President Obama, Congress need to thread lightly before engaging in Syrian conflict
Last week, President Obama asked Congress to grant approval for military action in the ongoing Syrian civil war. This was prompted by widespread reports of Bashir Al-Assad’s forces using chemical weapons on the rebels, something that the administration made clear would be grounds for an invasion.
To avoid an inevitable firestorm in right-wing circles of the familiar cries of executive overreach and trampling of the constitution, Obama will have to call for action to Congress when they return next week.
However, the U.S. is still clearly haunted by it’s nearly decadelong involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The public is apprehensive, rightfully so, about any military operation in the area given how our involvements there recently have gone.
This administration has to ensure that any operation undertaken in Syria does not become a long occupancy.
While there are no plans of any ground military action as of yet, President Obama should continually emphasize that there would not be a ground invasion. In fact, he stated as much in his speech, saying that the action would be limited in scope and there would not be “boots on the ground.”
This is a very important distinction because if we have a significant military presence within the state, everything becomes much more complicated, including making an exit once the work is done.
One of the most egregious things about the invasion of Iraq was the intelligence failure that served as impetus for the military action. The Bush administration claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and used that as the basis of their intervention; however, there were never any WMDs found in Iraq.
Regardless of whether or not there was intentional obfuscation of this fact to encourage war-mongering, the fact remains that there must be incontrovertible evidence of chemical weapon use by Assad’s forces before we can enter Syria. As of now, there simply isn’t.
Finally, assuming there is no ground invasion, other strikes must be completed in a responsible way that minimizes the impact on civilians. The Obama administration has taken much heat over the increased use of drone strikes and their lack of accuracy.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the CIA has manipulated civilian death tolls from drone strikes by incorrectly labeling innocents as enemy combatants, but the consensus is that somewhere between 500 and 1,000 civilians have been killed in drone attacks, somewhere near 20 percent of the total killed in these attacks.
In a speech earlier this year in defense of drone programs, Obama promised to make strikes more accurate, and he must — 80 percent accuracy is simply not good enough.
While I sympathize with the plight of Syrian nationals, I’m not completely sure that it’s our country’s responsibility to join in the fight. Congress will decide whether or not we actually should, but one thing is certain, we cannot afford another Iraq.
Responsibly aiding the Syrian rebels and then quickly and peacefully transitioning them into power would be ideal, but another long occupation would be catastrophic.