President Obama has decided to send the issue of authorizing force against Syria to Congress. What should Congress do? Should Congress give him the authority to act based on the guidelines he’s set out? Should Congress change the guidelines?

The mishandling of Syria is so complete that whether or not military intervention is warranted, it may now be the worst of the options:

Congress should not authorize the use of force in Syria, if at all, until there is a clear objective in mind.

This isn’t me simply mocking the President, which would be easy to do.

This is based on the President’s own words and actions; some since August 21 but many before.

In A Show of Farce, after noting the severity of Assad’s actions, James Taranto observes that the administration’s stated goals hardly fit the crime.

Indications are that the Obama administration’s response will be to drop a few bombs, break some stuff, and maybe kill a few bystanders. That comes nowhere near being a just punishment for the crimes alleged.

Nor does it seem likely to prove an effective deterrent. Other dictators will see that they can use chemical weapons without endangering their survival (in both senses of the word). Assad will have tested the resolve of “the world” and found it wanting: Even after using chemical weapons, he will remain in power, with no reason to expect any external response to any further atrocity that doesn’t involve chemical weapons.

One similarity between the Syria effort and the Iraq one is that the U.S. is having trouble enlisting the support of its allies. Notwithstanding Obama’s promises to “restore our moral standing,” he couldn’t even get the British on board: The House of Commons yesterday voted down Prime Minister David Cameron’s motion to support a Syria strike. On the other hand, the New York Times notes that France’s President Francois Hollande “offered strong support.” We hear today’s lunch special at the State Department cafeteria was poisson frites.

But remember that this is a President who considers the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan – out of harm’s way – to be among his foremost achievements. President Obama has no stomach for war. For him war the limit is targeting disparate Al Qaeda leaders in pinpoint drone strikes. He does not believe that war serves any national interest or even higher purpose.

Last week some people thought that he looked indecisive. I respectfully disagree. President Obama never wanted to go to war with Syria; what he was waiting for was an excuse not to do so.

I’d guess that the British vote Friday against authorizing force in Syria was cheered in the White House. The fewer partners available the easier it is to claim that there is insufficient international support. A Congressional vote against attacking would – along with no Security vote or one vetoed by China and Russia – would mean that there is little legal justification for a strike. President Obama has cultivated an image that he is more thoughtful than his rash predecessor. With limited popular support and legal justification would President Obama strike Syria?

If there was some point to attacking Syria as Eliot Cohen, the Wall Street Journal or Bret Stephens outlined; I’d tell Congress to authorize action.

But the President is looking for a pretext not to attack Syria. As bad as the Syria situation is, President Obama’s fecklessness endangers something else.

In an ironically titled column a year and a half ago, Israel’s Best Friend, Thomas Friedman argued:

“Preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon isn’t just in the interest of Israel, it is profoundly in the security interests of the United States,” the president told The Atlantic. “If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, this would run completely contrary to my policies of nonproliferation. The risks of an Iranian nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorist organizations are profound. … It would also provide Iran the additional capability to sponsor and protect its proxies in carrying out terrorist attacks, because they are less fearful of retaliation. … If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, I won’t name the countries, but there are probably four or five countries in the Middle East who say, ‘We are going to start a program, and we will have nuclear weapons.’ And at that point, the prospect for miscalculation in a region that has that many tensions and fissures is profound. You essentially then duplicate the challenges of India and Pakistan fivefold or tenfold.” In sum, the president added, “The dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world.”

Every Israeli and friend of Israel should be thankful to the president for framing the Iran issue this way. It is important strategically for Israel, because it makes clear that dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat was not Israel’s problem alone. And it is important politically, because this decision about whether to attack Iran is coinciding with the U.S. election. The last thing Israel or American friends of Israel — Jewish and Christian — want is to give their enemies a chance to claim that Israel is using its political clout to embroil America in a war that is not in its interest.

(I doubt that Friedman appreciated the irony.)

But using weapons of mass destruction was once a “red line” for the President:

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.

Now the President’s apologists are parsing the red line comment to say that it doesn’t mean what others have thought it means.

Really the only people whose interpretation of the “red line” comment matter are Bashar Assad and Ali Khamenei.

If the use of a “bunch of chemical weapons … being utilized” has not changed President Obama’s equation on Syria, will Iran’s development of nuclear weapons change anything?


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.