“Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent Alliances, with any portion of the foreign world.” George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796
George Washington asked his countrymen, “Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground?"
He could easily pose the same question today as the United States lunges towards a possible intervention in Syria. Now is the time to stop and ask ourselves, “why?”
Iran, whose official policy is “Death to America,” is backing Syrian President Assad’s forces, which may have used sarin gas against the al Qaeda linked rebels, whose ranks comprise the same people that the United States fought in Iraq.
Got all that? This is a tangled mess of factions, many of whom have vowed to destroy us. Before jumping to the aid of any side, our founding principles advocate that we consider our stake in the outcome.
Article II of the U.S. Constitution bestows the president of the United States with “commander-in-chief powers,” but provides virtually no elaboration on what they entail. The terse text was left in such a state, in part, because everyone in 18th-century America already knew what this phrase meant: those powers wielded by General George Washington. The precedents he set as the nation’s first commander-in-chief would, thus, have a lasting impact on the meaning of the Constitution.
As we debate the current administration’s military policies, we might do well to ask ourselves “What Would George Do?”
He would steer clear of Syria.
Washington was highly reluctant to entangle the United States in the affairs of other nations, even ignoring allies’ pleas for help securing liberty.
For example, when the French overthrew the chains of monarchy in their quest for democracy, Washington refused to help. And when Britain subsequently declared war on France, Washington again stayed away.
Washington’s decision was motivated by his unashamed desire to protect America’s self-interest — another war with Great Britain would be too costly and was unlikely to result in a clean American victory. Washington famously asked in his farewell address, “Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any [other nation], entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?”
When Washington did involve the United States in conflict, he made sure it was of direct benefit to the nation. When Haitian slaves revolted in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, Washington lent aid to the French. His decision was motivated by his desire to serve American interests: he used the aid to repay the U.S.’s debt owed to France, and also sought (less admirably) to preserve Southern economic interests by dissuading American slaves from following suit.
It is worth also noting that in the rare instances in which Washington determined that the direct benefits outweighed the costs of committing U.S. lives and resources abroad, he made sure to first obtain congressional approval for his actions.
Modern presidents, including President Obama, have not necessarily followed Washington’s lead in conflicts such as Libya. (President Bush did request and receive Congressional approval for our intervention into Afghanistan and Iraq. The vote for the resolution to commit troops to Afghanistan was: House 420 to 1 with 10 abstentions and the Senate 98-2. For Iraq it was House 297-133 and the Senate 77-23. Both of these conflicts had congressional approval yet no war was declared. In fact the Congress has not issued a formal declaration of war since 1941.)
Regarding the current conflict in Syria, what is the benefit for the United States? Until that is clearly established, Washington’s precedent suggests caution. Such blatant self-interest has become not politically correct in the modern age, but when American lives and dollars are at stake, we cannot afford to neglect such questions.
At our nation’s founding, military action was a last resort — one only utilized to advance American interests or defend against attack.
We might look to Washington and our founding fathers for guidance on how to respond to unique global challenges while remaining faithful to our nation’s core constitutional principles.
So what are we doing in Syria? According to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) we are sending arms to the very people we are fighting in Afghanistan and who mounted the attack against our Ambassador in Benghazi on September 11, 2012
On Tuesday Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) blasted members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which voted overwhelmingly to arm elements of the Syrian opposition in a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). "This is an important moment," Paul said, addressing his Senate colleagues. "You will be funding, today, the allies of al Qaeda. It's an irony you cannot overcome."
The legislation, which would authorize the shipment of arms and military training to rebels "that have gone through a thorough vetting process," passed in a bipartisan 15-3 vote. Paul offered an amendment that would strike the bill's weapons provision, but it was rejected along with another Paul amendment ruling out the authorization of the use of military force in Syria. (Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy was the only senator to join Paul in support of the weapons amendment.)
Paul's two amendments constituted his first legislative act to soften the Menendez-Corker bill, which earned the support of powerful lawmakers from Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) to Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to Marco Rubio (R-FL) — all of whom rejected Paul's allegations. "I don't think any member of this committee would vote for anything we thought was going to arm al Qaeda," said Rubio. "Al Qaeda, unfortunately, is well-armed," added Menendez. "That is the present reality in Syria."
The dispute centers on the issue of whether the United States could properly vet Syrian rebels so that weapons and body armor would not fall into the hands of extremist groups, such as the al Qaeda-aligned al-Nusra Front. The Pentagon's top brass has vacillated about whether it's logistically possible to keep track of weapons as they enter a conflict involving a complex mix of opposition groups, as the new bill would require.
Corker added that not arming rebel groups such as the more moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) would ensure the dominance of the better-equipped al-Nusra Front. Paul responded, saying, "It's impossible to know who our friends are. I know everyone here wants to do the right thing, but I think it's a rush to war." (Click on the map at left for a larger image)
To get a sense of how adamant the committee is to authorize more aggressive intervention in Syria, an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) to limit the types of weapons delivered to rebels was forcefully rejected as well. "The senator from New Mexico wants to use shotguns against SCUD missiles," McCain said dismissively.
The bill now includes an amendment by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), that would "require the administration to impose sanctions on entities that provide surface-to-surface or surface-to-air missiles, like the SA20s or S300s, to the Assad regime," according to a press release — a clear reference to Russia, which has vowed in recent weeks to proceed with sales of advanced missiles that would extend the range and sophistication of the Syrian regime's anti-aircraft systems.
The Menendez-Corker bill next moves to the Senate floor, but an aide to Menendez said it was uncertain when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, will take up the legislation.
Observers say the bill's chances of passing in its current form are slim, but it does increase the pressure on the administration to intervene more aggressively. As Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted earlier this month, "If you want to pressure the president into acting, it's a pretty good bill .The last time the Hill moved on Syria was sanctions on Syrian oil in the summer of 2011. That pressured the president to move, and this could too."
Like the gun-walking of weapons to Mexico by the ATF this is a dangerous policy. Rand Paul is on target with his opposition to the bill. It’s becoming more and more evident to the drones in the Obama media that the reason for Ambassador Chris Steven’s visit to Benghazi on September 11, 2012 was not to open a permanent diplomatic post, but was to meet with a Turkish foreign ministry official to discuss the running of weapons to the Syrian rebels through Turkey. Now the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee has voted in favor of a bill to arm these rebels.
It remains uncertain if the full Senate will vote on the legislation that calls to “provide defense articles, defense services, and military training” directly to the opposition on the ground Syria who “have been properly and fully vetted and share common values and interests with the United States.” But this uncertainty is tempered by the current mood of the Democrat controlled Senate and the pressure from the Israeli Lobby. However, I don’t think that this resolution, this bill will gain traction in the Republican controlled House of Representatives, and if it does we will have to wait and see if Mr. Obama signs this bill.
The Israeli lobby in particular has been quite energetic and quite active in regard of lobbying for aid to the rebels, which is quite curious since if these rebels come to power, I dare say that Israel will have many sleepless nights.
The language of the proposed legislature is vague but it suggests the sale of small arms but specifies that “no anti-aircraft defensive systems” would be provided.
Despite fear that sending arms to the rebels might backfire if al-Qaeda linked cells get a hold of them, U.S. lawmakers are adamant that weapons will be supplied to those groups “committed to rejecting terrorism and extremist ideologies.”
As stated above Senator Rand Paul has voted against the bill, warning “You will be funding today the allies of al Qaeda,” Paul said adding “It is an irony you cannot overcome,” quotes the Washington Times.
New Jersey democrat and co-author of the bill, Senator Robert Menendez addressed such concerns and stressed that the proposed bill has in place a “tough vetting mechanism” to prevent terrorist from obtaining U.S. arms. "Vital national interests are at stake and we cannot watch from the sidelines," Menendez concluded.
In the meantime, US Secretary of State John Kerry is on a mission to Jordan to meet with representatives from 11 nations, as part of a U.S.-Russian roadmap to end Syria's violence.
Russia in the past has argued that arming the rebels would contradict international law. Russia has repeatedly said that its stance on Syria arises from its concern for the Syrian people rather than the fate of Assad and that his forced departure would make the situation worse. Moscow insists that only direct talks between parties involved in the conflict — the government and the opposition — can help to resolve the ongoing crisis. It also criticized some players in the international arena for providing support and arming Syrian rebels. “International law does not permit the supply of arms to non-governmental militias — but this did not stop Obama’s and NATO’s actions of clandestinely supplying weapons to the Libyan rebels to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. How did that work out?
Three things are troubling. One is that there are no specifications on weapons that would be given, the vetting of these “rebels”, and the issue of training.
Firstly what weapons would be given? The proposed bill states that no anti-aircraft system would be given. Just what is an “anti-aircraft system?” is it a shoulder-mounted weapon like an RPG or Stinger missile that would be used to down government Russian supplied helicopters of is a more sophisticated system that would be against jet fighter-bombers? The armed helicopter, like the Mi-25 helicopter gunship, is the most dangerous weapon the government has against the rebels as the Afghan rebels found out in their war against the Soviet occupation. They needed U.S. supplied Stinger missiles to turn the tide and allow the Taliban to take control. Also will the list of allowed arms include mortars, like those used by the terrorist in the Benghazi attack, and M72 LAW shoulder mounted anti-personnel and anti-armored vehicles?” Just think for a moment if these weapons fell into the hands of al-Qaida or one it’s franchises like Ansar al-Sharia or any one of the coalition of Islamist and Salafist groups?
Secondly is the issue of vetting of these rebels. The portents of the bill state they are adamant that weapons will be supplied to those groups “committed to rejecting terrorism and extremist ideologies.” Just what are terrorist and extremist ideologies? Are the professed jihad intentions of al-Qaida and Ansar-al Sharia or the more covert intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood, Major Nidal Malik Hasan the Fort Hood shooter, or the recent London terrorist murders, members of al-Muhajiroun — a group banned under anti-terrorism laws in the UK? Also who will do the vetting? Will it be the CIA, the National Security Council, the State Department, or the Pentagon? This really has not worked out very well so far. Just look at what happened in Benghazi when Ambassador Chris Stevens asked for additional security from the State Department. How did that work out?
Thirdly is the issue of defense services, and military training. What exactly are defense services? Are they Green Beret advisors such as were introduced into Vietnam that eventually led to the death of 55,000 Americans. Are they CIA advisors like we used in Afghanistan to supply weapons and train the Afghan rebels to defeat the Soviets? No matter how you cut it this represents American boots on the ground. Also, where will this military training take place? How much training is needed to use an AK-47 or an RPG? Much more training is needed to fire a Stinger or M-72 LAW. Will this training take place in Turkey, Fort Bragg, or more likely in Syria. Once again this requires American boots on the ground — be they U.S. Army soldiers or defense contractors like Academi (formerly known as Blackwater USA). I doubt that Syrian rebels will be flown to Arlington Virginal for training. In any event if the military services or training takes place in Syria there will be causalities, and captures that will be used for political purposes. The unintended consequences are enormous!
This bill is terrible, and should be rejected by the Senate.
Yet, even amid this committee vote, there were a few bright spots in the form of Sens. Chris Murphy, Tom Udall, and Rand Paul, who were the three who voted no. Their vote wasn’t just correct, but their assessment of the situation should be heeded by the Obama administration and the full Senate as both consider what should be done, if anything, in Syria.
Once we introduce weapons, we have zero control over them. Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, was correct when he said the United States “could turn over the weapons we’re talking about and next day they end up in the hands of al-Qaida.”
Yes, the legislation mandates that any groups who receive weapons are thoroughly investigated and vetted. But as long as groups are fighting together, they will exchange arms. And as long as groups need funding, they’ll be open to sell arms. Where those arms end up, no one really knows.
But as Udall noted, some of these groups are reportedly affiliated with al-Qaida. “It’s impossible to know who our friends are,” said Paul, adding that any of the rebels could turn their arms over to terrorist-affiliated groups.
Our next concern should focus on Syria’s neighbor to the East. We could end up killing the very Iraqi Army our troops died building and reignite the Iraqi Civil War.
Some of the so-called Syrian rebels are reportedly tied to Sunni insurgents from Iraq. Those same Sunni insurgents used terror attacks to try to kill Americans and destabilize the Iraqi government that was permitting us to operate there.
About the Free Syrian Army, several news reports have stated: “What Army? You mean the terrorists?” That said it all in a nutshell. The Iraqi Army doesn’t consider them rebels or freedom fighters or anything of the sort. Their concern is that many of the anti-Assad forces are the same terrorists they’ve fought before and who still are targeting the Iraqi Army. Days after the attacks in Iraq by Syrian rebels, al-Qaida claimed responsibility. This is the same issue facing our NATO ally — Turkey. Will these rebels align with the Kurds on Turkey’s southern border in the fight for a free Kurdish state? Again the unintended consequences are vast.
It is astounding to me that Sen. John McCain of Arizona voiced strong support for arming the rebels. This is the same John McCain who said it was worth billions of dollars and thousands of American lives to get the Iraqi government and Army on its feet. Now, he’s for arming those who would seek to destroy it. Also what did the Arizona hawk mean when he stated: "The senator from New Mexico wants to use shotguns against SCUD missiles.” It his intention to supply weapons capable of downing a SCUD missile or was this nothing but hyperbole — you never know what McCain really means.
Moreover, there is no winning scenario when we get involved in other nations’ civil wars and proxy wars.
On this point, Sen. Murphy said it best: “We have failed over and over again in our attempts to pull the strings of Middle Eastern politics.”
It would be nice if this was a clean, simple conflict. But it isn’t. Sometimes the enemy of your enemy can also be your enemy. Not only are there a wide array of groups involved, but the introduction of Iranian and Hezbollah forces combined with support from Russia, provide a strong center of gravity for Assad regime support, eliminating the possibility of UN action. The insurgents aren’t organized, and even with weapons, would have a difficult time conducting decisive combat operations in what looks like a stalemate.
If our view is that by arming rebels, the new Syrian government would be friendly to the U.S., then I would say that would happen anyway. A new Syrian government would need to reach out to the nations of the world for support — including the United States. Look no further than Egypt for proof. We didn’t arm anti-government forces there, and yet, Mohammed Morsi immediately assured us that Egypt’s treaties would remain in place and relations with the United States would remain normalized.
The Senate bill that passed committee is misguided and dangerous. Thankfully, three brave Senators bucked the group-think and laid out a strong case for the bill’s defeat. In an era where nearly every single piece of legislation dies in the Senate, this one is worthy of that fate.
Starting in the middle of the Seventh Century, when Islam was still mostly united under a single political entity, you begin to see Islamic incursions into Europe (including Constantinople, which was effectively one of the leading European cities at the time) – and from there, the conquests and attempted conquests marched on. If you look on a map over this period, you see an almost continuous line of advance on Europe from all sides but the north – from Spain and France in the west to Italy in the center to Constantinople in the east to the frontiers of Georgia in the Caucuses, with the islands of the Mediterranean on the front lines:
As has often been noted, the early history of Muhammad as a military leader and Islam as the driving force of conquest is quite different from the early history of Christianity as the persecuted faith founded by a non-violent martyr, and these differing foundations have presented different challenges for Christian and Muslim thinkers dealing with questions of war, peace, and the defense of self and others. That said, none of this is intended to demonize Muslims as uniquely violent in the Dark Ages. Aggressive wars of conquest were the rule throughout the world in those centuries, and have become only fitfully less so into our own age.
But the Crusades did not originate in a vacuum; they were launched in a world where the Roman Empire, the guardian of Western Civilization, had fallen to outside invaders 600 years earlier and European Christians had been on the defensive ever since. The Europe that would stand astride the non-Western world into the middle of the Twentieth Century was still distant in the future. The fearful and divided Christian principalities of 1095 had grown up in a world where Islam, not Christianity, had been the engine of imperial expansion for long before living memory.
Virtually nobody in the West and/or what passes for Christendom today argues that violence can or should be justified on the basis of things that happened a thousand years ago. The insistence of Islamist propagandists on revisiting such ancient history for present-day propaganda purposes should be resisted — but it should also be subjected to the corrective of accurate history. And that history is one in which Muslims carried the sword to Europe for centuries before Christian armies took the Crusade to them.
We should listen to the words of our first president along with subsequent presidents like James Monroe and John Quincy Adams and carefully consider what our real commercial of security interests lay. We will never, especially in our world of political correctness, ever understand the ideology of Islam or its followers.