Today, President Obama sent Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the use of military force in Syria; they will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee tomorrow. The trio has been sent to persuade lawmakers to support President Obama’s aims “to fire a shot across the bow” in an attempt to send a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons.
Assad will ignore the message.
During the hearing, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and James Risch (R-ID) both stressed the unintended consequences of emboldening Assad via a “limited” military strike. This is a sticking point that clearly needs further consideration as Congress continues to debate authorizing the use of force.
Rubio and Risch emphasized that Assad is unlikely to receive the intended message of a “finger wag” strike and instead will become even further emboldened by U.S. military action. After all is said and done, Assad would be able to say he stood up to the greatest military power on the globe and continue the slaughter of Syrians. Secretary Kerry even reaffirmed this notion, leading one to question what the strategic goal of a strike is if it emboldens Assad further.
In response to lawmakers’ questions about the Administration’s inconsistent Syria policy, particularly its cautionary and incoherent stance taken during the Spring against military intervention and “red lines,” today Secretary Hagel referred to a “new set of realities” that now dictate a new policy position for the Administration.
Despite the new dynamic, the Administration will likely continue its disjointed position on Syria, including its stance to not support regime change or robust arming of vetted rebels. Instead, the Administration, even in the event of a limited military strike, still believes a diplomatic settlement is possible and a feasible endgame. It’s unlikely Assad will be dining at the diplomatic table anytime soon.
The trio came to Congress to sell the congressional authorization to use force in Syria and build support for the Administration’s draft resolution, although Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was quick to point out that any resolution coming out of the committee would be more limited in scope than the President’s proposed language. Secretary Kerry pointed out that “Assad cannot gas or shoot his way of this predicament,” but he failed to explain that neither can the United States.
While the trio cited a host of conventions, treaties, and “never again’ statements, they failed to provide a strategic vision for the President’s plan in Syria and the region.
President Obama has a history of haphazardly proclaiming red lines and seeking political cover. However, the President has failed to appreciate that protecting U.S. national security interests requires more than force; above all, it requires strong leadership.