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What Obama's Failure in Libya Can Teach Us About Syria


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President Obama's decision to seek Congressional authorization for a military attack on Syria has caused a major debate all across America about the proper use of our military in regional conflicts, whether or not an attack on Syria would promote, or undermine, America's national security, and whether or not an attack would even help the people of Syria themselves.

There are no easy answers. That is the nature of war. The best-laid plans, and the best of intentions, can be laid to ruin within the opening seconds of any conflict. The history of America, and the history of the world, is full of examples -- from the wars of ancient Greece to World War I to the most recent war in Iraq -- in which promises of quick and easy military victories did not come to pass, and military involvement -- while solving some problems -- also created other problems, at enormous cost of blood and treasure.

Supporters of a Syrian attack use the U.S. bombing campaign against Libya in 2011 as an example of a "successful" intervention. But the families of the four Americans who were killed in the terrorist attack in Benghazi last year might disagree. And just this week, the Independent reported that "Libya has almost entirely stopped producing oil as the government loses control of much of the country to militia fighters," many of whom are affiliated with al-Qaeda. While Muammar Gaddafi was a despicable tyrant, the fact is, he shared our goal of defeating al-Qeada. When Gaddafi was removed, al-Qaeda was able to establish a beachhead in that country -- a beachhead that has expanded over the past two years, and may continue to expand as Libya's economy sinks and the authority of its government fades. By no reasonable measure can Libya be called a "success." In fact, it's been a failure.

Are we at danger of repeating that failure in Syria? Like Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad is a despicable tyrant, but he is not a declared enemy of the United States. And just as importantly, he is no friend to al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda would welcome Assad's departure and would thrive in the chaos that followed. Why would we want to embolden al-Qaeda? And why would we want to risk the lives of American servicemen and women to do it?

Of course, the Administration promises that any military strike against Syria would last only a few days and its mission would be constrained to protecting civilians, not removing Assad from power. But we've heard these promises before - in Libya. We were promised at the start of the Libyan campaign that it would last "days, not weeks" and that its goal was not regime change. What we ended up with was seven months of war dedicated explicitly to regime change, ending with Gaddafi's murder. The Administration underestimated the enemy and changed their mission mid-course. They broke their promises to the American people. Why should we expect anything different this time?

During the Libya War, the Administration was able to keep one promise - they never put boots on the ground. But that's because they decided it was unnecessary. If the Administration attacks Syria, and then, at a later point, decides that ground troops are necessary -- will they be able to resist the temptation? Will we have another Iraq on our hands? And why would we want to risk that?

On the fundamental question of "what is America's stake in Syria," I have yet to hear a good answer, although I'm still in the process of gathering information. I am leaning "no" on a Congressional authorization. I will not make a final decision until I look at all of the classified information next week.

As your Representative, it's my job to ask the tough questions and make sure that Congress has a strong and open debate about this important issue. We must not be steamrolled by the President. We must not be led astray by calls to "maintain our credibility" and "show our strength." Our strength is our democracy, and our commitment to the rule of law. Congress owes it to the American people to make sure that our military is used wisely and sparingly and that we should only put our brave servicemen and women in danger when the direct interests of the United States are at stake.

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