As Congress and the country observe the unfolding events in Syria, Americans must understand the United States’s role in the world. Our nation is a bastion of freedom, one with a history of promoting the cause of liberty and self-government both at home and abroad. Lest we ever forget, America is a safer place when the world is rid of tyrants and despots. With this in mind, we must also have the clear understanding that for American action to justly occur, it must have the direct interests of the United States and its allies at the forefront.

Every foreign policy decision by the United States has a butterfly effect, one that changes the geopolitical landscape all across the world. This idea highlights the significance of the inexcusable misstep President Barack Obama made by using the same semantic terminology — “red line” — when discussing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons and Iran’s development of nuclear arms. In standing idly by when we know to a very high degree of certainty that Assad’s forces used sarin gas, we are sending the signal to Iran that a “red line” is nothing more than a bluff.

The conundrum for the United States, beyond the national fatigue pertaining to military intervention efforts, is that regardless of who prevails, we will be faced with a hostile government in Syria. Under Assad, Syria is a terrorist state, one linked and subordinate to Iran and its Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. If Assad is toppled, however, the chances of moderate leadership appear dim. There are more than 1,200 rebel groups in Syria, and Secretary of State John Kerry estimates that one in four of the rebels are radical jihadists. But while the radical elements of the resistance may be few in numbers, groups such as al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida associate, are far better organized, armed and trained than their moderate counterparts. If Assad is toppled, it’s possible, therefore, that the new regime will be led by extremists from groups with direct ties to al-Qaida.

Chemical weapons in the hands of either Assad’s regime or the al-Qaida-associated rebels present a clear and urgent threat to the United States. By either diplomatic means — working with Russia and the United Nations Security Council, or military means, the United States must ensure that chemical weapons are out of Syria and destroyed. With sarin gas in the hands of groups hostile to America, Israel and our allies across the globe, we do not have the luxury to be complacent. If these weapons remain in circulation, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to the next attack being far closer to home. The thought of a sarin gas attack in the streets of Jerusalem, the New York subway system or our nation’s capital is far too horrible to contemplate, but a salivating idea to those who wish to endanger our freedom and disrupt our way of life.

The idea of a diplomatic solution that meets the vital national security interests of the United States is certainly preferable to committing military resources to Syria. While it’s too early to tell how serious this possibility is to becoming a reality, leaders on both sides of the partisan aisle and in the international community appear little more than cautiously hopeful. There is significant distance that both Russia and Assad must move, in terms of documentation and certification that the weapons are removed, in order to gain American and international consensus.

In the event that diplomatic negotiations fail, Obama is requesting Congress give him the authorization to launch an air assault against Syria in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons. His stated objective has not been to destroy the chemical weapons, but to punish the regime for its actions. I would firmly urge members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to reject this proposal. Punitive action in Syria, strengthening al-Nusra Front and the dangerous rebels’ position, does not serve the interests or the security of the American people. Instead, I believe the president and Congress should agree on a resolution with the sole military objective of destroying the chemical weapons that present a clear danger to the United States and our allies. Our leaders have the responsibility to take decisive action and meet the challenge of ensuring a safer America.

Brad Fingeroot is a Business sophomore.

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