Secretary of State Tillerson gave a speech at the Hoover Institute, Stanford University this past Wednesday. His main goal: “to talk with you about the way forward for the United States in Syria.”
On its surface, nothing Tillerson said is ridiculous or incoherent – compared to say, the routine utterances of his boss. (Well, mostly. I have my quibbles, that could grow into rants given enough space.)
Just below the surface though, it quite clearly ignores the lived experience of the 21st century American foreign policy efforts. (Doubly remarkable considering the presence of a former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State who was present and responsible for that lived experience) Plus, it is seemingly at odds with the foreign policy inclinations suggested by an “America First” posture – either the 20th or 21st century versions of that worldview. Oh, by the way, there’s absolutely no Congressional authority – you know, the people that are supposed to be in the war-declaring business – for the efforts Tillerson lays out. (I am not a lawyer, so I don’t want to go as far as saying there’s no legal basis for those efforts. But I can read the text of the the primary authorization (PDF), as well as the other one, and draw my own conclusions)
Allow me to repeat myself. Tillerson is (basically) right in the case he lays out. Assad is a bad dude. His dad was a bad dude. The Syrian government is an illiberal regime that has almost always been hostile to the interests of the government of the United States of America. (I say ‘almost’ because there was a period of about 10 minutes in the early 90s where the Syrian government was on the US side when Saddam was feeling too froggy.) Things are bad for many people in Syria, and the many that have fled the conflict. Thousands, tens of thousands, have died. Weapons of mass destruction have been used.
Yet, the US now has an announced military presence in Syria; the current US government indicates that it is going to stay there indefinitely. All of this has happened without any vote by Congress, or even a public debate.
I guess one good thing is that it is at least being decided at the cabinet level now. A bit over a month ago, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve said on Twitter, “This exchange is evidence that Daesh still poses a threat to the people of Syria.” This is no doubt true, but it’s not the job of an Army colonel and the general he reports to, on their own, identify threats to the people of Syria and deploy US Forces to remedy that situation.
(Operation Inherent Resolve is the follow on for Operation Iraqi Freedom that kicked off when the US government decided to go into Iraq again, to counter Daesh forces – also, without any Congressional votes or public debate.)
So, the bottom line is – let’s have this debate. Yes, I am clearly on the side of ‘no to the authorization of military force in the Levant’, but I am more interested in getting the correct political and legal framework behind any and all military interventions. But, especially on this one, where there are fiftyelevenmillion sides in this conflict, and ‘allies’ and ‘enemies’ are fluid.