Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

All who opposed Iraq War must oppose Syria strike

By Van Jones
updated 9:08 AM EDT, Mon September 9, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Van Jones: Yes, we want peace in Syria and an end to chemical attacks
  • But he says supporting a military strike on Syria would be to repeat mistakes from Iraq War
  • Jones: Bush took his case to the U.N.; Obama has not presented evidence there
  • He says Bush had broader coalition, no plan to win peace; Obama has no plan for war

Editor's note: Van Jones is a co-host of CNN's new "Crossfire," which makes its debut at 6:30 p.m. ET Monday. He is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media. He was President Barack Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter @VanJones68.

(CNN) -- The situation in Syria would break the heart of anyone who has one. That is why progressives desperately want peace in Syria, an end to the chemical weapons attacks and aid for the millions of refugees. Additionally, most of us support President Barack Obama and want him to have a successful presidency.

But we must be consistent. We have a worldview that requires the right thing to be done -- in the right way. That is why those of us who opposed President George W. Bush's war in Iraq have no choice but to oppose Obama's proposed attack on the Syrian regime.

There are three reasons, at least.

Van Jones
Van Jones

1. In 2003, we condemned Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell for relying on dodgy evidence of weapons of mass destruction while making the case for war before the United Nations. But at least Bush took his case to the United Nations. Obama has not formally presented any evidence to the United Nations -- at all.

2. We attacked Bush for conjuring up his own, personal "coalition of the willing" to launch a war. Bush's alliance was cobbled together largely out of a bunch of countries that many people in the United States had never heard of -- some of which were sending only a handful of troops. And yet Obama has virtually no coalition at all. Even the United Kingdom won't strike with us on this one. So Obama would be attacking with a smaller coalition than Bush had.

3. We condemned Bush's team because, even though our forces won the war, Bush had no plan to win the peace. Unfortunately, Obama seems to have no plan to win the war -- or the peace. He is just proposing "limited, proportional strikes" -- without explaining what happens next after Syria inevitably strikes back somehow. It is hard to get into a "limited, proportional" fistfight.

There is no way to keep this war limited. The region is a powder keg with Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iran poised to retaliate for any strike against their ally Bashar al-Assad. Assad could drag Israel into the conflict if he struck that nation.

Furthermore, the Assad regime has had weeks to fortify or hide prime targets, including his chemical weapons from attack by air. All of these may well mean, that despite Secretary of State John Kerry's protestations, we may have to engage in a land war and put "boots on the grounds" to achieve our military objectives. Mission creep and chaos are normal parts of war.

'Crossfire' hosts on action in Syria
Van Jones on watching 'Crossfire' with dad

Instead of jumping feet first into a war, we need to get creative. Two options short of war leap to mind.

1. Disrupt and deter without violence. Cyberwarfare has proven extremely effective containing Iran and disrupting its nuclear program through the Stuxnet virus U.S. intelligence agencies developed. A similar cyber campaign aimed at disabling the communications and weapons delivery systems of the Assad regime could "degrade" al-Assad's ability to attack innocent civilians just the same.

2. Give peace a chance. Obama has slowly built up a coalition of the reluctant. From Jordan to Germany, our allies are strongly opposed to al-Assad's acts but hesitate to endorse, let alone join, a U.S. military coalition to hit the Syrian leader. We all want an end to the civil war. Let's engage Russia, Iran and the Arab League and renew efforts for a conference to end the conflict. If the backers of the rebels and al-Assad's regime are shamed into a summit, the civil war may find a peaceful resolution. It may not work, but it's worth a try.

The ongoing situation in Syria is a tragedy. The suspected use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians by the Assad regime is despicable and deserves our condemnation. But military strikes by the United States under these conditions won't make the situation better -- and could potentially make it much worse.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Van Jones.

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 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 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