Whether he knows it or not, Barack Obama is leading the United States into war with Syria. It is unclear whether he conceives of U.S. military strikes in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its own people as war, but that’s precisely what it would be.
Congressional debate over whether to authorize force in Syria can serve a useful purpose if it forces the administration to clarify what it hopes to achieve and how it intends to achieve that object: in other words, our political aims and our strategy to achieve them. Specifically, Congress should ask the administration to answer the following questions:
What objectives does the administration seek to achieve in Syria?
How does it anticipate that the use of force will lead to the fulfillment of those objectives?
What is the administration’s theory of victory? That is, what are the assumptions that link the use of military force to the achievement of victory?
How does the administration believe that Syria will respond to the U.S. use of force?
And finally, how does the administration anticipate that this will end?
After all, Carl von Clausewitz’s masterpiece, “On War,” reminds us that in war it is crucial “not to take the first step without considering the last.”
Tom Mahnken, a visiting scholar at the Center for Strategic Studies at The Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, is a past deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy planning. He wrote this for Foreign Policy.