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OPINION - Momentum builds for bad policy

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)   The debate in Washington over what to do with Syria has my head spinning. Surely no one thinks firing a few missiles into Syria after giving several weeks notice is productive. This impresses no one. It certainly doesn't scare the ruling family in Syria. It doesn't chance the balance-of-power for the rebels. We already look incompetent to our allies. We, again, look weak to the Arab street.

This could have been a golden moment for Congress. The President has called on Capital Hill to decide whether to use force. This could have been a chance to say we don't use our military assets as a bail-out for poorly drawn lines in the sand. Yet House leadership has already said they support a military response. And rank-and-file Republicans have already gotten a tongue-lashing for defying their Speaker on a farm bill. This is a much higher profile vote. If John Boehner wants a 'yes', he'll get it.

What's missing here is a response from the other Arab nations in the region. Surely they don't want the use of chemical weapons to be the new norm. Iran is watching? They know this isn't the same as attacking Israel or U.S. targets with gas. They know there is a civil war Syria and that situation is fundamentally different. Arab leaders have other options that would work. They surround Syria. Their weapons embargo would work. They could force Syria out of OPEC, or suspend international trade... that would have an impact more that our bombing of empty military bases.

What's missing is effective diplomacy. President Reagan got the Arab world to rally around us after our Marine barracks were bombed in Beirut. President Bush included Arab nations in our coalition for the first Iraq war. The only person with the international chops to move the ball forward within the Administration is Vice President Biden, but he's seen as too much of a buffoon to trust in a high-profile situation. So we are adrift. The best we have from President Obama is the naivete that conciliatory speeches from his first term categorizing America's past mistakes would change our relations with hostile nations. Missile strikes against Syria is a train with no brakes, rolling slowly down the tracks.

The facts in Syria remain the same. We're not entirely sure who used the gas. Neither side is a friend to America. We have no vital interests there. 

This is not a situation into which American military might should be inserted. Why can so few in Washington see that?