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News Opinion

Once more into the snake pit

"Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?" -- Peter, Paul and Mary

By the time you read this, U.S. missiles and bombs may be falling on Syria. Why? Syria hasn't attacked us. It does not pose a security threat to the United States.

These were arguments made against the Bush administration's intervention in Iraq by some who now urge us to make war on Syria.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who as a senator was for the funding of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, before he was against it, says the United States is certain that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people, thus crossing a "red line" established by President Barack Obama. Never mind there were similar reports in June that Mr. Assad had used chemical weapons. This time it means war! Weren't we told of the "certainty" that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons?

Have we learned nothing? The future of Iraq is in doubt after a huge American investment of lives and money. Ditto Afghanistan. After U.S. help in toppling Moammar Gadhafi, Libya is anything but stable. Egypt is in turmoil after the Obama administration backed its Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government, whose leader and elected president, Mohamed Morsi, has been ousted by the military.

What makes anyone think bombing Damascus is going to bring positive change?

President Obama has not asked Congress for permission to attack Syria, as President Bush did before attacking Iraq. He hasn't gone to the feckless United Nations, because Russia and China have announced they will veto any resolution authorizing military force. The president doesn't appear to have established anything like a "coalition of the willing," as President Bush did with Iraq. Britain is with us, as usual, and France has pledged support, but what about the Arab World? The Saudis may be quietly helping, but that appears to be about it.

What's the endgame? If by some miracle Mr. Assad and his leadership are hit by a missile, how do we prevent al-Qaida, present in Syria, from seizing power? There is a secular faction in Syria, but given the strength of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the region it is doubtful it will play a role.

Misjudging the Middle East has been a bipartisan experience. Hillary Clinton displayed a shocking lack of judgment when she said on CBS' "Face the Nation" two years ago: "Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe [Mr. Assad's) a reformer," meaning I suppose he might be better than his father, who killed an estimated 25,000 of his fellow countrymen when his power was challenged. Two days later Secretary Clinton attempted to walk back her comment, saying she was not speaking for herself or the Obama administration.

In 2007, Rep. Nancy Pelosi visited Syria against the wishes of the Bush administration. She said, "The road to Damascus is a road to peace." That "road" appears to have developed a giant sinkhole.

If the only reason for U.S. intervention in Syria is humanitarian, where is the constitutional justification for that? There are many other inhumanities throughout the world. Congo is one. As Jeffrey Gettleman noted last December in The New York Times: "Congo has become a never-ending nightmare, one of the bloodiest conflicts since World War II, with more than five million dead." We're not intervening there.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll has found that just 9 percent of American respondents favor U.S. military intervention in Syria.

Iran has threatened to strike Israel if the United States attacks Syria. There is grave danger, including possible terrorism, if we attack Syria. When will we ever learn?

Cal Thomas' column is distributed by Tribune Content Agency. Readers may email him at tcaeditors@tribune.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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