Opinion
Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
Opinion Top of the Ticket

Obama has no easy option in responding to Syrian gas attack

There is a certain freedom in knowing that, no matter what you do, you will make someone mad. That is the situation in which President Obama finds himself regarding Syria: He has no good options, so he is free to simply choose the one he believes is right. 

He believes the government of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad must pay a price for using chemical weapons on his own people. He believes that price should be a missile strike delivered from U.S. warships because no one else is willing to stand up for the mandates of international law that have long said the use of chemical weapons is abhorrent. And he believes the United States Congress needs to endorse such action on behalf of a skeptical American public.

Obama also claims to believe he is not the only one with something at stake in this game. At a news conference in Sweden on Wednesday, the president said, "My credibility's not on the line. The international community's credibility's on the line. And America and Congress' credibility's on the line."

That, of course, has not been the conventional wisdom up to this point. The cable news, talk radio and inside-the-beltway punditocracy has yammered on about the pickle the president finds himself in, with little consensus about which of several sour pickles in this particular jar is worst for Obama.

The neocons who brought us the disastrous war in Iraq insist that failure to mount an attack on Assad will embolden Islamic radical groups and Iran. They say Obama’s decision to delay the missile strike and take the issue to Congress is a signal of weakness.

Assad and his goons seem to agree with that second point and are boasting about how they have forced America to back down.

Russian President Vladimir Putin threatens vague negative consequences if the U.S. strikes at his Syrian buddies while he continues to push the idea that Assad wouldn’t dream of using chemical weapons.

The Europeans are appalled, as always, at the agony and death, but, other than the French, they are unable and unwilling to join in a robust response. At the United Nations, meanwhile, officials wait for inspectors to complete their analysis of the evidence of chemical weapons use knowing that, no matter what the inspectors conclude, the usual resistance from Russia and China will prevent any kind of action.

In Congress, opinions are sharply divided. There is a right-wing faction that will oppose anything Obama proposes simply because he is the one asking for it. There are members of both parties who see no vital American interest at stake in Syria and who have had more than enough of war in that part of the world. Conversely, there are those, like Arizona Sen. John McCain, who want regime change, not just a shot across Assad’s bow. And there are those in between who think the president has got it about right.

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a 10-7 vote, approved a resolution authorizing the missile strike, suggesting that passage by the full Senate was likely. The House, as always, will be a tougher sell for Obama. But, despite the political risk, taking the issue to Congress was the right move.

For Obama, it will be a good thing to share responsibility for whatever step is taken as well as blame for the inevitable blowback. For the rest of us, sick of war and skeptical about the effectiveness of a punitive strike, a real debate about the imperatives and perils of further engagement in the Islamic world’s cruel chaos is a good thing. If, to the bullies of the Middle East, that looks like weakness, so be it. We can hardly expect them to understand the values of a democratic process. If it comes to it, our missiles will find them soon enough.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Unemployment and stagnant wages: Not the future as promised

    Unemployment and stagnant wages: Not the future as promised

    The happy news is that the American economy is producing more jobs and the unemployment rate is continuing to fall. The less happy news is that, in the words of economist Gary Burtless, this is happening "at a heartbreakingly slow pace."

  • Jailing fewer at the border

    Jailing fewer at the border

    The Department of Homeland Security announced recently that it would release hundreds of mothers and children who are seeking political asylum, so that they can await their hearings in freedom rather than in detention facilities. That was a welcome move, but the government should go further and...

  • Alexander von Humboldt: The man who made nature modern

    Alexander von Humboldt: The man who made nature modern

    His contemporaries considered Alexander von Humboldt the most famous man in the world after Napoleon, and Thomas Jefferson called him “one of the greatest ornaments of the age.” There are more plants, animals, minerals and places named after Humboldt than any other person. In California alone,...

  • What would Jesus say about same-sex marriage?

    What would Jesus say about same-sex marriage?

    Amid all of the overheated rhetoric surrounding the Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriages across the nation, evangelicals have alternated between defiance and a kind of martyrdom.

  • Through fiction, veterans present a clearer truth on U.S. wars

    Through fiction, veterans present a clearer truth on U.S. wars

    Here's a summer reading suggestion you probably didn't see coming: Try some of the excellent recent fiction produced about America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, much of it by veterans.

  • Wanted: True oversight of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department

    Wanted: True oversight of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department

    Los Angeles County has a commission created more than a half century ago, that is tasked with monitoring jail conditions and holding government accountable for improper treatment of inmates. As reports circulated in recent years of inmate beatings and abuse at the hands of sheriff's deputies, the...

Comments
Loading