Dear Mr. President,
I wish to offer to you the humble perspective of a concerned lawyer about your proposed targeted military action in Syria. Your professional career is, after all, rooted in the practice of law. While you are arguably one of the brightest intellectuals to hold the presidency of the United States in recent memory, sometimes colleagues, particularly those in the trenches, may offer a differ angle. So, with your permission -- I am writing this letter to you as one lawyer to another.
Lawyers like to plan and contemplate. We like strategy and clearly defined objectives. I was astounded at how little your British counterpart, Prime Minister Cameron, a world leader in his own right, has considered about the proposed military action in Syria. His fellow UK Parliamentarians had a field day with him. At least he was honest about how little he really knew.
Before we delve into those embarrassing answers, here is the gist of my humble advice to you, Mr. President: Stop fixating over the use of chemical weapons and look at ending the civil war in Syria. Military experts seem to agree that the proposed military strike will not dismantle Assad's extensive chemical capabilities. The chemical weapons issue is a "red herring." You must not lose the forest for the trees. You have an opportunity to deal with this conflict on a much deeper and broader basis. Please do not waste this opportunity. And do not let Assad get the better of you.
The U.S. government's so-called moral issue per se cannot be the real issue. If that were the case, the U.S. would have intervened a long time ago, in many countries and places. The truth is that there is a different play here, one that the U.S. government feels is important to the interests of the American people. It is to deter the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction by terrorists worldwide. I get it. We all get it. This part is not controversial. But trying to send a message to terrorists around the world in the context of the Syrian conflict, which comes bundled with broad regional issues, makes little or no sense.
My perspective is that of a Canadian trial attorney who is of Israeli background. As a trial attorney, advocating for humans involved in disputes is my stock in trade. Having grown in Israel, debating political and military strategy relating to terrorists and irrational governments is also my stock in trade. And as a Canadian, looking at the world from a more holistic perspective, while proud to be intricately closed to our American cousins, is the stock in trade of all Canadians.
In the Middle East, things do not usually go as planned. There are complications. Players are irrational. They tend to be extremists. And they are controlled by yet other players. When is the last time a Middle East crisis was resolved smoothly, as planned, and on time? When is the last time America was genuinely successful in a military intervention in the Middle East?
Trying to teach terrorists a lesson is a lost cause. If you want to talk about "impunity," all you need to do is look at the constant state of war in Israel. Terrorists do not understand impunity because they do not value human life. Certainly not the lives of innocent bystanders. Often not even their own. The whole point of being extremist is that they do not follow convention or listen to popular opinion. They tend to have deep psychological issues, unfortunate as that may be. And they have their own ways and agendas. If they listen to you or show deference to American strikes, what kind of extremists would they be?
Worse, tomorrow a new generation will be born -- the children of those who will die in your proposed military action. They will arm themselves and seek to inflict more harm. I know it firsthand because in Israel it is a never-ending cycle of bloodshed.
In Syria, your proposed "mini-strike," if I may call it that way, is of no real consequence in the grand scheme of the war because it will not dismantle Assad's chemical capabilities. Therefore, the only endgame ought to be to end the conflict in Syria. That should be the strategy.
Now back to the Prime Minister and the apparent lack of strategy behind the current plan for a military action in Syria. When I read about the UK Parliament's vote against a military intervention last week, I wanted to find out about what the UK Parliament was concerned, because the media has not, in my opinion, adequately addressed it. You will probably sympathize with my love for reading transcripts of parliamentary debates. I developed that love when having to regularly debate in court the parliamentary intentions of various laws and statutes. So I did what any curious attorney would do: I went online and read the full transcript of the debate of the UK House of Commons of August 29, 2013.
As I was reading the pointed questions and the prime minister's answers, I could not help but wonder if the prime minister had considered this issue in any significant way, as should a world leader. We are talking about military intervention of global proportions. You surely remember that when lawyers prepare to court, we pour over deposition transcripts. We like to highlight the key questions and answers to point them out to the judge or continue grilling the witness in court. As a courtroom attorney, you had plenty of experience with that. I extracted below for your ease of reference what I think are the key questions from the UK Parliament which the prime minister botched.
For the next few minutes, you be the judge and let me show you the blunders. I have no doubt you will see how pitiful the situation is, being the Prime Minister's lack of a thoughtful strategic solution.
Column 1433-1434 - the prime minister admits he cannot assure that a military intervention would shorten the civil war:
Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Labour):
I agree with the Prime Minister about the horror of chemical weapons, but the vast majority of the 100,000 killed so far in this civil war in Syria have died as a result of conventional weapons. Can he convince the House that military action by our country would shorten the civil war and help herald a post-war Government who could create stability?
The Prime Minister:
It is a good question, but I am afraid that I cannot make any of those assurances...it would have to be action, in my view, that was solely about deterring and degrading the future use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime--
Column 1436 - the prime minister admits that to "degrade" Assad's regime's chemical capabilities would involve hundreds of ships, thousands of ground troops and cost $1 billion a month and that the proposed strike would not dismantle that capability:
Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Labour):
The Prime Minister said a moment ago ... that one of the purposes of any action would be the "degrading" of the Assad regime's chemical weapons capability. In a letter that General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent to Carl Levin, of the United States Congress, a couple of months ago, he spelt out that fully to do that would involve hundreds of ships and aircraft and thousands of ground troops, at a cost of $1 billion a month. Given that the Prime Minister is not proposing that, could he say what his objective would be in degrading the chemical weapons capability?
The Prime Minister:
...The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point ... if we wanted entirely to dismantle, or to attempt to dismantle, Syria's weapons arsenal, that would be an enormous undertaking which would involve ground troops and all sorts of things, but that is not what is being proposed; the proposal, were we to take part, would be to attempt to deter and degrade the future use of chemical weapons. ..
The end result must be a resolution of the military conflict -- not its escalation. Let us pursue a thoughtful, contemplative, approach. How those objectives should be framed was neatly outlined in that UK Parliament debate. In Column 1452, Dr. Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Conservative) outlined what he believed should be the framework for defining a military action in Syria:
- The first is what a good outcome looks like;
- the second is whether such an outcome can be engineered;
- the third is whether we will be part of engineering such an outcome, and
- the fourth is how much of the eventual outcome we want to have ownership of.
Mr. President: You can and ought to answer these questions. I have no doubt that when you soon appear before the U.S. Congress, you will be able to adequately answer questions about what America's objectives in the Syrian conflict should be, and how America can meet those objectives.