Monday, September 2, 2013

On Syria, and Chemical Weapons

“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat.”- Barack Obama, 2007
Barack Obama has never been a particularly honest person, either with the public in general or with himself. If he were a mentally challenged grade school student, we'd probably just feel bad that he'd be receiving a low grade in social studies. Given that he's a law school educated Constitutional scholar and the sitting President of the United States, though, it's hard to believe his actions are anything other than representative of a total disregard for the actual laws of the land. Again, though... nothing new here.

Obama wants to use the US military to strike Syria in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons on its own people, as part of the ongoing civil war in the country. Oddly, perhaps, I find myself in the position of agreeing with the sentiment. There would be some fairly substantial downsides to doing so, such as spending our resources to involve ourselves in a foreign conflict, possibly aiding forces aligned with al-qaeda, causing collateral damage in Syria, harming foreign relations, etc. On balance, however, I think it would benefit the US to do something.

A deterrent is only really effective if the people who might be deterred [from some action] believe that there would be negative consequences. In the case of using WMD's, the nominal deterrent is the threat of action from the UN, or its member nations, under the principle agreement which forms the basis of the UN (that is, to prevent proliferation and use of WMD's). However, time and again member nations put their own political interests ahead of the ideals embodied in the UN treaties and accords, and thus that body is rendered largely impotent in achieving its goals. This has happened again here, with Russia and China both opposing action, due to political alliances.

Regardless, I personally think the US should still act, alone if need be. We should make it clear that we, independent of the rest of the world, have an interest in providing a deterrent to the proliferation and use of WMD's, and that while we are able to do so, we will act, even if others choose politics over principles. We should strike any facilities and persons who can be conclusively linked to the manufacture and use of chemical weapons in Syria, from the smallest military outpost to the largest production and storage facility. We should do so from afar, without putting boots on the ground, and with no other targets or goals.

Yes, it will cost us resources. Yes, this would have repercussions and cause collateral damage, and innocent lives would be lost. Yes, it's a complicated situation with no good answers, and we may end up aiding our enemies. Yes, it would be unpopular, and we would face condemnation in public forums such as the UN. But it would be the right thing to do, in the long run, for the world as a whole. Such a strike would convey, in unequivocal terms, that if you use WND's, we will kill you, no matter if you're far away, no matter what political cover you have, no matter if you were just following orders, and even if it might aid our enemies. That's a really important message to get across, in clear terms, not just for Syria but for the rest of the world as well.

Now all that said, were I in the Congress, would I vote for such action? No... but not because I don't think it's the right course of action. I'd vote against because it's clear that Obama doesn't respect the rule of law, and any affirmation by Congress of his illegal actions and intents runs counter to supporting and defending the Constitution. Nor would I support Obama's desire to take action without Congressional action allowing such; again, subverting the Constitution is worse than achieving end goals which might be noble. However, I do think that taking military action in Syria, assuming we were following our own laws, would be the best thing for the US in general, as well as the rest of the world. My 2c.


  1. The idea that the president can take us to "war" is certainly not something President Obama invented. Congress appears to have given up that Constitutional role. If somehow Congress re-asserted that power in this case, it would be more important than this case itself.

    How can the US Constitution be made to work? We say only Congress can declare war, but the POTUS is commander of the armed forces. It's almost like we need a set of rules regarding what makes it a war. Otherwise it's a slippery slope. How big an action must it be to be a real war.

    I strongly support limiting Executive Branch power. I don't know how to do. It seems like most people have decided going to war is the president's job, contrary to the Constitution.

  2. Congress can't "give up" on their powers under the Constitution; at least, there's no Constitutional provision to do so. They could, and have, simply refused to declare war, and refused to impeach the President when he decides to go to war without Congressional approval. That's not abdicating authority, though, that's just a failure to perform your duty under the law of the land, and gross failure to uphold the oath of office.

    As a suggestion for what would constitute "war", I'm satisfied to use an approximation of Obama's own definition, when he was criticizing someone who he perceived to be ignoring the Constitution, rather than doing so himself. To that end: a war is any military action which is not responding to a clear and immediate [military] threat to the US as a nation. True, it's still somewhat nebulous and subject to some interpretation, but things like unilaterally bombing Syria would seem to be fairly straightforward to categorize (ie: that would require Congressional action/approval). I'll concede that giving arms and material support to the anti-government terrorists there is more of a grey-area, though, legally-speaking.

    Side note: recently, country A told country B that the "price" for country A giving country B what they want is that country B stop supporting al qaeda and their allies by giving them arms, training, and other material support (which country B was openly doing). The US is one of those countries, but somewhat shockingly not country A...