The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Wednesday adopted, with bipartisan support, a resolution approving a strike on Syria that is being presented as limited in scope and duration.
In fact, it is likely to prove at least as much a blank-check as the notorious Vietnam-era Gulf of Tonkin resolution that was used to rationalize and authorize U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia and a succession of hugely costly increases in what we now call our “boots on the ground” there.
What we have here is a classic bait-and-switch.
To be sure, there is language restricting the presence of ground forces, micromanaging the targeting of other elements and establishing a maximum ninety-day deadline to bring U.S. military operations in Syria to a halt.
But, thanks to Senator John McCain’s determined efforts to embroil the United States in Syria’s civil war, the SFRC-approved resolution also establishes as American “strategy” the objective of “changing the momentum on the battlefield.”
And it explicitly endorses “the provision of all forms of assistance” to the opposition’s military and political elements.
Not much imagination is required to see how such formulations, if ultimately approved by the Congress, would enable the Obama administration to engage to whatever extent it fancies in the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Tactical strikes like those that helped Islamists topple Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi can be called in. And any form weaponry – including man-portable surface-to-air missiles, night-vision technology, rocket-propelled grenades, etc. – could be made available to an opposition that swears fealty to the Al Nusrah Front, a movement dominated by Islamists and designated a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department.
That being the case, it is an open question against whom such weapons might ultimately be used.
Proponents, of course, will seek to allay concerns on this score by pointing to language in the resolution requiring “efforts to isolate extremist and terrorist groups in Syria to prevent their influence on the future transitional and permanent Syrian government.”
It also directs that assistance will only go to those opposition elements that have been “properly and fully vetted and share common values and interests with the United States.”
Yet, the Obama administration and Senator McCain have been notoriously insistent that Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood are “moderates” and people we can do business with.
Indeed, with McCain’s strong encouragement, the U.S. government under Mr. Obama has engaged, legitimated, empowered, funded and in some cases even armed the Brotherhood.
The rationale? They sufficiently “share our values” to be a bulwark against violent Islamists of the Al Qaeda stripe. As we have seen in Egypt, that is simply not the case.
Even if the Senate Foreign Relation Committee’s resolution did not provide a basis for embroiling the United States in Syria’s civil war on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, it still would be deeply problematic.
If approved by Congress in its present form, it would represent an implicit, if not explicit, endorsement of the U.N. doctrine known as “the responsibility to protect” (R2P).
Again, there is a sleight-of-hand at work here. No mention is made of R2P in the resolution. We are being told simply that the United States military must be put in the service of punishing Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians.
Yet, as President Obama brazenly asserted Wednesday (the facts to the contrary notwithstanding), this is a “red line” established, not by him, but by the “international community.” And quite a number of otherwise-sensible, national security-minded folks have bought into the idea that chemical weapons use – and perhaps that of other weapons of mass destruction – will become more widespread on Assad’s part (and maybe others’) if we do not use force in response.
This must be seen for what it is: the entry-level drug for a principle long embraced by the far-left, one with very far-reaching and deleterious implications for U.S. sovereignty, interests and freedom of action in support of both.
It is bad enough that the Foreign Relations Committee’s draft authorization for the use of military force in Syria is, as a practical matter, a quite open-ended mandate for U.S. engagement in Syria’s civil war on the side of avowed enemies of this country.
If, in the process of adopting it, Congress also enshrines the notion that the United States is, henceforth, obliged to engage militarily in circumstances where bad things are being done to innocent civilians in violation of internationally accepted norms, one thing is clear: There will be no end to the demands for our intervention where we have no interest, no limit to claims on our defense assets in the service of some high-minded purpose and no doubt that we will, in the future, lack the military capabilities required for our own defense when, not if, they are needed.
Taken together, these attributes of the SFRC resolution make Lyndon Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin blank-check pale by comparison, and require its rejection by the full Congress.
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy. He acted as an Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan.