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Obama, don't rush into war in Syria

By Rand Paul, Special to CNN
August 30, 2013 -- Updated 1030 GMT (1830 HKT)
In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rand Paul: The civil war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the U.S.
  • Paul: Without enough information, military intervention in Syria would be unwise
  • He says the Constitution grants the power to declare war to Congress, not the president
  • Paul: America's wars must be debated by Congress and declared constitutionally sound

Editor's note: Rand Paul, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Kentucky.

(CNN) -- The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend.

On one side we have al Qaeda; on the other side we have Syria's authoritarian president Bashar al-Assad. On one side we have Islamic jihadists; on the other side we have Christians.

In all likelihood the al-Assad regime has used chemical weapons to kill civilians. And without a doubt Islamic rebels have kidnapped and killed priests and civilians.

It seems on all sides we have violence and chaos and it is unclear if any side will, in the end, be a friend of the United States.

Opinion: Al Qaeda's potent force in Syria

Sen. Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul

The Constitution gave the power to declare war to Congress. One of our founding fathers, James Madison, specifically argued that the executive branch was most prone to war and for that reason, the power to declare war was vested with the legislature.

If the debate were to come to Congress, two great ironies would have to be overcome:

1. The arms supplied to the Islamic rebels may well be used against Christians;

2. The Islamic rebels we aim to arm are allied with al Qaeda.

The war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the United States, and victory by either side will not necessarily bring into power people friendly to the United States.

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The United States should condemn the use of chemical weapons. We should ascertain who used the weapons and we should have an open debate in Congress over whether the situation warrants U.S. involvement. The Constitution grants the power to declare war to Congress, not the president.

Recent statements by the Obama administration concerning the al-Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons indicate that we may be on the precipice of war with Syria. Without adequate information and intelligence, military intervention in that nation's civil war would be an unwise decision. Based on the knowledge of the situation that we do have, such action would assuredly be an unwise decision for the long-term interests and security of the United States.

Furthermore, our Constitution delegates war-making powers to Congress for an explicit reason -- to provide a check on presidents who might make unwise or hasty decisions in foreign affairs. Syria is not an exception to this rule, but a good example of why the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war and not the executive branch.

Opinion: For U.S., Syria is truly a problem from hell

The unquestionable murkiness of the situation in Syria demands congressional debate before action -- not the other way around.

The United States should unequivocally condemn the use of chemical weapons against the people of Syria. There are still many questions regarding this alleged chemical attack, including what specifically was used and by whom. It seems prudent to at least allow the investigation to conclude before even talking about military action.

The Obama administration should also consider the retaliation from Syria or Iran that may occur on Israel, Jordan, and our other allies in the region. It should consider possible retaliation against the U.S. homeland. Nobody can game out how quickly this war might spiral out of control.

From a strategic standpoint, there are three questions that should always be asked and sufficiently answered before going to war: What is the U.S. national interest? What is the military objective? What is the exit strategy? Concerning Syria, these questions not only haven't been answered -- they haven't even been asked.

Opinion: Learn from U.S. mistakes in Iraq

War should never be treated as a crapshoot. Our troops deserve better. America deserves better.

President Obama used to understand the weightiness of war. In 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama argued to a Boston Globe reporter that the president of the United States lacked the authority to unilaterally authorize military attack without an "actual or imminent threat to the nation." At that time, many Democrats were worried that President Bush would initiate conflict with Iran. These situations are similar in nature when it comes to a constitutional analysis.

Today, any constitutional perspective the president may have once had seems to have vanished.

The sight of civilian suffering and death in Syria is heart-wrenching. No one disputes that al-Assad is a vile dictator. But in our rush to "do something" we shouldn't make an already bad situation worse. Americans seem to instinctively know that getting involved in Syria is not a good idea. According to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, only 9% of Americans believe that the U.S. should intervene. Understandably, Americans are not eager to be plunged into another questionable or misguided war.

Like other aspects of Obama's foreign policy, his Syria policy is confusing. There are no specific goals underlying the president's use of force -- no consistency. Nor does there seem to be any effort to educate the American people, or Congress, as to why this action may be taken.

It was Obama who called for al-Assad's ouster before it was clear he could be ousted. It was Obama who drew a "red line" he didn't think al-Assad would cross.

The president's line in the sand may have been a strategic blunder. But it is not enough reason to go to war.

America's wars must be debated by Congress, declared constitutionally and fought only for the interests and security of the United States. They should never be fought to save face.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rand Paul.

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