This will be the third time a President has asked me to authorize the use of military force against another sovereign country.
The Syria case is very challenging. However, these decisions cannot be made in a vacuum, so let me lay out some short term historical moments that are important in this debate and my decision making process.
I voted yes to authorize the use of force against the Afghanistan government run by the Taliban after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Al Qaeda had struck a terrible blow against our nation, and the Taliban provided a safe haven for the terrorists and would not hand them over for justice. Removing the Taliban to seek justice against Al Qaeda was not a difficult call. Having served in the military, I knew that there would be those who would pay the ultimate sacrifice. No one knew or believed that we would still be in Afghanistan 12 years later.
The Iraqi campaign has not been as clear. The mission was to remove a dictator, who threatened the stability of the Middle East by having and possibly using chemical weapons. He had used them on his own citizens years prior, and the international intelligence was in agreement of the threat. I trusted their assessment, our President, and the Secretary of State as he made the case before the UN. I supported the President's request and voted yes. The search for weapons of mass destruction came up empty, and cost our nation lives and money.
We are being asked again by the chief executive to authorize the use of force against Syria.
The use of chemical weapons is against all international norms of war. The use of these weapons against innocent civilians is despicable and horrendous. It shows a disregard of the basic rights of man, the right to life. I also believe that the Syrian government conducted this attack against insurgents/revolutionaries and innocent civilians, although I have not yet seen the classified intelligence.
But if this is a crime against humanity and the international norms - where is the international community? Where is the United Nations? Where is the Arab League? Where is the European Union? These organizations cry for our help but are never willing to lead. When the United States leads, they are the first to chastise the United States for being unilateral. If any of these would lead and ask for the United States to assist, we would have a different debate. But they will not.
A red line has been crossed says the President. However, it is President Obama's red line, not one derived in a consensus based approach. Now since he cannot get international buy-in, he turns to the legislative branch to protect his prestige.
What will a limited strike do? Will it quicken the end of the turmoil in Syria? Will it empower Islamic radicalism to spread in Syria and elsewhere? Does it empower the Mullah's in Iran? Does it create more turmoil and uncertainty for Israel, Turkey, and Jordan?
My gut tells me it makes matters worse not better. Its limited actions continue the civil war. It creates another cause for grievance by the Arab world, and it risks this conflict spilling across the borders of our allies.
Is the use of military force a "de facto" declaration of war? If a military strike is a declaration of war, do we want to go down this path with Syria? A strike, although “limited,” could very well be the spark for the tinder that engages the United States in another drawn out campaign in the Middle East.
Until I see evidence of a real threat against the United States or our allies or unless the international community reaches a consensus and leads, I am not convinced that a limited strike against Syria at this time is warranted.
Shimkus represents the 15th Congressional District of Illinois.