The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

September 4, 2013

More answers before action against Syria

As talk of U.S. military action against Syria escalates, let’s remember our history lessons.

Recall that a decade ago, Congress and the American people were sold a story that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. That opened the door to war. Later, when the truth came out — Iraq did not possess such weaponry — Americans felt violated and betrayed, and our standing in the global community suffered.

This time, Americans must demand more. The standard of proof has been raised. Further, we must demand a stronger case, especially as a staunch ally takes to the sidelines, for the United States to unilaterally try to send a message to Damascus.

President Barack Obama argues that Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons against its own citizens calls for a military response.

A chemical weapons attack — one that kills more than 1,400, including 400 children — is reprehensible and cowardly. Our first inclination is to launch some sort of response. But determining what that response will be, and what we hope it will accomplish, are questions yet to be answered. And Americans deserve those answers.

Members of Congress have said they won’t support any action until they have proof that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the attack. They are not ready to take the U.S. president’s word for it, and who can blame them?

Under our Constitution, Congress possesses the power to declare war. However, presidents, as military commander in chief, have long used loopholes, legislation and defiance to circumvent Congress. Saturday afternoon, Obama stated that he could have ordered a strike without congressional approval, but he will seek that authorization nonetheless.

Obama, who formerly taught constitutional law, might be right about his authority, but he is right to include Congress in the decision-making. The president should answer lawmakers’ questions and concerns. Such as these from Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa: “I want to know what the goal of the military strike is, how civilian casualties will be avoided, what the strategic plan is, and how we will know if the effort was successful.

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