Tuesday, September 3, 2013



It was a parody of parry and thrust today as the President pledged directly that his plan for Syria did include “boots on the ground. This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan,” he added.

Then, the White House sent its top 3 executors of the threatened American military action in Syria to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Although both Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey also spoke, it was Secretary of State John Kerry who parried and thrusted solo, disagreeing with himself on that delicate “boots on the ground” issue.

In explaining why he and President Obama would prefer a Congressional that did not take the [BOTG] option “off the table,” Kerry volunteered some hypothetical situations in which military necessity might require the use of US ground forces -- to keep Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile from falling into the wrong hands, or to keep the Al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra brigade from capitalizing in the aftermath of the US attack.

One might guess that President Obama offered similar “hypotheticals” to suggest what potential dangers he would not ignore in his closed door meeting with top Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, John Boehner and Eric Cantor, during which he won their support.

But the Senate Hearing Room was out in the open, covered live on TV, and there, Secretary Kerry’s perhaps too-detailed defense of his Commander-in-Chief’s prerogatives had put his boots, hip-deep into, um, trouble.  He had just, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza said  “opened the door” to the very quagmire many Senators rushed to say they were determined to prevent: ground warfare, fighters injured, killed or captured, rescue missions, and finally, the need to hold and build from whatever successes the military mission to Syria might have won.

No, no, no, you’ve got me all wrong, the backtracking diplomat pleaded. And then he made his summary statement, “There will be no American boots on the ground, with respect to the civil war.”  Cillizza said Kerry had flip-flopped, had been for boots, ”before he was against them,” and that this reversal would drive the coming news cycle.

Cillizza seems to have been incorrect on both counts.  First, Kerry’s final words do keep the door open, since they pledge only, no ground forces “with respect to the civil war.”  And second, the news cycle immediately picked up on the likely Resolution text itself.

So, yes, fighting in the civil war is out, but what about ground troops with respect to the objectives of the United States” in Syria, which the actual Resolution text printed by the New York Times, http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/782949/senate-resoultion-on-syria-military-force.pdf says are to “(1) respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Syrian government… (2) deter Syria’s use of such weapons…and (3) degrade Syria’s capacity to use such weapons in the future.”

None of that mentions “civil war.” 

Here’s how the Resolution draft put the boots question: LIMITATION. The authority granted in section 2 does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations."

"Combat operations?" Would Special Forces ground troops inserted into Syria as Forward Air Observers, considered pretty necessary if our munitions are to hit the right targets to fulfill our “objectives,” be considered part of “combat operations?  What about other Special Forces who might be needed on the ground to properly place explosives to achieve maximum deterrence and degradation of Syrian chemical weapons systems at minimal risk of some kind of civilian-killing disaster?  Are they combat forces?  And what about the troops sent in to protect and support them?  They might meet “resistance,” as they go about their mission.  Does that make it combat, and thus forbidden?

According to the Washington Post’s Anne Gearan and Ed O’Keefe, aides who were writing the resolutions said it was understood that it would “permit the deployment of a small rescue mission in the event of an emergency.”


Or perhaps those tasks are already spoken for, not by ground troops, but by folks already inserted by the CIA, as "helpers" for the 50 or so "trained" guerillas the White House told the NY Times had already been sent into Syria? Or maybe, our "trainees" will do it themselves without "on the ground" supervision?  Wanna bet?  Either way, they fulfill the letter of the Resolution.

But, how much does all this verbal analysis matter.  Once the Congress ‘opens the door” for military action in Syria, how much control can (and should) it have over the President’s ability to deal with “changing circumstances?”

Many readers on the Constitution say, the Commander in Chief runs warfare, and even though the President and all his men insist they are not going to war, whatever it is, once it’s underway, it’s the President’s doing, beyond Legislative interference.

My guess is, the Senate has “forced on the President,” a “LIMITATION” that may not limit anything, should things go either dangerously wrong, or opportunely right in Syria.  And my guess is, they are pretty pleased about it.

It’s only what the sports announcers would call “a partial score,” but notwithstanding the day’s “unforced turnovers,” The President is on his way to “victory.”


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