Barack Obama's administration is under the gun to produce a "final" agreement justifying its six-month sweetener for Iran. In return for cessation of progress in the country's nuclear programs, Iran has received some sanctions relief. The White House is trumpeting this as a great advance toward eliminating Iran's nuclear threat, even hinting it could dramatically reshuffle American alliances in the Middle East. What the Obama administration appears not to understand is how much the interim deal highlights its incredible -- literally, lacking in credibility -- declaratory policy.
President Obama has stated unequivocally that the United States will not permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. His closest aides have defended the interim deal as forestalling military strikes against Iran's nuclear infrastructure. In fact, the administration has explicitly tied the negotiations to forestalling "another war in the Middle East."
After watching the debacle of the president's aborted military strikes on Syria and hearing the audible sigh of relief from the White House when Russian President Vladimir Putin gave him an exit strategy, the Iranian government would be stupid to think that the American people would back "another war in the Middle East" or that Obama would launch one without the public plebiscite he allowed to dictate his policy. And the Iranian government is not stupid.
The Obama administration seems genuinely to believe public opposition to "another war in the Middle East" is caused by George W. Bush's administration invading Iraq. The American public opposes all wars until persuaded that they need fighting and that their government has a reasonable plan to achieve its goals at an acceptable cost. Team Obama seems genuinely not to understand that its incontinent policies are responsible for the current malaise. Choosing not to win wars is responsible for it. Inability to build common cause with the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan is also responsible. Presidential inattention to the subject is responsible. Having no predictability to when the United States would intervene and when it would not is responsible. Turning on a dime from opposing to advocating intervention is responsible. Advocating tiny little strikes is responsible. Treating military intervention as though it isn't going to war is responsible -- responsible for public resistance, irresponsible as government policy.
And that's the problem with national security policy by plebiscite: What the public wants may not be what the public needs. That's why the United States has a representative democracy with legislators and an executive to govern. That's why presidents spend time talking about national security policy: The public needs to have the arguments presented and time to think and debate the alternatives. They need to know the alternatives are worse, because the president has no business taking the country to war if there are better alternatives.
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
The unified front put forward in the budget debate by the military services is cracking. It was inevitable: When money gets really tight, trade-offs have to be made and those trade-offs will create winners and losers among the services. A year ago, the service chiefs were extolling the camaraderie amongst themselves; now they are beginning to challenge the distribution of budget shares.
The Army is in the proverbial gunsight, for several reasons. First, Congress has gotten serious about debt reduction. Second, the wars are drawing to a close. Third, the difficulty of fighting those wars with large land armies has exhausted public -- and therefore political -- willingness to handle current and future threats by those means. Fourth, there is a public sense that either the threat that has galvanized our national security establishment since 9/11 is lessening or our ability to manage it has increased to a comfortable level (something reinforced by the head of the FBI in yesterday's congressional testimony). Fifth, the administration is choosing to address the terrorist threat by stand-off means (drone strikes, training local forces) in Yemen and other very dangerous places. Sixth, the Marine Corps will (as usual) get a pass because they so adroitly argue they're the nation's 9/11 force (as a soldier of my acquaintance argues, the Army brings a spoon to the budget fights, the Marine Corps brings a knife) and so unflinchingly make do with what they get.
And seventh, sad to say, the Army has done a dismal job of justifying their preferred end-strength of 490,000 active duty soldiers. The number is suspiciously near the size of the Army in the 1990s, before advances in information technology enabled our dramatically heightened situational awareness, persistent surveillance, and precision strike from beyond the enemy's visibility -- changes that a former commandant of the Marine Corps said gave a battalion the firepower of a brigade. And even with that end-strength, General Odierno now says the Army will be incapable of fighting even one war because of cuts to training and equipment.
As Micah Zenko pointed out in his insightful piece on myths the military are propagating, the Army's argument is that (1) we're terrible at predicting the future, but (2) we know it will require large land armies.
Their rebuttal of critics has consisted mostly of saying anyone who doesn't support 490,000 doesn't know history. Not only does the Korean War's Task Force Smith (in which the Army deployed an unready force that took high casualties and failed in its mission) figure prominently, but so does their current evaluation that 530,000 soldiers would be needed to occupy North Korea should that tyrannical regime collapse. But their own war games show it would take on order of five months for that force to arrive, rather defeating the purpose of sending it.
Nowhere evident is an intellectual ferment about how to capitalize on technology and operational experience to find new and less manpower intensive ways of countering our enemies. Nowhere evident is the kind of conceptual development that melds a joint force -- our signature dominance over other militaries -- to greater effect. The Army's advocates talk as though sooner or later every military engagement results in the commitment of large ground forces. It's actually not true: That's a political and strategic choice, not a law of nature. And it's even less true as our range of military capabilities expands thanks to technology and operational innovation.
Breaking Defense today reports an interview with MG Snow, the Army's director of strategy, plans and policy, in which he derides Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Sandy Winnifeld for stating that the Army won't fight large wars. The article quotes Snow: "It's not his call, though...That future security environment... is going to require a suite of capabilities. OK, so Admiral Winnefeld, he certainly has got his thoughts, [and] in many cases, if you view the threat as things that can be addressed by technology, that leads you in a particular direction. [But] technology is not going to solve all of our problems in the future."
It's an aggressive tactical move, an admirable reflex in a soldier, but in this case wrong. Because it's not Admiral Winnifeld that has determined in these austere times the place to accept risk is in the size of the active-duty Army. The president of the United States made that decision. Winnifeld's statement was paraphrasing the president's guidance to the Department of Defense. That presidential guidance has been incorporated into Department of Defense planning documents under both of the last two secretaries: Secretary Panetta's January 2013 defense guidance for the budget and Secretary Hagel's recently concluded strategic choices management review. The truth is that if the Pentagon really budgeted to the president's strategy, the Army would take an enormous cut, probably far beyond what the White House, the Pentagon or the Congress would be willing to actually administer.
Rather than validating the end strength, the Army's approach seems to have caused Secretary Hagel to question the force-planning constructs that produce such large numbers as "requirements." The secretary has now identified revisiting those as one of his top priorities. In what should be heard ominously by the Army, Hagel in his CSIS speech, said "We must make sure that contingency scenarios drive force structure decisions, and not the other way around." Hagel has also signaled an Army end-strength of 420,000 is under consideration. The Army looks set to lose the budget battle. And the reason is that they have lost the battle of ideas.
MARIO TAMA/AFP/Getty Images
I agree with Dov that the White House is behaving utterly irresponsibly with regard to defense spending and policy -- and I even favor further spending cuts, which Dov does not. President Obama has for his entire term in office treated DOD like an ATM machine, cutting its budget to free up money for his priorities while excoriating Congress for the consequences of those cuts. President Obama clearly doesn't share the Pentagon's concern about further cuts, blithely saying the $490 billion already cut can be matched. The White House chose to exclude personnel costs from budget cuts, ratcheting up pressure on other parts of the budget. The president was shameless enough to go to Camp Pendleton during the government shutdown, stand in front of the assembled Marines and say "what makes me frustrated is that sometimes the very folks who say they stand with our military, the same folks are standing in the way of the sequester. It's important to look at deeds, and not just words."
But Hagel is also to blame for the mismanagement evident at DOD. The Defense Department turned in a FY 2014 budget $54 billion in excess of the Budget Control Act ceiling, exacerbating the cuts that would need to be made when sequestration came into effect. Services were permitted to spend in excess of their annual burn rate in the months before sequestration went into effect, in order to accentuate the degree of cuts and therefore the damage they could claim was the result of sequestration. According to former Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter, the Pentagon only began "prudent planning" for sequestration two weeks before it came into effect. Services that had programmed their money carefully enough that they didn't need to furlough civilian employees (the Navy) were required out of solidarity to transfer money to the other services and participate in furloughs.
Hagel's Strategic Choices Management Review was supposed to identify where trade-offs would need to be made. Beyond the simplistic "quantity or quality" metric Hagel summarized in his out-brief to the press, it produced very little. Army end strength wasn't even raised as an issue. The leader of the Air Force Quadrennial Defense Review team said of the SCMR "there was no strategy in it, there were no choices in it."
Dov is exactly right that the cutting-edge enablers of our military proficiency (ISR, precision strike) and shielding our vulnerabilities (space, cyber) are where to prioritize spending, but very little in Hagel's actual choices as secretary suggests he is doing so. The criticism holds across all six of Hagel's priorities: reduce "the world's biggest back office" by 20 percent; make contingency scenarios drive force structure; tier readiness; protect emerging capabilities; "preserve balance" between compensation, training, and equipment; and reform personnel compensation.
Compensation reform is the most egregious illustration: it needs doing, but DOD isn't doing it. It's great that he set up a commission to review compensation...except that the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation concluded its work less than a year ago. Budget experts like the estimable Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments have provided a welter of suggestions for curbing the runaway cost of personnel compensation. The debate is not lacking ideas or alternatives, it is lacking the leadership heft -- both from DOD's civilian and military leaders -- to shame Congress into accepting that not every "vote to support our men and women in uniform" is actually good for the Department of Defense in these austere times. Especially when denying them the training and equipment that will make them effective and reduce the risk of casualties is the alternative.
I very much hope Secretary Hagel will actually take up some of these ideas, and those that his own commission will put forward, but giving speeches and setting up commissions are not the same as taking on the Military Officers Association of America and other lobbying groups that will make votes uncomfortable for members of Congress to cast. The service chiefs will have to play an active part in changing the political dynamic from one that rewards compensation votes to one that educates the Congress and public to understand greater compensation will actually be harmful because training and equipment will get short shrift.
That DOD is in such a parlous state is largely its own fault, the result of weak leadership and bad management. Even former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been critical, saying "these decisions have been by the seat of the pants, what's essential and what's not essential. I think not enough thought was put into how exactly this would be implemented." Hagel needs to up his game, and so does the military leadership.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief, is venting to journalists and foreign diplomats about his irritation at feckless Obama administration policies in the Middle East, ominously suggesting his country is at the point of making a "major shift" away from the United States. Prince Turki al-Faisal, former director of Saudi intelligence, joined in with an address to the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, saying, "The current charade of international control over Bashar's chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious and designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down, but also to help Assad to butcher his people." The Saudi complaints include not attacking Syria, not providing weapons and support to Syrian rebels, American support for the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, U.S. cuts of assistance to the military that overthrew that government, and a lack of consultation on negotiations with Iran.
The Saudis are not alone, of course, in their criticism. Every country in the region is exasperated, as are many Americans. As former Centcom commander Jim Mattis so memorably put it, "I defy anyone to tell me what U.S. strategy is in the Middle East." But the Saudis' unhappiness is not proof that U.S. policies are wrong. Obama administration policies are wrong, but not in the ways or for the reasons the Saudis excoriate them. And bringing U.S. policies into alignment with Saudi Arabia is likely to create a Middle East even less in America's interests than the Obama administration's bungling has.
Saudi Arabia wants a very different Middle East than we do. The Saudis oppose democracy. They oppose freedom of the press. They oppose freedom of conscience and practice of faiths other than Islam. They oppose women's equality before the law. They oppose the idea that individuals have rights and loan them in limited ways and for limited purposes to governments. They deny rights to their own Shiite citizens in Saudi Arabia, while advocating and enforcing the same in Bahrain. They denigrate domestic opposition as solely agents of Iran.
Not only do the Saudis oppose these fundamental values of American society, but they have funded and armed some of the most virulent jihadists. Rachel Bronson's superb history of U.S.-Saudi relations, Thicker Than Oil, makes clear that the United States was complicit in Saudi Arabia's fostering of the mujahideen in Afghanistan; the Saudis now want U.S. complicity in supporting jihadists in Syria and the return to power of the deep state in Egypt (a model they would perpetuate throughout the region).
Secretary of State John Kerry did a fine diplomatic turn in London on Tuesday, outlining the areas of U.S.-Saudi common interest, toning down the problem, and conveying a calm confidence that the two countries will continue to work together. The policy question is what form greater Saudi opposition to U.S. policies might take.
Photo: JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama campaigned on ending the Iraq war. He could not have conveyed any more clearly that irrespective of consequences, the U.S. military was leaving Iraq. His administration put in place an arbitrary "end of combat operations" in August 2009 and announced that all U.S. forces would leave Iraq by December 2011. Negotiations with the Iraqi government over the residual U.S. military presence were explicit that the mission of those forces was only advising and training the Iraqi military. And when the Iraqi government balked at granting blanket immunity to U.S. forces, the Obama administration took no for an answer and withdrew.
The retreat was camouflaged by "the largest U.S. diplomatic operation since the Marshall Plan," a triumph of soft power that was so dangerously beyond the State Department's capabilities and so poorly attuned to Iraqi needs that despite 17,000 people, it was ineffectual. It was quickly reduced to 5,000 (including contractors), and even that will be cut by two-thirds this year. U.S. soft power has had no demonstrable effect on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's choices to use the means of state power to move against political rivals and non-Shiites, allow Iran to ferry weapons through Iraq, support Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and deny the United States political cooperation on virtually every issue in the Middle East. The day Maliki returned from meeting with Obama, he issued an arrest order for his (Sunni) deputy; his (Sunni) finance minister was also raided by security forces. Sectarian violence has escalated horrifically, now killing a thousand Iraqis a month. We enabled a descent into authoritarianism.
Obama's "responsible withdrawal" squandered U.S. success in Iraq, and the administration now looks to be replicating that failure in Afghanistan. The president began his Afghanistan "surge" by announcing its end date, a timeline unencumbered by achieving its objectives. Predictably, the political result negated the military effort, with all affected parties gaming the U.S. exit. The White House established a 2014 end date to combat operations and accelerated withdrawal plans corresponding with no discernible (foreign) political or military objective -- it does, however, align with the president's (domestic) political objective of "the tide of war receding."
The corresponding "civilian surge" that would place diplomatic engagement and development assistance at the forefront of the U.S. effort never materialized; the inspector general reports so little accountability for aid that we're actually funding the enemy. The administration has declined to outline its plans for the U.S. mission on Afghanistan after 2014 despite pleas from military leaders and even the administration's civilian supporters like Michèle Flournoy that it is essential to keeping Afghanistan cooperative in our war efforts.
Afghanistan has repeatedly conveyed its support for a continued U.S. military presence after 2014. In the past two months, the Obama White House has started making petulant statements about losing patience with negotiations on the agreement that would apply to U.S. forces after 2014. The White House has now regaled the Washington Post with the -- presumably classified -- details of a video conference in which "President Obama drew a line in the sand for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. If there was no agreement by Oct. 31 on the terms for keeping a residual U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, Obama warned him, the United States would withdraw all of its troops at the end of 2014."
The sticking point in the agreement under negotiation is not immunity for U.S. military forces (as it was in Iraq). What Karzai reportedly wants is intelligence sharing and a commitment to defend Afghanistan against external invasion. Presumably intelligence sharing is workable, since if the United States is supporting Afghan military operations that will need to occur -- which leaves the defense question. The Obama White House considers this beyond the pale as it would require Senate ratification. It is a big ask, to be sure, but not an unreasonable one from a country that has been subject to much Pakistani malfeasance. And one that ought to be subject to creative solutions -- the United States is committed to the protection of many countries with which it does not have explicit defense treaties. Karzai is being unduly demanding because we have been unreliable in our dealings with him. He's not wrong to doubt us.
The fundamental error in the Obama Administration's policies toward weak states is that the policies expect the threat of abandonment to produce brave political choices consistent with U.S. interests. Either Obama genuinely doesn't care what happens in Afghanistan after 2014, or he believes that publicly conveying threats to Karzai will produce a positive outcome. It won't.
Iraq's intransigence, rapid descent into violence, and choices that impede American policies show that it won't. Societies emerging out of political violence have very low levels of social trust, weak institutions of governance, and simmering political feuds with deep roots that only sustained, predictable, active involvement can contain and eventually overcome. They expect us to abandon them because that is their experience. Our challenge is conveying a reliable, long-term commitment.
Iraq had many more advantages presaging success than does Afghanistan; correspondingly, we should expect Afghanistan to fragment more quickly, become prey to outside actors -- states and terrorist organizations -- and have fewer means to sustain what positive trends exist. Obama is so clearly conveying his indifference in Afghanistan that Karzai and others would be crazy not to position themselves to benefit from the U.S. withdrawal rather than make the difficult political choices that would enable a continued U.S. presence. That's what Maliki did in Iraq.
Our involvement in Iraq actually went a long way in a short time to foster positive political developments in that country; we have not had corresponding effect in Afghanistan. That should argue for more patience, not less. Because if Iraq could become this devastated in the space of two years after American withdrawal, Afghanistan will fracture even more quickly. Thinking they are a danger only to themselves, content to fight the "near enemy" within Iraq and Afghanistan rather than continue threatening us, is terrifyingly shortsighted, given the way al Qaeda has metastasized. Obama should be doing an awful lot more to ensure that doesn't happen on his watch. He should start by retracting his ultimatum; unless he does, Afghanistan will go the way of Iraq.
Photo: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
The case Barack Obama made to the nation, to the world, last night to build support for his policy on Syria was remarkably -- alarmingly -- flabby. Unserious. Early polling suggests the man who considers himself a better speechwriter than his speechwriters and a better policy analyst than his policy analysts proved himself neither. Even his supporters in Congress sound relieved at not having to support him.
The main problem with the president's speech -- with his policy, as well -- is that the sweeping claims he makes of the importance of the issue don't match either his policy in the past two years or the means he proposes. President Obama spoke movingly about little children killed by Bashar al-Assad's regime, but he proposes to do nothing about the tens of thousands of Syrian children killed by their government with conventional weapons. President Assad's forces used chemical weapons 13 times before the Aug. 21 incident, but none of those affronts to the international norm that the president insists must be upheld precipitated a change in his policy. Obama insisted we have a moral responsibility to take action, while insisting we will not get involved in the conflict. He will need to reconcile these contradictions in order to build support for military action.
The most jarring part of the president's address to the nation was his dangerous assertions about war. He seems genuinely not to understand the logic of conflict. It was deeply unsettling to hear his braggadocio that "the United States military doesn't do pinpricks" when that's exactly what he's proposing.
Photo: Evan Vucci-Pool/Getty Images
Having allowed an unscripted remark about red lines to take the United States to the brink of war, and after a "full-court press" that actually reduced the likelihood of congressional support for his proposal of an "unbelievably small" attack on Syria, another unconsidered remark by Secretary of State John Kerry has now derailed that policy. Russian and Syrian enthusiasm for Kerry's idea has taken the administration by surprise, but the administration is trapped into supporting it. This is not even Hollywood slapstick; it is Italian comic opera.
According to the State Department, Kerry had simply been "making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied using." Yet it turns out to be both possible and likely that the Syrian and Russian governments are smart enough to capitalize on the administration's mistakes to further our national humiliation.
It is also the president's humiliation. Midstream in the full-court press, he cannot even make up his mind about what action he intends to undertake. Yesterday he dismissed the "limited, tailored" attacks he had been advocating, saying, "The U.S. does not do pinpricks." He followed up with a sweeping boast that "our military is the greatest the world has ever known. And when we take even limited strikes, it has an impact on a country like Syria." That simplistic approach, convincing oneself the enemy will think so because we do, that our actions are all that matter in the equation, is what had so many conservatives opposing the use-of-force authorization: The president was leading us toward a disaster.[[LATEST]]
Senate Democrats, lacking the votes to approve the authorization for force, heaved a sigh of relief from not having to deal a president of their party such a blow. Nearly 80 percent of Americans were unpersuaded by the president's case. Russia's gambit will be explored and found credible, because it's the president's only escape. The White House will surely crow the president had by dint of brilliant diplomacy found a way to punish Bashar al-Assad without using military force, uphold the international prohibition on chemical weapons use, and strengthen the role of the United Nations. Such magical thinking is unlikely to gain traction anywhere but the South Lawn.
The administration's case to Congress had been that we must act in Syria, else Iran and North Korea would seize on our weakness. Yet the administration's every move in this crisis has trumpeted indecision, lacking the courage of its convictions, and the inability to craft a strategy achieving its objectives. The lessons America's enemies will take from the administration's Syria choices are that the United States can easily be deterred from intervening and is unwilling to use military force, the Russians are the ally of choice, and the coming three years will be a bonanza -- time to take advantage of America's feckless president. It has an impact on a country like the United States, President Obama.
Photo: Alastair Grant - WPA Pool/Getty Images
Barack Obama's campaign team is out in full force doing what the U.S. president himself is giving only passing attention to: building the case for a limited military strike on targets only symbolically related to chemical weapons and calibrated to have no effect on the brutal civil war grinding on and producing ever more radical rebels who are consolidating power in swaths of Syria.
In yet one more example that the Chicago School is better at campaigning than governing, David Axelrod bragged that the president had forced Congress to take responsibility for Syria. He further taunted Congress -- before the vote! -- as not knowing what to do. The president and his team assert he may attack Syria even if Congress withholds the authorization he has requested. How this builds support, either across the aisle or in Democratic ranks, where for many liberals this will be a difficult vote for principled reasons, is a mystery. But it is consistent with the administration's inability to resist basketball court swagger -- as is hinting that winning congressional authorization on military action will be parlayed into an ownership of Republican votes on raising the debt ceiling and other urgent issues on which the president has been unable to build a coalition and unwilling much to try. Surely a White House that will be decimated both domestically and internationally should the vote fail ought to be instead cajoling, horse trading, and praising to garner votes?
A "full-court press" by the White House evidently consists of major policy statements delivered over the Labor Day weekend, selective declassification of intelligence with assurances that this cabinet would never shade intelligence, ringing speeches by the secretary of state (and John Kerry was resplendent), allowing members of Congress to remain in their districts to maximize exposure to public skepticism rather than call them back for a war vote at which the president addresses a joint session of Congress, and a presidential willingness to cancel a fundraising trip to California next week, should that prove absolutely necessary. This is an administration willing to forego European missile defense to buy questionable Russian support on Iran sanctions but unwilling to forgo anything in Obama's agenda to buy congressional support for his war in Syria. The president should watch Spielberg's Lincoln for a teachable moment.[[LATEST]]
Rosa Brooks's elegiac column best outlines the downward spiral of the Obama administration. The case made by the administration in congressional hearings is a stunning reversal of previous policy: What began as resistance in the face of pressure to act is now desperate rationalization for action. Now Kerry insists extremists constitute only "15 to 25 percent" of rebel forces (as though that were manageable), when just weeks ago a senior intelligence official explained at the Aspen Security Forum that more than a thousand separate factions are fighting. Now Kerry insists moderate rebels are gaining in influence thanks to equipment provided by Saudi Arabia, even as commanders of four of the five major rebel fighting forces threaten to align with the al-Nusra Front. Now Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel estimates the cost of planned military operations only in the "tens of millions," while Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had recently denied any military action was possible under a billion. Now intelligence agencies have a rock-solid hold on every aspect of Syria's chemical weapons attack, though Dempsey not long ago testified that we know less now than we did a year ago about Syria. Now the president considers the prohibition on chemical weapons use a national interest; the previous 13 chemical attacks by Syria over the past year somehow did not constitute a cause for war. Now the world has drawn a red line, even though the world is conspicuously absent in providing political support, mandates from international institutions, or military forces for action against Syria.
Yet with all the administration's bungling, Congress has now before it a choice. Should legislators support the president's request or deny him authorization? If they support, they will be complicit in what's to come, and the president's "strategy" is laughably unstrategic. It's a terrible plan, narcissistic to the point of ignoring predictable reactions by both enemies and friends. Many in Congress are understandably concerned about voter backlash -- and this president has very short coattails. Only about 20 percent of the public supports intervening in Syria; the administration is nowhere near winning the argument. There is stunning hypocrisy in this president, who took campaign swings through Iraq to highlight his opposition to the war that the United States was fighting and to Germany to highlight his international appeal, now somberly intoning that politics must stop at the water's edge.
But none of these concerns erases the stubborn fact that it would be bad for our country to deny the president congressional support to attack Syria. Obama has damaged American credibility with his choices; Congress has an opportunity to provide some margin of repair.
A vote in favor of the resolution would demonstrate to the world that We the People are often better than our government, able to make difficult decisions when difficult decisions need to be made. That we struggle to make manifest our principles and beliefs, even in complicated circumstances. That we don't avert our eyes from evil, even when we are weary of war. That we understand our choices set standards to shape the international order and that responsibility is often a lonely one.
Republicans in Congress should not allow the president to foist on them responsibility that is properly and constitutionally settled on the commander in chief. It is the president who develops policies and carries out military action; he should come up with a better one. Congress should give him the authority while criticizing his plan.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.