An Appeal to General Dempsey on Syria


"We refer to your acknowledgment, in your letter of July 19 to Sen. Carl Levin on Syria, that a “decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly. It is no less than an act of war.” It appears that the President may order such an act of war without proper Congressional authorization.
As seasoned intelligence and military professionals solemnly sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, we have long been aware that – from private to general – it is one’s duty not to obey an illegal order. If such were given, the honorable thing would be to resign, rather than be complicit.
"  Letter to General Dempsey


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85 Responses to An Appeal to General Dempsey on Syria

  1. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    I humbly salute your moral courage.

  2. The Twisted Genius says:

    Bravo, sir! This is something I would gladly and proudly have signed in my true name.

  3. seydlitz89 says:

    Col. Lang-
    Sir, a fateful step, but a necessary one . . .
    If I may share a thought with you sir. This is the best approach . . . given the time considerations. Approaching General Dempsey at this point in time is perhaps the only option. Maybe induce the “kick the can” alternative afterall? . . . we can only hope. That’s half the idea, the other concerns the nature of this whole interaction, what it was that led to where we are now . . . it comes across most of all as a favor, one satrap to another? . . . Is that really how they see themselves?

  4. Walrus says:

    Thank you for your good work Col. Lang, I salute you.

  5. turcopolier says:

    No. You must save yourself for a future fight. pl

  6. WP says:

    It is an outrage that the cowardly Congress is not in session to assert its duty and responsibility over war! The American military should never, never be placed in such a bind.
    Congress should reconvene in special session on Tuesday to put a stop to this usurpation of its power and either decide to war or not, but to decide, openly and with measured intent.
    If this Republic is to survive, the People, acting through Congress, must reassert itself and throttle the emerging trend toward presidential dictatorship.
    Colonel, thank you for seeking to hold those who serve true to their Oath.

  7. Jose says:

    Obama is at near historic lows in the polls, ObamaCare is a mess, and his administration is entering lame duck and radioactive status. So Gen. Dempsey can not stop this Wag the Dog moment no matter what. Game over.

  8. optimax says:

    Thank you, Col, and the other signatories for this honorable petition based on your patriotic love of country.

  9. WP says:

    Members of the Committee of Correspondence, call, write, email, and fax your Senators and Representatives to recall Congress into session on Tuesday. Congress needs to make it clear to all who has the prerogative to declare war.
    It is wrong and unfair to place our brave good soldiers in jeopardy of having to decide whether the order to war is legal or not because our Congress is too cowardly to act.
    It is far better that Congress return to Washington than for General Dempsey to be forced by his conscience to resign.

  10. SAC Brat says:

    I don’t have the time to edit a Forrest Pogue/George Marshall interview to retrieve Marshall’s account of telling FDR that he didn’t agree “atall”. (Marshall had a distinct way of saying “at all”)
    Thanks to all for signing that letter.

  11. zanzibar says:

    Bravo, Pat! You are a true American patriot.

  12. Augustin L says:

    The rebels admit responsibility for chemical attack !!!

  13. Mongoose says:

    Well done Colonel Lang. Last major public figure I recall resigning over a major foreign policy crisis was one Cy Vance under Carter in ’79 after the fiasco in the desert. Wish Powell had resigned in 2003 after that awful U.N. Security Council speech. Looks as if General Dempsey may have a decision to make soon.

  14. bob randolph says:

    Thank you for reminding us all, including General Dempsey and the Commander in Chief,
    that every officer and governmental official takes the oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States, not the President or the government of the day.

  15. stanley henning says:

    I’m sorry, but I do not see any value in attacking the Assad regime to make it easier for the Al Kaida terrorists who we definitely will not get along with. This is an imploding “country” and we will not prove anything by hitting the Assad regime. If they survive we should support their being identified as international criminals subject to arrest if they try to travel
    (assuming it really was Assad’s men who used gas). Otherwise, we need to think how we might face an Al Kaida takeover – none of this is meaningful.

  16. Norbert M. Salamon says:

    It is most refreshing after reading some comments by you*, Colonel, that in the final analysis you are a true patriot, and courageously assert the first principle of the Nurnberg trials, illegal orders are not to be followed.
    My faith in you and TTG among others is greatly increased, not being either a soldier nor a vet , I raise my hat to you, Sir.
    Once we had a discussion on whether you would follow an order, I would have adjudged to be contrary to the Nurnberg Principles.
    Best wishes, and I hope there are no repercussions.
    Cordially yours: NMS

  17. turcopolier says:

    N Salomon
    This has nothong to do with Nuremberg and everything to do with the US Constitution. pl

  18. Castellio says:

    Please accept my deep expression of respect for you and the other signers.

  19. Tyler says:

    Perhaps sounder heads will prevail in this. I hope it works.

  20. Ingolf says:

    Bravo indeed.

  21. Ingolf says:

    Agreed, although it would have been even better had Powell resigned before the speech.

  22. ISL says:

    That was a truly moving letter, I pray it moves (or is not needed).
    The framers were adamant about forcing war to be the purvey of congress and debate and deliberation to avoid the incessant meat grinder of European wars that beggared states and destroyed freedom. Sadly, 911 allowed the US to rapidly beggar itself in many pointless wars In 2001, China was a $1.1 trillion economy a decade ago, a tenth the size of the US, now, it is nearing parity with the US – proving the wisdom of the framers. That Obama is blind to this – a pox on his house.

  23. SteveG says:

    Col Lang
    I too join the chorus to applaud you and the
    other signatories in regards to this matter of
    utmost constitutional importance. Pray that
    your collective wisdom and advice is heeded.

  24. Patrick D says:

    Thank you and the rest of the Veterans of Intelligence for Sanity for that letter.
    I suggest everyone do an internet search for the group and read their previous statements.

  25. JerseyJeffersonian says:

    Respect to you and all of the other signatories of this letter.
    I fear that this, along with all of the expressions of opposition to this intolerable power grab by the increasingly consolidated Unitary Executive will not be efficacious.
    But let history record that some tried to halt the onrush toward this fateful error. May the oath breakers in Congress who failed to honor their duty to defend the Constitution live to rue the day. Maybe the money is too good to trouble themselves with such trivialities as “their sacred honor”. Perhaps they have forgotten – or worse yet, never learned – the meaning of that phrase. Moral pygmies…
    “Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right, when wrong to be put right.”
    Carl Schurz

  26. JerseyJeffersonian,
    ‘I fear that this, along with all of the expressions of opposition to this intolerable power grab by the increasingly consolidated Unitary Executive will not be efficacious.’
    Probably you will turn out to be right. However, I never expected that Cameron would be voted down on a critical issue of war and peace, with Tory rebels defying a three-line whip. The last time anything like this happened was when the Commons balked at continuing the war in 1782, after the defeat at Yorktown.
    And General Dempsey is, I think, a man who would take both the arguments and the authors of this letter extremely seriously.
    Moreover, as you suggest, even if it fails, it puts down a marker for the future — and may influence others to take oaths, and the Constitution, more seriously. All honour to those who have written and signed it.

  27. If my understanding is correct no member of the Armed Forces above the rank of Major has ever formally challenged any order as being illegal. Would be interested to know if this information correct.

  28. John Quinn says:

    Thanks to all the authors of this letter.
    The real “red line” threat to our nation is a president who casually thwarts the Rule of Law by ignoring our Constitution.

  29. turcopolier says:

    The only instance that I am aware of was the refusal of Major Stevens of the 2nd New York Cavalry to burn Newtown, Virginia when ordered to do so by Sheridan. The town is now called Stevens City. pl

  30. graecastle says:

    Thank you for your voice, perspective and courage. We have descended so far so fast (particularly since 9/11) that it’s much closer to the bottom than it is to the top. Hopefully, you and your colleagues have “tapped” the brakes sufficiently on this particular roller coaster to hell. i doubt it though… Would that “they” would listen.

  31. Michael Singer says:

    My Israeli sources say the IDF does not have the ability to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in place.Is that so? I don’t know if the U.S. does. I can see a scenario in which Assad falls and the possibility then exists for Hezbullah or Al Nusra to try and gain control of those weapons. What then? I am not making an argument for a strike. I am asking a question.
    Michael Singer

  32. oofada says:

    Bravo Zulu to you, Colonel.
    Short memories for many- don’t they recall the last time we took sides in this corner of the world. Lebananon? Marine Barracks? Reagan? McFarland?
    We don’t have to “do anything” here. This is not an ambush of an infantry unit, where action, doing ‘something’, even if not the school solution, is the key.

  33. Thanks PL! The erection of a standard of illegal orders being properly disobeyed was created during the Nuremberg War Crimes trials. Obeying orders that were illegal was ruled NO DEFENSE in those trials.
    I happen to live in a house once owned by an Administrative Officer of the USA who was detailed from the STATE DEPARTMENT, wore the uniform of a full colonel, and hired many of the US and German support staff at those trials. She died in 1983 and I wish I could have met her. Her name was Laura Pratt.

  34. Lord Curzon says:

    Well done Sir! Allow me to join with those above in saluting you.

  35. Fred says:

    I received an email issues ‘update’ from my senator on the 29th. Not a single mention of Syria in it. Apparently Senator Levin and his staff are too busy with more pressing business to address this issue. I had thought better of the Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. Senator Stabenow is even worse. Apparently she thinks an airport in Lansing is more important than the war our president is going to start.

  36. T for Texas says:

    Thank you for the stand taken by you and the other signatories to this letter. While valuable to the future as a marker put down, let’s hope it first does some good in the present!

  37. turcopolier says:

    The basis for our appeal to Dempsey was not the Nuremberg precedent with which we were all familiar. Our appeal was to his duty to uphold the constitutional requirement for congressional control of the war initiation process as embodied in the War Powers Act. pl

  38. Bobo says:

    I highly respect VIPS and your right to take this stand but believe there is considerable precedent for a President to take action without the consent of Congress and the issue is one for the courts to decide. Today that issue is not before the courts and until it is a President should be able to act as he sees fit. In this respect the good man General Dempsey should act as he sees ft within the restraints of his position and not be pressured into decisions that may not be in the best interests of this country.
    Attempting to be the Policeman of the world has never endeared us to the people of the world and whether we act or not we will be detested by the MENA while the Chinaman buys their raw materials and the Russians stick the needle further into our side.

  39. Nightsticker says:

    Colonel Lang,
    Bravo Zulu
    USMC 65-72
    FBI 72-96

  40. stanley henning says:

    It is somewhat alarming that the desire to attack elements of the Assad regime appears to be based even partially on so-called classified sources that cannot be revealed. This is very suspicious. It is sad but a fact that we are not likely to favorably come out of this no matter what we WANT to think.

  41. turcopolier says:

    MD did not look happy as he walked into the West Wing this AM.
    I have suggested to VIPS that they push for a court challenge of the R2P interpretation of the WPA. Evidently only members of congress would have standing. pl

  42. NancyK says:

    I hope that President Obama does go before Congress, it will be interesting to see who agrees with his analysis of the situation. There are differing views on both sides of the aisle. It seems the Republicans that agree with Obama about attacking Syria disagree with his limited attack plan. They seems to want a repeat of Iraq and Afghanistan because we have seen how successful that was. I have called and written the Whitehouse and my senator regarding my feelings. If we were going to attack every dictator or leader that did awful things to his citizens we would be attacking some of the major world powers.

  43. Bobo,
    Maybe I am missing something. But if precedents are in flagrant conflict with what the legislation clearly states, can they make a course of action legal?

  44. Colonel Lang,
    Are there members of Congress who would be prepared to make such a challenge?

  45. FB Ali says:

    Col Lang,
    Having been away from the internet for a while, I have only now seen this post.
    I also applaud your principled and courageous stand (and that of your co-signers) on this important issue, not only for your country but for the world generally. It is vital for all of us that US power is constrained within the bounds set by the US constitution and international law.

  46. Fred says:

    Start the killing and then the courts decide if it were legal? I’m sure the dead and their families will be overjoyed with this adherence to the law.

  47. Fred says:

    What is Speaker of the House Boehner’s position? (This is the last I read, from three days ago:
    “…it is apparent from the questions above that the outreach has, to date, not reached the level of substantive consultation. “- See more at:
    If President Obama does launch his attack without Congressional authorization then I suggest the first order of business – and the only business – of the House would be a vote on Articles of Impeachment. Let the Representatives prove their adherence to their oaths to the Constitution of the United States.

  48. stanley henning says:

    Finally, in Syria we have a gaggle of “external” terrorists on one side and an incompetent dictator on the other side – if we are not going to run the terrorists out, depose Assad. and run the country, then we had better stay out of this one.

  49. FB Ali says:

    Col Lang,
    It seems Gen Dempsey has indeed forced Obama to go to Congress. Your appeal, I am sure, played its part in this salutary development.

  50. bob randolph says:

    Obama has just spoken to the American people and has told us that he will put the issue of an attack on Syria to the Congress for decision. It will be interesting to learn who or what was responsible for this volte-face–resignations at the highest level?

  51. turcopolier says:

    bob randolph
    There were no threats. None were needed. “Oh, danny boy…” pl

  52. Colonel Lang,
    This is brilliant news. Of course, Congress may well decide to do something foolish. But 1. if foolish decisions are made, there is some prospect that they are made in a constitutional manner, 2. the reckless dash for war as soon as possible has been broken, which may completely change the game.
    There is some prospect that claims made by the Administration about what the intelligence demonstrates may now be examined more seriously. Also, it now seems more likely that the views of the vast mass of Americans may actually have some influence on what is eventually decided.
    From a parochial British point of view, after years of hearing people here talking piffle about the ‘special relationship’, when all it meant was that our government provided fig leaves making it somewhat easier for yours to take foolish decisions, it may be that, for once, we have actually had a helpful influence.
    There is a Beatles LP where John Lennon sings a bit of ‘Danny Boy’. However, it doesn’t seem to have surfaced on Youtube — unlike much more toxic material. I rather like the version by Deanna Durbin.
    (See )

  53. Alba Etie says:

    Well we will have all the CongressCritters on record now . A lively debate on Checks & Balances . Too bad we cannnot get Speaker Boehner to corral the House before 9 Sept though –

  54. Alba Etie says:

    “from your lips to the Lord’s Ear ”

  55. Alba Etie says:

    Good to see you return here. How is the new born ? And did you close on your Home ?

  56. NancyK says:

    President Obama made the play I was hoping for, taking it to Congress. If this do nothing congress continues to act like it has been of late, the attack on Syria won’t happen until Obama leaves office. I love it, what will the Republicans do now, they can’t complain he is going against the Constitution, they hate to agree with him or support him, yet they do not want to look weak to their neocon base. What a pity. The Democrats are also put in a strange position, not backing their President. If any of them listen to their constituents they must realize that a vast majority are not in favor of attacking another country in the ME. When they come back from their vacation, when is it not a vacation, they may actually have to do some work.

  57. The Twisted Genius says:

    “And hurrah me boys for freedom! ‘Tis the risin’ of the moon.”

  58. Alba Etie says:

    Col Lang
    Allow me to please echo all of our thanks for you all sending the letter . Next do you have any thought about the odds that These United States might still strike Syria now that Congress is engaged in this debate ? I believe it is very unlikely that we will now strike Syria.I also believe that its a continued effort by the Obama Administration to walk back from the RedLine /Assad Must Go rhetoric . I also believe it is a very good turn of events that we will have this debate in both the Senate & the House regarding use of force in Syria specifically & more broadly the War Powers Act . A return of functional check & balances in our National Governance Branches can only help our comity – it might even help reframe our Overton Window . Finally I also believe that the Realist are winning the debate in the Administration , the Congress, and our General Public . Sam & Sue- will not get their much sought after excellent Syrian Adventure .We are all well & truly War Weary ..

  59. Alba Etie says:

    Col Lang
    Again we applaud the VIPS leadership & letter .
    I believe that the Realist are winning this debate with the Interventionist .

  60. Alba Etie says:

    For the unschooled civilians here -what does Bravo Zulu mean ?

  61. turcopolier says:

    David Habakkuk
    The “Lily Marlene” of Lee’s army. BTW, by 1864 they were calling themselves “Lee’s Miserables.” pl

  62. Will Reks says:

    We can’t be sure what exactly broke through the group-think that dominates the President’s counsel. I’d much rather have GEN Dempsey in there where he can do some good than some sycophant who will roll over to the neophytes. Here’s hoping Congress will strike down this foolishness and that the President will respect it’s decision.

  63. Fred says:

    I hope that the Legislative Branch of government does what it is obligated to do and does so in public session. Obama is going to look damned stupid if administration officials show up at a public hearing and present allegations as facts. The NSA has been collecting data on 300 million Americans; they should surely know the units of the Syrian army possessing CW, their commanders and who in the chain of command has authority to issue thier use. Most importantly they need to present proof, not allegations, of who issued the order and when. If they don’t and what is presented is some third party ‘evidence’ they would be wise to first vote no, and second demand the resignations of Clapper and Alexander for incompetence and malfeasance in office.
    Further, as the President said in his 2pm address today:
    “Make no mistake — this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorist who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?”
    As we saw in most recently at the trial of US Army Sgt. Bales, the individual who committed the act was held accountable. The US Army as a whole was not held responsible for one man’s conduct.
    Does President Obama believe this act is a collective act of the Syrian army – with everyone bearing equal responsibility – from the gate guard at the Presidential palace to the unit commander who ordered (allegedly) the attack? Will that be the principle of our people in the future – one standard of justice for Americans and a separate but equal standard – to include collective punishment – for others? That will certainly be a new standard and not one to increase or influence or credibility in the world.
    As to party politics this if nothing else should rise above ‘backing the President’ or opposing him as a matter of principle.

  64. lally says:

    “Obama was influenced in his decision by the conclusion of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey that there was no military downside to waiting until Congress returned to session Sept. 9 to take action, the senior administration officials said.”
    Read more:

  65. Bobo says:

    Since we are all into singing I find the below most appropriate for the man of the day.
    “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears” with Anthony Kearns and Martin Dempsey

  66. mac says:

    Where is Adlai Stevenson when we need him? When the Soviets were caught with their pants down he presented the evidence and the world knew who to believe. I believe that exchange between Ambassador Stevenson and Zorin helped shape world pubic opinion in the West’s favor and created a sort of well of good will that it went back to, again and again. I’d go far as say the residual benefits of that good will assisted in the collapse of the former Soviet bloc and their incorporation into the Western orbit. As I see the amateur management of the Syrian war and now the President’s feeble attempt to make his best case on the eve of war, I worry that our competitors/rivals aren’t now experiencing a rush of good will in their favor by our apparent unwillingness or inability to, a la Stevenson in 1962, go to the UN present the evidence.

  67. ISL says:

    Dear Colonel,
    I know of one case in which the threat of resignations at a highly inconvenient time for this administration a backdown and reversal in course. Kudos on any influence your letter played.

  68. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Yes, I heard that Hugo’s “Les Miserables” was quite popular among the Confederates.

  69. SAC Brat says:

    Any bets on which group will be busier in Washington DC these coming days: the White House going through NSA files on members of congress or the fourth branch of the US government (Israel) trying to sway the votes of their representatives in congress?

  70. turcopolier says:

    Yes, contrary to Northern belief there were many educated and cultivated men among them. Reading was actually done then. It is surprising that they got hold of the book that quickly. pl

  71. Mark Logan says:

    He did original lyrics to ‘Hey Delilah’ for this.
    They seem appropriate to the moment.

  72. robt willmann says:

    Here we go ….
    1. The White House late today sent to an office in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate a two-page draft of a “resolution” or “law” to authorize the U.S. military to launch an attack against the sovereign State of Syria–
    2. U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (Repub.-Ohio) says that the matter will be taken up the week of September 9, when Congress returns to the Capitol.
    3. On Fox News this evening, James Rosen reported that some Obama administration “officials” had said that even if Congress votes down the request to authorize the U.S. military to attack Syria, they will attack it anyway, and that others said that the door to attack Syria via the U.S. military (overtly) would be “left open”, even if Congress refuses to authorize it.

  73. Tyler says:

    Thank you Alba, good to be back.
    She was born as I wish to die: Screaming and covered in someone else’s blood.
    Jokes aside, she’s got a full head of hair and is bright eyed and aware.
    I’ve closed on the house and currently dealing with a cow who has a love hate relationship with me and making milking a task I think I’m going to dread.
    I just sold a novel and have a boxing matching coming up in November. Busy busy.

  74. Stephanie says:

    “If any of them listen to their constituents they must realize that a vast majority are not in favor of attacking another country in the ME”
    Thanks to the ceaseless beating of the drums of war from officials and the media, support for intervention is actually ticking slightly upward. Obama may welcome a delay because it will give the Administration more time to work on public opinion. It will also enable him to spread responsibility around if Congress says yes – and presidents usually get their way when they want to go to war – and a good reason to back out if Congress says no.

  75. Tyler says:

    Boner is busy trying to figure out how to slip the amnesty treason through and keep his Speaker’s gavel.

  76. Alba Etie says:

    Thank you Beaver

  77. Thomas says:

    Claude brought back copies on the blockade runner?

  78. turcopolier says:

    The timing would be about right. A Richmond Virginia edition was published in the middle of 1863. pl

  79. Alba Etie says:

    Great sound like you are apace in pursuing your& your family ‘s dreams. Congratulations on your daughter a full head of hair is something I sometimes miss. When we used to milk Daisy the cow on the commune from my misspent youth – we found that feeding “Daisy ” a slightly sour mash of sweet corn & oats while tugging on her teats made it better experience for all of us. Best of luck in the boxing match .
    BTW I had read that the BP ‘s budget cuts were restored – is that true ?

  80. Kerim says:

    Chapeau bas Colonel.
    Mes respects

  81. Tyler says:

    The cuts were “restored”, but to different programs instead of our pay. This agency has fallen prey to the curse of every GS15 needing a big project to justify his promotion to the ranks of SES.
    The cow is a Dexter, and we have good days and our bad. She gored me in the arm once already, but the punt to her forehead seemed to mellow her a bit. Probably not accepted FFA practice but it worked.

  82. Fred says:

    If he had any moral courage he would oppose this, point out that the Christian’s of Syria support Assad and ask Obama if he expects a second Nobel Peace Prize for becoming Barack Obama, killer of Christians. He wouldn’t need to worry about immigration bills.

  83. Fred says:

    Congratulations on your firstborn.

  84. Tyler says:

    Thank you Fred – I appreciate that.

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