Is this deja vu all over again? We have U.N weapons inspectors in a Middle East Country looking for evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Western allies have marshaled forces for an attack. The U.S. claims to have solid evidence of WMD transgressions. The president insists that he has not made a final decision but leaks from the White House indicate that an attack is imminent and inevitable.
Iraq 2003? No, Syria 2013.
We have seen this movie before and the ending is not pretty. And this time there is no Congressional authorization or U.N. fig leaf. And the pressure to act is not the blazing sun of the Mesopotamian desert dictating the invasion timetable. Those destroyers and submarines are far more comfortable. The time driver is the need for the U.N team to finish its inspection and submit a report. But this is unlikely to be done before President Obama must depart for the G20 summit in St. Petersburg six days hence on September 3. Surely he does not want to be winging over the Baltic as Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM) are flying over the Mediterranean. He cannot repeat the Bush administration obscenity of forcing the U.N. inspectors out of Iraq before they had completed their investigation so the attack could begin (and their failure to find WMD was known).
Politically, even with a special session of Congress called on Labor Day Weekend, there is not time for a deliberate discussion and vote. Nor is there time to have a full hearing in the U.N. Security Council before the president's departure. Even the United Kingdom is slowing its move to introduce a resolution in the Security Council to authorize the use of force in response to the horror of the chemical attack.
So what is the hurry? Why try to thread a narrow time window before the president departs on his trip? Why not wait for the U.N. report? Why not share the responsibility with the Congress and make them deal seriously with an issue of gravity rather than fall back immediately into their inane bickering.
A pause might not only allow synchronizing the diverse timetables of the many elements in this mix, but it might also allow for some thinking outside of the current box. If chemical weapons use is confirmed, and if there is solid evidence that the perpetrators came from Assad's forces, a referral of the case to the International Criminal Court ICC) would be appropriate. Neither the fact that Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) nor the fact that the weapons were not used outside the country would be exculpatory. And, since the U.S. has not signed on to the ICC, one of our allies would have to take the lead here.
The pause would create the opportunity for President Obama and President Putin to have a one-subject meeting on the periphery of the G20. It is not realistic to hope that this would lead to a breakthrough on Syria. But it is in both countries' interests to stop Syria from descending into the abyss. And if the Congress could pass a resolution authorizing the use of force in response to any chemical attacks past or future, the president would have a strengthened negotiating position.
I admit the above is trying to make a virtue of necessity. But history teaches that making major decisions in haste often leads to major disasters. There is no need to hurry. Let Assad and his cronies stay in their holes wondering when an attack might come. Meanwhile we can spend our time ensuring that the moves we will make are based on solid facts and sound judgment.
It is time to stop the rush to war. It is time to relook at the evidence and the options. It is time to listen to the experts and possible participants.