Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

All who opposed Iraq War must oppose Syria strike

By Van Jones
September 9, 2013 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)
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
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT