SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 4, 2013

Anderson: Obama's approach to Syria unites Americans -- in opposition

Barbara Anderson
The Salem News

---- — Heading into fall after a long hard summer of political debate, following roughly five years of Americans being divided by race, creed, shades of color, sex, age and partisan inclination, we have good news about America: We are united again. Democrats, independents and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, who had already begun to find common ground over the NSA violation of our privacy, are speaking out together about involvement in Syria. We are reaching across our aisles! And finally, many more of us are sharing a valid skepticism about what we are told by our government.

Some of us acquired that skepticism when we were lied to during the Vietnam War. Others picked it up more recently, with the outrageous Benghazi cover-up. Some responded to the news of a chemical weapons attack in Syria with doubt that it ever happened, or at least doubt about which combatants in the civil war did it.

According to the most recent NBC poll, a strong majority of us disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the situation in Syria. Even when he was preparing to make a unilateral presidential decision for unilateral national action there, 80 percent of us wanted him to consult our representatives in Congress.

Enjoying the rare feeling of being in the majority, I called my U.S. senators and Congressman Tierney last Friday, asking that at least they demand a vote of Congress before attacking Syria. On Saturday, Obama asked for that vote.

Now that Congress will be having a debate on Syria, I hope these questions will be asked:

Why are we involving ourselves in another country’s civil war, again? What have we accomplished in Libya and Egypt except to get an ambassador and Navy Seals killed and America’s fundamentalist Muslim enemies empowered?

If the issue, as Obama claims, is only that the world community can’t allow the use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians, why did we all accept their use to kill 5,000 Kurds in 1988? We did eventually go to war against Saddam Hussein, but that wasn’t the reason.

If the chemical weapons are the reason we go to war now, is our goal, as Obama says, just to punish the perpetrator? Are we going to bomb Assad’s house, as we once bombed Gaddafi’s in Libya? I’m hearing only that we are going to bomb airfields, haven’t seen anything that indicates the chemical weapons were launched from airfields. Isn’t any attack likely to kill even more innocent civilians, or encourage a counter-attack that will?

Is gassing them the worst thing that a dictator can do to his people? A UN Commission of Public Inquiry has recently heard testimony about conditions in North Korea: Dictator Kim Jong Un is torturing and starving thousands in prison camps, where some are forced by sadistic guards to eat live rats. If, as Obama says, we aren’t looking for regime change, what good will his “limited action” do the Syrians? Over 100,000 of them were killed by conventional weapons before chemical weapons were used.

If the world is outraged by the use of chemical weapons, why aren’t other countries eager to help the U.S. do something about this outrage?

By the way, even if we can justify going to war, however limited, how do we pay for this? Can we borrow from China to attack Syria?

Vice President Joe Biden appears to be supporting President Obama on this. Yet, in Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s War,” Biden was the administration representative who constantly asked both the civilian and military professionals the question, “What is our mission in Afghanistan?” He seemed frustrated when he couldn’t get an answer. Maybe he could explain to Congress what our mission is in Syria.

Sen. John McCain is arguing that there are responsible revolutionaries in Syria who are not radical jihadists; call them “freedom fighters” if you will. Reminds me of U.S. support for “freedom fighters” against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; after our “joint” victory, the fundamentalist Taliban came to power. More recently, in Egypt, we helped depose another pro-American dictator and then saw a once-stable country so threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood that the military had to step in. Who or what will replace Assad if we get drawn into “regime change” despite Obama’s assurances that we won’t? As Sen. Rand Paul said, “I’m not convinced that anybody on the Islamic side, the Islamic rebels, will be American allies.”

However, he predicted that the Democratic-controlled Senate would “rubber stamp” the request but that the House vote will be very close. Considering that support for military action doesn’t line up by party or ideology, I’m going to predict that unless something happens in the interim to make sense of all the typical Mideast complexity, the vote will be No. This will give Obama a way out of the “red line in the sand” challenge that he obviously didn’t think through before he flexed our country’s muscle, then backed down.

It’s too late to worry about saving America’s face; we lost our credibility when we re-elected a weak, incompetent, foolish president. Until we are beyond this unfortunate era of our history, we can’t pretend to be the super-power we once were; we aren’t even leading the world by shining example anymore.

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Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem News columnist.