Stand down: The United States has no place in Syria's civil war

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Washington is showing an unfortunate tendency to drag the United States prematurely into another futile war in the Middle East, this time in Syria.

It is indisputable that Syria, a once viable country that is now the scene of uncontrolled fighting, has turned tragic. The most poignant part of the disaster may have been the damage done to the country's children, many of whom have been killed or displaced from their homes, with catastrophic results for their general well-being.

Reports of the use of poison gas indicate the worst development yet there in humanitarian terms. Still, it does not make sense for America to be stampeded into a civil war. Americans were bamboozled by the previous administration, which used ultimately false reports -- that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and collaborated with al-Qaida -- to take the country into an expensive and unsuccessful eight-year war there.

If the United States intends to go to war in Syria, several criteria must be satisfied before it attacks. The first is that the United Nations inspection team that is examining whether chemical weapons were used needs to complete its work and submit its report. There is a predisposition to conclude that the Syrian government, which does possess chemical weapons, is the villain. Yet the rebels have showed themselves to be imaginative in seeking to control media coverage, a number of parties in the Middle East possess chemical weapons and the region in general is awash with arms.

A second procedure must be an attempt to obtain a U.N. Security Council resolution providing a mandate for an attack. Russia and perhaps China would veto such a resolution; if so, let them be seen doing it. NATO approval is likely not to be given; going to war supported by France, Turkey and the United Kingdom is far short of a coalition.

The third hurdle is President Barack Obama must seek the necessary support at home to take the country to war. He must consult with Congress, which does not mean talking privately to House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other congressional leaders. It means providing Congress with the opportunity to debate, at length if necessary, a decision to intervene militarily.

Finally, 61 percent of Americans -- more than three out of five -- oppose U.S. involvement in the war in Syria, no doubt due to the financial and human cost. Does Mr. Obama really want to go to war again without the public's support? His position on entering Syria should be, "Not yet, if at all" -- no matter how much pressure he has to absorb.

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