When you whack a hornet's nest, there's no telling which direction the stingers might attack back.
The same can be said for launching a military strike against Syria, which perhaps explains why a majority of Americans do not support President Obama's call for punishing the regime of dictator Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people in an increasingly brutal civil war. The video images of people suffering from the attack are heartbreaking.
Undoubtedly, the use of chemical weapons deserves condemnation and the criminals who ordered and carried out the attack must be brought to justice. The question is whether immediate U.S. air strikes can dispense precise punishment or risk stirring up a hornets' nest in ways that cannot be predicted.
Sen. Ron Johnson, who voted against a resolution authorizing the use of airstrikes against Syria in the Foreign Relations Committee last week, is rightfully skeptical of the military option. He explained his position in an interview with Oshkosh Northwestern Media's Washington correspondent Donovan Slack:
"If you're going to commit the finest among us to military action, you need to be committed to victory and success, and ... I don't even really know what victory or success looks like in this situation," Johnson said, adding that it appears the actions Obama is planning would result only in stalemate. "That's not an appropriate use of military force from my standpoint."
Nor is it clear that air strikes can achieve any significant military objective. The regime's chemical weapons stockpiles cannot be targeted for fear of unleashing the weapons; prisoners are being shipped to military bases and other critical facilities to serve as deterrents. Prolonged strikes against the military could tip the balance in the civil war to rebel groups, some with ties to extremist groups hell-bent on killing Americans.
The risk of escalation must also be carefully weighed. Civilians could be collateral damage, causing anti-American sentiment, and it could further destabilize an already volatile region by rousing the regime's allies and proxies in Iran and Hezbollah and lead to a greater humanitarian crisis of Syrians fleeing to neighboring Jordan and Turkey. In short, Johnson's right that the president hasn't made the case that the military option is the right one. His reticence is common in Wisconsin's Congressional delegation, most of whom plan to vote against the resolution. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is undecided.
Given our repugnance at the use of chemical weapons and strong desire to do something in the face of such evil, there is understandable frustration at not immediately doing something. In this case, patience and a resolve to take action when the appropriate time and circumstances present themselves is preferable to taking a whack at a hornet's nest.
The Final Thought: Sen. Johnson stakes out smart position on Syria.