When I was a student at St. Joseph School in downtown Lakeland during the Vietnam War, I was recruited routinely to serve as an altar boy for the funerals of local soldiers who had lost their lives in combat.
I remember the solitude of the funeral Mass, praying that my three brothers who were serving over there at that time would return home safely. I remember dearly the national news giving a body count during each evening broadcast of those who lost their lives.
We had no specific strategy to win that war. The United States initially became engaged in Vietnam on a limited basis, as an international policeman, with the belief that our mere presence and power would prevent any escalation of the conflict.
Tragically, 58,000 deaths later, we learned that no matter how much we support and promote democracy around the world, without a compelling national interest and a specific strategy to succeed from beginning to end, we put at risk the lives of our country’s finest men and women.
Today, as a member of Congress, I am faced with a similar decision to authorize limited military involvement to retaliate against the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
I recognize that those who are advocating for military intervention are not necessarily talking about “boots on the ground” at this juncture. However, with no clear strategy, it is often difficult to suggest that whatever action taken will be quick, painless, and easy to completely identify prior to getting involved.
As we progress from generation to generation, we have become a world of laws, putting into place statutes to deter and punish various types of behavior, including the abominable acts of genocide.
The use of chemical weapons is abhorrent, inhumane and inexcusable. Some 188 countries agree. These countries signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in the 1990s which prohibits the manufacture, distribution and use of these weapons.
The United States does not have the support from its allies and those who have joined the Chemical Weapons Convention for military intervention in Syria for these crimes. Before the United States should unilaterally commence a military strike against Syria, we should exhaust all avenues of recourse and due process that the global community has created by way of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the International Criminal Court, and the United Nations. We set these tribunals up for a reason; we need to use their resources for the greater good.
I believe the American people have learned from our history of getting involved as the world’s policeman, and they would demand Congress to exhaust all avenues of cooperation with our allies before resorting to lone military action, especially when there is no clear and immediate risk to American interests.
The price of such lone action has shown in the past to be rife with unintended consequences. Oftentimes, these consequences will lead to the loss of the lives of our men and women in uniform.
Before we fire into a very serious situation without a clear success strategy and without allies, we must work together with the international community that we first joined in making the laws we now want to unilaterally enforce while assessing America’s interest and our national security.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, represents Florida’s 15th congressional district.