An Open Letter To President Obama

Dear Mr. President:

It’s been a while since I sat down and wrote a letter to you, and though I realize you’ve got a lot on your mind, this just couldn’t wait.  So please indulge me.

I’ll get right down to brass tacks. Your decision to bomb Syria is a huge mistake, both for you politically and for the country as a whole. But before I get to that, I wanted to address this red line issue you seem to be having.

Recently you said that the red line Assad crossed was the world’s red line, not yours. Okay, I know you were referring to the 1925 ban on the use of chemical weapons, but really, sir, the red line here is yours, not the world’s. The world hasn’t proposed dropping a couple dozen Cruise missiles on Syria, you have. Let me give you some friendly and free advice if I may. When you dig yourself that huge a hole, you’re not required to jump in and bury yourself in it. You were the one who mentioned a red line; own it and move on.

Now let’s get on to the meat and potatoes.

I have heard all the arguments for and against this military strike and have come to the unalterable conclusion that it is a colossal mistake. Yes, I understand that what Assad has done is atrocious and, yes, as a colleague of mine pointed out, Syria isn’t Iraq and you’re not George Bush. Points taken. My objections to this military intervention – and, yes sir, it IS an intervention when you launch a strike on another country – have nothing to do with either who and what Assad is or the hangover from that ghastly war. They are based on the following points:

First off, there is no clear-cut objective here, other than slapping Assad around a bit. There is no regime change being proposed, no action which changes the dynamic on the ground. And even if there were, even if you were to up the ante and do what General – AKA Arizona senator – John McPatton wants, which is to arm the rebels, who’s to say that you wouldn’t be trading in one ruthless form of government for another?

The truth is, while the Syrian government has committed unspeakable acts of violence against its citizens, the rebels have hardly been angelic. There have been reports of rebel soldiers executing Syrian soldiers as well as pro-Assad civilians. It is estimated that almost a third of the rebels inside the country have connections to Al-Qaeda. Given what has already taken place in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood, it is unwise to assume that helping the rebels in this civil war is in the best interests of the United States. The enemy of my enemy isn’t always my friend, sir.

Secondly, where is your support team? In Libya, you had a U.N. resolution, NATO troops and the support of the Arab League. With the exception of France, you appear to be all alone in this quest. Russia will never allow the U.N. to pass a resolution against its ally and the Arab League has apparently washed its hands of the matter altogether. The Congress? Please, you’d have a better shot at getting Republicans to embrace your healthcare law than getting them to agree to a military mission that even remotely makes you look good. If anything, they’d jump at the chance to humiliate you.

And Heaven forbid you do get Congressional authorization – the Senate looks about 50/50, while the House is looking bleak – and you launch a strike that kills yet more civilians, that hole you dug will end up being your political grave. If you think pictures of children gassed was horrific, try pictures of people blown to tiny bits courtesy of Uncle Sam’s military industrial complex. Don’t kid yourself, sir, no matter how precise the targeting may be, there is no way to guarantee that those missiles won’t go off course and accidentally kill innocent lives. You can’t let that happen. We have enough blood on our hands in this region of the world.

And lastly, this whole thing is a distraction from what should be your number one priority: the economy. I’m sure you read the jobs report for August. Hardly stellar. Worse, yet, was that the numbers for June and July were revised downward. The only reason unemployment didn’t go up was that the labor participation rate went down. Thanks to the sequester, which has your finger prints all over it, the economy continues to limp along at around 2 percent.

Both the budget resolution and the debt ceiling need to be addressed within the next few weeks. I know you are perfectly capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. The problem isn’t you; it’s the Congress. With them, it’s more like crawling and drooling at the same time. If you somehow manage to convince enough Republicans to back your Syrian plan, don’t think it won’t cost you political capital down the road when it comes to funding the government. And if you don’t get the authorization and launch anyway, defunding Obamacare will be the least of your worries.

And then there’s the fate of your own party hanging in the balance? You’re asking Democrats who are up for reelection next year to stick their necks out to pass an authorization that’s about as popular with the voters as buying a used car from a pedophile. Without exception, every House and Senate Democrat who votes “yes” will be a marked man or woman come 2014. The GOP will see to it. This was not the wedge issue Democrats wanted going into a midterm, but it will end up being their Waterloo if you don’t back off. Instead of picking up a few seats in the House and holding serve in the Senate, Democrats might well end up losing ground in the House and their majority in the Senate. Is this what you really want?

Look, I know you mean well here. As the leader of the free world, you feel an obligation to take a stand against such atrocities. You feel, and perhaps rightly so, that if America doesn’t respond to Assad, other tyrants might decide they are above international law. I would remind you that others have already crossed that line. Let’s not forget that Saddam Hussein gassed Iranians – with our knowledge and blessing, no less.

And then there’s that kook in North Korea who likes playing with rockets and has a rather peculiar way of breaking up with his girlfriends. True, he hasn’t used chemical weapons, but he’s managed to do just about everything else to his people. Somehow I doubt smacking Assad around will make him see the light or make South Koreans sleep easier at night. What made the concept of mutually-assured destruction work was that both the United States and Soviet Union knew if they did anything stupid they could destroy the world. That mutual fear kept both at bay for the better part of five decades. Irrational and crazy people are seldom deterred by such fears.  No matter what you do with Syria, Kim Jong-un will still be nuts.

I know you may not want to hear this, but if Congress turns you down it may be the best thing that ever happened to your presidency.  This was a no-win scenario from the get go. With all you’ve got on your plate, the best thing you can do is suck it up and move onto the next battle, which, if the GOP has anything to say about it, should make Assad’s twisted actions seem like a night out with the Boy Scouts of America.

Author: Peter Fegan

Progressive but pragmatic. Lover of music, die-hard Giants' fan and reluctant Mets' fan. My favorite motto? I'd rather be ruled by a smart Turk than a dumb Christian.

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