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 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT