By Esme Murphy

This week, normally accessible members of Congress and their staff have not returned phone calls. Lawmakers usually ready to offer up opinions have hidden behind statements suggesting which way they are leaning but also offering up expressions of understanding for the opposing side.

There is no easy route in Syria. It is fair to argue that this is, in large part, a crisis of the President’s making. By saying months ago that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would represent “a red line” that would result in retaliation, the President set himself up to be boxed in when Syria did, in fact, use those weapons.

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But even without the “red line” remark, the attack that killed more than 1,400 would have certainly prompted a vigorous international debate on action. While a U.N. report has yet to be completed, the evidence appears overwhelming that the Assad regime is responsible.

Adding to the difficulty for lawmakers is that the consequences of acting or not acting are potentially similar. Either way, Assad could conduct more attacks on his own people, and on neighboring countries including Israel. With action comes the threat of an anti-American backlash that could strengthen the very regime the U.S. wants to punish, as well as a rise in anti-American terrorist attacks.

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Not acting signals a hands-off approach to war crimes and a signal to other dictators that the world will stand by while innocents are slaughtered. Not acting could embolden Assad and other dictators to implement a new level of atrocities.

The European Union has asked the U.S. to wait until the UN report is done before acting. Waiting for the U.N. findings to be completed is a move that could strengthen the U.S.’ hand, but the White House insists the U.N. report is not necessary.

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Some members of Congress will likely side with the E.U. A war-weary nation awaits the outcome of the Congressional vote, whose outcome either way will almost certainly create more difficult choices for the U.S. in the months and years to come.

Esme Murphy