Barack Obama has just taken his first baby steps into a war in Syria that may define and destroy his presidency.
Thursday, while he was ringing in Gay Pride Month with LGBT revelers, a staffer, Ben Rhodes, informed the White House press that U.S. weapons will be going to the Syrian rebels. For two years Obama has stayed out of this sectarian-civil war that has consumed 90,000 lives. Why is he going in now? The White House claims it now has proof Bashar Assad used sarin gas to kill 100-150 people, thus crossing a "red line" Obama had set down as a "game changer." Defied, his credibility challenged, he had to do something.
Yet Assad's alleged use of sarin to justify U.S. intervention seems less like our reason for getting into this war than our excuse. For the White House decided to intervene weeks ago, before the use of sarin was confirmed. And why would Assad have used only tiny traces? Where is the photographic evidence of the disfigured dead? What proof have we the rebels did not fabricate the use of sarin or use it themselves to get the gullible Americans to fight their war?
Yet, why would President Obama, whose proud boast is that he will have extricated us from the Afghan and Iraq wars, as Dwight Eisenhower did from the Korean War, plunge us into a new war? He has been under severe political and foreign pressure to do something after Assad and Hezbollah recaptured the strategic town of Qusair and began preparing to recapture Aleppo, the largest city.
Should Assad succeed, it would mean a decisive defeat for the rebels and their backers: the Turks, Saudis and Qataris. And it would mean a geostrategic victory for Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, who have proven themselves reliable allies.
To prevent this defeat and humiliation, we are now going to ship arms and ammunition to keep the rebels going and in control of enough territory to negotiate a peace that will remove Assad. We are going to make this a fair fight. What is wrong with this strategy? It is the policy of an amateur. It treats war like a game. It ignores the lessons of history. And, as it continues a bloodbath with no prospect of an end to it, it is immoral.
In every great civil war of modernity - the Russian civil war of 1919-1921, the Spanish civil war of 1936-1939, the Chinese civil war of 1945-49, one side triumphs and takes power. The other loses and lives with the consequences - defeat, death, exile. What is the likely reaction to our escalation from humanitarian aid to military aid? Counter-escalation. Russia, Iran and Hezbollah are likely to rush in more weapons and troops to accelerate the progress of Assad's army before the American weapons arrive. And if they raise and call, what does Obama do?
Already, a clamor is being heard from our clients in the Middle East and Congress to crater Syria's runways with cruise missiles, to send heavy weapons to the rebels, to destroy Assad's air force on the ground, to bomb his antiaircraft sites. All of these are acts of war. Yet under the Constitution, Congress alone authorizes war. When did Congress authorize Obama to take us to war in Syria? Where does our imperial president get his authority to draw red lines and attack countries that cross them? Have we ceased to be a republic? Has Congress become a mere spectator to presidential decisions on war and peace?
As Vladimir Putin seems less the reluctant warrior, what do we do if Moscow answers the U.S. escalation by delivering on its contract to provide S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Damascus, which can cover half of Israel? Obama has put us on the escalator to a war already spilling over Syria's borders into Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, a war that is now sundering the entire Middle East along Sunni and Shia lines. He is making us de facto allies of the Al-Qaida-like al-Nusra Front, of Hamas and jihadists from all across the region, and of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi just severed ties to Syria and is demanding a "no-fly zone," which one imagines the United States, not the Egyptian air force, would have to enforce. Our elites shed tears over the 90,000 dead in Syria. But what we are about to do will not stop the killing, but simply lengthen the duration of the war and increase the numbers of dead and wounded. At the top of this escalator our country has begun to ascend is not just a proxy war with Iran in Syria, but a real war that would entail a disaster for the world economy.
If the ouster of Assad is what the Sunni powers of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt demand, why not let them do it? Anti-interventionists should demand a roll-call vote in Congress on whether Obama has the authority to take us into this Syrian war.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of "Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?"