The Senate could vote as early as Wednesday on a bill to authorize a U.S. attack on Syria, but in the meantime activity continues on several fronts.
Lawmakers have returned to Washington after their five-week vacation and many were lobbied by administration officials on support for military action. President Barack Obama, in a speech to the nation tonight, will likely lay out his case for bombing. It is also possible that the report of the United Nations inspection team that visited Syria last week, seeking evidence on the Aug. 21 attack near Damascus which killed 1,429 people and may have involved poison gas, will become available.
On Monday, in a surprise move, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Syria's president should hand over any chemical weapons to international authorities if he wants to head off an attack. Syria, its chief backer Russia, the United Nations and American allies welcomed the idea.
If the United States were to attack, it would be pretty much on its own. It would have no U.N. Security Council mandate. It might have certain NATO countries with it, although French President Francois Hollande, Mr. Obama's staunchest supporter in Europe on the issue, has less popular support for that action in France than Mr. Obama has in the United States.
In the Middle East, some members of the Arab League support Mr. Obama's position, but will contribute money -- as they are doing already to the Syrian rebels -- rather than troops or aircraft. The coalition cobbled together by Mr. Obama bears no resemblance to the one assembled by President George H.W. Bush for the first Gulf war that liberated Kuwait from Iraq. United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron supports Mr. Obama's stance, for instance, but Parliament ruled out military involvement in Syria, probably saving Mr. Cameron's job in the process.
For the United States, a Syria war continues to be a very unwise proposition. America has many higher priorities to pursue, starting with rebuilding its own economy. It would have to borrow more money from China, Japan and other lenders to pay for an attack, or take it out of domestic spending needed for infrastructure, education and health care.
The argument that the rest of Mr. Obama's presidency would be damaged by a defeat on this matter is specious. Wouldn't a "no" vote serve as a clear signal that he should to turn his attention to problems at home? The argument that America's prestige abroad would be shredded by a refusal to go to war is also weak. Wouldn't it be more useful for the United States to demonstrate that it has the sense not to dive into a war with no prospect of success?
The congressional vote on Mr. Obama's battle cry should be a clear and resounding "No."