Whether or not the Russian gambit of getting the Syrians to give up their chemical weapons (CW) works, it is important that the pressure on Assad and his supporters not let up until there is a verifiable deal in place. In the interim Congress and the American people should support the President's decision to go ahead with military action if no agreement on the disposal of CW is reached.
There are two principle components to the debate concerning action in Syria. The first and broader question is what action can be taken to achieve a political solution to the civil war, and the second and more limited question is how the U.S. and international community will respond to the chemical attack by the Assad government against civilians, including children and women.
It is the latter issue that Congress and in particular the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee have debated for the past week. It is this question that President Obama asks Americans and the international community to address.
Assad blatantly violated international norms when he used weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and gassed his own people. This most recent attack underscores the need to do something forceful enough to let Assad and others know that the use of WMD is unacceptable. It is clear the willingness to take military action has moved Assad to consider making a deal on CW.
Since the end of WWI the international community has agreed that the use of CW would not be tolerated. With this in mind, there should be no tortured debate or traumatic concern about supporting the limited US-led retaliation being proposed by President Obama. No leader can be allowed to use WMD against his own people or others. This is point the President is making: Assad cannot use WMD with impunity.
Over 100,000 innocent civilians have died in Syria by means other than CWs, so the question arises: Why should we respond specifically to a CW attack? There should be international outrage over the death of innocents, but the use of CWs is very different from other methods of warfare. The repercussion of a chemical attack is broader and longer lasting than the carnage caused by more traditional means both in terms of political/military implications, as well as the physical impact on the victims.
There are legitimate concerns that a military response, even a limited response, will necessarily draw us in more deeply to the Syrian battlefield. In reality, however, we are already involved. The U.S. has given more than $1 billion in humanitarian and lethal aid. The U.S. has also been working with the Syrian political and military opposition to help them form a cohesive front against Assad. In particular, Ambassador Robert Ford--the State Department point person on this issue--deserves accolades for his tireless work in trying to forge a legitimate Syrian opposition.
Strategically, this conflict has profound effects on American interests, including regional concerns with the threat posed by an aggressive Hezbollah and Iran; the devastating impact of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon; the potential threat of terrorism from AQ affiliates and Hezbollah; the impact this has on Israel; and the global implications with Russia and the Gulf States. There are good reasons to increase our involvement, but that is not what the President is suggesting we do at this time.
Instead, the President has proposed a more limited, albeit decisive, strategy. He recognizes the importance of taking a stand and following through on a commitment involving our national security, while at the same time limiting at least for the moment our involvement. There may be unintended consequences to even limited actions. The President and his military team will do all they can to mitigate those consequences, but that cannot stop us from acting.
John Kennedy once said that the only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men (and women) to do nothing. The President is asking for our support to take a stand against the use of WMD. He is right to go to Congress. This is our opportunity to come together as a nation and confront Assad and this evil act.