For those of us who grew up during the Vietnam years — and especially for those who fought in the 20-year-long war — the prospect of possible United States involvement in the Syrian civil war is chilling. In my lifetime, the U.S. has been part of at least 10 armed conflicts, some of which, like Vietnam and Somalia, were poorly thought out and even more poorly executed.
As a resolution on Syria heads to the Senate next week, Americans remain staunchly opposed. More than 60 percent think launching missile strikes against the Syrian government for its probable use of chemical weapons is a bad idea. More than a decade of Middle Eastern wars have collectively worn out the public’s interest in more of the same.
For now, it looks like only President Obama and a select few of his henchmen consider Syria a catastrophic situation that requires immediate U.S. intervention. Obama had the presence of mind to deflect any final decision on Syria to Congress, where it will face major roadblocks, especially in the House.
According to Capitol Hill insiders, House Republican staffers have advised that several key members are unsatisfied by the White House’s classified briefings. A top aide said the administration has failed to make a compelling case “beyond spasmodic moral outrage.” Another added that Obama would have to make a more convincing case to the public if he expects Congress and the American public to back him. If voters aren’t sold, then Congress can’t be either.
Without American and congressional backing, a war resolution endorsed by Obama, his Secretaries of State and Defense, and outspoken Senate hawks John McCain and Lindsey Graham could lose.
If the House or Senate votes down the resolution but Obama — without authorization from Congress, the Security Council, NATO or the Arab League — leads the nation into a war it doesn’t want to fight, he’ll face severe political consequences that might end in impeachment proceedings, already under consideration in some quarters.
On the other hand, if Congress approves the resolution, Obama would do well to reconsider his commitment to interfering in Syria whether it’s for two hours, two days or two weeks. Once America starts down that path, turning back becomes increasingly difficult. Remember Vietnam.
Apparently forgotten in the war’s buildup is sequestration. While low-paid federal employees are being fired and White House tours cancelled in the name of economic prudence, an airstrike against Syria would quickly amount to tens of billions and much more should the effort be sustained.
Since the Pentagon is bracing for a $20 billion funding reduction as delayed spending caps from the 2011 debt-ceiling deal begin next month, one might think that hawks would be expressing concerns about triggering such inflated costs. Instead, they believe that the U.S. military should expand its global presence, spending be damned.
Unless Congress gets an overnight common sense infusion, the outcome looks inevitable. By the time the frost is on the pumpkin, we’ll be knee-deep in Syria. Obama promised less than a year ago that, with the nearly decade-old Iraqi war finally over, he could turn his attention to “nation building here at home.” Today, those are just more empty words.
Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.