Menendez: Threat of US escalation in Syria worth the risk

"At the end of the day, I believe the consequences to the [Syrian] regime ... is much more significant" than the chance of American forces being drawn into another long-term, regional conflict in the Middle East, the New Jersey Democrat said. 

The military action being contemplated by the Obama White House "is appropriate to respond to the actions [Syrian President Bashar] Assad took [and] to send a global message that chemical weapons cannot be used." 

Military action being proposed by the White House in Syria, in retaliation for Assad's use of chemical weapons against anti-government rebels in the country, would not lead the U.S. back down the path to war, President Obama said Tuesday. 

“This is not Iraq, and this is not Afghanistan,” Obama said in remarks aimed at a wary Congress and American public.

“It is proportional. It is limited. It does not involve boots on the ground,” he added during a meeting with top congressional leaders at the White House, regarding possible Syrian operations. 

Later that day, Menendez reemphasized the danger posed by Assad's forces and the risk the regime's use of chemical weapons pose to U.S. national security

"We need to consider the consequences of not acting," he told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Secretary of State John Kerry during the Foreign Relations Committee's hearing on Syria. 

"Our silence would be a message to [Iran] that America and the world are not serious about stopping their march to acquiring nuclear weapons [and] Israel would no longer believe we have their back and would be hard-pressed to restrain itself," he said during Tuesday's hearing.

"Our national security is at stake," he added. 

The hearing is part of the administration's full-court press to convince lawmakers on the need for action in Syria, ahead of a congressional vote to authorize those operations. 

On Sunday, Obama announced the administration would seek congressional support for any military operation in Syria. That vote could come later this month. 

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday they would back military action in Syria when the authorization vote comes to the House floor. 

Obama stated he was prepared to conduct strikes against Assad without lawmakers' blessing, in retaliation for the regime's use of chemical weapons. 

But seeking official authorization from Congress could unify the country behind any effort to strike the Syrian regime. 

Opponents of U.S. action in Syria argue the proposed strikes would lead to escalation of American involvement in Syria and trigger a wave of sectarian violence similar to the U.S.'s experience in Iraq. 

Sectarian tensions are already beginning to bubble over in the wake of the chemical attacks and anticipated U.S. response. 

Jabhat al-Nusra, the main al Qaeda faction in Syria, is vowing wide-scale attacks against Alawite Muslims in the country in retaliation for the chemical strikes.

The Assad family is part of the country's ruling Alawite population, centered in Western Syria. 

Top Pentagon officials, including Dempsey and Hagel, have repeatedly cited the growing threat of sectarian violence in Syria as a main reason to avoid U.S. military action in the country.