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Published September 07 2013

Forum editorial: Attacking Syria not best option

Congress should say “no” to President Barack Obama’s request for endorsement of a military strike on Syria. The president can act without Congress, as previous presidents have done. But in an attempt to spread responsibility for whatever the U.S. does, the president asked for congressional approval. He has an obligation to take seriously what Congress advises.

The president has properly drawn a “red line” regarding the Syrian government’s use of chemicals to kill its own people. It’s a clear violation of internationally recognized Geneva protocols that have been in place for 80 years. The civilized world can’t allow it to stand. But a military strike is but one option in a quiver of arrows the U.S. and other nations can aim at the Syrian regime. Among them are economic and trade sanctions, freezing assets, solidifying an international coalition to pressure Syria, and covert action that might involve allies such as the Israelis.

If a military strike were not the president’s first choice, would the United Nations and NATO be more amenable to act in other ways against Syria? Would the thus far intransigent Russians be more helpful? Those avenues have not been fully pursued.

If the president can’t win support of the legislative branch, he need not take the military option off the table. But in concert with Congress he should first pursue those other options.

Furthermore, the president’s less-than-clear military strike strategy seems to be without an end game. What, precisely, will it accomplish? If the thuggish regime of Bashar Assad falls, who and what will take its place? Are the U.S. and its allies prepared to back Syrian rebels, some of whom are hostile to the West? As former national security adviser Gen. Brent Skowcroft asked last week: Is there an intensive diplomatic effort missing in all this?

Every poll shows a majority of Americans understand and abhor the crime of using chemical weapons. But they also reject bombing and missiles as the first and only way to respond. The president and Congress should pay attention to a war-weary people. A missile strike on Syria, the results of which are monumentally uncertain, would be a mistake.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.