Some of the arguments supporting President Obama's plan to strike militarily in Syria are starting to sound like a variant on the domino theory used to justify the Vietnam war in the 1960s and 1970s.
That theory held that the loss of South Vietnam to communism would have a domino effect and lead to the fall of other pro-American governments throughout Southeast Asia. It wasn't that simple, and the theory is still debated by historians and politicians, but that hasn't prevented similar arguments from emerging as the furor intensifies over Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate hearing Tuesday that failure to act in Syria would open a "Pandora's Box" of "dangerous consequences."
"This is not the time for armchair isolationism," Kerry said.
Kerry also told House Democrats Monday that they are facing a "Munich moment" as they decide whether to endorse strikes against Syria to punish the regime of President Bashar Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons. Kerry was referring to the 1938 agreement in Munich in which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain surrendered part of Europe to Nazi Germany. This was later seen as appeasement that led to further Nazi aggression and, ultimately, World War II.
Obama's allies are warning, among other things, that not striking the Syrian regime would encourage Iran, a Syrian ally, to accelerate its development of nuclear weapons because the Iranian government would no longer fear that the United States would destroy such weapons. Obama's allies also say that failure to act would make Israel more vulnerable because the willingness of the United States to protect Israel might seem to be in doubt.
The supposed chain of consequences from American inaction is also being emphasized by some legislators who support tough U.S. action in Syria. "I hope the president will address the American people," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in an interview with CNN "...and talk about, does it really matter if Assad is in power a year from now? Are the Iranians really watching what we're doing? And would it matter if they got a nuclear weapon? If we lose the King of Jordan, does it matter to us at all?"
But Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., dismissed arguments that failure of the United States to act in Syria would have devastating consequences. He expressed strong doubts that U.S. attacks in Syria would deter Iran and other anti-American forces in the Middle East. "That's the old domino theory from Vietnam, dredged up," he told CNN, calling such thinking "a farce."
He added: "We're not the world's policeman. ... It's expensive; it's dangerous; it won't do any good, and the people are against it."
Last Saturday, Obama announced that he would ask for congressional authorization to strike at the Assad regime.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.