Stand firm against chemical weapons

Posted Thursday, Sep. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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For a war-weary nation still feeling the tragic effects of two hard-fought foreign conflicts, the very thought of intervening militarily in another nation’s chaos should give us pause.

And that is exactly what is happening as Americans of all walks of life — from those meeting on Capitol Hill to the ones gathered around kitchen tables and water coolers — debate whether the United States should strike at the Syrian regime in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on its own people.

The president, who undoubtedly has the authority to make such a decision unilaterally, wisely yielded to pressure from members of Congress to seek their approval before launching a strike. The deliberations in the House and Senate are underway, with a decision expected sooner than later.

Having presented his reasoning for such intervention to lawmakers, President Obama must now make his case to the American people who, in turn, will determine for themselves whether to support or reject the notion.

As citizens of the most powerful nation on the planet, one that historically has defended the weak and liberated the oppressed, the people of the United States must decide on which side of history they want to be counted. They should choose the side of right, which means backing the proposed limited assault — without sending in troops — on Syrian war machinery and its supporting infrastructure.

Of course, with Iraq and Afghanistan as gloomy backdrops for any deliberations about waging more wars, Americans have the right to be skeptical about expressed motives, leery of announced goals and apprehensive about promised “limited” involvement.

But unlike Iraq, we know that Syrian President Bashar Assad has turned weapons of mass destruction on his own people. Two weeks ago he launched an attack using the highly toxic nerve gas, sarin, killing more than 1,400, including some 400 children.

It was an act this country, and the civilized world, said could not be tolerated and must be answered with force. The questions: To what degree of force and for exactly what intent?

There is no way the United States can fix what’s broken in Syria, a country where 100,000 people have been killed during this 2-year-old conflict that began as peaceful demonstrations to oust Assad and replace him with a democratic government.

Around 6.2 million people have now been displaced; more than 2 million (including a million children) are living in refugee camps outside the country.

What the U.S. can do is send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons, by Assad or anyone else, will not be tolerated. A strike using Tomahawk cruise missiles, most likely launched from Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, could deliver a blow to Assad’s forces, preventing them from staging another chemical attack.

While not designed to force Assad from office or change the course of the war for the rebels, such an assault could be an advantage to those resistance fighters who have lost ground recently in their battles with the regime.

Congress is right to ask the hard questions and demand explanations of how the military intervention will be executed, complete with an exit strategy. But once the talking has stopped, it will be time to act.

Members of Congress, including the Texas delegation, should support this action by backing the president as they would any other president who has pledged the nation’s might and moral authority in contesting an immoral act by a despot.

There will be representatives and senators whose consciences compel them to cast a “no” vote.

But once Congress approves, as it is likely to do, then it is imperative that all Americans join together as they have on past occasions when the country engaged in military action.

Even if no other allies join the fight, Americans should stand united.

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