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 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT