Americans draw parallel to Iraq WMD lie in Syria

A grim-faced secretary of state reading a bill of charges against a rogue Arab leader. The White House promising intelligence that will provide proof about weapons of mass destruction. Frenetic efforts to piece together a coalition of the willing. Breathless news reports about imminent bombing raids.   The days since the deadly chemical weapons attack last week in Syria carry an eerie echo of the tense days leading up to the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some veterans of that period are expressing qualms that this time, too, the war drums are beating too loudly.

“There’s some risk,” said Thomas Fingar, a fellow at Stanford University’s Institute for International Studies. “Political pressure is a factor. It appears to me that the situation has crossed a tipping point.” In short, he said, the case for military action has moved so rapidly that it has become difficult for those counseling restraint. Mr. Fingar has firsthand experience of these situations. He was the head of the State Department’s intelligence bureau, which dissented from the Bush administration’s  intelligence reports on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program. Not properly scrutinized or challenged, that faulty intelligence paved the road to war a decade ago.

Fingar and other experts predicted that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the administration to produce definitive evidence that President Bashar al-Assad ordered the attack.

The White House faces an American public considerably more skeptical about intervention in Syria than it was about Iraq. The feverish atmosphere of the years after the Sept. 11 attacks has given way to a country exhausted after more than a decade of war.

Although there was strong congressional backing for the war in Iraq, now even the Republican Party is split between hawks like Senator John McCain of Arizona, who advocates forceful intervention, and neo-isolationists like Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who argues that the United States has no business getting entangled in the Middle East. At this point the bulk of Republican members of Congress are skeptical of taking military action.

“Any U.S. military action could bring serious consequences or further escalation,” Representative Ed Royce said in a statement. “The president should be making the case to the American public, and his administration should come to Congress to explain their plans.”

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