For the sake of national security, the president is given a great deal of power under the Constitution.
EO 9066 authorized President Roosevelt to use the military to imprison Japanese Americans because we were seen as a threat to the security of this country after Pearl Harbor.
More of a stretch was President Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, although historians tell us the Japanese were defeated and close to surrendering. According the James Carroll (“The House of War,” 2006), President Eisenhower called the bombings unnecessary, and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles denounced the bombings as immoral.
Truman worked with the United Nations as the U.S. became involved in the Korean War, and President Johnson was in office when, in cooperation with the United Nations, we became involved in the Vietnam disaster.
All the above is background for President Obama’s handling of the Syrian issue regarding the use of poison gas.
The use of poison gas goes back to World War I, and actually, even before. It was used by Great Britain, France, and Germany at that time. It is estimated more than 90,000 were killed in combat due to poison gas during World War I. Because of its disastrous consequences, its use was banned by the Geneva Convention.
Obama’s warning to Syrian President Assad, cautioning him not to “cross a red line” by using poison gas, was of no effect. Some 200 to 1,400 men, women and children (numbers vary depending on the news source) perished, and there were no dire consequences. Obama’s commitment was called into question.
Rather than swift military action, Obama’s response was to ask Congress for authorization to launch a limited missile strike at Assad’s government forces.
Critics saw this as weak, and damaging to our image.
Then came a curious event: Russian President Putin offered to intercede with Assad, with whom Russia is on friendly terms. Putin’s article in **The New York Times** was seen by some as patronizing and insulting.
I am heartened by recent news of Obama talking directly with Iranian President Rouhani concerning nuclear disarmament.
This is my take on the situation: Obama’s “red line” threat was not meant to be taken at face value. For him to have ordered a military strike after confirming Assad’s use of poison gas would have invited a response, which would not have brought a resolution.
Obama, I believe, was fully aware that the American people, and Congress, are weary of war and would not agree to military action, however limited. To his credit, he is sure enough of himself in the eyes of this country, as well as the rest of the world, to accept Putin’s offer of help.
Obama inherited two disastrous wars, one of which is behind him, and the other scheduled to run down next year.
With only one exception, all past presidents since Truman have had to resort to the use of force: President George H.W. Bush resisted Saddam Hussein’s incursions during the Gulf War, and President Clinton resorted to missile strikes. Only President Carter was able to resist using the military to enforce our positions. His patient diplomacy secured release of the Iranian hostages.
The best solution involves the use of diplomacy being put into practice by Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, which can achieve our goals and save lives, be it in Iran, Israel, Syria, or anywhere else in the world.
Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.