I have found a great deal of truth in the (rephrased) words of Senator John McCain—“Should the US fail to act on Assad’s chemical attack, it will be a catastrophe”. He is right. In many cases—and this is surely one of those—the long term cost associated with holding back in the face of a ruthless, unrestrained international criminal dictator on the loose, is considerably higher than any short term relief, gain or disregard to mass killings and genocide, even when these atrocities take part outside the homeland.
In today’s world, where distances have become progressively shorter, economies are interdependent; news are communicated and twitted globally in real time and in full colors, troubles outside the borders of the US could quickly reach the American shores and discharge a tidal wave, high enough to cover the Rocky Mountains peaks. Here is one scenario of how it might transpire.
Should American response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people turn impotent, The Israeli government would lose faith in Obama’s vows to use any means, including the use of force, to break off an emboldened Iran, whose nuclear ambitions would be bolstered by Obama’s retreat on Syria. The Ayatollah, they’d suppose, would venture crossing the red line; he would gamble calling Obama on his seeming bluff. Consequently, the Israeli government may come closer to taking preventive military action against Iran without US backing. The outcome may not be as comprehensive or as damaging to Iran as if the US had initiated the encounter. Consequently, Iran may be able to retaliate; they would try to mine the Strait of Hormuz; they would attempt sinking container ships in the Persian Gulf; they would shoot rockets at Saudi Arabia, Israel, UAE, Bahrain, trying to stop and impair the flow of oil to the world.
The next Middle East war may force the US to intervene, but without the advantage of instigating the opening move. It will cost more; there will be further hardship and more casualties on both sides of the red line, and it will last longer in consequence.
On the other hand, should the US take the initiative now and punish Assad, the Iranian regime (as well as other evil dictatorships) will find Obama’s warning concerning their nuclear red line much more credible. The Ayatollah will slow down or even halt his dash toward nuclear weapons, and even if he does not, the scenario above would play quite differently, provided that the initiative and the opening move in the following Persian Gulf War will be entrusted by the American military.
There is also one imperative, compelling humanitarian (rather than strategic) argument, for weakening Assad’s militarily and degrading his ability to deploy chemical weapons in the future.
In sectarian Syria where religious fanaticism is peaking, a decisive win in the civil war by either side will bring about genocidal bloodbaths on the losing side. Assad is a ruthless killer, but so are his Islamist enemies, they would have used chemical weapons on Assad’s supporters had they been able to do so. It may sound like an oxymoron, but as long as the rebels are able to hold their ground, short of winning; as long as the two sides are weak; as long as no side is capable of hammering a decisive victory, chances of a titanic genocide are diminished, while the odds of a political settlement are intensifying. It’s not enough to even out the fire power between the opposing sides of the Syrian civil war. Balancing fire power is better effected by damaging the stronger side rather than strengthening the weaker one.
The US Congress should support their president in his attempt to do the right thing with regard to Syria. Failing to punish Assad at this time will only reproduce the shameful Munich Agreement of September 30th, 1938, where the former British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, announced "peace for our time" on the steps of 10 Downing Street, straight after returning from Munich, where he and government leaders from France, and Italy had signed an agreement with Hitler letting him divide and occupy part of Czechoslovakia in the “hope of averting war”. That specific agreement and its appeasing essence was the main reason Hitler felt that the Western powers were weak, naïve, shunning confrontation at all cost, and easily overpowered. That ”Munich Moment” served as hors d'oeuvre to the main course—Hitler’s disastrous blastoff of World War II.
And the rest is history.
If Congress declares: “Let Assad use chemical weapons with impunity. Let him do it in the “hope of averting war”, then that particular sad chapter in recent history will, without doubt, repeat itself.