Tahlequah Daily Press

September 2, 2013

Cole’s cautious position on Syria the best


TAHLEQUAH — Americans keeping up with the volatile situation in Syria may be recalling the ramp-up to war in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last decade, and thinking it’s “deja vu all over again.”

According to polls, most Americans do not favor U.S. involvement in this so-called “civil war.” While a chemical attack launched last week by the al-Assad regime likely killed hundreds of civilians, it didn’t much change the opinion of folks who are tired of the U.S. tendency to serve as the world’s policeman.

Despite assurances by the Bush administration that U.S. troops and resources would not become bogged down on those two Mideast battle fronts, that’s exactly what happened. Few would now question the assertion that these wars cost America not only thousands of lives, but billions of dollars that could have been put to better use elsewhere – for instance, on our crumbling infrastructure, educating our children, or helping impoverished citizens pull themselves up by the bootstraps. And that doesn’t even take into account the mental scars brought back by thousands of soldiers.

Unfortunately, many Americans don’t have long memories, which is why we tend not to learn lessons of the past. And if the average citizen can’t remember mistakes of a few decades ago, politicians can’t recall past a two-year term.

President Obama seems to be spoiling for action in Syria, and has even hinted the U.S. might “go it alone” if other allies aren’t in on the deal. Indeed, the list of supporters grows ever sparser: The UK decided at the end of last week to nix a role, although France says it’s still in. But other countries are asking for more time for U.N. inspectors to make a report, or simply for more time to consider options.

Meanwhile, many in Congress are reticent, although a few hawks are spoiling for battle. Ironically, some of those most opposed were all for jumping into Iraq with all barrels blazing when Bush was in the White House – which suggests their opinion about Obama, rather than what’s best for Syria or the U.S., is the driving force.

It’s hard to miss the parallels with 12 years ago. Should we assume Obama knows more than he’s telling about Syria, or should we assume many in the Beltway have done an about-face on how they view participation in overseas conflicts?

Oklahoma Republican Congressman Tom Cole – probably one of the most sensible and bipartisan souls in that party – should be viewed as a bellwether. Last week, Cole was one of 140 members of Congress – 21 Democrats among them – who signed a letter urging Obama to back down on his threat of a military strike without congressional consent.

That seems like a rational position. Before Obama does anything, he needs to ask himself whether we can afford to intervene. And by “afford” we don’t just mean the expenditure of money, though the action would undoubtedly mean the use of funds we can’t really spare. There are other costs to consider, not the least of which is innocent lives.