If There Be War, Then Let Us Do It Right This Time... PLEASE...

Paul Evans

For Obama, making war is a tough but necessary part of a job that he is becoming supremely comfortable doing. He never wanted to be a "War President" like George W. Bush but he has learned to embrace it as part of a larger sense of duty: not just in the protection of our nation - but in the protection of our ideals. America, as imperfect a nation as we are, remains the place others look to for help because our ideals still matter. Here, we believe each, every person deserves an opportunity to live free from fear - here we believe that self-determination is a basic human right.

Within the next several weeks or months the United States of America will likely be compelled to take direct military actions in Syria. It will not happen as fast as some hope, it will be sooner than some fear.

But make no mistake about it: this President will take direct action in support of his “red line” warnings to Assad at a time of his choosing, in a manner tailored for the greatest possible value.

President Obama has managed to navigate the labyrinth of Middle East politics relatively well the past several years – and whatever you may think of his so-called “lead-from-behind” doctrine – Obama remains credible, consistent, decisive, and rational (sometimes maddeningly so).

The President is confident in his capabilities as a “Commander-in-Chief at war.” Unlike his immediate predecessor, Obama has nothing to prove – nobody to compete with – in the field of foreign policy. He has learned long ago that regardless of what he does there will be Republicans attacking him for being too passive, Democrats attacking him for being too aggressive.

Barack Obama is a law professor at heart: his time as a community organizer was an exercise in learning the mechanics of implementation, not a calling. He is a careful, thoughtful - strategist. Ironically, he is as detached as Bush was unable to remain detached. He has proven himself capable of making hard choices – generals, political allies, and polls be damned. The past four years have hardened Barack Obama in a way that few of us thought possible.

For Obama, making war is a tough but necessary part of a job that he is becoming supremely comfortable doing. He never wanted to be a "War President" like George W. Bush but he has learned to embrace it as part of a larger sense of duty: not just in the protection of our nation - but in the protection of our ideals.

America, as imperfect a nation as we are, remains the place others look to for help because our ideals still matter. Here, we believe each, every person deserves an opportunity to live free from fear - here we believe that self-determination is a basic human right.

For a man that writes many of his own speeches, words matter. And those foolish enough to believe that Barack Obama said WMDs were a “red line” without the will to respond forget the journey of this most improbable two-term president. It takes courage to attempt the things Barack Obama has attempted; it takes toughness to endure the daily grind of making them reality.

It is interesting to read the recent reports in the media. Some pundits believe Obama was caught off-guard by the news from Syria. And for nearly two years President Obama has allowed Syria to “figure it out” without significant US interference – unlike his predecessor, Obama understands the meaning of limits. Obama likely detests Assad, but he understands the complexities of making war in Syria while the US is struggling to end Afghanistan, contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions – and North Korea’s insanity, and do these things in an era where resources are increasingly scarce.

The world would be wise to remember the difference between indifference and patience: Obama is not indifferent to the plight of the innocents in Syria – until this point he has been constrained by circumstance.

General Dempsey explained as much this past week on the Hill. Syria is a bigger problem than Iraq – it brings the Kurd v. Turkey fight to the forefront, it puts a friendly Jordan in a tighter box (an ally that has already absorbed over 1 million refugees), and it will likely result in a strengthened Hezbollah (that Israel is justifiable concerned about) – and puts us into a shadow war with Iran (and Al Qaeda sympathizers).

The US entry into Syria will achieve three things: 1) we will topple Assad, 2) we will exacerbate regional tensions, and 3) we will invite aggressive actions from Iran, North Korea, and perhaps even Russia. And all of these things may well be the “best” option compared with doing nothing and showcasing the US indifference to the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Obama will be damned for taking action, but he cannot risk the geopolitical losses associated with us not taking action – our enemies will be even more emboldened if we fail to act after drawing a “red line” on WMDs (especially WMDs that really exist).

Democrats should ready themselves for another war in the Middle East. However, Democrats can – indeed must – shape the expectations. Accordingly, the Congress should take the following actions:

  1. Authorize the President to use all necessary means to end the use of WMDs by the Assad Regime and secure any, all residual WMD materials;

  2. Authorize the President to coordinate efforts through NATO as well as the UN to implement refugee sanctuaries – for Syrian nationals as well as the Kurdish population centers that will most certainly be displaced as a consequence of direct military actions;

  3. Authorize the President to levy a 1% “war-tax” in 12-month increments in order to “Pay as we go” in prosecution of the established objectives for the military campaign;

  4. Authorize the President to coordinate with the Arab League in facilitating a stable, representative transition for a new Syria with a statement of understanding that the US will play a partnership role in the evolutionary process of Syrian self-determination; and

  5. Authorize the President to expand the National Guard and Reserve components in order to facilitate a more effective, efficient “stabilization” plan for post-war Syria.

a. A critical lesson learned from Iraq was the value of the US Army Reserve Civil Affairs teams. These teams can provide critical life support and infrastructure repair capabilities under adverse circumstances – without the image problems associated with contracted services.

b. Another lesson learned (from global military cooperation, not Iraq) was the value of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP). These partnerships help facilitate greater understanding of “civilian control of the military” as well as emergency management, and professional training.

The US remains the last power capable of stopping genocide. And let us be clear: 50,000 killed (hundreds of thousands wounded) in a war that has now most likely escalated into a war with WMDs “in-play” is genocide. Like it or hate it, we are the only nation with the means to do certain things – a nation that still believes certain ends are unacceptable.

We can seize the initiative. Right now the Chicken-hawks (Republicans that favor war, but were too busy to serve themselves) and War-hawks in Congress are pushing Obama to take action. Most Democrats are not terribly excited about another war (justifiably so), but most also understand the stakes of a tyrant with WMDs in a tinderbox. We must recall that Clinton once said his greatest regret was Rwanda – a place where over 900,000 men, women, and children perished because nobody would stop the insanity.

In the end, President Obama will take the rational course: he will strike once we know for certain that Assad has used WMDs (as we suspect). The President will execute a campaign in spite of the rhetoric and drum-beating, not because of it.

We can help him and help our America if we have the courage to do it. We can use this moment of reflection and retrospection to implement a new standard for the use of military force. And we can do this with the aid of our adversaries.

Let us push for a more rational approach. Let us only go to war when absolutely necessary and when we do go, let us pay for the war as we fight it, instead of putting it on the credit card; let us legislate end game objectives to clarify our mission; and let us provide a responsible path for post-war Syria that can sustain the values associated with a more democratic society.

May 2013 promises to be a challenging time for the President. He will need our support more than ever before. After years of telling the world the US should only fight when every other option has been exhausted, Obama is about to be faced with the kind of fight the US used to be known for: standing up for the people that cannot stand for themselves.

This time we will have the evidence. We will have the full weight of the UN and the community of nations. And this time we must come together as a nation and sacrifice for a shared mission. As a veteran of 21-years in uniform, I hope that Assad will be assassinated in a coup but I suspect that moment has already passed. If we must go to war, Obama has the benefit of the past four years of experience.

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