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Is bombing Syria the answer for us?

To some, the decision about what action to take in Syria is a national and international issue. It’s one that may not seem appropriate for a local paper such as ours. However, a quick look at the unique place where we live says otherwise. Our region has an unusually strong military presence. In wars and conflicts spanning generations, and most recently, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, our neighbors, friends, colleagues, classmates, and in many cases, family members have been intimately involved. Few communities can claim to have such a strong tie to the military. So, perhaps, a short discussion of Syria and the decisions that are being made this week and next is relevant and local after all.

The President, normally someone I support, wants to attack President Assad’s forces in Syria. The provocation for U.S. military action is Assad’s use of a chemical agent, as yet unidentified, on his own people. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have both described the use of these weapons as “morally repugnant.” It’s an apt description. However, is it something that warrants a U.S. military response? That’s the question.

There are several issues around a possible military action which need to be addressed before any decision is made. One of the most pressing, is just what kind of strike does the President have in mind. Many in the administration are saying it’s going to be limited. If it is, what does a limited strike look like and what result can we expect? Can we reasonably expect President Assad to capitulate as the result of a few limited air strikes? Assad has hung on through a year of civil war. A sudden surrender following a few limited strikes seems unlikely. This means the risk for expanded U.S. involvement, should the limited strike not produce the desired result, is inordinately large.

Also, there is the question of which side is better? President Assad is a villain. That’s hard to argue, but the rebel forces include a significant Al-Qaeda presence. That’s downright scary. I am not so sure I want to pick a side. If the rebels were to prevail we could be giving the organization responsible for 9/11 a new foothold in the Middle East.

There is also the question of America’s willingness to fight this battle. Our country has been fighting in this region since 2002. Thousands of American servicemen and women have died and tens of thousands have been injured. Our military is tired. Four or five combat deployments will do that. Before we put this remarkable force at risk for yet another war, the administration should be asking if this is an action the American people can support. At the moment that support seems shaky at best.

Finally, this entire action seems a bit surreal. Rarely has an enemy gotten so much notice of an impending assault. Not only notice that an attack is coming, but also, its expected targets and strength. That gives Assad plenty of time to disperse his weapons and mitigate the effect of a potential assault. I am not a military strategist but something seems inherently flawed in this approach.

The next couple of weeks will involve Congressional debate over resolutions to support action in Syria. It’s not clear how these votes are going to go. But, before the Congress and the President decide on military action, there are some questions that need to be asked and answered first. At which point, the idea of unilateral military action, might not seem like such a good course of action after all.

You may reach David Kerr at
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