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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."

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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.

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

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