Asking a country to commit to a military action which could very well lead to deep entanglement and a wider war is no small thing. The request is all the more serious when it is difficult to see how the proposed military action could have anything other than an adverse effect on the people it is ostensibly seeking to help.
This is the position in which the Obama administration finds itself as it seeks to persuade members of Congress—and the public—to commit to a military attack on Syria on the basis that the Syrian government has allegedly used chemical weapons against its citizenry.
In such a situation, there are at a minimum two things the administration must do. In the first place, the administration must prove that the Syrian government did in fact use chemical weapons as described. In this particular context the burden of proof is all the higher because we know that the administration has lied to the public about NSA spying and is committed to a secret war using methods of barbarism which imperil the public and terrorise those on the receiving end. This administration has resorted to extrajudicial killings to achieve its foreign policy goals and did its best to ensure that the public never saw their pathetic efforts to legally rationalise such killings. This administration, aided by a complicit Congress, has embraced state secrecy and placed the national security apparatus on a privileged plateau, out of view of the public.
Habits die hard, so perhaps it is no wonder that the administration is equally unwilling to be frank or honest with the public about the character of the evidence which supposedly makes the case against Assad such a “slam dunk”. But they must realise that the as-yet-undead spectre of Iraq haunts John Kerry’s claims that it is “guaranteed” that Assad will use chemical weapons again.
Dana Milbank has a very good article in the Washington Post which eviscerates the attitude of the administration when it comes to rationalising its war and making its case public and transparent. He cites at least one instance of the administration either fabricating evidence that the mere threat of a U.S. strike is already causing defections in the regime, or else failing to ask basic questions about information which turned out to come from a Reuters news story.
Milbank repeatedly quotes administration officials stonewalling members of Congress in public forums, explaining that they’d love to talk about the evidence backing up their claims, but the information is classified. Milbank points out that “the refusal to declassify evidence helps opponents such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin cast doubt on the intelligence”. Kerry rejected requests that evidence be declassified so that the public can know what its government is getting into, and what the risks and consequences might be.
The public, in other words, has been officially sidelined. The basis on which we send off soldiers to kill and die, on which we launch rockets and missiles, and bomb cities, is really none of our business, the administration is claiming. We need not concern ourselves with what is being done in our names. We should just sit back and relax and let those who know what they’re doing—spies, jingos, murderers, and war criminals—run things.
That is not an acceptable attitude. It is not an attitude which becomes an elected official, the leader of a democratic nation.
The second threshold for the administration is to demonstrate that its proposed military actions will either protect Syrian civilians or end the civil war. Given that the Obama administration has refused to disclose what form military action will take (I suspect because it doesn’t know itself), neither the public nor our representatives are in any position to make this kind of assessment. Asking for Congressional authorisation at this stage is almost insulting given how sloppily the administration has developed its “strategy”.
I suspect that like the “slam dunk” case for military action, the military strategy and political goals will be equally classified, allowing the members of the President’s national security team—who are more accustomed to managing the murder and mayhem the sow with their war of terror than staging a humanitarian intervention—scramble behind the scenes to make it all up as they go along.
So far, the administration has failed to provide proof of Assad’s culpability, and have instead doubled-down on their commitment to secrecy and disdain for the public interest, demonstrating the bunker mentality which increasingly characterises Obama’s foreign policy. At the same time, they have provided no evidence that they are capable of making a constructive intervention in the Syrian civil war.
We’ve seen what happens when Congress writes blank checks. It’s not in the interest of the American public, and it’s certainly not in the interest of the people who are on the exploding end of U.S. military interventions. Both progressives and conservatives in Congress should shut down the administration’s efforts to take the country to war in Syria because the administration’s contempt for that body and the public, and their refusal to tell us what they want to achieve, and how they plan to achieve it demonstrate that they are unfit to manage this intervention.