By John David Dyche
Kentucky's junior U. S. Senator and probable 2016 presidential candidate, Republican Rand Paul, opposes President Obama's proposed American military action in Syria. "I think it's a mistake to get involved in the Syrian civil war," Paul said.
According to Paul, "All of the bad things that you could imagine are all more likely if we get involved in the Syrian civil war." But the U. S. is already involved in that conflict.
America has openly provided at least a quarter billion dollars in "non-lethal" aid, including body armor and night vision goggles, to the Syrian opposition. Media report that the CIA and U.S. special operations forces have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, too.
Secretary of State John Kerry is the administration's point man for military action. Paul says he would ask him, "Do you think that it's less likely or more likely that chemical weapons will be used again if we bomb Assad?"
But President Obama has already stated the administration's position. He says not responding with force to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime "increases the risk that chemical weapons will be used in the future."
Paul says "I don't see American interests involved on either side of this Syrian war." The Kentuckian contends that an American military strike could cause the Syrian conflict to "escalate out of control."
Obama "made a grave mistake when he drew a red line" regarding the use of chemical weapons, Paul asserts. He says Obama is now going to show "machismo," and that by "trying to save face" the President is "really adding bad policy to bad policy."
Another question Paul poses is, "Who is on America's side over there?" He asks, "If the rebels win, will they be American allies? [Syrian leader] Assad's definitely not an American ally. But I'm not convinced anybody on the Islamic side, the Islamic rebels will be American allies."
Obama and Kerry have declared that Assad must go, but admit that their proposed military strike is not intended to either depose Assad or affect the ultimate outcome of the Syrian civil war. Their entire rationale is that the "use of chemical weapons is unacceptable," and that it is necessary to punish users of chemical weapons in order to enforce an international "prohibition against the use of chemical weapons which has been in place since 1925."
Perhaps with an eye toward the GOP's religious nominating base Paul notes that Assad has "protected Christians for a number of decades" whereas it is "the Islamic rebels on the other side who have been attacking Christians." He claims that American could and should have engaged the Russians and Chinese to get "a change in government where Assad is gone, but some of the same people remain stable."
"That would also be good for the Christians," Paul avows. "I think the Islamic rebels running is a bad idea for the Christians and all of a sudden we'll have another Islamic state where Christians are persecuted."
Paul says that administration policy is "to fight for stalemate then they want to negotiate a settlement." He thinks the Obama team believes that U. S. military action will balance the power equation and forcing Assad to the table.
But Paul repudiates that strategy. "I'm not sending my son, your son, or anybody else's son to fight for stalemate."
Paul's position is simple. "We fight when we have to." Since we do not have to fight in Syria, we shouldn't.
The use of chemical weapons "should absolutely be condemned," Paul says. But there are unanswered questions about his position, too.
Does Paul acknowledge any threshold for their use in the Middle East that would warrant an American military response? If Assad gassed a hundred thousand Syrians to death would Paul approve American military action to prevent a hundred thousand more?
And does Paul concede that either a congressional rebuke to Obama or a failure to act in Syria could embolden adversaries and worry allies in ways that would harm American national security interests? Or is he OK with a nuclear Iran? An even more aggressive China and Russia?
Paul's position is probably closer to that of the American public at present than is Obama's. Yet sometimes a leader's responsibility is to do what is unpopular in the short-term for the sake of the nation's larger long-term interests.
If Obama's words are to mean anything to anyone for the rest of his administration he must take the limited military action for which he and Kerry advocate. And he must do so regardless of whether he gets the congressional authorization he belatedly (and unnecessarily) decided to seek.
Kentucky's Rand Paul now occupies the role of leader of the isolationist Republican opposition. It will be extremely interesting to see whether Mitch McConnell -- the commonwealth's senior Senator, the Senate's Republican leader, a candidate for reelection next year, and heretofore generally a supporter of presidential prerogatives in national security – sides with Obama or Paul.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.