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Action in Syria

Aug 29, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

The prospect raises many questions with few obvious answers, but it might be done anyway

All signs point today to the likelihood of U.S.-led military action against the government of Syria in response to that nation's apparent use of forbidden chemical weaponry in the battlefield.

Deployment of such weapons, which the United States and many of its allies now are certain took place, violates some of the oldest and most strongly-held principles of warfare.

More than a year ago, President Obama stated that the United States would not permit the use of chemical weapons by Syria to occur without retaliation. That the Syrian government used the deadly chemicals against its own citizens adds to the reprehensible nature of the offense.

That line of thinking is obvious and compelling. But it is not the only ingredient in the deliberations on how to respond.

High-ranking officials of the United States military are far from unanimous on how an attack on Syria ought to be carried out, nor on what effect it would have. Would Syrian President Assad's government collapse if the U.S. attacked? Would Assad step down voluntarily?

Might his own generals, seeing the futility of the government's effort to quash rebellion, turn on Assad, as happened in nearby Egypt recently?

Would the rebel factions that have opposed the government regime embrace U.S. intervention, or reject it? Would America's allies join in the military action? Would Syria's powerful allies enter the fray militarily?

Is there a U.S. threat at play here, or would this be solely a conscientious action?

These are the questions that occur to a community newspaper editorial writer far removed from the halls of power. Just imagine what questions the experts and decision-makers must be facing.

There is another important disclaimer in this mix. The American talk of the certainty of Syria's use of chemical weapons has a familiar ring to it. More than a decade ago, our nation's leaders spoke with identical conviction about the weapons of mass destruction possessed by the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. That certainty was a propellant for war, and thousands of American lives were lost, with many thousands more maimed and disabled. We now know that the WMD that our leaders were so sure existed in Iraq could not be found.

Today, tangible benefits from that costly error and the war that followed it are difficult to identify.

In other words, our country doesn't have the greatest track record recently in this sort of summary judgment. We had better be sure -- very sure -- that this violation of international law occurred before we put planes in the air or boots on the ground in Syria, before we decide to kill people and put our own military personnel at risk.

In truth, Syria's government already has committed atrocities against its own people which, in the opinion of many, warranted military intervention long before now from the United States, still the world's conscience. Today those advocates say that there was reason enough before, an unavoidable world obligation now.

If those we have chosen to lead our nation determine that this must be done, then let their motives be sincere, their intelligence reliable, and their execution of the plan clear and resolute from start to finish. The nation and world are owed that much, at least.

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