Skip to main content

Syria a distraction from real U.S. challenges

By Newt Gingrich, CNN Contributor
updated 11:51 AM EDT, Thu September 5, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newt Gingrich: Obama right to seek Congress OK on Syria, but it's not his real problem
  • He says Washington avoiding three real strategic challenges. The first: Iran and nukes
  • Second: Radical Islam grows unabated and is a bigger threat than Syria, he says
  • Third: Military cuts threaten U.S. security, Gingrich says

Editor's note: Newt Gingrich is the new co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," which makes its debut on Monday, September 9.

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama did the right thing in going to Congress for a debate and a vote on a proposed national security action.

He could have followed precedent set by presidents of both parties and launched missiles under his powers as commander in chief. In an America tired by 12 years of continuous warfare (the longest in our history), however, it was wise to engage the American people through their elected representatives in the Congress.

Unfortunately the president picked the wrong topic on which to have a national debate. Launching a few missiles at Syria is a tactical action that will not change history. Obama has already pledged that he is seeking a limited engagement and is not trying to replace the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad.

Gingrich: Stay out of Syria's civil war

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is already redrafting the president's proposed language to make the resolution even more restrictive and even more tactical and of even less meaning.

Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich

The most powerful nation in the world does not need a three- or four-week debate about a limited, symbolic, tactical use of power.

What we do need are three debates about very large strategic challenges.

Each of these challenges is massively bigger and vastly more important to our survival than the symbolic Syrian attack:

Opinion: A U.S. strike would be self-wounding

Engel: Syrians crossed the red line
Understanding Syria's Assad family
Will Congress vote for action in Syria?

First, we need a national debate about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons. We did nothing decisive for seven years under President George W. Bush even after he described Iran as part of the axis of evil (along with Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the North Korean dictatorship). In the first five years of Obama's administration, we have continued to do nothing decisive. Meanwhile, day by day the Iranian dictatorship works at acquiring nuclear weapons. This is a vastly greater threat than al-Assad's Syria.

Four questions for backers of Syria mission

Second, the threat of radical Islamism continues to spread. From Benghazi in Libya to the opposition to al-Assad in Syria to the unrest in Egypt, there is overwhelming evidence the death of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden did nothing to defeat radical Islamists. There are more of them today than ever and more coming from Western Europe and America to join the fight in Syria.

When Chechen Muslim terrorists set off a bomb in Boston, there is clear evidence that the war against radical Islamists is going to be bigger and harder than anything for which we have prepared. This is a vastly more important topic then a brief missile assault on al-Assad.

Bergen: Obama on war: A realist and risk taker

Third, the budgetary drawdowns in the American military are rapidly creating a generation of vulnerabilities unlike anything we have seen since Pearl Harbor in 1941. For 72 years, we have lived in a world of massive American power. The decline of the Navy, the gradual obsolescence of the Air Force, the shrinking of the Army and Marine Corps, and the emergence of new technologies are all combining to create a national security challenge of historic proportions.

Reforming the Pentagon procurement system and adequately sizing and funding American defense forces is a debate topic vastly more important to our survival and safety than a mere skirmish in the Mediterranean against Syria.

Both parties in Washington are unprepared for the three debates that matter. Political leaders can now immerse themselves in a debate about a minor action with minimal risk and feel useful.

Sometimes it feels as though the national leadership seeks trivia to stay busy so it doesn't have to face the really big issues.

Opinion: The only road to peace in Syria

Congress should vote no on a meaningless public relations use of military force against al-Assad and then focus on the three national security debates that really matter.

But that would mean facing up to the deeper realities threatening us. And that might be truly frightening.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Newt Gingrich.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT