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What should we do about Syria?

The Chemical Weapons Convention, ratified in Geneva in September of 1992, prohibits a state party from using chemical weapons or engaging in military preparations to use chemical weapons. A state party is also never to “develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone." 188 states (countries) have signed onto the convention including all but seven of the United Nations’ states: Angola, Myanmar, Egypt, Israel, North Korea, South Sudan and Syria. So, it would seem that most of the world would be in agreement that if Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his people that something should be done about it. But for now, most of the world has stood up against an attack on Syria.

So now we are being asked to decide if the United States has a moral obligation to act in Syria even when most of the world refuses to act. Our president and his secretary of state, along with many other political leaders, are trying to argue that we do. That it somehow fits into our long-standing tradition of being the world’s police.

I was born in 1966. During my years I have lived through us fighting a war in Vietnam that was eventually abandoned, two Iraq wars and the war in Afghanistan. If you are older than I am, you’ve also perhaps experienced the Korean War and WWII. There have also been a number of military incursions or interventions in places like Libya, Panama, Lebanon, Grenada, The Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Somalia, Macedonia, Haiti, Yemen, Liberia, Pakistan and the list could go on. Some of these wars and incursions included significant backing from our allies. Others we went into alone.

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What has been accomplished — especially with all of our action in the Middle East? Has it been worth the cost to us in lives and money lost? How has it affected our reputation around the world? What is the end game in Syria?

At least our president has allowed our potential action in Syria to be debated in Congress. This debate will be interesting to watch. According to a recent poll, nearly 80 percent of Americans think we should stay away from Syria. Despite the resolution narrowly passing out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, there is a real chance that the resolution for action in Syria could be voted down in one or both chambers of Congress. What then? Will the president take action even against the wishes of Congress? Or, like David Cameron, the Prime Minister of England, will he back down?

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Civil wars are often tragic and devastating to the countries in which they are waged. Yes, it is sad that more than 100,000 Syrians have lost their lives, including many innocent women and children. Our own civil war was tragic as well, with more than 600,000 American lives lost and more than 1 million casualties. Would it have been a better war if another country intervened on one side or the other?

Our country seems to be tired of war. So does much of the world. In Syria’s civil war there are people on both sides of the battle who dislike America. I hope Congress and the president are listening to a majority of Americans. This is a civil war we don’t need to get involved in.

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Steve Jameson is editor and publisher of the Muscatine Journal.

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