11 September 2013

On the President's speech

Yesterday President Obama addressed the people of the United States of America about the ongoing and deplorable situation in Syria as he continued to make his case for war even as the Russian government is, curiously, making moves for peace.

As I read through his remarks this morning, I couldn't help but notice a series of inconsistencies in the logic he set forth or statements made without any evidence to support his claims.

Take, for example, his attempt at emotional manipulation at the beginning of his address:
The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children.  The images from this massacre are sickening:  Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas.  Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath.  A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk.  On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits -- a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war.
Without denying or lessening the horror of the death of these innocent children and certainly without excusing or condoning it, one cannot fail to ask the glaring and obvious question of the President: What of the millions of children killed in the United States of America and throughout the world in the gruesome acts of abortion?  These innocent children are either torn apart with forceps and a vacuum or killed with chemicals.  Surely this is also a great crime against humanity.

The images from abortion are at least equally sickening, if not more so, yet they seem not to disturb the President, which at least partly explains why he did not speak out about the terrible nature of the "clinic" run by Dr. Kermit Gosnell.  Clearly, Mr. Obama's pitch for war is not simply about children.

The President then went on to remind us that "in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 governments that represent 98 percent of humanity."  This is true, though one may ask, especially with the present Congress and Administration, if these governments truly represent their people.  At least in the case of the United States of America with regard to what our response in Syria should be, the answer is, frankly, "No."

Mr. Obama next asserted that "no one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria" - which is true - and that "we know the Assad regime was responsible" - which is questionable.  The President offers no evidence to support his claim, except that "we’ve also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin," which hardly proves who is responsible for the attack.

In explaining why he thinks it is necessary for the U.S.A. to launch missiles into Syria, Mr. Obama said: "As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them."  I'm not sure too many tyrants give much thought to such things.  After all, it wasn't that long ago that chemical weapons were used in Iraq, and our response their seems already not to have deterred President Assad if, in fact, he did order the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  This being the case, why would an additional military intervention deter him?

The Commander in Chief next rightly said that "if fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel."  This is true, but it is a near certainty that if the U.S.A. attacks Syria that war will indeed spread beyond Syria's borders, especially given that a Syrian official has already said Syria will launch an attack on Tel Aviv if we attack Damascus.  It should not be forgotten that Hezbollah and Iran have also said they will attack Israel if the U.S. attacks Syria.  What President Obama says he seeks to avoid, he may well bring about himself.

The President further explained his reasoning behind his desire to launch an attack on Damascus: "The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime’s ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use."  How he expects a military assault to deter Mr. Assad from using chemical weapons in the future is beyond me. It seems more likely that Mr. Assad may well decide to use chemical weapons in the event of an assualt; what would there be to lose?

Mr. Obama then explained why he is seeking Congressional approval at this time for a military intervention in Syria: " I believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress.  And I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together."  I'm not sure I've seen much evidence of this belief in the past years of his presidency; it will be interesting to see if he really believes this.

President Obama then boldly asserted, "I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria," which runs contrary to what his Secretary of State said last week.  Even if the President meant what he said - which is always difficult to tell - how would such a reckless statement, so similar to his "red line" comment that led us to this present moment, not set another dangerous precedent of standing by the President's word in the future?

If we launch an assault on Syria - however brief - and the unforeseen consequences should lead to a situation where it become necessary for us to intervene more fully - he did acknowledge such consequences in Iraq and Libya in this same speech - it would seem the President's hands would be tied by his words.  Unless he didn't really mean them.

The President went on to clarify his remarks, saying, "I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo.  This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective:  deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities."  But...again...what if a prolonged campaign should prove necessary?  At the same time...is this really the only way to "deter" President Assad?  Since we do not know if such an attack will deter himself, the objective seems actually not very clear at all.  How will we know when an adequate level of deterrence has been reached, and for how long?

The just war teaching of the Catholic Church has long asserted that one requirement for a war to be just is that there be "a serious prospect of success."  Given that we cannot even clearly what our intended objective is, the prospect of success is rather weak.

President Obama suggested that "a targeted strike can make Assad, or any other dictator, think twice before using chemical weapons."  This may be true, but thinking twice might not do much at all; such a dictator or tyrant may very well still chose to use such weapons in the future.  People think twice all the time about choices in their lives and still often make the wrong, unethical, and, dare I say, immoral choice.

When it came time to address the possible consequences such an assault might have, Mr. Obama dismissed concerns over possible retaliation, saying simply that "he Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military."  While this may be true, it is certainly possible that the threats of Hezbollah and Iran, taken together with the suggestions of Russia and China that they will also defend Syria, could very well pose a serious threat to our military.

The President next claimed that "al Qaeda will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death."  Again, this may be true and it may not be true; nothing seems to have prevented al Qaeda from using non-chemical weapons in its attacks in the past.  And, more to the point, Syria has been in chaos for the past two years, long before the use of a chemical weapon.

Toward the end of his address, President Obama spoke to his "friends on the right" - of whom, in the past, he's admitted to not having many - saying, " I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just."  If the cause were indeed so "plainly just" he would have a much greater amount of support.  The fact remains, however, that the cause is not so plainly just; in fact, is quite debatable.  Simply saying it is just does not make it just.

To his "friends on the left," Mr. Obama renewed his emotional appeal: "I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor."  Here one might well return to my first question.

Beginning and ending with an emotional appeal is not always an effective means of persuasion.  People also want a logical and consistent argument, which we did not receive last night.


  1. Father, you've admitted that the gassing of civilians among the rebels is wrong, gruesome, and a terrible crime -- essentially, a war crime, yes? You clearly oppose the President's threat of a limited strike at Assad's military headquarters and major military assets. That's fine; one can make a case against taking such a step. If I may ask, however, what would you propose to do in order to deter Assad (and other dictators) from further use of chemical weapons?

    Yes, I do realize that you have questioned whether Assad's regime was even responsible for the attack, but there is much more information out there which suggests that IS the case -- including documented movement of chemical weapons, by Assad's military, in the days leading up to the attack. So if would grant for a moment that Assad is very likely responsible...what action would you propose be taken? Or should no action whatsoever be taken in this case?

    1. Here is my response:


  2. A very good question, Steve; let me answer it in a separate post, because there are a few other things I'd like to say, as well.