The Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week approved Obama’s request for an authorization to use force against the Syrian government. The resolution would permit strikes against Syria for 60 days, with the possibility of 30 more days after consultation with Congress, but would specifically block the use of ground troops. It has yet to be approved by the full Senate or the House.
Missing from that resolution is a requirement to seek U.N. concurrence for military action. An attack without Security Council authorization would violate a fundamental international rule, a prohibition on the use of military force for anything but self-defense.
Virtually nobody describes the Syrian situation as a threat to the U.S. requiring self-defense measures.
Some see a threat to Israel, which will always energize those who believe no price is too great for Americans to pay to defend Israel. As the New York Times has reported, Israel supports Obama’s limited strike proposal because it prefers a stalemate rather than a victory by either Assad or by Sunni jihadis, who are coming to dominate the rebel movement.
What is also missing from the discussion is a clear purpose and achievable objectives — a strategy. The proposed intervention is variously described as punishing Assad for using chemical weapons, as degrading his military capability, or as “changing the equation on the ground,” a nebulous all-purpose concept if there ever was one. How much should we punish him? Until we destroy the country? Until he says “uncle?”
Outrage is not a strategy. For a country that has used napalm, white phosphorous, Agent Orange and incendiary raids on civilians in the not-so-distant past, we might temper our self-righteousness. Besides, do we overlook the 100,000 Syrians killed so far in the civil war but retaliate for probable use of Sarin? For those following the investigation, it is not a “slam dunk” that Assad ordered that gas attack.