(Newt Gingrich) – Leaders who would consider involving the United States in Syria’s civil war against the will of the American people should weigh their decision against Ronald Reagan’s four principles for “the application of military force abroad.” Reagan established these principles after nearly 300 American and French troops were killed in an attack on their barracks in Beirut in 1983. He listed them in his autobiography:
1. The United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest.
2. If the decision is made to commit our forces to combat abroad, it must be done with the clear intent and support needed to win. It should not be a halfway or tentative commitment, and there must be clearly defined and realistic objectives.
3. Before we commit our troops to combat, there must be reasonable assurance that the cause we are fighting for and the actions we take will have the support of the American people and Congress. (We all felt that the Vietnam War had turned into such a tragedy because military action had been undertaken without sufficient assurances that the American people were behind it.)
4. Even after all these other combat tests are met, our troops should be committed to combat abroad only as a last resort, when no other choice is available. (Ronald Reagan: An American Life, 466)
Measure the Obama administration’s muddled case for war in Syria against these principles.
“The clear intent and support needed to win”? Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Wednesday in a Congressional hearing that the mission would cost in the range of “tens of millions of dollars.” Tomahawk missiles cost about one million dollars apiece. If it’s going to cost tens (not hundreds) of millions, what are we talking about? Lobbing fifty or so missiles onto targets which the President has given the Syrian regime weeks to evacuate?
Last night, ABC News and CNN reported the Pentagon will potentially use B-52 and B-2 bombers, indicating a much larger campaign that would likely cost more than the “tens of millions” Secretary Hagel predicted.
Indeed, the administration appears to be simply thinking out loud about taking the country to war.
That’s exactly the phrase Secretary of State John Kerry used to describe part of his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he waffled back and forth on the question of whether the President might require American combat troops in Syria.
Early in the hearing he stated unequivocally, “We all agree, there will be no American boots on the ground.”
Then when asked if the administration would accept a Congressional resolution prohibiting “boots on the ground,” Secretary Kerry said it would prefer not to, before proceeding to imagine a scenario in which American ground forces might end up in Syria.
Then he said he had just been “thinking out loud,” and that he really meant that the administration would have “no problem” with a resolution which left it with “zero capacity for American troops on the ground.”
In the same hearing, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he couldn’t speak to the scope of the authorization the President is seeking from Congress. When Senator Bob Corker asked, “What is it you’re seeking?”, the general replied, “I can’t answer that, what we’re seeking.”
The Obama administration is seemingly making this up as its goes along. On Sunday the Wall Street Journal reported that President Obama made the last-minute decision to seek Congressional approval “after returning from a 45-minute walk.” Yet the President wouldn’t ask lawmakers to return to Washington early. Only days after sending Secretary Kerry in front of the cameras to make what sounded like an urgent case for a strike, the administration reversed its tone completely, saying it didn’t matter if the U.S. launched its attack tomorrow or a month from now.
How can Congress be expected to vote in favor of improvisational war planning–especially for action that meets none of the criteria President Reagan described?
(Mr. Gingrich is a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives)