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 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT