The Context of President Obama's "American Boots" Remark and Congressional Culpability on Syria

After this morning's news report that President Obama has decided to deploy a small contingent of special forces in Syria in the wake of 19-party talks considering an end to the Syrian civil war and a transition government at the end of which dictator Assaad's grip on power will come to an end, everyone who's anyone on the national media is busy telling us that in 2013, the President promised not to boot American boots on the ground in Syria.

Heck, even C-Span got in on the action, linking to the president's 2013 address, but skipping the entire half of the speech that came before the ZOMG-quote of the day.

The meme, though, neither provides context nor represents the President's remarks correctly. First, the context. The speech everyone is referring to was the President's address asking for Congress to vote on authority to use American military intervention in Syria as Assaad was using chemical weapons to kill men, women and children.

Here, in context, is what the President did say.

I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action, no matter how limited, is not going to be popular. After all, I’ve spent four and a half years working to end wars, not to start them. Our troops are out of Iraq. Our troops are coming home from Afghanistan. And I know Americans want all of us in Washington — especially me — to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home: putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class.

It’s no wonder, then, that you’re asking hard questions. So let me answer some of the most important questions that I’ve heard from members of Congress, and that I’ve read in letters that you’ve sent to me.

First, many of you have asked, won’t this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are “still recovering from our involvement in Iraq.” A veteran put it more bluntly: “This nation is sick and tired of war.”

My answer is simple: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons, and degrading Assad’s capabilities.

He was asking Congress for authority to use military force there, and was speaking only of his planned actions at that time, should Congress authorize the strike.

Congress, reaching into its infinite reserve of stupidity provided by ideologues from both political ends - Tea Party Republicans who had to oppose anything Obama supported, and the ideologue Left led by Alan Grayson, who laughed at the slaughter of Syrian children - refused, and the Islamic State took hold in Syria, thanks partly to that inaction - which is what is now provoking the president's action with regards to the special forces.

It should be noted that the Islamic State as a unified power structure across Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the middle east didn't take full root until late 2013-early 2014, and they didn't declare themselves a caliphat until June 28, 2014. In other words, subsequent to Congress' refusal to act and long after the president's speech, the terrorist threat on the ground ballooned. One of the reasons Islamic state became so strong is because the people of Syria found out that they couldn't count on the American Congress when their leaders were gassing them.

You'll hardly find anyone in the Get-Obama brigade, though, that will even remind the public of that, let alone make the very reasonable suggestion that perhaps it was that unwise inaction by Congress that has caused a prolonging and deterioration of the civil war in Syria, and has forced the president to decide to send about 50 special forces to Syria.

One should also note that the special forces President Obama is reportedly sending won't engage in battle themselves.

President Obama will deploy a small number of American Special Operations forces to Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Syria, a United States official said.

The White House is expected to make the announcement on Friday, the official said.

The team will advise and assist opposition forces who are fighting the Islamic State in Syria, providing smoother and quicker access to equipment and logistical help, the official said.

One of the reasons President Obama's foreign policy is effective and successful - from winding down wars to killing Osama bin Laden to deposing Gadaffi to the Iran nuclear deal - is because he doesn't just pay lip service to developing a strategy that meets the demands of the time and conditions on the ground rather than holding some artificial rigid position for all times and all places.

Finally, the legal situation is changed. While in 2013 the President asked for military authority to act against a humanitarian crisis and were he to act alone the legal foundation would have been the UN's plenary authority for member nations to act, American law - the AUMF, specifically - particularly and expressly authorizes the president to use force to fight terrorist groups, of which the Islamic State is one.

That's what's going on here. The world is paying the price for Congressional ideologues' refusal to act when the President urgently asked them to, and the President is doing what is necessary at this time and place. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who knows how President Obama works that this announcement comes at the same time as the international talks on Syria are beginning.

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