Editor's note: This was written before President Obama's Saturday announcement that he would seek congressional approval for a military strike against Syria.
On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry carefully laid out the Obama administration's case for some kind of action, presumably military, against Syria for that nation's alleged use of chemical weapons after President Obama warned it not to. The United States must confront Syria, Kerry said, because "our credibility" and our moral values were at stake. Not once did he mention our national security.
The parallels to Colin Powell's 2003 speech justifing military action against Iraq are striking, as are the differences. Powell, like Kerry, cited a long list of intelligence "we know" (a phrase both of them used) about illigal activities involving weapons of mass destruction. But Powell did two things Kerry did not: He linked Iraq to international terrorism, a direct national security threat to the United States; and he pointed out that the United Nations was obligated by its own resolutions to hold Iraq accountable.
Many of the things Powell said "we know" we did not, in fact, know. That gives pause regarding Kerry's claims. Moreover, Kerry did not even attempt to show that Syria's use of chemical weapons posed any threat to the United States.
Whereas the flawed case for the Iraq War was built upon both international law and the widespread belief that Saddam Hussein was a real threat to our national security, Kerry's case for action in Syria was built upon the embarassment that Bashar al-Assad called President Obama's bluff. That is a terrible case for war, as Kerry well knows.