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Congressional debate vital as decisions on Syria are made

Sep 4, 2013 - By The San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News

As Americans grapple with their feelings about a U.S. military attack in Syria, it is fitting that President Barack Obama has asked Congress for authorization.

Echoes of Iraq hang heavily over this decision. A full and open debate --particularly as our normally staunch ally, Great Britain, has decided to remain on the sideline --can only strengthen the country. If the decision is to act on the horrific use of chemical weapons in Syria, it will be a consensus of our national leadership.

But the debate should take place now. Senate and House leaders should call their members back from recess immediately instead of waiting until Sept. 9.

Seeking congressional approval for military action is a serious risk for Obama. With both the left and right split on this, it's entirely possible the president won't get the authorization he seeks. But this choice is consistent with the promises he made as a presidential candidate and with his criticism of his predecessor for acting in Iraq without first coming to Congress. It recognizes the scars of the Iraq war on our national psyche.

There are many differences between the situation faced by Obama and the one George W. Bush faced more than a decade ago, the main one being that Bush did everything he could to launch a war. Obama has done everything to avoid another military action.

The grisly chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21, which reportedly killed more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children, has changed his thinking. Obama has crusaded against the use and proliferation of chemical and nuclear weapons. In advocating for retaliation, he is keeping faith with that past and pushing the international community to live up to its own words. A failure to respond in any way would embolden Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his ilk around the world.

If we are going to launch even a limited military strike against Syria, which is what Obama wants, Americans should fully understand the reasons and the potential consequences. A sober debate in Congress, is the best way for that to happen. This is particularly true if the U.S. ends up being the only nation willing to stand against the use of chemical weapons.

But weeks are passing. The debate needs to begin as soon as possible, befitting the urgency and unusual nature of what's proposed. Senators and representatives should be booking their flights.

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