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”Watch what we do, not what we say" --  That’s what Attorney General John Mitchell counseled in 1969 as the newly formed Nixon administration got underway. We would do well to keep this advice in mind as Congress debates a Syrian war authorization for President Obama....

What Obama has stated is that proposed strikes on Syria will be limited and severely circumscribed. This is what he recently said of Syria on the PBS Newshour:

And although what’s happened there is tragic, and although I have called for Assad to leave and make sure that we got a transitional government that could be inclusive in Syria, what I’ve also concluded is that direct military engagement, involvement in the civil war in Syria, would not help the situation on the ground.
And yet the American military proxy of Qatar (home to the U.S. Central Command’s Forward Headquarters) has spent  billions to fund mercenaries in Syria. Saudi money funds the Slafist militia Jabhat al-Nusra, which is allied with with al-Qaeda in Iraq. Jabhat al-Nusra in turn recruits jihadis from Iraq and Libya and elsewhere, furnishing the Syrian resistance with even more fighters. And the U.S. funds both the Qatari and Saudi regimes. The  CIA runs a network of covert arms dealers that has been working overtime to funnel weapons into Syria via routes thought Turkey and Jordan. In short, despite Obama's public protestations that he will not use military means to oust Assad, a well funded and organized covert war is already underway that seeks regime change. The naval and air operations that Obama is proposing to initiate against Syria would complement these covert efforts, not replace them.

Further, the Obama administration has already decided to provide small arms directly to the rebels in Syria. Syrian rebel groups have already asked for a no-fly zone and rockets with which to combat the Syrian army, and these may be forthcoming with the initiation of direct hostilities between the U.S. and Syria. In other words, this war is in a phase of escalation. Get used to that word -- escalation -- in relation to the American war in Syria. We may be debating the meaning of that word for some time to come, just as we did during the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War was legally initiated when Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7, 1964, which authorized President Johnson to escalate the war in Vietnam. Although they are worded differently, and the casus belli underlying the the two resolutions are different, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the draft language of the Authorization of Military Force in Syria share one striking similarity: they both authorize open-ended and escalating war. Here is some of the proposed language in the  Authorization of Military Force in Syria:

"a) Authorization. – The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria in order to –

"(1) prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors), within, to or from Syria, of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical or biological weapons or components of or materials used in such weapons; or

"(2) protect the United States and its allies and partners against the threat posed by such weapons."

The Syrian Authorization does not restrict U.S. military operations to only Tomahawk missile attacks, nor does it preclude the use of U.S. troops in Syria. It should be pointed out that while the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution clearly restricted U.S. military operations to southeat Asia, and primarily to Vietnam, the proposed Syrian Authorization authorizes operations planet-wide. The President could, using this authorization,  invade Lebanon just like Nixon invaded Cambodia, if he could assert that WMDs or WMD delivery systems (rockets or rocket parts) were flowing through Lebanon into Syria. Since the Syrian civil war has already spilled over into Lebanon, this is not hard to imagine. The Syrian Authorization could be used by the President to justify an attack on Iran, as the Iranians are supporting the Assad regime, and are therefore supporting the use of WMDs. Furthermore, the Syrian Authorization could clearly be used to establish a no-fly zone over Syria, the arming of Syrian rebels with advanced weaponry, a naval blockade of Syria, a naval blockade of Iran, or  an expanded covert war against Iran.

The proposed Syrian Authorization of Military Force is a dream come true for the neocons, as it could be used to justify a gradual morphing of the Syrian civil war into a total war aginst Iran. If the Assad regime engages in retaliation against Israel or Saudi Arabia in response to American attacks, either of those countries could in turn attack Iran, thus pulling the U.S. into a very large regional war that very well might go nuclear. And even if a larger region-wide war does not result, geopolitical tensions in the area are bound to increase, which could precipitously increase the price of oil and jeopardize the American economy.

Given the very significant downsides of authorizing U.S. military operations in Syria, Congress would be wise to deny President Obama his own Gulf of Tonkin Resolution....


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