Guest Editorial


Is Obama risking a wider regional war in Syria?

Bookmark and Share

robert romano"My credibility is not on the line. The international community's credibility is on the line. And America and Congress's credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important."

That was Barack Obama at a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden imploring Congress to authorize the use of military force against Syria. The mission is to counter President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against more than 1,400 civilians there in the civil war that has been waged for more than two years now.

Secretary of State John Kerry has said the gas used was sarin.

Last year, Obama had warned the Syrian regime against the use of chemical weapons on Aug. 20, 2012: "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," the president said a year ago last week. "That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."

obamaThat was the so-called "red line" Obama set. Yet, in Stockholm he now claims, "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line…"

"Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty," Obama added, referring to the 1925 Geneva protocol banning the use of such weapons. The treaty states, "The High Contracting Parties will exert every effort to induce other States to accede to the present Protocol."

Therefore it falls on the U.S. to enforce those treaties, the President said. So far, Obama has been unable to produce any other country that would join a military coalition that would coordinate with U.S. forces to enforce the treaty.

"I do think that we have to act. Because if we don't, we are effectively saying that even though we may condemn it and issue resolutions and so forth and so on, somebody who is not shamed by resolutions can continue to act with impunity," Obama declared.

Assad, for his part, has threatened a wider regional war if military strikes against Damascus ensue in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro. "The Middle East is a powder keg, and today the flame is coming very near. We cannot talk merely about the Syrian response, but about what might take place after the first strike. But nobody knows what will happen. Everyone will lose control of the situation when the powder keg explodes. Chaos and extremism will spread. There is a risk of regional war."

Assad might have been alluding to Iran, which has threatened retaliation in the event of any attack on its satellite, Syria.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey has apparently issued similar warnings, according to the World Tribune special report. "[Dempsey's] assessment is that any U.S. war against Assad will automatically involve his foreign allies, and that means Tehran and to a smaller extent, Moscow," said the Tribune's source, referring to Iran and Russia. Is Obama about to set off a powder keg?

All of which is certainly more than even Congress is bargaining for. One resolution in front of the Senate now would only authorize up to 90 days of military action against the Syrian government and bar the use of combat troops.

Members are not envisioning any sort of sustained campaign to be waged in Syria, let alone preparing for a regional war. Support for action is not very wide among members of Congress either. "Informal counts by Obama allies show that support in Congress for Obama's plans is in the low dozens," suggested a report from

In the meantime, it is unclear whether such a limited authorization by Congress would even give the military all the tools necessary to complete the mission. In the Iraq war, the chemical and biological stocks that the military was attempting to secure were said to have been able to fit into a small garage.

And even then, with the full weight of the U.S. military, the Saddam Hussein regime toppled in 2003, the weapons that were being sought could not be found. At the time, there were many reports speculating they had been shipped to Syria in the run-up to the war. Maybe they were.

No word yet on how the chemical stocks will be secured this time without even boots on the ground, or if the Administration even knows where the weapons are, or how it will prevent the weapons from being transferred yet again.

In that analysis, Obama is not making the case that the chemical weapons will be destroyed per se even if Congress does approve military action. Nor is the mission to remove the Assad regime from power. It sounds like he wants to throw some missiles at Syria. What is even being targeted? The government? Chemical weapons sites?

Obama is requesting congressional authorization to take limited military action that may not even achieve its purpose. He makes no guarantee the weapons will be secured or destroyed and in the meantime the action might land the U.S. in a wider war it does not intend to wage.

If this really is all about credibility, our enemies surely are laughing at us. Nobody fears Obama.

If any lesson can be drawn from recent U.S. military history, it is that no war should be waged nor military action taken that lacks a clear, achievable mission and a comprehensive plan for success. How will the American people know when the primary objective has been accomplished? Obama has not defined what success means.

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.