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Approve Syrian attack only with clear, sound objective

By: The Gazette editorial
September 4, 2013 Updated: September 4, 2013 at 10:58 am
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photo - President Barack Obama gestures during his joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, at the Rosenbad Building in Stockholm, Sweden. The president said international community and Congress credibility on the line on response to Syria. (Associated Press)
President Barack Obama gestures during his joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, at the Rosenbad Building in Stockholm, Sweden. The president said international community and Congress credibility on the line on response to Syria. (Associated Press) 

We cannot leave our children a world in which monstrous dictators use chemical weapons to destroy populations in seconds. So inaction seems a poor option when given nearly irrefutable evidence that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad used sarin gas in his country's ongoing civil war.

We also cannot carelessly embroil our military in more belligerence without a clear and concise overarching goal, a sound tactical plan and crisp knowledge about our odds of success.

We should not drop bombs with nothing more than hope of sending a message that might somehow alter a crazy dictator's ideology. President Barack Obama already played the message game when he drew a "red line in the sand," which Assad dismissed. The warning has become a political distraction domestically and around the globe, focusing attention on what we should do to preserve Obama's word and global respect for subsequent chief executives.

Most Americans have no interest in jeopardizing more American lives so Obama can save face on a "line in the sand." They're not interested in killing innocent Syrians to deliver a physical warning that will only be ignored.

If Obama wants to continue the realpolitik foreign policies of multiple predecessors, we remind him of the graceful guidelines for peace-through-strength expressed most vividly by fellow progressive Theodore Roosevelt: "Speak softly, and carry a big stick."

The United States cannot easily afford another theater of war as we struggle to extract our troops from Afghanistan. Obama promises a limited response to the sarin attack, meaning "no boots on the ground." A limited strike that achieves no objective - one that does nothing more than technically back the president's warning - will not dissuade other rulers from using chemical weapons or other tools of mass destruction. If it were that simple, the world would be at peace.

A series of strikes that fails to eliminate Assad's chemical stockpile, or his ability to otherwise commit anti-humanitarian atrocities, will be seen as weakness.

Assad probably wants the United States in a battle that will provoke Iran, a close Syrian ally. A symbolic, send-a-message attack may create even more Middle Eastern instability and spark a regional war that would involve major, troop-level American involvement. Warning enemies of plans for a limited strike neither speaks softly nor projects strength. It mostly enhances chaos among volatile governments we cannot control.

Given the fact Syria knows of our likely attack, we stand little to gain strategically from moving fast. If we are to resolve this dilemma, we must do so with an intelligence-based plan that places tactics and objectives above reputations, messages, politics and weak attempts to convey strength. We must stop talking and examine the genuine capabilities and best uses for our military might. We need the precision of a laser scalpel, not the crude smack of a club hammer.

Assad is not the first thug to use chemical weapons, and he probably won't be the last. Nevertheless, we must not act as if the world's superpower tolerates mass human destruction with poison.

We urge Congress to avoid pressure for an imminent strike. If we are to engage in yet another foreign battle, let's get it right. Take more time to persuade other nations, most of which have rejected our requests for assistance in mounting an attack. Develop comprehensive plans that involve high probability of valuable results that Americans might support and understand. Set politics aside and enable the world's best and brightest military strategists to help the Obama administration succeed in stopping additional atrocities by Assad and his allies. American's don't need another Iraq.

We have nothing to lose by getting this right through diplomacy and strategic rigor.

We have much to lose by racing forward with a plan that creates perceptions of weakness and intensifies anti-American hostilities.

If we can achieve good results at minimal cost of lives and capital, let's do so. If our government can't see the shot, it offers only bluster. That's a hand our commander in chief already played, to no avail.

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