War Talk Is Cheap

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DoD Photo by Glenn Fawcett

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifying on Syria before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday

Two of the most virulently anti-U.S. regimes in the world – Iran and Syria – are painting bulls-eyes on their backs by their deeds. But the Obama Administration is seeking non-military solutions in both cases. It’s driving some lawmakers nuts.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, ranking Republican on the armed services committee, renewed his call Wednesday for the U.S. to take the lead in launching airstrikes to help stop the year-long rebellion in Syria that has killed 7,500 people. Once again, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta cautioned restraint.

“What doesn’t make sense is to take unilateral action right now,” Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing into the continued brutality of Syrian President Bashar Assad against his own citizens.

“Americans should lead in this. America should be standing up,” McCain said, citing prior U.S.-led wars against brutal leaders in the Balkans and Libya. “We’re not leading, Mr. Secretary.”

In recent days there have been growing calls, largely from Republican lawmakers and GOP White House wanna-bes, for U.S. military action against Syria and Iran, for its nuclear-development work. The scab of Iraq hasn’t yet healed, and Afghanistan remains a sucking chest wound. The American people seem to have little desire for opening new theaters of war.

One thing those advocating war continue to ignore is that wars launched by the U.S. are best fought when the nation unites behind the cause. The first day of war is usually the best, if such a word can even be applied to the process.

That too has been on display this week. “If the slaughter continues I do believe that the world, including the United States, has the capability to neutralize the slaughter through air power,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and McCain ally, told Panetta.

But less than 48 hours earlier, he was grumbling about the course of the Afghan war. Graham was especially upset over President Hamid Karzai’s demands that the U.S. turn over its prisoners to Afghan custody and halt the night raids that the U.S. military says represent a key weapon against the Taliban.

“If the president of the country can’t understand how irrational it is to expect us to turn over prisoners, and if he doesn’t understand that the night raids have been the biggest blow to the Taliban…then there is no hope of winning. None,” Graham told Josh Rogin of The Cable blog on Tuesday. “So if he insists that all the prisoners have to be turned over by March 9 and that we have to stop night raids, that means we will fail in Afghanistan and that means Lindsey Graham pulls the plug. It means that I no longer believe we can win and we might as well get out of there sooner rather than later.”

That, no doubt, will come as good news to the families of the 1,909 Americans who have given their all there.