Did the President Declare
"Secret War" Against Syria and Iran?
By Steve Clemons
Note" -- -- Washington
intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are
abuzz today with speculation that the President,
yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive
Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of
the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and
The President may have started a new secret, informal
war against Syria and Iran without the consent of
Congress or any broad discussion with the country.
The bare outlines of that order may have appeared in
President Bush's Address to the Nation last night
outlining his new course on Iraq:
Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its
territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the
face of extremist challenges. This begins with
addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are
allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their
territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing
material support for attacks on American troops. We will
disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the
flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek
out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry
and training to our enemies in Iraq.
We're also taking other steps to bolster the security of
Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East.
I recently ordered the deployment of an additional
carrier strike group to the region. We will expand
intelligence-sharing and deploy Patriot air defense
systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work
with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them
resolve problems along their border. And we will work
with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons
and dominating the region.
Adding fuel to the speculation is that U.S. forces today
raided an Iranian Consulate in Arbil, Iraq and detained
five Iranian staff members. Given that Iran showed
little deference to the political sanctity of the US
Embassy in Tehran 29 years ago, it would be ironic for
Iran to hyperventilate much about the raid.
But what is disconcerting is that some are speculating
that Bush has decided to heat up military engagement
with Iran and Syria -- taking possible action within
their borders, not just within Iraq.
Some are suggesting that the Consulate raid may have
been designed to try and prompt a military response from
Iran -- to generate a casus belli for further American
If this is the case, the debate about adding four
brigades to Iraq is pathetic. The situation will get
even hotter than it now is, worsening the American
position and exposing the fact that to fight Iran both
within the borders of Iraq and into Iranian territory,
there are not enough troops in the theatre.
Bush may really have pushed the escalation pedal more
than any of us realize.
-- Steve Clemons
UPDATE: This exchange today in the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee between Senate Foreign Relations
Committee Chairman Joseph Biden and Senator Chuck Hagel
with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is full of
non-denial denials and evasive answers to Biden's query
about the President's ability to authorize military
operations against forces within Iran and Syria:
SEN. BIDEN: Last night, the president said, and I quote,
"Succeeding in Iraq requires defending its territorial
integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of
extremist challenges, and that begins with addressing
Iran and Syria." He went on to say, "We will interrupt
the flow of support for Iran and Syria, and we will seek
out and destroy networks providing advanced weaponry and
training to our enemies in Iraq."
Does that mean the president has plans to cross the
Syrian and/or Iranian border to pursue those persons or
individuals or governments providing that help?
SEC. RICE: Mr. Chairman, the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs was just asked this question, and I think he
perhaps said it best. He talked about what we're really
trying to do here which is to protect our forces and
that we are doing that by seeking out these networks
that we know are operating in Iraq. We are doing it
through intelligence. We are then able, as we did on the
21st of December, to go after these groups where we find
them. In that case, we then asked the Iraqi government
to declare them persona non grata and expel them from
the country because they were holding diplomatic
But the -- what is really being contemplated here in
terms of these networks is that we believe we can do
what we need to do inside Iraq. Obviously, the president
isn't going to rule anything out to protect our troops,
but the plan is to take down these networks in Iraq.
The broader point is that we do have and we have always
had as a country very strong interests and allies in the
Gulf Region, and we do need to work with our allies to
make certain that they have the defense capacity that
they need against growing Iranian military build-up,
that they fell that we are going to be a presence in the
Persian Gulf Region as we have been, and that we
establish confidence with the states with which we have
long alliances, that we will help defend their
interests. And that's what the president had in mind.
SEN. BIDEN: Secretary Rice, do you believe the president
has the constitutional authority to pursue across the
border into Iraq (sic/Iran) or Syria, the networks in
SEC. RICE: Well, Mr. Chairman, I think I would not like
to speculate on the president's constitutional authority
or to try and say anything that certainly would abridge
his constitutional authority, which is broad as
commander in chief.
I do think that everyone will understand that -- the
American people and I assume the Congress expect the
president to do what is necessary to protect our forces.
SEN. BIDEN: Madame Secretary, I just want to make it
clear, speaking for myself, that if the president
concluded he had to invade Iran or Iraq in pursuit of
these -- or Syria -- in pursuit of these networks, I
believe the present authorization granted the president
to use force in Iraq does not cover that, and he does
need congressional authority to do that. I just want to
set that marker.
SEN. HAGEL: I want to comment briefly on the president's
speech last night, as he presented to America and the
world his new strategy for Iraq, and then I want to ask
you a couple of questions.
I'm going to note one of the points that the president
made last night at the conclusion of his speech. When he
said, quote, "We mourn the loss of every fallen
American, and we owe it to them to build a future worthy
of their sacrifice" -- and I don't think there is a
question that we all in this country agree with that --
but I would even begin with this evaluation; that we owe
the military and their families a policy, a policy
worthy of their sacrifices, and I don't believe, Dr.
Rice, we have that policy today.
I think what the president said last night -- and I
listened carefully and read through it again this
morning -- is all about a broadened American
involvement, escalation in Iraq and the Middle East. I
do not agree with that escalation, and I would further
note that when you say, as you have here this morning,
that we need to address and help the Iraqis and pay
attention to the fact that Iraqis are being killed,
Madame Secretary, Iraqis are killing Iraqis. We are in a
civil war. This is sectarian violence out of control --
Iraqi on Iraqi. Worse, it is inter-sectarian violence --
Shi'a killing Shi'a.
To ask our young men and women to sacrifice their lives,
to be put in the middle of a civil war is wrong.
It's, first of all, in my opinion, morally wrong. It's
tactically, strategically, militarily wrong. We will not
win a war of attrition in the Middle East.
And I further note that you talk about skepticism and
pessimism of the American people and some in Congress.
That is not some kind of a subjective analysis, that is
because, Madame Secretary, we've been there almost four
years, and there's a reason for that skepticism and
pessimism, and that is based on the facts on the ground,
the reality of the dynamics.
And so I have been one, as you know, who have believed
that the appropriate focus is not to escalate, but to
try to find a broader incorporation of a framework. And
it will have to be, certainly, regional, as many of us
have been saying for a long time. That should not be new
to anyone. But it has to be more than regional, it is
going to have to be internally sponsored, and that's
going to include Iran and Syria.
When you were engaging Chairman Biden on this issue, on
the specific question -- will our troops go into Iran or
Syria in pursuit, based on what the president said last
night -- you cannot sit here today -- not because you're
dishonest or you don't understand, but no one in our
government can sit here today and tell Americans that we
won't engage the Iranians and the Syrians cross-border.
Some of us remember 1970, Madame Secretary, and that was
Cambodia, and when our government lied to the American
people and said we didn't cross the border going into
Cambodia. In fact we did. I happen to know something
about that, as do some on this committee.
So, Madame Secretary, when you set in motion the kind of
policy that the president is talking about here, it's
very, very dangerous. Matter of fact, I have to say,
Madame Secretary, that I think this speech given last
night by this president represents the most dangerous
foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if
it's carried out. I will resist it -- (interrupted by