A failure to take action over Syria's use of chemical weapons would damage the credibility America's pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress on Tuesday.
"A refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America's other security commitments - including the president's commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Hagel told a Senate hearing, according to prepared remarks.
"The word of the United States must mean something."Here's the thing: the United States never committed to any action in Syria. The president of the United States shot his mouth off in an ill-considered comment that he clearly did not think through. But the president of the United States is not the same thing as the United States. Equating a nation with its chief executive is the very definition of a dictatorship, and the United States is not (yet) a dictatorship.
As long as I'm on this topic, have you noticed how Obama takes great pains never to accuse Assad of violating international law, only international "norms"? This is because Obama knows that as long as Assad has Putin in his corner the U.N. will never approve military action against Syria. So Obama is hanging his hat on the international "norms" peg precisely because it's not a well defined term, and so Obama can apply Humpty Dumpty's theory of semantics and make the word mean whatever he wants. (You know, bombing sovereign nations that have not aggressed against you and pose no security risk to you is also arguably a violation of international "norms.")
But this leaves Obama with a very serious problem: our allies have (wisely IMO) abandoned him. The U.N. is paralyzed by Russia, so his only remaining option is unilateral action. But think about this: if he orders an attack on a sovereign nation for no reason other than that its leader violated international norms (whatever that might mean), what exactly remains to distinguish Barack Obama from Osama bin Laden, other than that Obama has a better PR department and a bigger arsenal? Here's the thing everyone tends to forget about the so-called "terrorists": they don't think of themselves as the bad guys. They think they're fighting the good fight just as much as we do (maybe more). The only claim we have to any moral high ground in this conflict is that we adhere to the rule of law and they don't. If Obama bombs Syria on his own initiative, not because Assad broke the law but merely because he violated norms, then Obama alone will have to bear the terrible consequences of that decision. And I think that in his heart of hearts Obama knows that he has screwed the pooch, and he's not willing to go further out on this limb by himself.
I think this is the reason he decided to go to Congress, to provide himself with butt cover. He wants to be able to share the blame in case this thing goes south (which is not at all unlikely -- we have an exceptionally poor track record when we try to meddle in the Middle East). And he doesn't want to go down in history as the man who cut down the last law to go after the devil. Not even George Bush ever went that far.