Skip to main content

Obama administration confused, conflicted over Syria

By Newt Gingrich, CNN Contributor
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Mon September 9, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newt Gingrich: Administration officials seem confused on basic points
  • He asks: Are they for military action or for peace? What are the objectives?
  • How much will it cost? Who supplied Syria with chemical weapons?
  • Gingrich: Administration officials have wavered on these vital questions

Editor's note: Newt Gingrich is a co-host of CNN's new "Crossfire," which makes its debut on Monday, September 9, at 6:30 p.m. ET. A former speaker of the House, Gingrich is a Republican strategist who works with candidates who share his vision.

(CNN) -- No administration in modern times has been as confused, contradictory and incompetent in trying to make the case for war as this White House has been in its push for action against the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Listen to the words of the Obama administration:

On war and peace: At the G20 Summit on Friday, President Barack Obama said as he pushed for strikes in Syria, "I was elected to end wars, not start them. I've spent the last four and a half years doing everything I can to reduce our reliance on military power as a means of meeting our international obligations and protecting the American people."

Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich

Then Obama signed onto a joint statement with 10 other nations present at St. Petersburg's G20 Summit, "Recognizing that Syria's conflict has no military solution, we reaffirm our commitment to seek a peaceful political settlement through full implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communique."

On boots on the ground: Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry wavered on whether U.S. ground forces could be deployed in Syria.

Kerry told Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, "I don't want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country."

Then Kerry backtracked when pressed by Ranking Member Bob Corker, "Let me be very clear now, because I don't want anything coming out of this hearing that leaves any door open to any possibility, so let's shut that door now as tight as we can." Kerry explained his contradiction by admitting, "I was thinking out loud."

Newt Gingrich's wild animal adventures

On who supplied al-Assad with chemical weapons: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week when asked where al-Assad got his chemical weapons, "The Russians supply them."

The Russians called that a lie and the Defense Department walked back the comment, saying Hagel meant Russians supply conventional weapons to Syria.

On war objectives: Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, couldn't answer even the most basic question on U.S. objectives on a Syrian intervention. When Corker asked, "What is it you're seeking?" Dempsey replied, "I can't answer that, what we're seeking."

On the cost of war: Hagel told the House Committee the entire Syria campaign's cost, "would be in the tens of millions of dollars, that kind of range." Since Tomahawk missiles cost about $1 million each, the administration would only be able to deploy several dozen missiles before going over its own budget.

So this administration does not know if it wants war or peace, if it will need to deploy ground troops, where the chemical weapons it wants to eradicate come from, what our war objectives are and how much this war will cost.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attacked Kerry's assertion that al Qaeda and radical Islamists comprise only a small part of the anti-Assad rebels, saying Kerry "is lying and he knows that he is lying. This is sad."

That a foreign leader would so forcefully call America's top diplomat a liar points to the administration's growing credibility gap with the world and the American people. That is sad.

Retired Gen. Robert Scales chalks up the public relations disaster to amateurism, writing "[Military leaders] are embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the Obama administration's attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense. None of the White House staff has any experience in war or understands it."

Scales has a point -- when the sitting secretary of state, while discussing matters of war, admits to "thinking out loud," something is very wrong.

Every member of Congress should vote his or her conscience on matters of peace and war. After weeks of misstatements, contradictions and gaffes, it is becoming clear that the administration's leaders are in way over their heads on these weighty matters.

For members carefully weighing the decision to authorize force, they should know that a yes vote rewards the most incompetent, atonal security team in our lifetime. It will only encourage more incompetence.

If they can't even explain the war, how can they win it?

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 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 6:48 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 4:49 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT