Skip to main content

Syria a distraction from real U.S. challenges

By Newt Gingrich, CNN Contributor
September 5, 2013 -- Updated 1551 GMT (2351 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newt Gingrich: Obama right to seek Congress OK on Syria, but it's not his real problem
  • He says Washington avoiding three real strategic challenges. The first: Iran and nukes
  • Second: Radical Islam grows unabated and is a bigger threat than Syria, he says
  • Third: Military cuts threaten U.S. security, Gingrich says

Editor's note: Newt Gingrich is the new co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," which makes its debut on Monday, September 9.

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama did the right thing in going to Congress for a debate and a vote on a proposed national security action.

He could have followed precedent set by presidents of both parties and launched missiles under his powers as commander in chief. In an America tired by 12 years of continuous warfare (the longest in our history), however, it was wise to engage the American people through their elected representatives in the Congress.

Unfortunately the president picked the wrong topic on which to have a national debate. Launching a few missiles at Syria is a tactical action that will not change history. Obama has already pledged that he is seeking a limited engagement and is not trying to replace the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad.

Gingrich: Stay out of Syria's civil war

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is already redrafting the president's proposed language to make the resolution even more restrictive and even more tactical and of even less meaning.

Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich

The most powerful nation in the world does not need a three- or four-week debate about a limited, symbolic, tactical use of power.

What we do need are three debates about very large strategic challenges.

Each of these challenges is massively bigger and vastly more important to our survival than the symbolic Syrian attack:

Opinion: A U.S. strike would be self-wounding

Engel: Syrians crossed the red line
Understanding Syria's Assad family
Will Congress vote for action in Syria?

First, we need a national debate about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons. We did nothing decisive for seven years under President George W. Bush even after he described Iran as part of the axis of evil (along with Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the North Korean dictatorship). In the first five years of Obama's administration, we have continued to do nothing decisive. Meanwhile, day by day the Iranian dictatorship works at acquiring nuclear weapons. This is a vastly greater threat than al-Assad's Syria.

Four questions for backers of Syria mission

Second, the threat of radical Islamism continues to spread. From Benghazi in Libya to the opposition to al-Assad in Syria to the unrest in Egypt, there is overwhelming evidence the death of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden did nothing to defeat radical Islamists. There are more of them today than ever and more coming from Western Europe and America to join the fight in Syria.

When Chechen Muslim terrorists set off a bomb in Boston, there is clear evidence that the war against radical Islamists is going to be bigger and harder than anything for which we have prepared. This is a vastly more important topic then a brief missile assault on al-Assad.

Bergen: Obama on war: A realist and risk taker

Third, the budgetary drawdowns in the American military are rapidly creating a generation of vulnerabilities unlike anything we have seen since Pearl Harbor in 1941. For 72 years, we have lived in a world of massive American power. The decline of the Navy, the gradual obsolescence of the Air Force, the shrinking of the Army and Marine Corps, and the emergence of new technologies are all combining to create a national security challenge of historic proportions.

Reforming the Pentagon procurement system and adequately sizing and funding American defense forces is a debate topic vastly more important to our survival and safety than a mere skirmish in the Mediterranean against Syria.

Both parties in Washington are unprepared for the three debates that matter. Political leaders can now immerse themselves in a debate about a minor action with minimal risk and feel useful.

Sometimes it feels as though the national leadership seeks trivia to stay busy so it doesn't have to face the really big issues.

Opinion: The only road to peace in Syria

Congress should vote no on a meaningless public relations use of military force against al-Assad and then focus on the three national security debates that really matter.

But that would mean facing up to the deeper realities threatening us. And that might be truly frightening.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Newt Gingrich.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 1750 GMT (0150 HKT)
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
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
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
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
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?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
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
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT