The President’s Paradox
These are uncertain times, there is no denying. Americans watch as our nation’s leaders lift their gaze from challenges here at home to look squarely at Syria.
Late last month, the president announced that he wants the United States to take limited action against Syria’s government in response to a chemical-warfare attack that killed nearly 1,500 citizens.
In a pivot from his original policy, the president will seek an up-or-down vote from Congress, which I and 115 of my colleagues stressed was the constitutionally prudent course of action. This decision shows a regard for the Constitution that has been noticeably absent for much of his presidency. Such an obligation, required by the War Powers Resolution of 1973, will allow the American public to join the debate and will engage Congress in the decision of whether, and to what extent, we should commit U.S. military resources to Syria. As the commander-in-chief of our military and the leader of our free nation, the president should do this out of respect for democracy. He owes it to the American people to define the United States’ national interests regarding an intervention in Syria.
Despite the decision to seek congressional authorization, serious questions remain and war-weary Americans and a skeptical Congress are rightfully looking for answers.
What are the president’s goals in Syria? How will his objectives meet these goals? How would he define our national security interests in Syria? What kind of commitment are we making if we get involved? How would we exit?
These are very hard questions and Congress now has decisions to make; however, let me state clearly that I have no intention of voting to authorize American intervention in Syria. I believe it would be irresponsible to commit American resources to a new conflict that may not be vital to our national interests and is not connected to a larger strategy.
This administration faces another reality and it is not related to rhetoric over red lines or narrowly defined goals or boots-on-the-ground. The president faces the reality of his paradoxical policies. And to that end, we know enough.
We know that when great nations are led into war ambivalently, there are broad implications. Attacking Syria would be “a shot across the bow,” the president has said. But this approach carries big risks. Nobody can guarantee that this will be a two-day conflict. We cannot expect to send a strong signal and then expect to not become further embroiled in this regional conflict. We cannot control the response on the international stage. Our military is not set up to strike that way. This is especially true as the administration chips away at our national defense budget. By accepting nearly a trillion dollars in cuts from our national defense over the past four years, the administration has hamstrung our military’s capabilities, setting it on a course for disaster.
We know the president has punted on Syria until now. His response to Syria has been elusive, taking the position that Syrian president Bashar Assad must go, yet working little to hasten his departure. Instead, the administration fixed its attention on cutting our military resources. The administration cut the Joint Forces Command. It has sought to get rid of seven of our cruisers. It is planning to reduce our number of carriers. Planes sit unused waiting to train our pilots. The devastation of our superpower military seems to have no end.
We know that even as the president calls for an attack on Syria, he has denied a full pay raise to the very military men and women who will be tasked with carrying out such an attack. We have traditionally had the strongest, best equipped, most capable military in the world, but we cannot continue to ask our military men and women to perform new missions under the constraints of defense budget cuts and sequestration.
We know that the president has not articulated a U.S. national security interest threatened by the chemical-warfare attack. It would be foolish to support any action that could potentially lock the U.S. into a foreign entanglement with no clear objective or readily accessible end goals. We cannot risk losing focus on Iranian threats in the region and we cannot put increased pressure on a military already impacted by this administration’s reckless defense cuts.
War-weary public opinion aside, the president’s willingness to use our military without ensuring that it is properly funded is not just miscalculation — it is contradiction. The president’s paradoxical policies should alarm all who understand the maintenance of unparalleled American military power as a principal constitutional duty of our commander-in-chief.