When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his country’s citizens, killing more than 1,400 people, including defenseless children, he crossed a line for most Americans. While there is still much consternation over whether a military response is appropriate and, if so, how we limit our exposure and don’t get sucked into another seemingly endless intervention, there seems to be some consensus that the act of gassing innocents in Syria deserves a response.
My biggest concern about a military response was whether we could craft a specific enough action to not further victimize the Syrian people. I’m also sympathetic to concerns that we should think long and hard before entering into disputes in other countries, given how difficult it has been to extricate ourselves from Iraq and Afghanistan. I also understand, but am less sympathetic, to questions about whether, as the last remaining superpower, it’s our role to be the world’s police force.
But as I listened to President Obama make the case for a targeted military response last week, I was persuaded by what appears to be a thoughtful analysis of the issues that have made me uncomfortable. I’m not so persuaded by what he said, but by a self-assessment that while I have gut-level reactions to all these issues, I’m clearly not knowledgeable enough about either the issues or our possible alternative responses to have an informed opinion about what we should do or how we should do it.
The fact that the president has decided to ask Congress to weigh in on the decision gives me additional confidence that we will end up making the best possible decision. But ultimately, I find myself supporting the president’s recommended response simply because I think we must have some level of confidence that those people advising the president about what to do and how to do it have our country’s greatest expertise on these issues.
I must admit that I came to a similar conclusion when we went after weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When we failed to find them and then became mired in a ground war there, I felt duped and wondered how our intelligence could have been so wrong. Given that experience, there is an element of “once bitten, twice shy” in my original concerns about the president’s recommended action. But that skepticism is tempered by the fact that it appears the recommended response takes those concerns into account through verification that Syria did use sarin gas on its citizens and that our response will include no “boots on the ground.”
In our democratic society, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to have a healthy skepticism about the activities of our government and to provide feedback to our elected officials on important issues. But for me on the question of Syria, I’ve concluded that those people in our government with both more experience and more information than is available to me have made a recommendation for a response to heinous acts that I’m ready to support.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.