11, 2013
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA has explained why American national interests compelled him to threaten military action against the Syrian dictatorship. Am I the only person who noticed? So far I haven't found a single citizen who could give me the president's rationale, and I spoke to quite a few while serving at the Franklin County Republican Committee's table at the Farmington Fair.
Nor do any editorialists or columnists seem to have focused on the president's explanations.
E.J. Dionne, the Washington Post's devoutly liberal columnist, comes close: "Now, the president's own unambiguous red line against the regime's use of chemical weapons and his statements declaring that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad should be ousted leave him little choice but to take military action."
Sen. Susan Collins made a similar point during her speech in Waterville on Sept. 3 when she said, "I cannot help but wonder if the president hadn't made the comment about drawing the red line if we would be in the situation that we're in now. I think that was a hasty comment that was made without having a well-vetted plan for what we would do if Assad did cross that line. ... I think that we've been put in a terrible situation, a truly no-win situation."
Maine's senior senator believes that the president put the United States in a lose-lose situation because she felt we could not just walk away from the red line he had drawn, although taking military action could not produce any useful result. Worse, military action might produce disastrous results.
Michael Morrell, deputy director of the CIA, fears that if the Assad dictatorship collapses, Syria could become a haven for al-Qaida. "Syria's volatile mix of al-Qaida extremism and civil war now poses the greatest threat to U.S. national security," he told the Wall Street Journal last month.
Morrell believes that there are now more foreign fighters joining al-Qaida-affiliated extremists in Syria than there were in Iraq at the height of the war there. The retiring CIA official fears that the government's weapons "are going to be up for grabs and up for sale" if U.S. military action pushed the current dictatorship over the edge.
So why can't Obama follow Sarah Palin's advice and "let Allah sort them out"?
Our president's statement at the St. Petersburg G20 conference explains: "The national security of the United States requires that when there's a breech this brazen of a norm this important, and the international community is paralyzed and frozen and doesn't act, then that norm begins to unravel. And if that norm unravels, then other norms and prohibitions start unraveling. And that makes for a more dangerous world. And that, then, requires even more difficult choices and more difficult responses in the future."
In simpler and, I hope, clearer terms, the president was saying that if Assad gets away with violating the international "norms" forbidding the use of chemical weapons, then the use of poison gas will spread and become normal so that, in time, the United States also may become victim. In other words, Damascus today, Damariscotta tomorrow. Or whatever.
Another, and more important, reason for considering military action is Dionne's point about defending American credibility. The president explained this on ABC's "This Week": "My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn't draw a lesson that we haven't struck [Syria] to think we won't strike Iran. ... I think what the Iranians understand is that the nuclear issue is a far larger issue for us than the chemical-weapons issue, that the threat against Israel that a nuclear Iran poses is much closer to our core interests."
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