Convinced that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad wielded chemical weapons against civilians last week, the Obama administration is considering a military response, according to senior officials. The “large-scale, indiscriminate use” of chemical weapons was a “moral obscenity,” as Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Monday, and some response is needed. But it needs to be part of a larger strategy aimed at influencing the outcome of Syria’s war.
For more than two years, President Barack Obama has avoided crafting such a strategy. When Assad answered peaceful demonstrations with brutality, the administration did little beyond condemn the violence. Obama asserted that the dictator was doomed to fall, but Assad did not take the hint. Assisted by Iran, its terrorist proxy Hezbollah and weapons supplies from Russia, Assad went to war against his own people, indiscriminately firing missiles into civilian neighborhoods. More than 100,000 people have been killed, with millions more injured or displaced from their homes. Assad does not seem to be losing the war.
The dangerous outcomes that Obama worried might be precipitated by U.S. involvement have mostly come about in the absence of such involvement. Syria has become a haven for thousands of fighters affiliated with al-Qaida. Violence has spread to neighboring states, especially Lebanon and Iraq. U.S. allies Turkey and, especially, Jordan are in danger of being overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Now, according to Doctors Without Borders and other credible sources, weapons of mass destruction apparently have been used on a scale not seen since Saddam Hussein went after his Kurdish population in 1988, with Assad seemingly calculating he has little to fear from crossing Obama’s “red line.”
The United States can’t dictate the outcome in Syria, and it would be foolish to send ground troops in an effort to do so. But by combining military measures with training, weapons supplies and diplomacy, it could exercise considerable influence. Such military action should be seen as one component of a policy that finally recognizes a U.S. interest in helping to shape Syria’s future.
The Washington Post (Aug. 27)