John Kerry's Lie: 'The President Is Not Asking You to Go to War'

The secretary of state is dissembling in a most unconvincing manner.
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Sources familiar with U.S. planning for a strike on Syria have told CNN that "strikes on command bunkers, airfields or the artillery batteries and rocket launchers used to fire chemical projectiles are among the possibilities being considered."

In other words, acts of war.

War is the word for when one military gets powerful explosives, fires them at adversaries in another country, and destroys their military hardware and weapons. If any country on earth struck American bunkers, airfields, or artillery batteries, virtually every last American would understand that as an act of war. 

Yet Secretary of State John Kerry has gone before Congress and said this:

When people are asked, do you want to go to war in Syria? Of course not. Everybody, 100 percent of Americans would say no. We say no. We don’t want to go to war in Syria either. That’s not what we’re here to ask. The president is not asking you to go to war, he’s not asking you to declare war, he’s not asking you to send one American troop to war. He is simply saying we need to take an action that can degrade the capacity of a man who’s been willing to kill his own people by breaking a nearly 100-year-old prohibition, and will we stand up and be counted to say we won’t do that. That’s not -- you know, I just don’t consider that going to war in the classic sense of coming to Congress and asking for a declaration of war and training troops and sending people abroad and putting young Americans in harm’s way. That’s not what the president is asking for here.

That's really something. One wonders who will select the targets in Syria and fire the explosives into its territory if not trained U.S. troops operating abroad.

See here: "The USS Nimitz aircraft carrier is moving westward toward the Red Sea, although it has not yet received orders to support a potential US strike on Syria." Perhaps the warship is secretly staffed by next-generation robot seamen. Otherwise, when I read that "the nuclear-powered carrier was set to head back to its home port in Everett, Wash., after a months-long deployment to the Arabian Sea when it reportedly received orders to stay in the area," I can only presume that American military personnel are both being kept away from home and put in more harm's way than they'd be in Washington State because of the Obama Administration's decision to keep open the possibility of waging war on Syria. 

As Peter Beinart explains, a strike on Syria wouldn't even come directly from the Nimitz:

“War,” wrote Carl von Clausewitz, “is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale.” It is “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.” By that classic, and noncontroversial, definition, what the Obama administration is contemplating in Syria is absolutely war. If it wins congressional authorization (and perhaps even if it doesn’t), the United States will reportedly strike Syria with Tomahawk missiles launched from destroyers and submarines in the Mediterranean Sea. Each Tomahawk carries a single 1,000-pound bomb or 166 smaller cluster bombs.

Who will operate these destroyers and submarines? Hessian mercenaries? Is Kerry able to summon the Dead Men of Dunharrow? Or will Americans be there?

Beinart goes on:

The United States is reportedly considering launching several hundred Tomahawk missiles against various Syrian military units and installations. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has acknowledged that “there is a probability for collateral damage.” The Obama administration, in other words, is planning to kill and maim an unspecified number of Syrians in order to deter Bashir al-Assad from again using chemical weapons or to uphold the credibility of a potential American military strike against Iran. That’s war.

So how can Kerry say it’s not? Because the ships launching the Tomahawks will be far from Syria, and thus apparently impervious to Syrian retaliation. War, in other words, is what happens when other nations kill Americans, not the other way around.

Adding to the absurdity of Kerry's position is his previous statement that the United States faces a "Munich moment" in Syria. That analogy that never made much sense, but that makes even less sense when the person who is making it then insists that he isn't calling for war. I guess Neville Chamberlain's Britain needn't have declared classical war against the Nazis, just "degraded their capacities," like the Japanese did to us at Pearl Harbor, where they didn't put "boots on the ground."

Trying to fool Americans into thinking you're not trying to take the country to war when you plainly are is among the more disgraceful things a secretary of state can do, and Kerry is discrediting himself by doing so. And it's telling that he initially declined to commit the Obama Administration to never putting any boots on the ground, saying it could conceivably come to that if Syria descended into chaos and the U.S. had to secure its stocks of chemical weapons. 

Make no mistake: What's being decided is whether America will be at war in Syria. Whatever you think ought to be done, that is the question now before Congress. And the fact that the Obama Administration won't acknowledge the truth is telling. 

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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