Friday, August 30, 2013

Kerry's speech on Syria today

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to the nation earlier today.  In the speech he presented a summary of evidence regarding the attack in Ghouta, and made a fierce case for a U.S. military strike in response to that attack and described some boundaries on what the commander-in-chief wishes to do.

What was missing from his speech was a case for why the United States Congress cannot debate and vote on the matter.  Although Mr. Kerry cited the prestige and reputation of the United States, in the end he is unable to say that the United States is under direct attack; and in order to launch a military strike on a country that has not directly attacked us, the president must seek an authorization from Congress for this act of war.  Because that is what it is: an act of war.  And while it has not been the recent practice of presidents to acknowledge this limitation of power or seek congressional approval for war, in this case there is plenty of time to make that case and then respond.  After all, the president claims that he is not seeking to change the balance of military power in the civil war, but merely to fire a 'shot across the bow.'  If that is true, why not take the time for a proper debate in accordance with our constitution?

Also missing from Mr. Kerry's speech was a compelling case for why the United States needs to go it alone as "chemical warfare cop."  Assuming the case is true, and agreement that this attack on civilians was completely unacceptable for any purpose, what is the correct way to respond?  While I understand the difficulties in securing Security Council support, do we not have a duty to try?  And what about the Arab League?  If this is a great moral issue, why not make that case to these bodies and assemble a legitimate coalition?

Opinion polls suggest that Americans want answers to these questions before supporting an act of war that runs the risks of further involvement in a foreign civil war.  Will the president ever deal with us forthrightly?

Or shall we start calling him Barack O'Dubya?


JiHyang Padma said...

Have you seen James' column?

Food for thought....

Algernon said...

I read it, and I do not have a problem with what James said so much as what he left out.

Here's where it gets problematic. I quote James's piece:

"I’ve decided, for the moment, the least evil stance is to not oppose these called for attacks that might degrade the Syrian dictator’s forces, to demonstrate that poison gas must not be reintroduced into modern conflict. Out of respect for the Kurds. Out of respect for those others who’ve been victim to these horrors, to prevent the reintroduction of this terror. To finally, finally draw a line in that one small regard, at last."

Why support a policy which, so far, seems to be: the way to uphold international law is a military strike that doesn't target Assad or significant reduce his military capability, but will probably kill civilians (no matter how surgical the strike is)? The first thing James omits from his meditation is that this policy doesn't really make sense.

It doesn't "finally draw a line" about the use of poison gas. The line has been drawn, and it has been crossed. International law is not enforced by the U.S. unilaterally (and selectively) bombing offenders, it is enforced by international coalitions and institutions. Another glaring omission from James's meditation is this lack of imagination regarding non-military alternatives, although military action may still be involved. These are also not easy or simple -- and not necessarily pacifist to be sure. But they exist as alternatives to this "drop some bombs, that'll teach 'im" policy.

One more omission, and this is an important one. We cannot, as moral people, ignore our own recent use of white phosphorous and depleted uranium in military conflict. This cannot be the "least evil stance" if it involves ignoring our own use of non-conventional weapons. Call on the world's conscience? May it call to us!

Algernon said...

By the way, I left a comment on his blog and also on another Buddhist blog that addressed this subject. Funny thing. Both blogs have moderated comments, and neither blogger has approved my comment. I promise, I was polite and coherent in making these points. I can only conclude that these points are not welcome for discussion on those blogs. Which is their call to make. #feelingcensored