Dear God, please stop. Sickening as it might seem, they’re talking war again in Washington.
On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, with thousands dead and billions of dollars squandered, there are reports that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people. If substantiated, Bashar al-Assad has crossed a “red line” that President Obama drew — under pressure from hawkish lawmakers and hand-wringing global leaders.
“If today’s reports are substantiated ... we would urge him to take immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised,” Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a joint statement. “That should include the provision of arms to vetted Syrian opposition groups, targeted strikes against Assad’s aircraft and SCUD missile batteries on the ground, and the establishment of safe zones inside Syria to protect civilians and opposition groups.”
Make no mistake, “targeted strikes” and creating safe zones are euphemisms for war. And we’ve had a lot of that.
The Iraq war led to the deaths of more than 134,000 Iraqis and more than 4,800 U.S. and other coalition service members. The unhappy anniversary was marked Tuesday by bombs exploding across Iraq, killing at least 53 people and injuring scores more.
President Bush waged the war under false pretenses. The weapons of mass destruction that intelligence services predicted would be in Iraq actually did not exist. Six in 10 Americans now say it was dumb to send troops to Iraq.
And then there’s the Afghanistan war, waged after the 9/11 attacks to retaliate against terrorists nested in the nation. More than 2,100 Americans have died in that war.
Now we may have another.
“This is something we take very seriously,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on CNN’s The Lead when asked about reports of chemical weapons used in Syria. He would not comment on the veracity of the reports, ominously citing the confidentiality of U.S. intelligence, but said the president “will act accordingly.”
Obama is president largely because of his early and prescient opposition to the Iraq war. He has kept his promise to withdraw troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year, he skirted pressure to get the United States involved in Syria.
“We cannot have a situation in which chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” Obama said in August. “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 weapons moving around or being utilized.”
“That would change my calculus,” he added. “That would change my equation.”
Obama might think he can manage Syria as deftly as he did the uprising in Libya, which led to the death of dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi. But intervention is a tricky thing — a bloody slope, especially in the Middle East. Obama’s advisers have told him they know little about the forces opposing the Syrian regime, which makes aiding them a risky proposition.
“Six months ago we had a very opaque understanding of the Syrian opposition, and it is now even more opaque,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I don't see a military option that would create an understandable outcome, and until I do, my advice would be to proceed cautiously."
Obama faces a tough decision. Intervene to stop the humanitarian crisis and secure dangerous weapons? Or do what you can from afar? All options are risky, and so the president needs time and space to get this right. It doesn’t help that folks like McCain and Graham seem to be rooting for war. “If today’s reports are substantiated,” they chided Obama, “the tragic irony will be that these are the exact same actions that could have prevented the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria.”
Dear God, please stop.