General Powell’s finest years were as chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff from 1989 to 1993 where he formulated the “Powell Doctrine,” summarized by the following eight questions (2) that all have to be answered affirmatively before military action is taken by the United States:
- Is a vital national security interest threatened?
- Do we have a clear attainable objective?
- Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
- Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
- Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
- Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
- Is the action supported by the American people?
- Do we have genuine broad international support?
In addition, Powell echoed Casper Weinberger’s admonition that U.S. troops only should be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning.
Christopher Preble has written extensively on the perils of the U.S. assuming the role of uninvited policeman to world. In his books he stresses the huge cost to the US of allowing nations and regions around the globe to free-ride on US Military expenditures of funds, resources and soldiers’ lives. He recently wrote(3) :
The deeply dysfunctional Syrian state is not something outsiders have the tools to repair. Cruise missiles launched from ships and submarines won’t persuade the divided Syrian opposition to unite around a common goal, nor are they likely to cause President Bashar Assad’s supporters to capitulate and throw in their lot with the rebels.
But such strikes will result in additional death and destruction on the ground.
Some market participants argue that since Syria’s population is merely 20 million, and pre-war production of oil of just 385,000 barrels a day mostly consumed internally, that what happens in Syria shouldn’t have a major impact on global markets. Such suggestions are misguided. U.S. entanglement in Syria augers a precipitation of WWIII, pitting Obama and Hollande, against Russia, China, Iran, numerous countries in the middle east, sectarian and secular populations around the world, notably the US congress, and US military leaders.
Obama has options other than bombing Syrian targets to dissuade dictators from using chemical weapons. At this time it appears that he has been turned back by the United Nations, by our allies, by Congress, and by American people. There is no loss of face in doing the right thing. “Standing Down," not following through with enforcing the “Red Line” involves some political cost. But now is not the time for Obama to calculate the political cost of losing face. And it is not the time for hawks on his left or right to seize on the potential political gain.