September 4, 2013 12:57PM

Time for Congress to Decide on War in Syria

On Saturday, President Barack Obama made the right decision and asked Congress for authority to go to war in Syria. Now Congress should make the right decision and vote no. Conflicts and crises abound around the globe, but few significantly impact U.S. security. So it is with Syria.

The bitter civil war obviously is a human tragedy. However, the conflict is beyond repair by Washington. Ronald Reagan’s greatest mistake was getting involved in the Lebanese civil war. The U.S. invasion of Iraq sparked civil conflict which killed tens or even hundreds of thousands of civilians. Civil wars are particularly resistant to outside solution. 

The fighting is unlikely to end even if the U.S. ousted the Assad regime. Insurgent factions, including increasingly influential jihadists, would fight for dominance in that power vacuum. For many rebels, revenge would become a top priority. 

Even if nation-building in Syria wasn’t such a daunting task, the U.S. government should not risk the lives of its citizens in conflicts where Americans have no substantial stake.  Protecting this nation's, territory, people, liberty, and prosperity remains the highest duty for Washington. 

As I point out in American Spectator online:

“Far from advancing U.S. security, getting involved in Syria would ensnare Americans in a completely unnecessary conflict. Damascus has neither the ability nor the interest to attack the U.S. Any attempt by the Assad government to strike, including with chemical weapons, would trigger massive retaliation—perhaps even with nuclear weapons, which are true weapons of mass destruction. 

While the Assad regime theoretically could target a U.S. ally, it has no incentive to do so. After all, its very survival remains threatened by a determined insurgent challenge. Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey all are well-heeled and well-armed. All are capable of deterring attack.”

Some war advocates hope that hitting Damascus would weaken Iran. However, to the extent the latter feels more isolated, it may press for tighter ties with Shia-dominated Iraq, which faces an increasing challenge from militant Sunnis. The Syrian conflict is destabilizing, but the Mideast never has been at rest. 

The focus on chemical weapons is misguided. The travesty of the Syrian civil war is that more than 100,000 people apparently have died, not that some were killed with chemical weapons. The vast majority were killed by other means. In fact, chemical weapons are not really weapons of mass destruction, being difficult to deploy and not so deadly. 

Entering yet another war against a Muslim nation in the Middle East is bound to create more enemies for America. The surest way to encourage future terrorists is to join other nations’ conflicts and kill other nations’ peoples. 

Even if the administration is genuinely committed to only minor military action, pressure on Washington to do more would steadily grow, with a warlike Greek Chorus intoning “U.S. credibility” at every turn. The real lesson of President Obama’s throwaway comment on Syrian chemical weapons is that red lines should not be drawn unless they reflect interests worth war to enforce. 

The president has placed the decision whether to go to war where it belongs, with Congress. Legislators should act on behalf of the American people, not the Obama administration.  And the right decision is to keep the United States at peace.

Syria is a tragedy, but it is not America’s tragedy. Legislators should reject war with Syria.