The President should be commended for following the Constitutional order and referring questions of initiating hostilities to the Congress. Congress – and the nation – will have a debate. Let’s be clear: The United States should not use military force in Syria.
Military action must be used only where vital national interests are at stake. America’s vital interest in the Middle East are four: fighting Islamic terrorism, preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ensuring the free world’s access to energy, and protecting Israel and our other allies in the region. None of these interests will be advanced by a strike on Syria:Hel
- Both the Assad regime and many of the “rebels” are, or are allied with, terrorists. Bombing one of their enemies does not appear calculated to weaken Al Qaeda.
- While Assad is a client state of the world’s primary proliferation threat, Iran, and some beneficial reduction in Iran’s regional sphere of influence would occur to the extent that Assad is weakened, nothing in the proposed strike would in any way slow or deter Iran’s progress toward becoming a nuclear state.
- Any conflict in the region threatens energy supply. While Syria has very little petroleum, any escalation of the conflict poses major risks to energy supply lines – and to an already teetering world economy.
- It is clear that retaliation or escalation of a conflict between the United States and Syria threatens Israel, as well as friendly countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.
We must also ask what would be accomplished by a mission that, in the President’s words, would be “limited in duration and scope.” Would Assad’s ability to again deploy these terrible weapons be meaningfully degraded? While the President listed this as an objective, given the lack of strategic surprise in the mission, it seems unlikely that our military will be able to effectively target key assets. Would the Assad regime itself be meaningfully weakened? President Obama has stated that regime change is not an objective. Would anyone be deterred by a pinprick strike from crossing an Obama “red line” again? Objectives like “sending a message” and “holding Assad accountable” are not appropriate goals for putting our uniformed men and women in harm’s way.
Last, what might be the unintended consequences of our action? It is unlikely that the Assad regime will not respond in some way. Our missiles would undoubtedly kill some Syrian civilians. Will Syria strike at American or Israeli civilians, perhaps with the chemical weapons they still possess? Will Assad counterattack in a way that begets a series of escalations in to a regional war? Will Iran be emboldened by our weak action into more aggressive actions, again drawing America deeper into another Middle East conflict?
There is no doubt that the gassing of Syrian citizens is a despicable and barbaric act. And America, as the indispensible nation, is strengthened by engagement with the rest of the world.
But before we ask our soldiers to risk their lives, before we risk the lives of innocent non-combatants, and before we risk plunging our war-weary nation into another conflagration, the American people – and their representatives in Congress – must have clarity on these three points: Why? What is our goal? And, how will we get out?
There are no good answers to those questions. There is no national interest compelling this attack.
I urge every member of Congress – and particularly my own representatives (Senator Bennet, Senator Udall, and Congressman Polis) – to vote against the use of force.