Brennan: Attacking Syria would make U.S. a vigilante

By Tom Brennan

President Barack Obama has painted himself into a corner on the Syrian problem. Should Congress jump into the same corner and take the nation with it?

No way. Despite what the President and many other people think, the United States should not try to be the world’s policeman.

A police officer must have the backing of a community; that’s where his authority comes from. And the United States – even with France and a few Arab nations as its allies – is not a community. (It’s unclear what role the Arab nations would play other than to provide cover for Obama with the appearance of a coalition.)

For the United States to fulfill the role of world peace officer, we would need the backing of a more credible community of nations – or at least that of a coalition of Western powers.

But we have neither. The United Nations hasn’t mustered significant military forces for a half-century or more. That would leave the option of a coalition, but we don’t even have Great Britain backing our play on this one. Having France and a handful of Arab nations on our side is helpful, but the United States and France make for a very slim coalition of Western nations. It still would look like us going off on our own again.

The poison gas attack on his own people is a violation of international norms and should make Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad a pariah among world leaders. In much of the world, he is just that. But on what authority should the United States attack Assad and his forces – presumably with cruise missiles? We have none except our own indignity. And the word for an individual or organization enforcing laws without authority is “vigilante.”

This problem of serving as the world’s unauthorized police force did not start with Barack Obama, though it is vastly complicated by the fact that our President and his team seem to be over their heads in international affairs.
Overplaying our role on the world stage is a tradition going back many years. The decision by President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and ultimately to hang President Saddam Hussein was another notable incident. At least in that case we had a coalition of nations involved, including Britain.

But the decision to invade Iraq was based on “faulty intelligence” that indicated Hussein had concealed weapons of mass destruction, which weren’t there. The weapons of mass destruction may never have existed so it’s difficult not to suspect that the 2003 invasion was pushed by members of the Bush team who were also on the team of the President’s father, President George H. W. Bush, during the first Gulf War in 1991. That invasion was called off after 100 hours, stopping far short of Baghdad.

The thinking of the Bush people seems to have been, “We should have gone all the way to Baghdad and knocked that SOB off when we had the chance in ‘91.”

The deaths, maiming and destruction on both sides resulting from the 2003 invasion were bad enough, but Hussein’s toppling further destabilized a nation and a region that were already dangerously wobbly and frequently violent. And maintaining that the Iraq invasion was based on faulty intelligence was like claiming that a nuclear explosion was caused by faulty atoms.

This whole idea of the United States being the boss of the world and enforcer of international standards is just wrong. In that cause we have often deposed dictators and other rulers, then tried to impose democracy on an unprepared populace. Far too often the result has been chaos and worsened bloodshed.

The democratic system in the United States is a great one and has been emulated voluntarily by numerous nations. But imposing democracy on a country that is not ready for it is downright foolish and an invitation to chaos.
There are certain prerequisites to establishing self-government in the democratic tradition. Among them are having free people with a modicum of education – essential to evaluating the candidates and understanding the issues. Then you must have a free press or something similar to enable the people to inform themselves about who is running, what the candidates intend to do in office and what the issues are.

Otherwise the system doesn’t work. The people would be better off with a benevolent dictator – if there is still such a thing – or a ruler who fears being overthrown if he doesn’t treat the people fairly well.
So what do we do about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?
Either erase Obama’s red line or assign Assad his own personal drone. The drone would still be vigilante justice but without all the messiness.

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