September 12, 2013 Updated: September 12, 2013 at 1:20 pm
Let's play a game of "Who said that?". I'll give you a quote, and you tell me which president said it.
"The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure." That was our first president, General George Washington.
"The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." That was our current president, running for office in 2007. Nice to see that, despite their difference in military experience, the presidents that span the life of the nation agree on who takes the nation to war.
So good for our commander in chief for taking the Syria question to Congress. That is exactly where it belongs. The writings of the Founders in the Federalist Papers and elsewhere are very clear. Kings squandered the blood and treasure of their country in foolish wars. America would be different, vesting the power of declaring war in a democratically elected legislative body.
Getting involved in Syria may not cost American blood, at least at first, but it will definitely rob us of our treasure. In an open letter to the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee last July, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff put the cost of training and equipping the Syrian rebels (whoever the heck they are), at about $500 million just to start. Limited standoff strikes would cost "in the billions". Starting up a no-fly zone would be around $500 million, ratcheting upward to "a billion dollars per month".
Aren't we running some sort of budget deficit right now?
Nor is there any guarantee America's treasure won't turn to blood. If history is any indicator, the pressure to escalate will be tremendous. After all, the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was intended to be very narrow and specific. That worked out just fine, except for that Vietnam War thing.
Syria is a tragedy. A horrible human tragedy. But the American people do not sacrifice to maintain a military, and the members of the military do not sacrifice themselves, to prevent tragedies. We do so to protect America and American lives, neither of which are threatened by the failed state that is Syria.
While I wish it were otherwise, the prospects for an end to the civil wars that plague countries in the Middle East are faint at best. That's because it takes a few hundred years from the founding of a monotheistic religion before it goes through an Enlightenment period and its civil wars stop.
Consider: The Jewish nation split into the kingdoms of Judea and Samaria after the time of King Solomon, and split into conservative vs assimilationist camps during the age of Hellenist Greece (ironically under the Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes). Their battle is documented in the Book of Maccabees, and remembered in the Jewish festival of Hannukah.
Over a millennium after the founding of Christianity, Protestant and Catholic kingdoms were still waging brutal wars of devastation and destruction across Europe. Even as late as the 20th century, World War I saw Christian nations attacking each other. Hopefully we're past that now.
But Islam was founded about 600 years after Christianity, so Islamic enlightenment still awaits. While it may be brutal and callous to say so, if history is any guide Shiites and Sunnis could be killing each other for quite some time. That is something America, or any foreign power, is powerless to stop.
Syria is a terrible tragedy, but it is not a national security threat by any stretch of the imagination. There are other regional powers closer to the country who have far more at stake and should therefore bear the burden. Congress should do the right thing and refuse to authorize military action against Syria. After Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, it is a quagmire we cannot afford to step into.
Barry Fagin is a regular contributor to the Gazette's opinion page. Readers can write Dr. Fagin at firstname.lastname@example.org.