Few good options available in Syria

There is little doubt that chemical weapons were used in Syria last week, killing as many as 1,000 people. And despite claims to the contrary by Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, U.S. and British officials say they have strong evidence those chemical weapons were deployed by Assad’s forces, not rebels seeking to depose him.

If so, Assad has clearly jumped the imaginary red line President Barack Obama established some time ago, the crossing of which Obama said would trigger U.S. action. It appears some sort of military response is called for from the United States and its allies, and international news stories say such a response could come as early as next week, probably with cruise-missile strikes from ships in the Mediterranean.

That may be the necessary response to Assad’s continuing atrocities against his own people — a clear demonstration that the world won’t continue to tolerate such carnage.

But it is understandable that the Obama administration and our allies are moving cautiously in this regard. In the Middle East today, as has been the case for several thousand years, there are no easy answers or simple solutions.

Assad and his family are iron-fist autocrats with no love for the West or Israel, and they have strong ties to Iran. But some of the leading rebel groups fighting against Assad have ties to al-Qaida, the equally anti-Western terrorist group.

Russia and China are likely to oppose any effort to obtain the backing of the U.N. Security Council for outside military action in Syria, while Saudi Arabia and Israel are this time on the same side, urging action to remove Assad.

Increasing violence in Iraq has been linked to the fighting in Syria, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have poured into Western ally Jordan, threatening that country’s ability to handle them.

Furthermore, there are good people in Syria seeking an end to the decades of Assad tyranny and hoping for the establishment of a democracy. And, despite the problems in places like Egypt, there are fledgling-but-fragile democracies emerging in Tunisia, Iraq and even Libya. The Arab Spring has not been a complete bust, nor were our efforts in Iraq.

There are no good options in Syria, including doing nothing. The United States and its allies have done little for the past two years, other than help a few weapons flow to the rebels, and the situation there has only gotten worse.

An estimated 90,000 people have been killed in the civil war, which is destabilizing the region and causing severe problems in other nations.

Lobbing a few cruise missiles into Syria won’t end the conflict there, but it may persuade Assad to more seriously consider peace talks that have been planned and long delayed, talks aimed at forcing Assad to negotiate with his opponents and move toward real elections. And that is a worthy objective.


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