President Barack Obama
acknowledged the nation's combat fatigue as he outlined his decision to seek congressional authorization for a military strike against Syria, and he reiterated that Tuesday as he attempted to rally support for action against Bashar Assad's regime.
"This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan," Obama said, describing the action he is seeking to undertake against Syria as "a limited, proportional step."
More than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq has made most Americans reluctant to embrace a third military action in the region. Assad's warning of the possibility of a regional war -- presumably involving Israel -- can only add to that reluctance, a factor that could make for a hard sell to Congress.
If Obama is to succeed in making his case, he must explain why it is in America's interest -- and a matter of national security -- to take on the role of avenger against Assad. A key element of that explanation will center on last month's alleged sarin gas attack outside Damascus, and there are a number of questions surrounding that incident.
First and foremost is a discrepancy in the number of alleged victims. Secretary of State John Kerry said 1,429 died in the attack, including 426 children, attributing those numbers to "a preliminary government assessment," but other sources, including the Syrian opposition, say the number was much lower. The French, one of our few apparent allies in this action, put the confirmed death toll at 281. The president himself fudged on Kerry's tally, referencing "well over 1,000 people" in his Rose Garden remarks Saturday.
While some might argue that the use of sarin gas is enough justification for a strike against Assad because of human rights concerns, the questions about the death toll are important.
Despite the president's assertion that "this is not Iraq," echoes of the run-up to the war against Saddam Hussein a decade ago are unavoidable. We invaded a nation based on murky assertions that Saddam possessed "weapons of mass destruction" that constituted a threat to national security, yet none were subsequently found. We remained in Iraq for years afterward, losing thousands of American lives and squandering billions in the process.
Nearly 50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson used an attack on an American destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Questions have since arisen concerning the circumstances surrounding the incident, which was a key factor in a war that cost nearly 60,000 American lives and dragged on for nearly a decade.
If Americans are going to go to war against Bashar Assad -- and make no mistake, a missile strike against a sovereign nation is an act of war -- we need to know exactly why.
The Obama administration needs to get the facts straight on what happened in Syria during the alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21. And it's now up to Congress, which seems to hold the trump card in the deal, to insist on full accountability before giving any green light to military action.