The world was anxiously watching as U.S. military action against Syria appeared imminent. The U.S. was willing to go ahead with airstrikes on Syria, despite opposition from Russia and China, which are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. This makes the international community even more nervous.
Meanwhile, the British parliament voted against taking military action against Syria. The U.K. is the most trustworthy ally of the U.S., and has been supporting the U.S. almost unconditionally for a long time. As NATO has also made it clear that it would not support U.S. military actions against Syria, the U.S. was left to act on its own.
According to the latest poll conducted by ABC, unlike taking military action in Afghanistan after 9/11, six out of 10 Americans oppose an air strike against Syria. For this reason, President Obama has decided to pass this political hot potato to Congress. Obama has asked for Congress to approve military action against Syria, although there is no need for such an approval. He was doing so because he feels that he needs support from the American public. His calculation must be that authorization from Congress may show the international community that military action against Syria is not just his own decision, but the decision of the American people, approved by the U.S. Congress that represents its people, and may also eventually change public opinion.
It appeared that the U.S. Senate and House may approve a limited military strike for a period of 60 days (with a possible extension of 30 days). The U.S. will start its attack on Syria soon, disregarding opposition from Russia and China.
In the U.S., the President does not need the prior approval of Congress to declare a war. This issue of the President’s war powers often comes up in Congress, and there have been many discussions on ways to reduce the war powers of the President, but without success. The reason is that the President cannot wait for approval from Congress, when enemies attack the country. If a war has broken out and battles are under way, Congress cannot vote against military action, either. Since this makes the approval of Congress just a formality, there is always a debate on whether war powers exceed the powers given to the President.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan decided to invade Grenada for the reason that the country was changing from a peaceful tourist country to a communist state, building a military airstrip, under the influence of Cuba. Unable to ignore the unstable situation of Grenada, he invaded Grenada for the reason of securing the safety of 800 American medical students, and the war ended in three days. President Reagan took advantage of a congressional recess in declaring the war, and the war was already over when Congress resumed. Congress was put into a situation of approving Reagan’s declaration of war after the war was over.
In Syria, 1,400 innocent civilians died from poison gas, and 400 of them were children. Chemical weapons are banned for their cruelty by international law. Syria’s use of chemical weapons was a deliberate disregard of the Geneva Protocol.
Proponents of the military strike against Syria claim that the U.S. should deter the use of chemical weapons by punishing Syria. They argue that this is not the first time for the U.S. to punish a country alone, and that the U.S. fought alone for justice in the Kosovo War. Opponents of the military strike are concerned about the enormous cost of the military invasion, and they are also skeptical of the effectiveness of the limited military strike within limited time.
The military power of the U.S. is strong enough to nearly equal the combined power of the rest of the top 10 military powers of the world. The Republican Party claims that nobody would trust the U.S. if it, the most powerful country in the world, left alone the Syrian regime which brutally killed 400 children with poison gas.
The Korean government might also want the U.S. to punish Syria strongly. Syria is an ally of North Korea close enough to exchange weapons technology. The Korean government might hope that firm action against Syria may also change the attitude of North Korea. There was also a report that the poison gas in Syria came from North Korea. If this turns out to be true, I wonder what kind of military actions the U.S. would take against North Korea.
However, there has been a piece of good news developed over the last few days; Russia, acting as mediator, has made a proposal that Syria is willing to allow the international community, probably the U.S, monitor Syria’s entire chemical weapon system. It sounds like a surrender which gives President Obama no other choice but to accept the proposal. It appears that the military option against Syria would be postponed
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Kim Chang Joon U.S.-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website at http://www.jayckim.com.