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 1:50 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT