by Van Jones
(CNN) — The situation in Syria would break the heart of anyone who has one. That is why progressives desperately want peace in Syria, an end to the chemical weapons attacks and aid for the millions of refugees. Additionally, most of us support President Barack Obama and want him to have a successful presidency.
But we must be consistent. We have a worldview that requires the right thing to be done — in the right way. That is why those of us who opposed President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq have no choice but to oppose Obama’s proposed attack on the Syrian regime.
There are three reasons, at least.
1. In 2003, we condemned Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell for relying on dodgy evidence of weapons of mass destruction while making the case for war before the United Nations. But at least Bush took his case to the United Nations. Obama has not formally presented any evidence to the United Nations — at all.
2. We attacked Bush for conjuring up his own, personal “coalition of the willing” to launch a war. Bush’s alliance was cobbled together largely out of a bunch of countries that many people in the United States had never heard of — some of which were sending only a handful of troops. And yet Obama has virtually no coalition at all. Even the United Kingdom won’t strike with us on this one. So Obama would be attacking with a smaller coalition than Bush had.
3. We condemned Bush’s team because, even though our forces won the war, Bush had no plan to win the peace. Unfortunately, Obama seems to have no plan to win the war — or the peace. He is just proposing “limited, proportional strikes” — without explaining what happens next after Syria inevitably strikes back somehow. It is hard to get into a “limited, proportional” fistfight.
There is no way to keep this war limited. The region is a powder keg with Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran poised to retaliate for any strike against their ally Bashar al-Assad. Assad could drag Israel into the conflict if he struck that nation.
Furthermore, the Assad regime has had weeks to fortify or hide prime targets, including his chemical weapons from attack by air. All of these may well mean, that despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s protestations, we may have to engage in a land war and put “boots on the grounds” to achieve our military objectives. Mission creep and chaos are normal parts of war.
Instead of jumping feet first into a war, we need to get creative. Two options short of war leap to mind.
1. Disrupt and deter without violence. Cyberwarfare has proven extremely effective containing Iran and disrupting its nuclear program through the Stuxnet virus U.S. intelligence agencies developed. A similar cyber campaign aimed at disabling the communications and weapons delivery systems of the Assad regime could “degrade” al-Assad’s ability to attack innocent civilians just the same.
2. Give peace a chance. Obama has slowly built up a coalition of the reluctant. From Jordan to Germany, our allies are strongly opposed to al-Assad’s acts but hesitate to endorse, let alone join, a U.S. military coalition to hit the Syrian leader. We all want an end to the civil war. Let’s engage Russia, Iran and the Arab League and renew efforts for a conference to end the conflict. If the backers of the rebels and al-Assad’s regime are shamed into a summit, the civil war may find a peaceful resolution. It may not work, but it’s worth a try.
The ongoing situation in Syria is a tragedy. The suspected use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians by the Assad regime is despicable and deserves our condemnation. But military strikes by the United States under these conditions won’t make the situation better — and could potentially make it much worse.
Editor’s note: Van Jones is a co-host of CNN’s new “Crossfire,” which makes its debut at 6:30 p.m. ET Monday. He is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media. He was President Barack Obama’s green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter @VanJones68.