Tuesday, September 10, Barack Obama opened his mouth to say … nothing much at all. On display, in the his meandering message on Syria, was the president’s very elementary thinking—eighth-grade elementary. Why the allusion to the eighth-grade? A Smart Politics study has found that, as measured by the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, the President’s State of the Union messages were written at an eighth-grade level.
On Syria, he stuck to this simplistic formula.
The Abstract: A horrible chemical attack happened in Syria. How do we know that? We saw the videos. Assad did it. How do we know that? Trust us (no need to verify). If we don’t “stand against the use of chemical weapons,” we, Our Allies and The Children will be imperiled forever after. The Argument from Hitler was thrown in for good measure. Iran the evil-doer too. As he rejected the world’s policeman mantle, the president ventured that the US is “the anchor of global security” [what’s the difference?] Only the US is up to the task, because we’re special. Think of The Kids. Franklin Roosevelt would have.
The president then paraphrased questions purportedly posed by Americans, the majority of whom oppose the strike, choosing to reply—sort of—to the easiest among them.
Left unanswered was a question like this about The Kids. “If you’re so dead-set against the killing of children that you are willing to send us into yet another conflict,” demanded TV’s Judge Jeanine, in her weekly Opening Statement, “will you guarantee that the 1000-pound Tomahawk missiles that you will heap on Syria won’t kill children—or are they simply your collateral damage? Will the murders of those children be less significant than those we go to avenge?”
The president took full credit for the Russian initiative. As such, it stipulates that, provided the US foreswears the use of force against Syria, Russia will assist in disarming that country of its chemical arsenal. (Next Obama will be taking credit for Dennis Rodman’s inroads in North Korea, or for the basketball player’s road-map for peace with that country: “building trust and understanding through sport and cultural exchanges.”) Syria has joined in insisting that the steroids-pumped president of the US foreswear the use of force against it.
There was also Obama’s likely unintended admission in the address that Libya was his “prolonged air campaign.” At the time, the president used NATO as a fig leaf for that offensive, when the truth was that the U.S. Africa Command was in charge of the mission. By Conor Friedersdorf’s telling, President Obama had authorized CIA agents to liaise with Libyan rebels and supply them with arms.
In Libya, Obama was even in violation of the War Powers Resolution, which in itself is an affront to the constitutional text and the framers’ original intent, as it expanded presidential war-making powers. In the words of James Madison: “Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges, whether a war ought to be commenced, continued, or concluded.” Explained Louis Fisher, senior specialist in separation of powers at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress: “Keeping the power to commit the country to war—and to all the costs of war—in separate hands from the power to wage war once declared was a bedrock principle for the framers.”
How did Obama violate the statute? Contrast his actions with the relevant section of the Act, courtesy of The Atlantic:
“The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”
Not even under this permissive statute, which blurs red lines America’s Constitution makers drew, is the excursion into Syria legitimate.
Then there is the pesky matter of the evidence. Here the president’s modus operandi in Libya is also instructive. As revealed by Daniel McAdams, in “Humanitarian Wars and Their NGO Foot-Soldiers,” the allegation that “Gaddafi had already killed 6,000 of his own people and was determined to kill many more” was a fiction invented by Soliman Bouchuiguir, the head of the Libyan League for Human Rights, funded in part by the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
“Bouchuiguir initiated a petition that was eventually signed by 70 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) demanding that the US, EU, and UN “mobilize the United Nations and the international community and take immediate action to halt the mass atrocities now being perpetrated by the Libyan government against its own people.”
In short succession, “Bouchuiguir’s petition turned into a UN Human Rights Council action, which then turned into a UN Security Council action, which then turned into a NATO [nudge, nudge. wink wink] war on Libya.”
As to Syria, McClatchy was, I believe, first to relay that “German intelligence does not believe Assad sanctioned the alleged attack on August 21.” When the skepticism finally percolated down to the US press, The Washington Times seconded that the “U.S. can’t prove Bashar Assad approved the chemical attacks in Syria.”