Friday, December 6, 2013
Elected officials are not bound to follow the wishes of their constituents. Public opinion plays a role in their decision-making process, but in the end it is their duty to vote based on their conscience and the best available information.
Maine's congressional delegation, however, has been inundated with calls against military action in Syria, and they should listen. The overwhelming response is a sign that Mainers remain unconvinced that intervention is necessary, and unclear about the ultimate objectives. More than that, it is a reflection of a nation weary of war, and aware that our military role in Syria likely would not end with a few missile strikes.
Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, likely will play key roles as Congress debates a military response. Neither has said whether they will support the resolution, which is still taking form.
The Obama administration argues that the world has a legal and moral obligation to respond to the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons. In the last couple of days, that argument has broadened to say failure to act would bolster the extremist factions of the rebellion, as allies increase their indiscriminate arming of the rebels.
It is unclear, however, who unleashed the chemical weapons and why. The evidence thus far has been unconvincing. The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appear to be winning the 2-year-old civil war, which has raised questions about why he would invite the ire of the international community by using chemical weapons.
The situation would become no less complex after U.S. missiles hit their targets. It is uncertain how the strikes would affect Assad's regime, or how the attacks would play with Assad's allies in Iran and with the Islamic militant group Hezbollah, not to mention Russia.
And after the initial period of U.S. intervention is over, what then? If Assad's position remains strong, there would be a call for more U.S. missiles. If Assad is toppled, now or in the future, it is unlikely the rebels would lay down their arms and allow peacekeepers. More likely, the disparate factions, some aligned with al-Qaida, would continue fighting for control.
As now, the fight would involve shadow actors from throughout the region.
Either way, the U.S. would be inescapably linked to the conflict, and faced with an immense pressure to act. Recent history shows how quickly a conflict can go from missiles to boots on the ground. That the U.S. entered a war in Iraq with such speed and ease so recently, under what proved to be false pretenses, should give everyone pause.
There is no doubt Congress faces a difficult decision. The suffering of the Syrian people is no small concern. But regimes cause suffering throughout the world. Why Syria, and why now, after years of abuse by Assad?
Collins and King, as well as Maine Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, have to consider all these questions now, because once the initial military action is approved, it will be too late.