Members of Congress were surprised when President Barack Obama listened to their demands to allow them a vote on punishing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people. Of course, when they demanded a vote they were sure Obama had already made the decision to launch a few dozen cruise missiles over to Syria's military installations.
Obama made a wise decision in asking Congress to join with him in responding to Assad's use of chemical weapons. But he is paying the price for his predecessor's past sins in Iraq. When you lead the world to war based upon false information about weapons of mass destruction, don't expect the world to join you the second time around when you ask for help.
Russian President Vladimir Putin compared the evidence presented by Obama about Syria to false data presented by President George W. Bush about Iraq. "All these arguments turned out to be untenable, but they were used to launch a military action, which many in the U.S. called a mistake. Did we forget about that?" Putin said.
Our history in Iraq was the primary reason the British Parliament refused to go along with the U.S. in Syria. They and others have learned not to trust the U.S. government, especially when it comes to taking military action in other countries. The British lost more than 600 troops in Iraq and, like so many Americans, wonder why.
The American people, too, are tired of war and tired of the cost of wars which continue to add to our national debt each year. Our wariness has also made us more inclined to be isolationists. The tea party Republicans are riding this wave against traditional Republicans who believe an attack on Syria is justified and necessary. Democrats want to support the president but don't support another conflict.
Perhaps the world should be looking at ways to punish Russia and China, the two countries with veto power at the United Nations Security Council, which are blocking any U.N. condemnation of Syria's use of chemical weapons. Indeed, the U.N. has been trying for two years to pass resolutions condemning the Syrian government for killing its own civilians, with and without chemical weapons, but these resolutions have been vetoed by Russia and China. In addition, Russia is believed to be Assad's primary weapon supplier.
It would be easier if there were a viable good side to support among the many Syrian rebel forces. There are some good rebels to support there, but there are also terrorist groups among them. Getting aid to the right group is the trick, and no one knows this more than Israel. As Jodi Rudoren wrote for the New York Times, "For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad's government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadist."
So how does the world respond to a nation that kills its own civilians with chemical weapons? If the world does not respond, does this provide the green light for Syria to use chemical weapons again? What other international red lines can be crossed? Can, for example, Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons?
My liberal friends want to give peace a chance, but offer no viable strategy to stopping the slaughter or preventing additional chemical weapon attacks within Syria. My conservative friends are caught between their instincts to take a stand against a regime supported by Iran and Russia, and their hatred of supporting Obama, even when he agrees with them.
By going to Congress, Fred Kaplan states, "Those who have long urged Obama to do something about Syria, and then criticized him in recent days for doing something (just because it's Obama who's doing it), will now have to step up and take a stand."