Public opinion is clear on Syria

September 13, 2013

The looming decision concerning punishing Syria for its use of chemical weapons is an issue that has put President Barack Obama’s credibility on the line, dominated discussion in Congress and roused the public.

It also, unfortunately, has diverted the president, Congress and the American public from other vital issues.

The economy, unemployment and immigration are among those issues that need attention but have taken a back seat to Syria. At this point, immigration reform likely won’t come up in the House until the end of this year and maybe not until next year. And Congress is facing a new debt ceiling fight as well as the ongoing budget discussions. But the topic now is Syria.

Obama took his message to the people Monday by appearing on six network news shows to explain his reasons to attack Syria with air strikes. The president is a persuasive, eloquent man, but his words are probably too little, too late. Americans are overwhelmingly against any sort of military action against Syria.

The shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan hangs over this country. Americans are weary of war and understand that even the promise of only limited strategic air strikes could lead to a full military engagement in a country where the United States really has no friends.

Still, the image of more than 1,400 men, women and children, mostly civilians, lying dead following an attack with Sarin gas is powerful. Americans are most always ready to aid the defenseless. At any other time in history the debate over attacking Syria and its leader, Bashar al-Assad, might not have been so divisive. After more than 10 years of war, however, Americans are not only tired, but skeptical.

Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that if Assad were to turn over all his chemical weapons within a week, an attack could be averted. Almost immediately, Russia’s foreign minister said that Russia would join any effort to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and eventually destroy them.

That is a big step in this standoff. Russia had been the stumbling block in the U.N. Security Council with its veto power. If Russia, which is also Syria’s biggest arms supplier, puts any pressure on Assad, a resolution is possible.

Whether Obama did the right thing by taking the Syria discussion to Congress will be a matter for history. What is clear now is that the American public certainly supported congressional debate and in town hall meetings across the country they have told their congressmen and senators, in no uncertain terms, exactly what they think. And the message has been to stay out of Syria.

Assad, in an interview on CBS, made the usual dictator threats. He warned that if the U.S. attacks, there will be dire repercussions. No doubt, an attack probably would be welcomed by terrorist groups always looking for another recruitment tool. Syria, itself, has little capability of retaliating against the U.S.

The Assad regime is corrupt. The country’s civil war has dragged on more than two years. His use of chemical weapons - despite his denials - is in direct violation of international law and an affront to humanity.

Punishment is in order. The American people, however, are not ready for the United States to take full responsibility as the executor of that punishment.

— Tulsa World