One can understand President Barack Obama’s reluctance to escalate U.S. involvement in Syria in the absence of clear evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons. Maybe President Assad crossed President Obama’s “red line,” and maybe he didn’t.
After all, as President Obama pointed out, the United States leaped into a long and costly — in terms of lives and treasury — war in Iraq on what was said to be evidence that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Those WMDs, of course, never materialized, and whether the Bush administration used phony evidence to justify an unnecessary war or was simply, and tragically, mistaken, will long be debated.
In other quarters, however, President Obama’s reluctance to act is regarded as a sign of weakness, evidence that if he is not simply dishonest, then he is at least not resolute in his opposition to the use of chemical weapons. England and France, as well as Israel, have confirmed the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. Even U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has acknowledged that our government believed “with varying degrees of confidence” that chemical weapons had been used,
Yet President Obama wanted more. On Friday, he said, “And I think that, in many ways, a line has been crossed when we see tens of thousands of innocent people killed by a regime…”
In addition to looking weak abroad, President Obama also is being attacked domestically, mostly by Republican hawks who have long criticized his inaction with regard to Syria.
Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said, “The president had laid down the line, and it can’t be a dotted line. It can’t be anything other than a red line.” He pointed out that Iran and North Korea are paying attention to the president’s response and making calculations of their own about what they can get away with.
Yet while lambasting President Obama, Rep. Rogers and others, including Arizona Sen. John McCain and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, seem to want it both ways. They want the United States more involved, but, as Sen. McCain said, “The worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground. That would turn the people against us.”
The president’s critics haven’t offered a plausible way of safeguarding Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles or punishing President Assad without the use of troops. A no-fly zone would limit the regime’s war on the rebels, but, like most options, it’s only a partial solution and creates other problems.
We don’t know what the best solution is, but we agree that sitting on the sideline is the wrong strategy.
We’re confident that our government and armed forces have the brains and capability to neutralize the chemical weapons crisis with minimal loss of life. And the longer we wait to act, the more people will die and the more our allies and adversaries will doubt our resolve.