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Don't go to war with Syria: Our View

8:57 AM, Sep. 7, 2013  |  Comments
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Last Saturday, President Barack Obama announced an extraordinary decision to seek authorization from Congress before bombing Syria. That decision went against long precedent, agreed to tacitly or explicitly by both parties, by which Congress has essentially outsourced foreign policy decision-making to the executive branch.

The move was something of a shock. Despite calls from legislators on both sides of the aisle, few observers expected the president to seek congressional approval. It is simply incredibly rare for executive power to be ratcheted down.

Now that Congress will weigh in on the issue, though, we are faced with the substance of the decision itself. The case for war with Syria is weak, and the U.S. should not take action there. We don't need another Middle East war.

The war in Syria has been the cause of immense and protracted suffering. The regime there, led by Bashar al-Assad, is a brutal and repressive dictatorship. We take the humanitarian argument for intervention seriously.

But there are few credible claims that a U.S. intervention in the form of air strikes could possibly end suffering there. Not only that, they would be unlikely to remove Assad or draw the war to a close. In some ways, that is why there are real risks that an air campaign now would lead to escalations later.

U.S. officials say they have convincing evidence that Assad has used chemical weapons to target civilians. The international taboo on the use of such weapons even during a brutal war has been an important and relatively recent advance. We don't want to see the essential ban on chemical warfare crumble, and the U.S. clearly has a role in enforcing it.

But an international norm would seem to require an international response. But, imperfect as they are, the international institutions we have do not support the strike. A relatively unilateral U.S. action is the wrong way to maintain broad support for international law.

The U.S. cannot benefit from being drawn into another long conflict. Everyone, including proponents of a strike on Syria, seems to agree on this. But if the U.S. isn't prepared to commit to driving out Assad and assisting the Syrian people in establishing a new government, democratic institutions and structures - the work of years or decades - then it's not clear what the objective of a limited bombing campaign would be.

Based on public statements this week, Wisconsin's delegation in Washington appears to be nearly unanimous in its opposition to this war. It has united arch-conservative U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson with liberal U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, expressed strong skepticism about the vote. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, said she would only support a strike if convinced there were "clear, focused and achievable objectives."

Our congressional leaders, in this case, are reflecting the will of most Americans. The president should listen, and not make a risky commitment for an uncertain objective. No war with Syria.

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