I need to get something off my chest. This past week, to absolutely no fanfare whatever, the last declared chemical weapons left Syria. (Isn’t it interesting how the drums of war earn endless media coverage, but the dove of peace flies unnoticed?) I say the “last declared weapons” because those are the only ones that we know about, but any evidence of undeclared chemical weapons in Syria is even harder to find than any evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So as far as anybody can tell, all of the Syrian chemical weapons are gone.
And this was accomplished without U.S. military intervention in Syria.
I was very outspoken about my opposition to military intervention in Syria – outspoken in seven national TV interviews in a single day, and over 40 media interviews in four days. I said that Congress would not authorize war against Syria, because the Administration’s military plans were costly and dangerous, they would not achieve any strategic purpose, and they would not and could not eliminate those chemical weapons. And I was right. If the Administration’s war plans had come to a vote in the House, they would have been defeated by a margin of roughly 10 to 1. Because the American public spoke up – people like you spoke up.
I understand that there are some who think that the threat of Congress authorizing military action is what drove Assad to relinquish chemical weapons. I’ve always been skeptical of that argument, since there were five different public counts (including one at the Washington Post) all showing that House opponents of military intervention outnumbered supporters by 10 to 1. Anyone with internet access could find that out, and I assume that Assad has internet access. Did Assad relinquish those weapons because his command-and-control structure had broken down, and he could no longer control when and where those weapons were used? Or because he was afraid that they might fall into rebel hands, because so much of his weaponry already had?
In the words of two great (albeit fictitious) military strategists, Francis Urquhart and Frank Underwood, “You might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.”
Now think about this: What if we had gone to war against Syria last year? We would have:
(a) hit the Syrian regime hard, and
(b) delivered the Syrian chemical weapons into the hands of ISIS.
Yes, ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The ones whom the Administration is helping the Iraqi Government to fight. Those are ones who crucify and behead their enemies. Picture what they could do with poison gas.
So my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Unless it’s my enemy. And what about my enemy’s enemy who also is my friend’s enemy, even though my friend is allied with my enemy?
As far as I can recall, I’m the only one who pointed out last year that just because you’re hurting the bad guy (Assad) doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re helping the good guys, or whoever passes for that in Syria these days. I remember one national TV interview in which the interviewer asked me whether we should be helping the Syrian rebels. I answered, “Which ones: the Al Qaida graduates, or the anti-Semites?”
The German military strategist Carl von Clausewitz understood this problem well. He referred to it as “the fog of war.” Here is a translation of what he said:
“War is an area of uncertainty; three-quarters of the things on which all action in war is based are lying in a fog of uncertainty, to a greater or lesser extent. The first thing needed here is a fine, piercing mind, to feel out the truth, with the measure of its judgment.”
Or to put it as Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did, ironically in the context of explaining why we never found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq:
“There are known knowns; there are things that we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
President George W. Bush wasn’t exactly a “fine, piercing mind,” and so in the search of those nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we flushed roughly 4,000 American lives, 400,000+ Iraqi lives and $4,000,000,000,000.00 down the you-know-what. After that lesson, I was hoping last year to see some “fine, piercing mind” emerge from within the Administration during the debate of U.S. military intervention in Syria. But I was disappointed. It was more along the lines of “let’s just toss in some missiles, and see what happens.”
One of the greatest unknowns in war is in knowing – or really, not knowing – what effect your own actions will have. On that subject, we must turn to yet another great military strategist, Yankees Manager Yogi Berra:
“It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”
And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a lesson that our leaders need to take to heart. To which I offer this sequela:
When in doubt, PEACE.
Rep. Alan Grayson