“Congress must now vote to support the first steps of what will be a long march toward victory,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Following this clarion call, 71 House Republicans bolted to join 85 Democrats in voting no to U.S. funds to train and arm Syrian rebels.
Why the hesitation? Because our strategy in Syria is to rely on a Free Syrian Army that has been the least effective force in that civil war, and untrustworthy to boot. Units of the FSA have handed their U.S. weapons over to ISIS.
Yet these “feckless” rebels, says Sen. Bob Corker, constitute “our entire ground game.”
John McCain raises a second issue. The FSA came into being to overthrow Bashar Assad. Now they are to be retrained to fight ISIS. How effective will the FSA be when told to change sides and become de facto allies of the dictator against whom they took up arms?
Projections are that it will take a year before we can set up and run camps in Saudi Arabia, vet volunteers, train, equip, and arm rebels, and send 5,000 fighters into battle in Syria.
The United States will then be ensuring that a three-year civil war that has caused millions of refugees and cost 190,000 lives — soldiers, rebels, jihadists, and civilians alike — will go on indefinitely.
Where is the morality in a superpower decision to arm Syrians and send them into a war they cannot win, so few in number are they, but where they can keep bleeding 5,000 lives a month of their countrymen? Can St. Augustine’s theory of a just war be reconciled with such programmed slaughter with no end in sight?
There are other reasons why many in Congress are reluctant to vote funds to train and arm Syrian rebels. First, as the president has said, it is still “somebody else’s civil war.”
Second, the White House has not advanced a credible war plan. Third, our commander in chief is not a war leader. And, again, this FSA upon which McCarthy’s victory hangs is not even the JV.
Brushing aside these concerns is the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial, “The Syria Campaign,” describes how the FSA can emerge victorious.
“American bombs aren’t yet falling on Syria, but on Tuesday Chuck Hagel suggested they soon will. … Let’s hope so.” the editorial began. Here is how the Journal’s “military strategy” would unfold:
“A devastating air campaign against the Islamic State might at least weaken the group sufficiently to embolden a revolt and send new recruits to the FSA. The model here is the air cover NATO gave to Kosovars as they fought Serbian aggressors in 1999.”
But were the Serbs really “aggressors” in fighting to hold their cradle province of Kosovo, which ethnic Albanians were trying to tear away? Did Bill Clinton fight a constitutional war in killing 1,000 Serbs without the authorization of the Congress of the United States?
Does the Journal have in mind another unconstitutional war?
So it would seem. For the Journal not only wants bombs falling on ISIS, but on Assad as well.
“Defeating the Islamic State will also require attacks on the Assad regime. Sunnis will not support the campaign against Islamic State if they think our air strikes are intended to help the regime in Damascus and its Shiite allies in Beirut and Tehran.”
The Journal wants Obama to bomb Raqqa, ISIS, the Assad regime, and its army and air force, to give the FSA a “psychological boost.”
Questions arise: Does the Journal believe Barack Obama needs Congressional authorization before going to war against Syria, which has neither attacked nor threatened us, but instead has expressed a willingness to work with us to destroy ISIS?
Does the Journal believe Hezbollah and Iran, which have expended blood and treasure sustaining their ally Assad in his civil war, will sit still and watch us bomb him? Will Putin do nothing as we bomb his ally?
Or will Hezbollah target Americans in Lebanon while Iran orders the anti-American Shia militias, the most effective fighters now behind the Baghdad government, to start attacking Americans in Iraq?
What if our air campaign against ISIS, as our air attacks in Iraq seem to have done, brings recruits rushing not to the FSA, but to ISIS?
Before we went back into the Iraq war, we were told ISIS had 15,000 fighters. Now there are estimates of 30,000.
Are we again creating more enemies than we are killing?
And if our bombing campaign against Assad breaks him, who comes to power in Damascus, if not ISIS, al-Nusra or the Islamic Front? What then becomes of the Christian and Shia minorities?
“Our key allies are the Kurds, the parts of the Iraqi military that aren’t dominated by Iraq’s militia, and the moderate Sunnis in Syria and Iraq,” says the Journal.
But if those are our key allies, then the “long march” to victory of which the majority leader speaks appears to have no end.
And what will victory look like?
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of the new book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.”