A missile strike on Syria generates scant enthusiasm in the United States.
Already one can perceive the outlines of a new anti-war movement in this country.
In the past, anti-war efforts have focused on the harm we cause in the countries where we intervene. Now anti-war sentiment is more broadly based. The harm we cause ourselves is assuming new prominence.
A new anti-war movement will be more sophisticated than in the past. In 2003, when Secretary of State Colin Powell gave the U.N. Security Council a package of false data about Iraq, the news media accepted it.
Anti-war elements debunked Powell’s data within days, but that debunking did not reach the public at large. Now, as Secretary of State John Kerry recites new intelligence data to rationalize a missile strike in Syria, scrutiny is quick in coming.
Kerry has expressed “high confidence” that on Aug. 21, the government of Syria used a nerve agent called sarin against a neighborhood in the eastern suburbs of Damascus.
History should give pause, and not only the Iraq episode of 2003. Back in 1998, the Clinton administration sent ocean-based missiles into a pharmaceutical production plant in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, destroying the plant.
A component of a different nerve agent, one called VX, was allegedly being produced at the plant, to be handed over by Sudan to al-Qaida. A State Department press release at the time recited, “The U.S. is confident that this Sudanese government-controlled facility is involved in the production of chemical weapons agents.”
That “confidence” was later shattered when independent analysts were unable to confirm any traces of such production at the plant.
Regardless of how the evidence plays out on Syria and sarin, anti-war activists are focusing on examining facts.
Also gaining more scrutiny are the aims of a military action. Already Congress is skeptical that a missile strike in Syria would serve a valid purpose.
President Obama claims that striking Syria is in our “national interest,” but his articulation of that interest is muddled, since Syria’s weaponry does not threaten the United States. He hints at “degrading” Syria’s overall military capacity, so perhaps the chemical weapons are not his only focus.
Are we sending a message to Iran, perhaps unrelated to the chemical weapons issue? Are we attacking only because President Obama inadvisedly made a threat about use of chemical weapons as a “red line”?
The anti-war movement can now count on greater public support. It is able to draw on public sentiment that government might be better off minding the store at home.
John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University. Readers may write to him at Moritz College Law, 55 West 12th St., Columbus, Ohio 43210.