What if Congress doesn’t approve President Barack Obama’s call for military action against Syria? That’s one of the biggest questions we’re left pondering in the wake of the president’s surprise and questionable decision to seek congressional support for limited military action in response to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people. Congressional rejection is an outcome we should do everything in our power to prevent.
Within hours of Saturday’s speech in the Rose Garden, Obama was attacked on many fronts — for dithering, for sending the wrong message, for his lack of leadership.
Many of the criticisms are justified as the president has waffled in his efforts to develop a meaningful policy in a place where U.S. influence is unfortunately rather limited and there are no good options. But while it would have been within Obama’s legal rights to pursue military action without a nod from Congress — and a delay risks further perceptions of American weakness abroad — such approval could accomplish two things.
First, it would signal to Assad that American resolve against such heinous acts is strong and broad, hopefully deterring him from further use of chemical warfare against his own people. Just as importantly, it would show other rogue nations, nuclear-prone Iran in particular, that America, across the political spectrum, has no tolerance for weapons of mass destruction.
As Americans, we are all wary of getting entangled in yet another Mideast conflagration. But a limited strike, with specific objectives, is the right move. As Jews, how can we lead the post-Holocaust call of “Never Again” and then stand by when chemical gases are unleashed on a civilian population?
It’s possible that action against Syria could precipitate retaliation against Israel. But the greater fear is what Assad, Hezbollah and Iran would take away from a congressional rejection and U.S. inaction. As David Horovitz, editor of The Times of Israel, put it recently: “The notion that the United States would turn its back on the toxic crimes of a murderous dictator” is “too dire to consider in an Israel facing more than one hostile regime relentlessly seeking to exploit any military and moral weakness in order to expedite the Jewish state’s demise.”
As we recite the powerful prayer, Unetanah Tokef, during the High Holiday liturgy, we ask: “Who shall live and who shall die?” and we are reminded that much of what happens in the world is beyond our control. But with certain action, including the pursuit of justice, the prayer continues, we have the power to change course. This is such a time to change course — to let our lawmakers and the world know that weapons of mass destruction will never be tolerated.