Ken’s Take on the World

The Drumbeat of War
September 2, 2013, 12:36 pm
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Much discussion has taken place about the conflict in Syria.  In particular, recent allegations that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against its own people have been raised.  These developments, if proven to be true, put the United States into a very difficult position.  For the record, I am opposed to any unilateral action to put boots-on-the-ground combat troops into Syria.  Having said this, there is a serious case to be made for US intervention in this conflict in light of recent allegations against the Syrian government.


The American people are tired from a decade of war that has strained our military servicemen and women, military equipment, our national treasury and, of the deaths and injuries suffered by those who proudly wore the uniform in service to their country.  The US military is the strongest and most capable force on the planet.  The brave men and women who volunteer to sacrifice their lives in the service of our nation’s values must be honored and protected, and, yes, sometimes, placed in harm’s way.  That is the way of the warrior.  That devotion to duty must not be abused by politicians and any decision to place our young men and women in harm’s way must not be taken lightly but as the single-most serious decision that a leader must face.


The US military is in a unique position in the world.  The United States has more military power in its arsenal than any other nation on the planet.  For more than two centuries, brave men and women have answered the call of service and our military forces have served with pride and dedication in service to our Constitution and to our, particular, American values.  This is why the conflict in Syria is so troubling for me, personally, and for Americans in general.  I wore the uniform of a Navy Hospitalcorpsman with pride and would gladly do so again if called.  I have seen young men die and suffer serious injury.  While I did not serve in combat, I would have proudly served in combat with any of the sailors and Marines that I worked with.


There are two main schools of thought on Syria.  The prevailing view, and, temporarily at least, easier position to follow is to not involve the United States or its military in the events occurring in Syria.  This provides great relief to the majority of men and women currently serving in the military and for their friends and families back home.  This position is worthy of serious consideration with the recognition of our current fiscal concerns and the potential dangerous inherent to combat functions.  It must also be noted that the events in Syria resulted from populist protests against an oppressive government and that those early protests presented the US with some potentially viable candidates to assume governance in Syria should the government fall.  The US failed to act in a timely fashion to identify and nurture these potential leaders and subsequently others have joined into this civil war.  There are those with interests that are diametrically opposed to our own national interests.  Forces aligned against the Assad regime include those who have sworn their opposition to the United States and our western allies.  Individuals and groups that despise American values are among those currently fighting against Assad forces.


A second school of thought advances a position that military intervention is recommended, or even demanded, to address the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  This position, too, requires careful consideration and discussion.  There are those who support limited engagement with the use of Cruise missiles to destroy or degrade strategic targets.  A minority favors a more involved approach that might include the use of ground forces.  Personally, I am leaning toward the prior approach.


It is easy to form an opinion based on emotion and personal experience.  Because of the gravity of using military force, an ethical approach is necessary to decide a proper, and moral, course of action.


There are certain values that we, as Americans, hold critical to our identity as citizens of this great nation.  One of the characteristics of our nation is that we are a Constitutional Republic.  Every federal elected official and every uniformed service member pledges an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  This charter vests in Congress the responsibility of, among other things, declaring war.  The document also names the President as Commander-in-Chief.  It incorporates our nation’s values through a Bill of Rights.  Along with individual rights come individual and communal responsibilities.  These, too, are values that we, as Americans, cherish.  One ideal of Americanism is that the American will always stand up for the oppressed.  Our armed forces have practiced this for at least two centuries.  Our nation’s leaders have also generally supported this American value.  There is an ethical responsibility of ensuring the tranquility of a civil world.  This obligation demands that the United States government and its military forces act to promote and preserve this tenet of justice.


In 1941, Congress passed the first War Powers Act.  This resolution afforded the President greater ability to utilize the armed forces in order to quickly respond to domestic or international threats to our security or interests.  Since that time, American President’s have sought an Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) from Congress 18 times.  Not one AUMF has been denied.  The most recent AUMF was a request to use military force in Iraq to force compliance with United Nations (UN) resolutions.  On numerous additional occasions, a sitting President has authorized the use of military force under the extant powers afforded under Article II of the US Constitution.


President Obama, rather than taking action under his Article II authority has sought a Congressional AUMF in regard to Syria.  The President will now have to prove to Congress that there is a legitimate rationale for his request for approval of military force.  The majority of Americans currently oppose any military intervention, even in light of evidence that chemical weapons have been used against civilians.  The Administration has an opportunity, and an obligation, to demonstrate to members of Congress and the American people that chemical weapons were, a) In fact used; and b) That use of such chemical munitions were used by Syrian government forces against civilians.  The use of chemical weapons, by itself, violates international law.  The use of chemical weapons by a government constitutes a war crime.  If it was a party other than the government of Syria that used chemical weapons, there is a more serious concern involved than simply the use of chemical devices.  It is incumbent on the Administration to establish the facts of this crisis.


It is the obligation of Congress, if it is provided sufficient evidence that the Assad regime in Syria did employ chemical agents against its citizens, to reach a decision that is consistent with our American values.  While some lawmakers are tying themselves to the mantle of, “vital national interests,” I would remind them that it is in our nation’s best interests to protect those who are oppressed.  The most tragic historical moments in our nation occurred when we, as a nation, failed to respond promptly to the oppression of others. There is a small cadre of legislators who are advocating for a very strong military response and it is not clear if they would support the deployment of ground forces into Syria.  I would strongly oppose the involvement of ground forces.  The Syrian conflict began as a civil war and it is not within the purview of our military forces to assist in the overthrow of a government because it is opposed by its own citizens. 


I believe the AUMF that is currently in effect (since 2001) fails to pertain to the current situation in Syria.  If it is demonstrated that rebel forces (instead of the Assad government) used chemical arms, President Obama may find that military action is supported under the current AUMF.  If it is true that the Syrian government ordered the use of chemical agents against its citizens, then the President is best served by seeking a Congressional AUMF against Syrian strategic targets.  On Sunday, Senate Democrats expressed concern that the AUMF request submitted by the President is overly broad and is trying to more narrowly tailor the request before it is introduced to Congress for debate.  There are many options for the use of military force that do not involve putting troops on the ground.  Each of these should be carefully considered.


America has long enjoyed a sense of credibility on the stage of nations.  This credibility was damaged after it was determined that misleading information was used to initiate military intervention in Iraq.  Our nation’s reputation was tarnished by these revelations and Congress, rightly, is demanding irrefutable evidence of the allegations made against the Assad regime.  This is how our government works most effectively and responsibly.  If the United States fails to address crimes committed by nation’s, what then, can we expect of our own government?


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