Syria, Iraq, and Proof
The high burden of proof on Syria is a good thing on balance.
The lead story in today's New York Times hits the right point. There is pressure on the administration on the question of proof, which it says it is going to produce for the world today. From the article:
And yet the White House faces steep hurdles as it prepares to make the most important public intelligence presentation since February 2003, when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made a dramatic and detailed case for war to the United Nations Security Council using intelligence—later discredited—about Iraq’s weapons programs.
More than a decade later, the Obama administration says the information it will make public, most likely on Thursday, will show proof of a large-scale chemical attack perpetrated by Syrian forces, bolstering its case for a retaliatory military strike on Syria.
But with the botched intelligence about Iraq still casting a long shadow over decisions about waging war in the Middle East, the White House faces an American public deeply skeptical about being drawn into the Syrian conflict and a growing chorus of lawmakers from both parties angry about the prospect of an American president once again going to war without Congressional consultation or approval.
Now. This isn't Iraq. Obama isn't talking about one ground troop, let alone 130,000. I actually think this article kind of wildly overplays the Iraq warning/comparisons for that reason.
But—point well taken. On balance, it's better than it is worse if the media are demanding proof and saying you're not fooling us twice. Would have been nice if they'd been anywhere close to this skeptical back in 2003, eh?
Still, I don't see why this incursion, whatever it is to be, has to happen in such a hurry. I don't like hearing administration spokespeople say things like the Security Council doesn't matter. It does matter. Yes, Russia will block anything and everything, and ultimately that very power to block is kind of a relic of the Cold War, when the people who created the U.N. wanted to ensure that East and West couldn't start proxy wars all over the world and run them through the Security Council and receive international sanction for war on a 4-1 or 3-2 vote. But still, the house rules are the house rules, and it does make any such strike illegal under international law.
That doesn't automatically mean we shouldn't do it, whatever "it" is. The other international norm, the century-long taboo on chemical weapons, is vitally important too. I'm just not sure I quite see the huge hurry. In the absence of UNSC action, what are we doing on the NATO front? At least that's something. And it could be assembled rather easily. But I don't see anyone talking about it.
Finally, there's Congress. We see that David Cameron is giving Parliament not one but two votes. But of course, he controls Parliament. In the U.S. House of Representatives, any authorization for military action would surely lose just because those bozos would vote against Obama. So I don't blame him for that. Behave like children, be treated like children.
I support doing something here on balance. My bottom line is that there's a reason for this proscription against chemical weapons. They're a chief indicator of a regime that wants to kill civilians, not soldiers. The U.S. failed under Reagan to enforce global disapproval when Saddam Hussein used them, and that remains a pretty big black mark on American history. You do that sort of thing twice, then the people inclined to use such weapons really start to laugh at you.