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'444 Days' to 'Benghazi' to Assad - Why I Reluctantly Support Obama on Syria

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Let's start by making very clear the origin of this reasoning.  I have two boys.  They are 15 and 13.  While I would be very proud to see them in the uniform of the U.S. military (preferably the Marine Corps), I would much prefer it not be because we ended up in another war in the Middle East.  And with what looks like a repeat of the fecklessness of the Carter administration, it looks like that just might be what we have in store for my boys' generation.

We have to go back to November 4, 1979.  Our embassy was overrun in Tehran and the embassy staff was taken hostage.  We responded to this by tying yellow ribbons around fences and trees, if you can believe it.  We are a peace-loving people, but to project weakness like this has consequences.

Fast forward to October 7, 2001.  We invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban as a result of the attacks of 9/11.  If we had not shown weakness a little over 22 years prior, it is very likely history would have taken a wholly different trajectory.  We projected weakness in the face of an attack.  22 years later we had boots on the ground in that same part of the world.

Now move forward to September 11, 2012.  Our embassy in Benghazi, Libya was attacked and our ambassador, along with three others, was killed.  To date there have been no consequences.  We have, once again, projected fecklessness and weakness.  We are fooling ourselves if we think this will not have consequences.

And now we see them.  We are also fooling ourselves if we think Assad did not include Benghazi in his strategic calculations concerning chemical weapons.  Strategy has to do with the big picture.  That, then, informs tactical decisions made on the ground.  The use of chemical weapons was a tactical move from a strategic calculation concerning Obama and his 'red line'.  If this calculation were correct, he would be able to get away with limited use of chemical weapons.  That use - and the failure of America or anyone else to enforce consequences for crossing the 'red line' - would then drain out of the opposition the morale and willingness to fight.

If the killing of an ambassador is not a 'red line' in any sense that means anything, then what does it mean when Obama says the use, or even the movement, of chemical weapons is a 'red line'?  It is amazing to see Obama claim the 'red line' was not his red line.  In one sense, because of treaty agreements not to use these kinds of weapons, he is right.  But no one in the Middle East - least of all tyrants - are reading the treaties.  But they are watching the video clips of Obama drawing that 'red line' last year and then saying it wasn't his now.

The fecklessness is staggering.  For those who think this is just political name-calling, I'm sorry, but I have two things weighing on my mind right now: the history that got us into Afghanistan and two teenage boys I love beyond the power of mere words to describe.  I'm sorry, but fecklessness from American Presidents eventually gets young men killed.

This is why I actually support the resolution to use force against Syria.  And believing in the Constitution as I do, I actually commend Obama for seeking this authorization.  What is shocking is that he has to be saved from his own fecklessness.

We are thus left with no good options.  We can hit Syria and establish that this 'red line' actually means something.  What we do not know is whether other actors in the region like Iran, Hezbolla, etc. will attack Israel in return, forcing Israel to respond and starting a larger regional war.  Or we can do nothing and no 'red line' of any kind in the future will be taken seriously until the next Osama bin Laden - say in the next 10-20 years - miscalculates and we end up with boots on the ground in the Middle East once again.  These boots, though, will be filled by young men who are my boys' age today.

If we have to face consequences today, when we know our capabilities and the capabilities of the other actors, at least we have a reasonably good shot at managing these consequences in our national interest.  We can fight today with the devil we know; or we will certainly have to fight tomorrow with the devil we don't.

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