Congress Should Reject War with Syria

President Barack Obama deserves credit for going to Congress on Syria.  Unfortunately, he wants to involve America in another potentially disastrous war in the Middle East.

Equally disturbing, leading members of the political opposition, led by House Speaker John Boehner, back the president’s war, which would undermine America as a constitutional republic.  Congress should say no to yet another unnecessary war.

The end of the Cold War freed Washington policymakers from international restraint.  Hubris conquered the nation’s capital:  “What we say goes,” became America’s watchword.  However, reordering the world turned out to be harder than expected. 

Now, spouting nostrums about international norms and the international community, President Obama is pushing for limited military action against the Syrian government.  However, it’s hard to be half-pregnant when at war.  Committing the nation’s prestige against the Assad regime would sharply increase pressure for more intense involvement.

Some advocate intervention on humanitarian grounds.  Alas, war is not a good humanitarian tool, as Washington discovered in Iraq.  Nor have American policymakers demonstrated much skill in “fixing” foreign nations. 

Civil wars are particularly complicated, as Ronald Reagan discovered in Lebanon.  At least he learned the right lesson and got out. 

The human costs of serious action likely would be high.  Sometimes Washington must risk its citizens’ lives, but it should not intervene militarily unless Americans have something substantial at stake.  There’s nothing moral about ivory tower warriors launching crusades with other people’s lives and money.

The Syrian government’s apparent use of chemical weapons does not warrant war.  Other weapons are more deadly and Damascus won’t attack its neighbors, like Israel, which could retaliate.  Moreover, chemical agents are more likely to leak to terrorist groups if Assad falls.

The administration argues that a light swat on Syria would intimidate Iran into dropping any nuclear weapons program.  However, eliminating Tehran’s nuclear capabilities would be far more difficult than lobbing a few cruise missiles.  Moreover, Iran’s leadership may see another American military attack on a neighbor as further evidence that Tehran needs nuclear weapons for its defense. 

Syria’s implosion could empower jihadist factions, but American intervention would not prevent the latter.  The belief that the U.S. can decide who rules a post-Assad Syria is conceit, or more likely delusion.

The last refuge of the war-hawks is preserving national credibility.  Presidents should not make empty threats, but they do so constantly.  Still, other countries know that Washington is ready to take military action when it perceives serious interests to be at stake. 

Columnist Michael Gerson that if legislators vote no  “they are deciding if they will send the chief executive into the world with his hands tied behind his back.”  Actually, the Constitution sends the president abroad with his hands tied when it comes to starting wars.  For instance, George Mason favored “clogging rather than facilitating war” because he didn’t believe the new chief executive was “safely to be entrusted with” the power to start wars. 

Washington cannot afford another aimless and endless Middle Eastern conflict.  Being perpetually at war has not made America more secure.

In fact, the U.S. should adjust its foreign policy to reflect its recent international failures.  War should be a last resort in response to serious security threats, not just another foreign policy tool. 

Finally, as I note in my latest Forbes online column:

the federal government must do less.  Washington faces tens of trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities and increasingly interferes with its citizens’ liberties.  Uncle Sam’s foreign and domestic policies both are to blame.  As social critique Randolph Bourne noted, “war is the health of the state.”  It is difficult to preserve a democratic republic at home when the same state plays a militarily aggressive, even imperial role abroad.

Syria should be the war too far even for Congress.  America should return to a foreign policy appropriate for a republic.