Members of Congress debating President Barack Obama's recommendation the U.S. go to war with Syria have much to discuss. Their questions should not be directed solely at the White House's representatives.
Of course, much of the information and opinion lawmakers will hear will have to come from Obama's administration, including the Pentagon. But outside opinions and intelligence also ought to be explored. A one-sided debate, guided only by those loyal to the president and willing to follow his lead, would not be prudent.
Already, at least one controversy over the facts has arisen. U.S. officials say Syria's alleged chemical attack against its own people on Aug. 21 killed 1,429 men, women and children. That is far higher than the 281 estimated by the French, who agree military action should be taken against Syria. It also eclipses the 355-person death toll estimated by Doctors Without Borders.
If U.S. officials are wrong on the casualty count, what other intelligence is faulty?
A decade ago, U.S. officials managed to convince a coalition of nations to join in military action that ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The issue then was weapons of mass destruction, including chemical armaments. Yet once troops went into Iraq, the large stocks of WMDs could not be located.
In addition to knowing with certainty whether Syria actually did cross Obama's "red line," members of Congress need to know more about precisely what kind of attack is contemplated and the goal in mind for it. Is the idea merely to deter Syria from using chemical weapons again - or to weaken its military to the point rebel forces can prevail?
Also, lawmakers need to understand the potential havoc that could result from an attack on Syria. Would it provoke new terrorist attacks on Americans? Could the conflict spread?
A variety of sources of information and opinion are available to lawmakers. Prudence dictates they make use of as many of them as possible, without relying solely on the Obama administration. War, especially given the consequences possible from an attack on Syria, is too serious to be embarked upon without getting a second opinion.