After drawing a line in the sand warning Syrian President Bashar Assad not to use chemical weapons, President Obama is now in a precarious place. The unimaginable may have happened. Detailed accounts of Assad’s use of the weapons are not clear, but several reports of Assad’s army using chemical weapons began to surface last week. And there are counter reports of the Syrian rebels using them, too.
Obama never said exactly what the US would do if Assad crossed the line. Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain immediately called for the Obama administration to follow up the tough words with action. And while Graham and McCain can’t resist putting the country on perpetual war footing, they were short on specifics or solutions.
And that’s the conundrum. There are no quick, easy, or inexpensive options when it comes to dealing with Assad. Everyone knows this, including Assad. But again, we're hearing from some Washington officials that taking no action would give countries like Iran and Korea the idea that the US is nothing more than a paper tiger.
There are few countries with as rich a history as Syria’s. Ancient Syria once included portions of Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. Ruled by the Turks under the Ottoman Empire, a French colony for nearly half of the 20th century, and more recently, caught under the tyrannical thumb of Assad, Syrians are no strangers to violence and bloodshed. And the wrong step now could cause the chaos within Syria to spread outside the country's borders.
The Obama administration shouldn’t expect much help from Russia or China in the matter. Russia doesn’t want increased tension with Islamic separatists inside its borders. And China needs energy to fuel its growing economy.
That leaves the US and Israel to do...what? Impose a no-fly zone? Bomb air bases and chemical weapons sites? Send in troops?
You would think that most Americans would be firmly against US involvement in another war. But a recent Washington Post poll suggests otherwise.
That many Americans seem to have already forgiven George W. Bush for taking the country to war in Iraq under false pretenses isn’t so surprising; that was evident from the coverage of the opening of the Bush library. But forgetting the enormous human and fiscal costs of the Iraq war, as well as the war in Afghanistan only underscores how dangerously detached most Americans are from these conflicts.