Syria is a nation drowning in its own blood, with multiple factions fighting for dominance. Here is the recent history.

First our amateur Secretary of State said that the future of Syria lay in the hands of the Syrian people. The thoroughly evil ruler of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, mistook this for a "get out of jail free" card and launched a Sarin gas attack against helpless civilians.

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Our president was shocked when he saw videos of babies dying in their parents' arms and launched a minimal attack in response. First our side gave warning to the Russians which had the same effect as warning Assad. As a result the airfield was back in operation the next day.

The future of Syria is uncertain. Assad's air power is only slightly damaged. Our 500 to 1,000 advisers in Syria could be his next target. Certainly he will continue to attack his own people, backed up by Russian air power.

Will our president continue to treat that other murderer, Putin of Russia, as his best buddy? Only time will tell.

Before we take further action we need to review the facts on the ground, get congressional approval and then build an international coalition.

The Middle East has been a patchwork quilt of warring tribes and religions since biblical times. European interventions, including the Crusades, have not improved matters. For a time the Ottoman Empire maintained a semblance of peace but after World War I England and France divided that Empire into nation states with little regard to existing divisions. The Kurds found themselves divided between four countries, and ended up as perpetual rebels in three of them: Turkey, Iraq and Syria. They want their own nation.

They are, however, religiously tolerant. In 1947 when Jews left the Kurdish area of Iraq their neighbors wept, and for many years maintained the abandoned synagogues in good order in case the Jews wished to return.

But as a rule Western ideals, like democracy, religious tolerance and respect for human rights, wither rapidly under the desert sun. Cruel dictators are the norm even when, like Assad, they are elected to office.

The two major branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia, are often in conflict. Assad is a Shia, the rebels against him are Sunni. Iran, a Shia state, has forces in Syria supporting Assad. The Jihadist terrorists like Al Queda and ISIL have their own brand of Islam. They attack other Muslims primarily but hate Christians and Jews as well. They are self-regenerating. When Al Queda was crumbling ISIL was formed. Now that ISIL faces attacks in Iraq and Syria another Jihadist faction is forming in Syria.

We are the mightiest nation on Earth. We can defeat the Assad regime like we defeated Saddam Hussein. But that will cost lives and money. It could cause a conflict with Russia.

North Korea poses an immediate threat to our nation. Syria does not. Assad is a butcher comparable to Hitler, but poses no threat outside his own nation. Should we go to war, defeat Assad, and return millions of refugees to Syria?

There are no easy answers. And we have the least stable president in our history. Let the national debate begin.

John Culleton writes from Eldersburg. His column appears every second Tuesday. Email him at cct@wexfordpress.com.

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