It is sometimes difficult — as President Barack Obama has discovered regarding Syria — to tell the good guys from the bad guys.
Especially when there would appear to be no good guys.
Back in June of 1943 — fully a year away from the Normandy invasion — British Prime Minister Winston Churchill found himself having to referee a dispute between Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud about who would lead the resistance movement in French North Africa.
As far as recognizing any French government, Churchill didn’t really see any good choice between the haughty de Gaulle and the politically inept Giraud. Churchill advised his negotiator — future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan — to “play for time.”
“There can be no question of our giving recognition until we know what it is we have to recognize,” Churchill said in a cable. “See St. Matthew, chapter vii, verse 16: ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?’”
Obama is confronted with a similar situation as Congress ponders whether to punish Syrian President Bashir al-Assad for using poison gas on his own citizens.
Obama has been wary of aiding the rebels fighting Assad’s regime because we really don’t know what kind of government would emerge if the dictator were overthrown. By bombing Assad’s troops, would the United States become — as some have called it — al-Qaida’s air force?
Until he could “know them by their fruits,” Obama’s military hands were tied. That’s until Assad deployed sarin nerve gas upon innocent civilians, crossing Obama’s “red line” about utilizing chemical weapons.
Surveys have shown that Americans have little stomach for a major military operation in Syria. A majority in a poll this week say they are against bombing Assad’s regime.
Great Britain will be sitting this one out after Parliament rejected any involvement in an attack on Assad. France will follow if America leads, but essentially, the United States would have to go it alone.
That’s why Obama decided to seek congressional approval before launching cruise missiles and other weapons into Syria. If Congress rejects the president, it would be a major embarrassment, but if it approves, his hand is strengthened immeasurably.
By adhering to the War Powers Act by seeking Congress’ OK, Obama’s move strengthens not only his hand but American democracy.
We live in a very impatient society, with shrill voices wanting instant action, instant gratification. Amid this, Obama has chosen to take his time and gather support. If he succeeds, it could turn out to be brilliant politics as well as a necessary move to prevent future use of poison gas and ensure United States credibility.
We urge our New York members of Congress to vote for approval.