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Bromund: Barack Obama's a finger-in-the-wind policy on Syria

President Barack Obama pauses after speaking to members

President Barack Obama pauses after speaking to members of the media in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Aug. 30, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

As Karl Marx observed, when history repeats itself, it's tragedy the first time and farce the second.

If the Iraq War was the tragedy, then Syria is certainly the farce.

The White House has agonized for days about whether it will launch missile strikes on Syria. During its nightmare of consideration, it should have remembered something: If you want to use military force, you are practically and morally obligated to think about what you are trying to achieve with it.

Limited strikes will not stop the regime from killing people. They will not destroy Syrian supplies of nerve gas. They will not kill the commanders who authorized the gas attacks.

Since the administration has disavowed "regime change," strikes will not seek to drive President Bashar Assad from power. And since the administration has advertised the strikes, they are now bound to hit only empty buildings. Indeed, that may be the White House's plan.

Nor will strikes deter Iran from pursuing its nuclear program. If we attack in Syria, it will be because Assad used weapons of mass destruction, not merely because he had them. The lesson the Iranians will draw is that the United States won't act until Tel Aviv disappears in a nuclear fireball. U.S. retaliation then will come a little late.

U.S. policy in Syria is being driven by only one thing: trying to make President Barack Obama look good. Over a year ago, he announced a fatuous red line against the Syrian use of nerve gas. That wasn't intended to save the Syrian people. It was intended to save him from having to get involved. But it didn't work, and now the words Obama had hoped would keep him out are pulling the United States into the conflict. As a result, the amount of hypocrisy running free in the White House beggars description.

In 2007, then-Sen. Obama declared: "The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Other liberals whined that Iraq was an illegal war.

Yet today, there is no imminent threat to our nation to justify the use of force. There is no UN resolution. There is not even an Arab League resolution. Even our closest ally, the British, are opposed so far. Let's be clear: We should care what the British think, but no one should give two figs for UN authorization that rests on Russian shoulders, or any figs for the autocrats' club, aka the Arab League.

But this administration justifies its existence in the realm of foreign policy by asserting Obama is not bad old unilateral Bush. Just last Monday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, "If there is any action taken, it will be [in] concert with the international community." But while the administration wants a concert, Syria will likely be a solo performance.

Inside this farce, of course, there is tragedy. It's a tragedy in Syria. But it's also a tragedy because strikes are a substitute for useful actions.

We should be providing diplomatic and missile defense support to Israel and humanitarian aid to Jordan, our front-line allies. We should be looking for every opportunity to make life tough for Iran, by using the threat of our action in Syria to persuade wavering nations like China to sign on to sanctions. And we should make it clear to Russia that, if it does not play ball, we will make it pay a diplomatic and economic price for its support of Assad.

If Obama wants to attack Syria, the congressional authorization he promises to seek is only a start. He should make a credible case that it is in our national interest. Set out a plan for what strikes will achieve, now and later. The military should have the funds it needs to accomplish all its missions, and key allies should support us. Without those steps, strikes are nothing more than the result of a finger-in-the-wind foreign policy.

Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Thatcher Center for Freedom.