Reed Backs House Defeat of Syria Authorization

Last Wednesday, the presidents of France and Germany attended a ceremony at Oradour-sur-Glane in central France to commemorate victims of one of the worst atrocities of World War II. In 1944, German soldiers herded hundreds of villagers into the chapel at Oradour-sur-Glane, locked the doors, and pumped in poison gas, killing nearly everyone.

That’s the sort of thing that happens in a world where gas is used as a weapon of war.

At the moment, it appears quite likely that the House of Representatives will vote down President Obama’s request to authorize the use of military force to punish the government of Syria for its use of poison gas against civilians. Our own congressman, Rep. Tom Reed has said that he will vote against the request, “absent some compelling information” that he has not been given to date.

“What I want to work on is to try to get Russia and China to exert pressure on Syria to get these weapons out of Assad’s hands,” Reed says. Good luck with that, Congressman Reed! Russia is Syria’s leading weapons supplier, and a Soviet general is believed responsible for helping Syria establish its chemical weapons program. China has been completely uncooperative on the Syria issue.

In thinking about US policy toward Syria’s use of chemical weapons, it’s important to remember that Obama, Kerry, and Biden do not equal Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. We are fortunate today to have reality-based policymakers at the highest levels — policymakers who have been trying to reduce US involvement in Middle East conflicts, They have spent two years resisting entanglement in Syria. They do not have a secret plan to start a new Middle East war for nefarious purposes.

In Saturday’s weekly radio address, President Obama said that

“Failing to respond to this outrageous attack would increase the risk that chemical weapons could be used again; that they would fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us, and it would send a horrible signal to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons.  All of which would pose a serious threat to our national security.”

The President is a serious man, and this statement has to be taken as a genuine reflection of his concerns.

Much could go wrong in any US attack against the Syrian regime, and to date only France seems willing to act with the United States. Public opinion is running against the President on Syria, and congressional offices are reportedly being swamped with calls and emails from opponents of intervention. Unless the President is extraordinarily persuasive in tomorrow’s media appearances and Tuesday night’s address to the nation, the House of Representatives will likely defeat the resolution of authorization.  Many will take satisfaction at this result, but the President’s statement of his concerns is enough to give pause over whether the House will have acted wisely.

Tom Friedman, the New York Times op-ed writer, laid out some interesting alternatives to the use of force in last Wednesday’s column, entitled “Arm and Shame.” Friedman would like to see Assad and his accomplices hailed before the International Criminal Court, which is not a toothless institution by any means — as Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor, the former Liberian dictator, found out.

Unfortunately, the United States cannot refer anyone for indictment before the court because the United States has not acceded to the Rome Statute, which created it. President Clinton signed the statute, but President George W. Bush refused to cooperate with the newly-created court. The Rome Statute was never sent to the Senate for ratification. No one imagines that Republicans in the Senate would allow the Rome Statute to be ratified today, even if President Obama were to submit it. Their fear that an American might one day be brought before the court is too great.

Thus, the United States is facing the Syrian atrocity with one hand tied behind its back. An institution that could have proven extraordinarily useful in the current crisis is not available to us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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