The recent events in Syria are tragic, appalling and despicable. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attacks, which killed hundreds of his own people, are reprehensible.
As President Barack Obama weighs options for a possible U.S. response, more than 150 members of Congress, including several from the Midlands, say he should seek approval from Congress before taking any military action.
They are right. The people’s representatives should have a say in any decision.
Assad is a tyrant, contemptuous of world opinion. Some of those advocating use of military force say the United States has a moral obligation to stand up to him. This is another case where the United States is being urged to act as the world’s policeman. The reality is, however, that the United States can’t afford to police every precinct on the globe — there are many bad actors doing many bad things in many places beyond Syria.
The main reason for seeking military action now is because the Syrian dictator crossed Obama’s “red line,” and so some say U.S. credibility is at stake. But chemical weapons reportedly were used by Assad before, and we didn’t take action. Some 100,000 people have been killed in this civil war, and more than a million have become refugees.
At this point, is bolstering unmeasurable credibility worth endangering American lives? That’s one of many questions that require serious, carefully thought-out answers before military action should be contemplated.
Would a one-time missile attack be enough punishment? What would the United States do if Assad uses chemical weapons again? The president hasn’t even made it entirely clear who the “good guys” are in this conflict, or how good they might remain if they win.
The president has an obligation to the American people to explain, clearly, what he wants to get us into and why.
Obama hasn’t told Americans how launching an attack on Assad’s forces would bring any peace or stability to Syria.
Opinion polls are no reason to make policy, but current public opinion is clear: Americans have little taste for military action. A Reuters-Ipsos poll released last week found about 60 percent of American respondents against U.S. intervention in Syria; just 9 percent supported it.
Arab opinion, too, opposes American intervention. “The vast majority of Arabs are emotionally opposed to any Western military action in the region no matter how humanitarian the cause, and no Arab nation or leader has publicly endorsed such a step, even in countries like the Persian Gulf monarchies whose diplomats for months have privately urged the West to step in,” the New York Times reports. That leaves Obama without the kind of regional support he had when striking in Libya in 2011.
While the Constitution gives Congress the power “to declare war,” presidents have undertaken military action without a formal declaration. There are urgent circumstances where a president and the military might need to respond without protracted debate. That clearly isn’t the situation here; the Syrian violence has been going on for more than two years.
Congress serves as the people’s voice, and Congress should be involved in making such a crucial decision. As Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said Wednesday evening: “The president must call Congress back to Washington so that we can have a debate worthy of the American people and whether or not we should be sending their sons and daughters into harm’s way.”
More than 20 years ago, Gen. Colin Powell, who had served as a young Army officer in the Vietnam War and rose to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid out his vision for when to effectively use American military might, guidelines now referred to as the “Powell Doctrine.”
Powell was no dove. As our top military officer, he oversaw the invasion of Panama to remove Manuel Noriega from power and Operation Desert Storm in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Still, the doctrine that carries his name calls for U.S. leaders to answer critical questions before committing troops:
Is there a vital national security interest that’s being threatened by the intended target? Is there a clear, attainable goal for the military to achieve? Have the risks and the costs been fully evaluated? Is there public support for such action? Have diplomacy and all other options been exhausted? Is there an exit strategy?
Obama has not yet answered those questions.
Much has been said about the public being “weary” of war. After a decade of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has taken the lives of more than 8,000 American and allied troops yet left neither country in peace, Americans are understandably weary.
But there’s another word that describes the way many citizens view the prospects of another military intervention in an unstable region: wary.
And we should be.