No matter what you might think about President Barack Obama, or any president for that matter, now is one of the most difficult times to be leader of the free world. Syria is dissolving. The Arab Spring, at least in Egypt, has turned into a long winter of discontent. What started with street protests in Syria in January 2011 has escalated in 2013 to a full scale civil war with ever-increasing impacts on the country’s neighbors.
While mum’s the word in Washington, D.C., don’t believe the message coming from there that the president, our secretaries of defense and state are just now mulling the options after Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people last week. Our military has been gaming the situation since the uprising began and the president is well aware of his options. Unfortunately, most of the options are bad and all would have unintended consequences.
We should not go after Assad’s regime just because we are mad at him for killing his own people. The president and his advisers would do well to examine the Powell Doctrine, so named for former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell. The Powell Doctrine asks for answers to remarkably simple questions:
Is a vital national security interest threatened?
Do we have a clear attainable objective?
Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
Have all other nonviolent policy means been fully exhausted?
Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
Is the action supported by the American people?
Do we have genuine broad international support?
Unfortunately, the answers to many of the queries are murky. The most complex question is: Are the American people all in? In our estimation, the clear answer is “no.” They can see, as can the president, no easy fix. We can’t fire a few cruise missiles at Assad’s forces and call it a day. No one wants to put boots on the ground and a no-fly zone is problematic. We can be sure that whatever military option is employed, servicemen and women from Robins Air Force Base will be involved.
A president’s most vexing decision may soon have to be made. Issuing orders as commander in chief to commit this country and its men and women to battle. Assad is desperate and will most certainly use those weapons again if we don’t act.