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Opinion: Dangers of Failure To Act

Our current and future standing in the international community is on the line.

President Obama has sought Congressional approval to carry out limited surgical strikes in Syria against the regime of Bashar al Assad in response to his use of chemical weapons to attack Syrian civilians, which killed 1,429 people, including 426 children.

The Administration, led by Secretary of State Kerry has presented what I know to be irrefutable evidence that the Assad government is responsible for this heinous attack.

I support the president’s decision, but regret the fact that he chose to entrust this Congress, one of the most divisive and ineffective in history, to authorize force against the Assad regime for their use of chemical weapons. I hope the president calculated correctly, because our current and future standing in the international community is on the line. Should Congress vote down the Administration's effort, it will severely undermine America’s future leadership role in foreign policy and cripple the Obama Administration’s ability to respond to subsequent challenges, both foreign and domestic.

President Obama’s request for authorization to attack the Assad regime rests on three considerations: (1) the ethical responsibility to react to what Secretary of State Kerry has called a “moral obscenity,” Syria’s clear violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol against the use of poisonous weapons; (2) The humanitarian doctrine known as “the responsibility to protect” civilians at imminent threat from their own government; and (3) The strategic imperative to establish a clear limit to the Syrian military’s power, and thus a deterrent against further use of chemical weapons.

That’s not to say we should ignore the dangers involved with taking military action. The impact a strike would have on opposition fighters, our regional allies, and on civilian communities in Syria is of serious concern. We also want to ensure that we are not helping extremist groups like the al-Qaeda connected Al Nusra front gain strength due to our actions.

Should a vote in Congress fail, a U.S. attack may occur anyway. The president has the authority to carry out limited strikes, similar to what Presidents Clinton and Reagan carried out during their time in office. But by rejecting the president’s request for Congressional support, our ability to deter the use of weapons of mass destruction in the future, be they chemical or nuclear, will be diminished.

America is the only country in this world with the ability to stop the use and proliferation of such means of murdering civilians on a massive scale. I believe we have the concomitant responsibility to use that ability today if we want to bring about a more peaceful world for our children tomorrow.

What we decide to do now is transcendent of this specific situation and not confined to what we do with Bashar al-Assad. We must act in a way that represents our fundamental values and moral convictions, one that will endure through the inevitable subsequent challenges we are sure to face. The use and proliferation of chemical weapons is so abhorrent, so beyond the pale, that the world must act. In this case, our only option is military. We cannot fail to accept this responsibility today. The challenges and costs will be all the greater if we fail to act.