As a candidate for Congress, I have given more thought to the question of how I would vote on going into war in Syria than any single other issue. President Assad has committed atrocities against his own people, and he is a failed leader who deserves nothing but our condemnation. If the reports are true that he used chemical weapons, the international community has a moral responsibility and a legal obligation to uphold the Geneva Conventions. But does crossing this red line automatically mean the U.S. should take military action? Do we have other options? What will the consequences be and are we ready to pay that price unilaterally? I take these questions both seriously and personally.
I applaud President Obama for seeking congressional authorization before any military action in Syria. We have seen an overreach of executive power in recent decades, not only because presidents have reached for more power but because Congress handed it to them. Our President’s job is to show that all peaceful means have been tried and failed, must give clear moral justification for going to war, must show what strategic objectives are to be accomplished, must show how success will be defined and measured, and must show how the loss of life will be minimized on all sides. I applaud the President for preparing that justification and making it plainly available to the public.
Now Congress must take its responsibility seriously. It must do its job in asking tough questions, having a full debate, and casting a vote I believe both on the authorization to go to war and on the plan to pay for it. My generation has been stretched thin. I have had too many friends and family members who have served admirably in two wars over the last decade, in one case a war based on lies and constantly changing justifications, and in both cases dragging on well beyond what we were told would be necessary. And we cannot continue to wage war on the credit card. We are robbing future generations when we spend so much national treasure on destruction while having no plan for how to pay off the debt caused by these wars. We must refuse the temptation to give a blank check to the Pentagon.
I am not opposed to all military intervention. I believe the United States has a moral obligation to remain engaged in global affairs. We must learn from our past, and recognize that isolation may allow for a greater loss of human life and significant human suffering, as I believe our history shows us by our moving too slowly to intervene in World War II.
But first and foremost I am of the belief that the default must always be seeking peace and opposing war. In any conflict, we must seek all peaceful solutions at our disposal, and do everything in our power to see that they succeed. Diplomacy and political pressure might be difficult or messy, but so is war. While we have seen wars that have a tendency to escalate beyond our control, dragging on well beyond when we were told “mission accomplished.”
In the case of Syria, we have heard calls for action to punish Assad. While punishment of those who do evil in the world might feel like justification, it is not the purpose of our military force. Nor is it the moral responsibility for the United States to act unilaterally in policing and punishing every injustice in the world. We have international laws, institutions, and allies who should be engaged just as our own citizens must be engaged.
We have also heard the prevention of future chemical weapons attacks as justification for a military strike. Yet I am left wondering what will happen the day after we strike. Will Assad apologize and seek forgiveness for his atrocities? Or will he crack down on the rebels and exacerbate the civil war, causing even worse civilian deaths? Will Syria, or its allies in Iran or Hezbollah launch attacks at Israel, escalating this into a regional conflict? Or what if it the strike doesn’t deter Assad from using chemical weapons and he launches another chemical weapons attack, even worse than the accounts we’ve heard thus far? Is our response going to be to escalate our unilateral military intervention, deepening our involvement in what has already been a two year bloody civil war into a regional all-out war in the Middle East?
All of this leads me to one conclusion on the question of military action in Syria: Based on the information I have to date, what I am able to learn about the situation from public reports, I would vote no. I encourage the President to call for immediately convening Geneva II, the Middle East Peace Conference which has already been planned, with the goal of mobilizing the international community to work to end the bloody civil war in Syria. Our history teaches us that the United States cannot sit back and allow terrible people to commit indescribable atrocities, but nor can we commit our young men and women to yet another war without pursuing all other options first.