Another Voice: Lessons from Iraq need to inform Syria debate - The Buffalo News
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Another Voice: Lessons from Iraq need to inform Syria debate

By Sarah Stefanski

History tends to repeat itself, and it was the U.S. self-selected role of military enforcer for the international community that led us into the Iraq War.

Perhaps if President Obama examined the decisions made by his predecessor, it would be clear that the United States should not be so eager to play that role again. As Obama campaigns for the United States to punish Syria for the alleged use of chemical weapons, a look 10 years back demonstrates the dangers of getting ahead of ourselves.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was spearheaded by a belief that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction in violation of numerous U.N. disarmament resolutions that Iraq had agreed to follow. Now, in 2013, a similar story is playing out. Obama claims that military strikes against Syria are necessary because of the belief that the Syrian government has violated the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning the use of chemical and biological weapons, an agreement signed by Syria in 1968.

For all of Obama’s rhetoric, however, why should the United States be the enforcer of a treaty that has been signed by no less than 137 other nation-states? While there seems to be a general consensus around the globe that the use of chemical weapons should not be condoned, there does not seem to be any other country rushing to declare punishment. Britain’s parliament chose not to get involved, France is eager to back someone else’s military response (but so far shows no indication of leading one itself) and Germany has largely remained silent.

If ever there was a time to let the United Nations be a leader of international diplomacy and decision-making, that time is now. Had the United States let the U.N. inspectors complete their review in Iraq before we invaded, we would have discovered there were no weapons of mass destruction to be found.

Obama’s call for military intervention before the United Nations completes its review in Syria should give Americans a frightening sense of déjà vu. Obama claims that we cannot wait to punish the Syrian government; yet the U.N. inspectors currently in Syria have not finished their investigation of the evidence. This time, let us read their report before jumping into the action.

For the United States singularly to play enforcer before collecting all available information would inflame an already messy war and ultimately undermine any chance of a diplomatic solution. Our misguided zeal to cast judgment before the presentation of evidence led to years of war and the loss of American lives in Iraq. We should know better than to make the same mistake again. Obama must know: Those who do not pay attention to history end up repeating it.

Sarah Stefanski is a Buffalo native studying public policy in New York City.

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