Syria: Stay cool

4/30/2013
Firefighters in Syria extinguish a fire after a car bomb exploded, targeting Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi this week.
Firefighters in Syria extinguish a fire after a car bomb exploded, targeting Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi this week.

Some Americans think that every foreign-policy problem has a military solution, and that every tyrant should be removed by force. U.S. Sen. John McCain, a war hero, is one of them.

The Arizona Republican wants the United States to “do something” about Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. That’s understandable: Assad is a brutal tyrant and a totalitarian. He not only kills his enemies with impunity, but also intimidates all others with a reign of terror.

It’s working. Experts said Assad would be gone a year ago, but he is still in power. And now, it seems, Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people — sarin, a substance 500 times more toxic than cyanide, which asphyxiates its victims almost instantly.

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Senator McCain wants us to arm the Syrian rebels and possibly support them with air power. He says he does not want U.S. troops on the ground.

President Obama says we need to be clear and sure about the facts before we consider any action. That’s a reasonable and reassuring thing to hear.

The President made a mistake when he said a few months ago that use of chemical weapons by Assad would cross a “red line.” He did not say that crossing that line would mean war with the United States, as Mr. McCain seems to think.

What Mr. Obama said was that such action would “change the calculus.” At the time, that seemed to mean: I will do something. That’s not so easy when none of the options is good.

The United States has given some of the Syrian rebels aid, mostly humanitarian, which is good. But the rebels are not democrats. They are not united. Many are aligned with al-Qaeda.

Scholars and diplomats say our involvement might result in a wider, deeper, prolonged civil war. Sound familiar?

Syria is coming apart. No group has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s bomb attack in Damascus that killed 13 people. On Monday, Syria’s prime minister barely escaped assassination. The Syrian government blamed both events on al-Qaeda.

Until President Obama has a military option that would result in a more-stable and humane Syria, he should continue to do what he has been doing — lobby Russia, our allies, and the United Nations, and give humanitarian aid to the rebels.

Americans will not support another war. Falling bombs kill innocent people, just as sarin does.

The humanitarian concerns of Senator McCain and others are admirable. But a wider war in Syria, with U.S. involvement, would be a disaster. There are no good options here, but intervention is the worst option of all.