Thursday, September 5, 2013
In his book On War, General Carl von Clausewitz explains that war “is controlled by its political object,” which “will set its course, prescribe the scale of means and effort which is required, and makes its influence felt throughout down to the smallest operational detail.” Over the last two days, John Kerry has insisted that “President Obama is not asking America to go to war.” He even goes so far as to suggest that he, General Dempsey and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel “know the difference between going to war and what President Obama is requesting now.”
Over the last two days John Kerry has made a terrible case for war against Syria to Congress. While seeking action by Congress under the War Powers act, John Kerry has argued forcefully that all definitions of war by experts of warfare throughout history are wrong, and his definition is right. Ryan Evans at War on the Rocks captured the moment when Kerry jumped the shark.
Later, a frustrated Kerry revealed the real logic behind his position: public opinion. He noted that no Americans wanted to go to war with Syria and insisted the White House was of the same mind. “We don’t want to go to war in Syria either!” he exclaimed. “It’s not what we’re here to ask. The President is not asking you to go to war…He’s simply saying we need to take an action that can degrade the capacity of a man who has been willing to kill his own people by breaking a nearly hundred year-old prohibition [against chemical weapons].”
Then, turning to Dempsey, Kerry asked, “General, do you want to speak to that?”
Dempsey responded, “No, not really, Secretary, thank you for offering.” Why? Because General Dempsey knew that was nonsense.
Words matter, and when they are not allowed to matter in policy, we are not being honest with ourselves. Over the last two days John Kerry described the political object with Syria as “to deter, disrupt, prevent, and degrade the potential for, future uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction” by the Assad regime in Syria. The Obama administration has apparently convinced itself that a Desert Fox Part II action in Syria will produce the desired result, apparently ignoring that Desert Fox was in part what led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I do not know any serious expert who believes the Obama administrations military approach to Syria will achieve a positive political object for the US.
The Obama administrations national security leadership, in Congressional testimony, is promoting a delusion regarding the act of war, and is incapable of admitting they are about to start a war. Most troubling, they are intentionally dismissing consequences and the gravity of such action under the assumption that military superiority translates to strategic success. The United States does not have a strategy that political leaders can articulate publicly on Syria, nor is the Obama administrations national security leadership publicly seeking meaningful military objectives of consequence to conditions in Syria. The United States does not have a coalition of support to provide legitimacy for military action, a coalition that protects the US from escalation or retaliation. John Kerry, in front of Congress, described those who believe it unwise for the US to inject our nation into another nations civil war uninvited, as armchair isolationists. No one knew for certain the intelligence cited by Colin Powell was wrong in 2003. Every human being educated on the definition of war knows John Kerry is wrong in 2013, and no one credible on the topic of war will ever be able to argue otherwise.