Some would have us believe that there can never be a reason to go to war. Others portend that only a war in which we have no National Interest is one in which we should engage. And still others say we should only fight when we have an unparalled National Interest.
Some say we should never be involved in a civil war. Some say we should only be involved in peacekeeping, particularly in civil wars. Some say we should only fight after we've been attacked. And some say that attack must occur on our own soil before we should fight. And then there's the age old philosophical question: If we knew then what we know now, should we have assassinated Hitler, preventing World War II, before he took power?
Is it really war, if we only send flying robots to bomb specific mud huts? Or if only the enemy calls it war and we pretend it's just a common crime? Is it war if the enemy has a flag, and are still only fighting to get a nation, or an empire?
The decision to go to war should not be made lightly. It is a decision to have humans kill other humans, but that is sometimes the only way to save the lives of more humans. The ability to win a war rests on one fundamental principal: breaking the enemy's will to fight. There are many ways that may be accomplished, but to win a war, one must cause the enemy to choose to end the fight.
When the President decides that war must be engaged in, it is his responsibility to convince Congress and the American People of why that war is critical enough that he will send people to their deaths to achieve the objectives he "understands" as important. It doesn't matter how convinced he is of the correctness and necessity of war, he MUST convince the people. It is his duty. He should have the information of how he will win the war, why it's so important, and how he will conduct the war. He is ordering people to die, and that cannot be taken lightly.
I have no doubt that Bush Jr. believed the War in Iraq was necessary, but he failed his responsibility to explain those reasons to the American people, after he had authorization from Congress to engage in it. The current POTUS didn't even bother to ask Congress for authorization to fight the war in Libya, and has sent his appointees to Congress to tell them he wouldn't necessarily even tell them if he goes to war in Syria. He has been dropping bombs on Pakistan for 3 years, turning a reluctant ally into an obstruction, and an ally of Iran and China.
Calling a war a "contingency operation" does not change the reality. When one (or more) nation(s) is dropping explosives on another, it is a war, even if they are being dropped remotely by means of a flying robots (drone/UAV/UAS). The International Law of Land Warfare puts the bar of "acts of war" well below blowing up television stations in a foreign country, as Obama did in Libya. Merely sending a war plane into the sovereign airspace of another country, without permission, can be considered an act of war. Broadcasting radio waves of sufficient power to prevent the reception of a legal broadcast within the borders of another nation is an act of war, much less blowing up the television station because you don't like that it supports the continued rule of its leader.
It seems inevitable in America's recent history that someone will argue that the people of a foreign land are too barbaric to embrace a system that peacefully changes their politicians/rulers. It seems inevitable that some will argue that we should not get involved because those other people have a right to self-determination of their own government, inferring that they should commit to civil war to achieve it, rather than have the opportunity to free speech, debate, and a vote to choose it. An unarmed, oppressed people do not have the means to rid themselves of a tyrant, without outside assistance. It is only through a desperation making them willing to risk death at the hands of the tyrant, rather than continue to live under his oppression, that they can bring about his demise. And that is far from guaranteed. The will of the tyrant to murder his own citizens must be broken for it to be effective, as demonstrated by the uprisings in Eastern Europe against Stalinist Communism in the 50's and 60's, as opposed to the late 80's. The Ayatollah maintained his grip on Iran by brutally killing Iranians in 2009, while the POTUS couldn't find words to oppose it.
The problem with the inferrence that the people must violently overthrow their government is that the most brutal possibility, rather than the most accepted form of government is most likely to become the new government. It is how the Taliban remain a force in Afghanistan, with less than 10% populace support, and against the greater than 70% support for the current politicians, and for democracy. It is how communists took over Cuba, North Korea, Viet Nam, China, Russia, and other nations during the 20th Century. It is how the Ayatollah Khameni retains power in Iran, against the will of Iranians. It is how Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein & Charles Taylor attained and retained power: brutal oppression of an unarmed populace.
This is not to say that a populace will always vote for a constitution ensuring democracy, rights, and freedom. The election of islamists in Egypt demonstrates that a populace can be fooled into voting against their own freedoms and for the oppression of their neighbors. And less than 70 years after the Nazis were defeated in Tunisia, ending World War II in Africa, Islamists there took the majority of constitution writing positions in a once free nation. Even in a nation as educated as the United States, voters can be fooled into voting for politicians that promise to ignore their guaranteed Rights of the Constitution, and to force their neighbors to buy things they don't want, because it is supposed to decrease the amount they have to pay for it.
But if the strategic errors of US actions in Libya, Egypt, and Iran show us anything, it should be that its not enough that regime change is a worthy goal, but that there must be a plan for a better alternative when the current tyrant is ousted. Qaddaffi was a crazy tyrant, but we now know that not only had he given up his WMD program after the invasion of Iraq, but had also been actively co-operating against al-Qaeda. We know now that a primary beneficiary of our actions in Libya and Egypt has been the Islamists, including those that have long been allied with al-Qaeda. We don't know what the new Constitutions of those countries will say, but we can safely say that it will be closer to that of Iran than of the United States. We now know that the POTUS knew that Qaddafi was helping against al-Qaeda.
A current, international, debate is over the violence of Bashir Assad's Syrian government. No objective observer would characterize Assad as anything other than a tyranical dictator, but does that mean that things could not get worse in Syria? Of course they can. Syria was the seat of government for the 1st Caliphate, and hence would make a nice location for al-Qaeda's goal of a new Caliphate. Under Assad, Christians are a minority, but given the freedom to live their own lives. Women are not forced to wear the hijab or burkhas, and are allowed to get an education, unlike under Islamist regimes. Regime change is not a sufficient reason to go to war in Syria. He's a tyrant, but some of his opponents are worse.
Conversely some of his opponents are better. Many Syrians want a secular democracy, just as many Iranians did in 1978. Most people in the Middle East want Freedom and some form of democracy, even if many want to curtail the rights of their neighbors. Islamism, the rule of Sharia Law as a form of government, and particularly the use of violence to attain it, is NOT as popular as many would have us believe. It is enforced through violence. It rose in Egypt, because the rush to the polls favored the only parties that had an organization in place: Islamists.
The Syrian Civil War has been ongoing for more than 15 months. Average Syrians, as well as armed rebels, and islamist terrorists, have been killed by the thousands over the last year plus. Syria is not a new enemy. When all of this is considered, it means that we should know who the players are. If the POTUS and intelligence agencies don't know which groups and leaders are supporting what ideologies, then the President has failed. That is not to say that it is public knowledge who is supporting what, but that we've had years to get the right people in the right positions to monitor a belligerent nation, and a year of violent revolution to figure out who the precise players are. If the POTUS doesn't have that information, he is guilty of malfeasance.
But even if he has that information, does that mean we should go to war? Is it enough that a brutal tyrant is murdering his own people, that the POTUS should order people to be killed? No. Even if we could guarantee that Assad's replacement would be a benevolent government of the people for the people, which we can't, it does not mean we should commit to war. There must be demonstrated a plan for how those lives lost would result in a Victory.
And that is where Presidents seem to fail most often, and this one seems to care least. Even if there is a compelling case for why a tyrant should be removed, what good does it do to start a war, if it cannot achieve its objectives? While things change during a war, such as al-Qaeda and Hezbollah initiating a civil war in Iraq, after Saddam had been removed. There is no doubt that Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam, but neither the path, nor the results were as expected in 2003. But the people of Egypt are worse off for the results of Arab Spring, and US actions there, because the ONLY plan was regime change of an old ally. And violence in Afghanistan has increased in the last 3 years as the "objective" changed from Victory over the Islamists of the Taliban and al-Qaeda to "ending" the war. It is not enough to say the current situation is bad and should be changed. We must also have a plan for where we want to go, to what we wish to achieve, and how we plan to get there.
And yes, every call for war, should include a demonstration of how it is in Our National Interests. Altruism sounds like a nice thing, but it results in mediocrity in effort, and failures in results.
Our National Interests are pretty broad. We are not an isolated Nation like North Korea, and isolationism would have a detrimental impact on the lives of every American citizen. Our economy and the lives of every American IS dependent on International trade. It depends on getting our goods to foreign markets, and energy being delivered not only to our energy producers but also to other nations. The price of oil, and gasoline, that we pay is tied to its availability to ALL consuming nations.
Iranian oil may not be refined for use in cars in the United States, but if their oil is removed from the market, we will pay more to fill up our cars, and our factories will pay more to produce our products. This is true because if India can't buy Iranian oil, they must bid up the price for the same oil Exxon refines for US consumers. We have seen the prices at the pump increase because China is buying more, because Iraq produced less, because OPEC cut supplies, and because Chavez's nationalization meant decreased efficiency. In each of these cases, it negatively effected the individual lives of Americans, and meant that Africans had less food on their tables as well.
"No war for oil" may sound like a good slogan, but when the price of oil goes up, it increases the price of everything we and everyone else buys, including food. When prices go up, people buy less. When people buy less, fewer people are employed making those things. When people can buy less and when people are laid off, people cannot get enough food and medicine. Oil is a major energy source, and when the price of energy goes up, people starve to death. Maintaining oil supply is in our National Interests.
But Syria doesn't have oil, or at least not much of it. Does that mean we have no National Interests in Syria? No. We do have National Interests in Syria, for a variety of reasons. Of significant interest is the future governance of Syria. It is of particular interest to the United States that Islamism does not attain power in Syria. This is a very real possibility, as we KNOW al-Qaeda is active in the violence against the Assad government.
While Syria may not have significant oil reserves, it is an ally of Iran, which is also an enemy of the United States. It was only a few years ago that world powers were stunningly silent when a Syrian facility in the middle of the desert exploded, with no cries of outrage, nor claims of responsibility. It turned out that it was a nuclear facility built with North Korean assistance. It is believed that either US or Israeli war planes dropped those explosives destroying the plant. Syria's Assad, and his father, are long time supporters of Hezbollah, the world's most organized and dangerous terrorist organization. While the current regime in Syria may not be on par with Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia, it is an enemy, and it is dangerous to us and Our Allies. And the future government of Syria could be worse, and could rise to those levels if Al-Qaeda attains the reins of government.
Syria has used Hezbollah and its own military to maintain Lebanon in a state of perpetual instability and violence, as well as to attack our most important ally in the region, Israel. It is also bordered by our allies; Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. During the Iraq War, Syria allowed al-Qaeda transit through its borders to kill Americans there. And despite the ideological differences between Ba'athism and Islamism, Syria is one of Iran's closest allies. While Assad is the more logical of the belligerant tyrants, that are clearly enemies in the region, and world, he is clearly an opponent of US National Interests.
While a case can be made for involvement in the Syrian Civil War, it is the responsibility of the POTUS to make that case, to the American People and to get authorization for it from Congress. And it is in the interests of the American People to ensure he does, before he commits us to that path. And that is where things are extremely skewed and dangerous. Leon Panetta has told Congress that this President has no intention of attaining Congressional authorization to commit us to war in Syria. He told them that instead he will seek UN or European approval, regardless of what the US Constitution says. He has offered no National Interests nor plan for how to win such a war to the American people.
And Libya reminds us that he will use the flimmsiest of excuses to do more than anyone has authorized him. During his Libyan War, he asked the UN, not Congress for authorization. The UN gave him permission to institute a "No-Fly Zone." One can make the case that enforcing such a resolution would include destroying the anti-aircraft weaponry that would threaten our pilots, but it is a great leap to say that a "No-Fly Zone" includes killing Libyan Troops, bombing Qaddaffi's house, or blowing up civilian TV stations.
As we make our decisions during this campaign season, as we choose our politicians in November, we MUST return to the US Constitution, to remember why Our Founding Fathers wrote what they did, why they guaranteed us our God-Given Rights. They created 3 equal branches of government; a Congress to write the laws and approve the expenditures of Our Tax Dollars, an Executive to oversee the daily operations of government, and a Judiciary to oversee disputes, and protect the Constitution from abuses. They purposely attempted to prevent the rise of an Executive with unlimited power or capable of rule by decree. They purposely made it difficult to go to war. They clearly wrote that ONLY Congress can authorize war. They purposely left unelected judges and political appointees out of the legislative process. The purposely made the US Constitution supreme to all laws, treaties, and executive dictates. As we push the buttons for the next batch of politicians in Washington, we must choose those that will uphold their oath to the US Constitution.