Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Debating the case for force

President Obama needs to explain why limited strikes against Syria would be effective




President Obama made the right decision to seek congressional authorization for his announced plan to order unilateral military strikes against Syria for using chemical weapons. There has to be a vigorous and honest public debate on the use of military force, which could have huge consequences even if it is limited in scope and duration.

If he is to win congressional support, Mr. Obama and his top aides will have to explain in greater detail why they are so confident that the kind of military strikes administration officials have described would deter President Bashar Assad of Syria from gassing his people again — American officials say more than 1,400 were killed on Aug. 21 — rather than provoke him to unleash even greater atrocities. On Tuesday, Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio announced his backing of a strike on Syria.

The administration also will have to explain how it can keep the United States from becoming mired in the Syrian civil war — something Mr. Obama, for sound reasons, has long resisted — and how military action will advance the cause of a political settlement, which is the only rational solution to the war.

There is little doubt that President Obama wants to take military action. As Secretary of State John Kerry said of Mr. Obama: “He believes we need to move. He’s made his decision. Now it’s up to the Congress of the United States to join him in affirming the international norm with respect to enforcement against the use of chemical weapons.”

Mr. Obama got tentative support from Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has been pushing for even broader military action and arming the rebels. Mr. McCain said congressional rejection of military action would be “catastrophic” and would undermine the credibility of the President and the United States.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Obama, who has been thoughtful and cautious about putting America into the Syrian conflict, has created a political situation in which his credibility could be challenged. He did that by publicly declaring that the use of chemical weapons would cross a red line that would result in an American response.

Regardless, he should have long ago put in place, with our allies and partners, a plan for international action — starting with tough sanctions — if Mr. Assad used chemical weapons. It is alarming that Mr. Obama did not.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council, which has the responsibility to uphold treaties outlawing chemical weapons use, has failed to act in any way after the August attack, largely because of the opposition of Russia — Mr. Assad’s chief ally and arms supplier — and China. It is appalling that Russia and China have not been the focus of international outrage and pressure.

The Arab League, which represents some of the world’s most anti-Assad governments, toughened its previous position this week when it called on the United Nations and the international community to take “necessary measures” against Syria’s government.

But feckless as ever, the league did not specify what measures it supported. Its secretary general even said there should be no military action without a green light from the United Nations.

— New York Times

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