President Barack Obama is clearly trying to get out of the corner he has painted himself into regarding Syria. The bottom line of the president’s speech on Syria tonight is he doesn’t have the votes for war, even in the Senate which was thought to be more pro-war, so he is backing off. He’s asked Congress to postpone a vote on authorization to attack Syria. The president is, reluctantly, giving peace a chance, specifically the Russian proposal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons, which the Syrian government has agreed to do. The Devil in the Details to be worked out soon, hopefully.
We, the peace forces, are winning the day. Who woulda thunk that just ten days ago when an bombing attacked looked imminent.
But there’s no time for us to stop our advocacy, agitation and mobilization, especially that aimed at Congress, no time to stop posing better alternatives, not just for dealing with the horrific Syrian anything-but-civil war, but for expanding the U.S. foreign policy toolkit to emphasize tools other than bombs.
While the news tonight is generally very positive – again, postponement of the war authorization vote, more time for diplomacy – the president’s muddle on several points needs to be challenged.
On the point that failure to attack Syria would embolden Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, that is not only a reductionist, simplistic absurdity, it’s the wrong message to send to Iran. We could really use Iran’s help in negotiations with Syria, which need to extend beyond just the response to and disposition of the chemical weapons issue, but to ending the war in Syria.
The president’s contradictory description of an attack — “the U.S. military doesn’t do pinpricks” so it would be a serious strike but wouldn’t fundamentally change the balance in the war, we don’t seek regime change, an attack will send a strong message but we won’t put boots on the ground, we’re not the world’s policeman but we’re the only country with the capacity to act with force, the chemical weapons attack was heinous but the regime supposedly responsible will stay in power — seems to get worse all the time. No wonder he has so little public or congressional support.
The president expressed his “deeply held preference for peaceful solutions.” Really? Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, twice. And somehow I think the families of the hundreds of civilian victims of his drone strikes would beg to differ that his solutions are peaceful.
“Resolutions and statements of condemnation are not enough” was an absurd “straw man” argument by the “leader of the free world.” That’s not what we advocate. We advocate serious grown-up multilateral diplomacy, massive humanitarian assistance, adherence to and faithful use of international law and institutions. We advocate democracy. Obama didn’t try to counter our real proposed solutions and alternatives to bombing, because he can’t.
On the good news front, the president said he and his administration are talking to Russia, France, the UK and China about a UN Security Council resolution on Syria, specifically eliminating its chemical weapons (however, he didn’t mention that it might seek authorization for the use of force by the U.S. if the Russian proposal for Syria’s chemical disarmament falls apart, likely an intentional omission). Also, of course we need to give UN inspectors time to report their findings regarding alleged chemical attacks of August 21.
The last word for the night comes from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV – “Military might is not what defines a superpower. You have to have super patience. You have to have super negotiating power and diplomatic resources. And you have to have super humanitarian aid where needed. We have the possibility of doing all of that.” Dang, didn’t know they grew Gandhis in West Virginia!
Well here’s the actual last word, the awesome rock jam band Phish playing the song that’s the title of this post: