The Problem of Secrecy
Persuasion is sometimes an important part of being president.
Rather few people outside the national governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France seem to want those three countries to take military action against Syria. The people of the United States oppose the use of military force against Syria. The Brits are opposed to it. I have been unable to nail down French public opinion on the subject. This article at Le Monde seems to be a rather frantic attempt at finding legal justification for an attack. Rather than translating it for you the gist appears to be that they find that justiification in the “collective security” provisions of the relevant Geneva Conventions which seems to me to be a rather slender branch. It may make more sense from the standpoint of French law.
Public opinion in the Middle East largely opposes it. Syrian refugees support it The governments of Middle Eastern countries may quietly support such action but they’re keeping their cards close to their vests.
As I’ve pointed out before, the Russian position appears to be that the UN inspectors should be allowed to do their work (that’s due on Saturday) and that military action against Syria in the absence of a Security Council resolution to that effect would be illegal. The Russians are expected to veto such a resolution.
The position of the Chinese seems to be similar to that of the Russians.
The Italian government seems to be taking a position not dissimilar from that of the Russians with the exception of giving the impression that they’d support military action if a reasonable case could be made.
“Humanitarian wars are also wars. Those who jump into them for moral reasons should also want to win them. Cruise missiles fired from destroyers can send a message and demonstrate conviction, but they cannot decide the outcome of a war. Neither can a “we’ll see” bombardment. There has to be a strategic motivation behind the moral one, and it demands perseverance.”
“There are plenty of possible strategic considerations. One is that of challenging Russia and Iran, both of which are pursuing the cold calculation of saving Assad to increase their own influence in the region. For the Obama administration, another motivation is that of demonstrating America’s weight in the region following years of retreat. Then there is the consideration of keeping Israel from launching its own, ill-considered attack. Thus, the Assad regime must go — and the Iranian/Russian bridgehead along with it. This, of course, would merely be the first war. After that, a second one would have to be fought against al-Qaida and the Al-Nusra Front to prevent the country from becoming a source of Islamist terror.”
“Following this logic shows that there is no such thing as a short and cheap war…. Moral imperative versus interests and ability: the gas attacks change little in this conundrum. Doing nothing is also not a solution. But whatever is done should be well considered. Entering a war is always easier than winning it.”
Under the circumstances, particularly in the light of the experience of a decade ago, it would appear prudent for President Obama to articulate his case for military action against Syria to the American people.
Governments keep secrets. Whether we approve of that or not it is a fact and governments will continue to keep secrets. There are good reasons to keep secrets. For example, revealing information might reveal its source. Or it might reveal to potential adversaries how much you actually know. Or don’t know.
However, not every reason that governments keep secrets is a good one. Force of habit. Distrust of the people. Some have suggested that our source for Assad’s use of chemical weapons is a foreign intercept of Syrian official communications, kindly provided by an unnamed Israeli source. It’s hard for me to see what the Israelis would have to gain from having Assad replaced by the rebels.
The point is that the more secrecy surrounds whatever information we have about the source and nature of chemical weapons attacks in Syria the more speculation there will be about that information and any actions taken based on it.
The more authoritarian a government is, the less of a problem secrecy presents for that government. It’s easier to keep secrets and your need to justify your actions is decreased. Contrariwise, the more democratic the government, the greater the problem that official secrecy presents, the ultimate hazard being to challenge the legitimacy of the government itself.
There are differing views on just what the role of representatives in a representative democracy is. For some, representatives are elected to use their own judgment. For others, they are elected to do the will of the people. The practical approach, I think, is somewhere in between. Under most circumstances representatives should be able to follow their own judgment. There are instances, however, under particularly grave circumstances in which a representative should feel the obligation to follow the will of the people.
The president, too, is a representative of the people. The president is the only official elected at large. That places an even greater obligation on the president to, when the circumstances are grave and public opinion is against him or her, make his or her case to the people.
I think that before taking military action against Syria the president should wait for the UN inspectors’ report, try to secure approval from the Congress, and try to secure approval from the United Nations Security Council. If none of those support the actions he intends to take, he should then do as he sees best, in the full recognition that there may be consequences to those decisions.
Pursuant to comments the second paragraph has been expanded and amended to include supporting evidence for the claim as well as the original evidence presented which actually contradicts the claim.