Here's advice to the members of the United States Congress as they are asked to endorse an American-led attack on the government of Syria:
Start your consideration by establishing priorities, clarifying what matters most to the country. The Obama administration rightly points to two urgent matters: stopping the Iranian nuclear buildup and maintaining the security of Israel. To these, I add a third: reestablishing the U.S. deterrent credibility laid low by Barack Obama himself.
Note that this list conspicuously does not mention the Syrian regime's chemical arsenal (the largest in the world) or its recent use. That's because those pale in horror and in danger by comparison with the nuclear weapons now under construction in Iran. Also, the attack in Ghouta, Syria, on Aug. 21 was appalling, but not worse than killing a hundred times more civilians through other means, including torture. Further, that attack breached multiple international conventions, but surely no one expects "limited strikes" to restrain desperate dictators.
How best, then, to achieve the real priorities concerning Iran, Israel, and U.S. deterrence? Several options exist. Going from most violent to least, they include:
1. Knock off the Assad regime. Attractive in itself, especially because it takes out Tehran's No. 1 ally and disrupts supply lines to Hezbollah, this scenario opens a can of worms: anarchy in Syria, foreign intervention by neighbors, the prospect of Al-Qaeda-connected Islamists taking over in Damascus, hostilities against Israel on the hitherto-quiet Golan Heights, and the dispersal of the regime's chemical weapons to terrorist organizations. Overthrowing Bashar al-Assad threatens to recapitulate the elimination of long-standing dictators of Iraq and Libya in 2003 and 2011, leading to years, or even decades, of instability and violence. Worse yet, this outcome could rejuvenate the otherwise dying career of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the bully of Turkey, currently nearly overwhelmed by his missteps.
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