This blog post is going to print prior to any decision by President Obama to attack the Syrian regime. Yesterday, in a baffling move, the president announced that he would defer to Congress the decision to attack the rogue regime of Bashar Assad. In a muddled and anti-historical view of the Constitution, President Obama is acting as prime minister of a weakened democracy instead of commander-in-chief of a republic.
We must now tell Syrian civilians that they should be patient in their dying, at least until after September 9th, due to the perceived need for a legislative resolution. The president’s moral indignation is dubious since if this were truly a case about human dignity, the Assad regime would have been annihilated long ago. Since February I have addressed the tragedy of the Obama Doctrine in relation to Syria and the president’s inability to protect American national interests. Since February we have known that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its own people, Muslim and Christian. The world is now focused on whether or not the Obama administration will launch a punitive strike against selective elements of the Assad regime, a regime whose demise should have been hastened by the United States since 1971, the year Bashar Assad’s father began his reign. This regime has countered American foreign policy interests and the natural law of nations for decades. History forces us to confront the reality that the current incarnation of the Assad regime is merely the culmination of past actions, inimical to the American people and the civilized world.
President Obama’s remarks concerning Syria on August 30th were troubling on three counts that received scant attention. First, he based his legitimacy on so-called international norms instead of invoking natural law. The Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons violates God’s natural law and natural rights. It was and is a direct attack against human dignity, human rights and human freedom. Second is his telegraphing that any American attack will be short and narrow. Third, and most hypocritical, is the focus on the type of weapons used instead of the actual deaths. Obama stated, “What we will do is consider options that meet the narrow concern around chemical weapons, understanding that there is not going to be a solely military solution to the underlying conflict and tragedy that’s taking place in Syria.” This is a playing a statistical game about death in international relations. We are now engaged in weighing the quantification of death and the style of death. This is tragic, immoral and disturbed. It is, like much with this administration, a victory for tortured jargon and technocracy over substance and morality.
The number of dead in Syria has now crossed the Rubicon of statistics. Last month the United Nations estimated that this number is well over 100,000. Yet, in an act of neobarbarism the foreign policy team of the current American administration is laser focused only on the over 1,000 killed by chemical weapons. This use of chemical weapons is an absolute travesty and is a crime against humanity. However, what of the deaths by shell and shot? These have become mere statistics, in a 21st century obsessed with numbers to replace judgment. It conjures up dark memories of the most evil character of the 20th century, Josef Stalin, who notoriously stated, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” We can and should be horrified by the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime; they have broken any protection of sovereignty and must be destroyed. However, the complete absence of horror for the 100,000 dead is unbelievable. Is the United States truly prepared to make the case that we will narrowly punish a sliver of a rogue regime by tacitly accepting the deaths in the tens of thousands that have already occurred? I have stated on four other occasions that international realists and liberals should come together over Syria. The country is a quasi-client of the Russians, an ally of the Iranians, destabilizer of Lebanon, threat to Israel and a major state sponsor of terrorism. These reasons serve the realist notions of vital and national interest. Liberals, horrified by the immorality of the Assad regime, must see that negotiation with a tyrant who kills his own people is an act of moral cowardice. The Syrian regime is an enemy of the civilized world, an enemy of the American state, and an enemy to her own people.
The United States, due to our inaction in February, finds itself between a rock and a hard place. We cannot assist in removing the Assad regime to allow Islamic extremists, who have infiltrated certain rebel groups to gain a foothold; however, we cannot allow the regime to stand. We have allowed ourselves to be placed into a corner that we did not need to be in. We had the flexibility and time on our side for over a year. We could have dominated the assistance and guidance to the Syrian resistance to prevent the influence of Islamic extremism and we could have created hard power options to bring down the Assad regime swiftly risking few American casualties. Such feasible opportunities have been squandered by an administration that seems unable or unwilling to develop a coherent national security strategy and foreign policy. Now, the choices have narrowed, as they have with Iran and North Korea.
It is time for the administration to develop a concrete and definitive plan for removing the Assad regime, assisting the resistance to both eliminate Assad and the Islamic extremists, and plan for the reconstruction of the Syrian state along democratic lines within the cultural and historical context of that society. If the rest of the world wishes to ignore the deaths of over 100,000 people, they can answer to the author of natural law.
Lamont Colucci is an associate professor of politics at Ripon College, former Fulbright scholar to the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and author of The National Security Doctrines of the American Presidency: How they Shape our Present and Future, among other books.You can find out more at lamontcolucci.com.
Corrected on 9/1/13: An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly identified when Bashar Assad's reign began. It was his father's reign which began in 1971.