Testifying on Tuesday afternoon at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about evidence regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons, Secretary of State John Kerry urged his former colleagues to “Just think about it. In logical terms. Common sense.” Those are terms Kerry himself has rarely used in the Middle East, and which all line up against the sort of limited, deterrent punitive strike that the Obama administration has in mind.
Logic and common sense would have dictated that Kerry and his fellow Democrats leave the murderous Assad regime where it was in 2007-9 instead of rehabilitating it (in Kerry’s case, wooing it). Logic and common sense would also have dictated that President Barack Obama intervene directly in Syria in 2011 when violence first broke out, to ensure Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, Iran’s loss of an ally and American control of the aftermath.
Iran’s leaders are certainly following logic and common sense, which dictate that regional power requires not just a nuclear weapons program, or control over large amounts of oil, but a link to the Mediterranean and an ability to project threats into Europe and beyond. Syria provides that link, and therefore logic and common sense encouraged Iran to step in–especially given American withdrawal from the region under Barack Obama.
Here is some more logic and common sense. In his remarks, Kerry signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. Syria has neither signed nor acceded to that treaty, and therefore is not likely bound to its provisions. Logic and common sense, as well as international law, dictate that treaties cannot be enforced against those that do not agree to them–unless we want the U.S. to be bound by treaties we dislike drawn up by our enemies to weaken us.
Kerry told the Senate: “President Obama is not asking America to go to the war….He is asking only for the power to make clear, to make certain that the United States means what we say. That the world, when we join together in a multilateral statement, mean what we say.” Logic and common sense are completely inverted by that statement. If Obama is not asking America to go to war, why is he asking Congress for permission?
Kerry also promised that Assad would not retaliate, but said nothing of Iran. Logic and common sense dictate that retaliation is likelier from Iran, or Iranian-backed Hezbollah, than the besieged Syrian regime. He was accompanied by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, whose own logic and common sense have determined that he must reverse every single position he held while railing against the Iraq War and George W. Bush’s so-called unilateralism.
But we have long since left the realm of logic and common sense behind. As Americans recoil at the naked, ugly hypocrisy of Kerry describing his former dinner hosts (accurately) as among humanity’s worst villains, we are asked to accept the prospect of a “very limited” response that will leave Assad in power, subject Israel to attack, embolden Iran and encourage Russian and Chinese aggression. “Smart power” turns out to be quite stupid.