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Rich Galen / September 2, 2013

Syria(sly)

I decided to run the annual Back to School issue on Friday because I thought events surrounding Syria were moving too quickly. For the first time in over 15 years, I was correct.

As a caution, let me state I am writing this on Sunday evening, so developments might overtake me again, but I’ll take my chances.

Syria is bordered by Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. That is important because most of its neighbors don’t like the Assad regime. And he doesn’t like them.

Let’s stipulate that what we’re talking about is the use of Tomahawk Cruise missiles (or some analogous – stand-off weapon) and not invading Syria.

Let us also stipulate that the use of chemical weapons is a unique category of crime.

International law accepts the possibility of a civil war in which hundreds of thousands might be killed using conventional weapons – with a caution about specifically targeting civilians. But, it does not accept, in the prosecution of such a war from either side, the use of chemical agents as weapons.

The short history of either the legal, or tactical, prohibition against chemical weapons dates back to World War I when, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW):

“The first large-scale attack with chlorine gas occurred 22 April 1915 at Ieper in Belgium. By the end of the war 90,000 deaths and over a million injuries were attributable to the use of chemical weapons.”

Negotiations of the current treaty began in 1973 and the treaty went into effect in May, 1997 – nearly a quarter century later. Another example of the speed with which international agreements are reached.

Getting back to contemporaneous events, on Thursday the British House of Commons voted against joining in military action against Syria. Gulp.

On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry made a forceful speech clearly laying down the foundation for a U.S. missile strike on Syria including the fact that 1,429 – a pretty precise number – of people were killed in the sarin gas attack on August 21.

On Saturday, President Barack Obama spoke from the Rose Garden to announce that he believes he has the authority to act alone …

SIDEBAR II

See, also, Kennedy’s naval blockade of Cuba; Reagan’s attack on Panama; Clinton’s attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan, and; like that.

END SIDEBAR II

… even though when he was a mere Senator, Obama said in an 2007 Boston Globe interview:

“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

On Saturday, at shortly before 2 PM, President Obama said that while he did, in fact, have the authority to act without a Congressional resolution, he would ask the House and Senate to vote, and would wait until the result of such a vote before acting.

In support of his claim of authority, Mr. Obama said, that the sarin gas attack “presents a serious danger to our national security… It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.”

That doesn’t appear to meet the “imminent threat” standard he proclaimed in 2007, but we have said before that being a candidate for President is much easier than actually being President.

Neither the President nor the Vice President has answered the direct question: “What if the Congress, like the British Parliament, votes against intervention in Syria?” but that’s not a question that needs to be answered today.

On Sunday – to continue our litany of a fast-moving story, the Arab League appeared to demur by passing a resolution stating:

“The United Nations and the international community are called upon to assume their responsibilities in line with the UN Charter and international law by taking the necessary deterrent measures.”

Yeah. Well. Thanks, for playing.

Al Jazeera reported that Egypt was more direct in its opposition to an American missile strike saying his nation (where the meeting was being held) “objected to any aggression in Syria.”

The Members of the House and Senate will have more, later, and better information (one hopes) than we have today.

Whether the President decided to bring the Congress into this because of polling data showing strong public support for getting Congressional approval (79-16 according to an NBC News poll), or because he found himself out on the end of the plank with no other nations willing to jump in with him, he made the right decision.

I do not believe sending missiles into Syria is a good idea. Neither does NATO, the UK, Germany, nor the Arab League.

As I Tweeted the other day: George W. coalition for Iraq = 49 nations. Obama coalition for Syria = France. #DoTheMath.

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