Hussein Malla, File, Associated Press
The rhetoric about the civil war in Syria heated up Monday after Secretary of State John Kerry said there was clear evidence chemical weapons were used on a scale far larger than previous suspected chemical-weapon strikes. With U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel saying the U.S. military is ready for a strike against Syria if ordered and the United States Navy moving vessels into position off the coast of Syria, plus support for a strike from France and the United Kingdom, it’s easy to see why the civil war is again dominating the news.
But what action — if any — should the U.S. take in the increasingly bloody civil war? That’s the question many columnists and editorial boards are tackling.
“There is little doubt now that President Obama is planning some kind of military response to what the administration says without equivocation was a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government that killed hundreds of civilians,” the opening line of a New York Times editorial says.
With the president already failing to act on earlier “crossings of the red line” on chemical attacks earlier this year, it’s imperative that the Obama administration react to this large-scale attack, the Times said. “Presidents should not make a habit of drawing red lines in public, but if they do, they had best follow through. Many countries (including Iran, which Mr. Obama has often said won’t be permitted to have a nuclear weapon) will be watching.”
But at Fox News, the Obama administration's case for intervention — without a U.N. Security Council mandate authorizing it — is close to hypocritical. “The Syrian problem threatens the very core of the Obama doctrine. Bashing President Bush for doing an end run around the U.N. Security Council over Iraq was Obama’s nom de guerre.” If he fails to gain a U.N. backed mandate to strike at Bashar Assad — unlikely given Russia’s position on the Security Council — then Obama lacks the moral high ground to go ahead with the strike and involve the U.S. in another Middle East conflict.
But some, such as John Judis at the New Republic, argue that a military strike would not necessarily mean protracted U.S. involvement in the civil war. “The reason to go after Assad is because he violated a Geneva Protocol, signed by the League of Nations and United States in 1925, and by Syria in 1968, against the use of chemical or biological weapons. American intervention would be to enforce the 1925 protocol, not to help the rebels overthrow Assad.” While there is little room to justify American intervention for the purpose of helping the rebels win, there is an international law justification to crack down on Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
“The Obama administration, wary of war, is gathering allies, weighing options and ratcheting up forces while seeking confirmation that chemicals were used and that Assad used them. It needn't rush,” writes the USA Today editorial board. But if a strike does become necessary, “(I)t must be forceful enough to convince Assad that use of chemical weapons will weaken him, not help him. And it must be justified explicitly as retaliation for violation of international treaties on use of chemical weapons — not as an attempt to dictate the outcome of the civil war. A missile attack appears the likeliest and smartest option.”
But it will take more than military strikes if Obama is serious about stopping the threat Assad posses to his people, says the Washington Post editorial board. If he truly wants to make Syria safe, an arming of moderate Syrian rebel groups and strong diplomatic ties is what’s needed, they argue. “This can’t be achieved with one or two volleys of cruise missiles. It will require patience and commitment. (B)y combining military measures with training, weapons supplies and diplomacy, it could exercise considerable influence.”
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