Watch the Hands
Pleading the Case for War
As I listened to Secretary of State John Kerry argue the case for launching yet another war in the Muslim world, I thought of the old axiom “truth is the first casualty of war,” which once more demonstrates its veracity. To listen to his impassioned plea for an attack on Syria, an action they have cloaked in noble rhetoric and infused with high minded purpose, and to take it seriously, it is fairly easy to conclude that going to war in Syria is a benefaction for mankind. And to do nothing imperils the fate of our republic…which we are assured is “the last best hope of mankind,” even with all our faults.
The fact that 60% of the American people want no part of yet another war in the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter, poses a problem for the members of Congress, who must vote on questions of war and peace. Under the US Constitution the nation’s war-making powers are invested in the Congress. Since President Obama is not only a lawyer but a former professor of Constitutional Law, who has written thoughtfully about that hallowed foundational document, it will be fascinating to watch how he handles it should the Congress fail to co-sign his plan for a military intervention in Syria. For as we know all too well, past Presidents have found ways to bypass Congress and deployed American military forces abroad.
The most disturbing aspect of the hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is that few Senators offered stiff opposition to the Administration’s plan. More often than not their questions concentrated on operational matters, such as types of forces and possible casualities, and what plans are we making to support the Syrian opposition after the initial military assault. This kind of talk takes on a dangerous urgency when it is bolstered with talk about Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria posing a grave danger to the national security of the United States.
Even more disturbing is the line of questioning pursued by Senator Flake, a Republican from Arizona, who argues that the Administration already has the authority to act if the situation in Syria is as bad as they say it is. Hence he questioned the motives of the administration in bringing the issue to the Congress for a vote. His response put Secretary Kerry in the bizarre position of pointing out that the Constitution mandates that the President consult the Congress before going to war.
Senator Udall’s questions to the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense were a refreshing departure from the mealy mouthed acquiescence to Administration policy from both sides of the aisle. Among other things Mr. Udall raised sharp questions as to how he can be sure that American military action will not enable the Jihadist forces to take power. And his point-blank question as to whether the US should continue to assume the role of global cop, especially in light of our spectacular failures in Iraq or Afghanistan, went straight to the heart of the matter at hand.
I was delighted to witness the Senator standing his ground in face of the huffing and puffing from an unusually animated Secretary of State in defense of his historic military adventure. At the end of Kerry’s impassioned monologue, in which the Secretary painted his proposed military adventure as the last chance to save the world from barbarism, Senator Udall remained unconvinced that a military intervention in Syria was either a good thing in general, or that our national security was dependent upon it. Alas, his Republican colleague, John McCain, wants an even wider American commitment to war.
However the most probing questions came from Senator Rand Paul, a man with whom I usually disagree with about everything including the weather. It is a sign of the impoverishment of the discourse that Paul, who generally plays the charlatan in shameless fashion, should emerge as a voice of wisdom and truth. But his unflinching challenge to the Secretary, about both the reliability of his predictions regarding the behavior of Syrian president Assad and the constitutionality of the President’s deployment of military forces on foreign soil if the Congress votes down the his request for a pro-war resolution, went straight to the heart of the matter,
For the Senator the matter was clear, and he cited a compelling passage from James Madison’s writing in the Federalist Papers. Here Madison argues that the Constitution specifically invested the war making power in the Congress because the great expanse of history demonstrates that it is the executive branch of government that is most promiscuous in its pursuit of war.
Rand Paul, a libertarian Republican, was followed by the newly elected Democratic Senator from Massachusetts Ed Markey, who ironically holds the Senate seat recently abandoned by John Kerry when he became Secretary of State. The Senator reminded his colleagues and the representatives of the Obama Administration how we blundered into the Iraq war, and expressed doubt about the certainty of the Administration’s claims regarding the situation in Syria, and the outcome of the proposed military action there. I share their skepticism.
As I listened to the Secretary of State paint a frightening scenario of the disaster that will befall the world, with grave consequences for the US, should we fail to attack Syria, I became uneasy. He is certain to include all the bad actors that are routinely vilified in the American media, from the Islamic Caliphate of Iran to the insular communist nation of North Korea. It reminds me far too much of Colin Powell’s performance before the United Nations, when he argued the case for the invasion of Iraq, and it also evoked the image of Mr. Kerry’s impassioned denunciation of American military actions in Vietnam as a recently returned veteran.
Hence witnessing his performance as a passionate advocate for an attack on Syria had the feeling of dwelling in a Barney and Bailey world, a strange new world where everything had become its opposite. Mr. Kerry unfolded a list of America’s enemies that bore an uncanny resemblance to George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” and predicted a chain of events to follow in the wake of an American failure to intervene in Syria that resembled a global “Domino Theory.” It was as if I had stumbled into a time warp. This was bad enough, but when I heard Senator Robert Menendez referring to his standing up to the neighborhood bully in New Jersey, as a model from which the US government should fashion our policy toward embattled Syria, it scared the shit outta me! Hence I am more convinced than ever that my position is right on: NO ATTACK ON SYRIA!!!!!
Power Corrupts or the Motion of History?
John Kerry testifying Against war 42 years ago
Playthell G. Benjamin
San Francisco, Ca.
September 3, 2013