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Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014
Editorials

The president’s pivot on Syria

Published:

After leading the nation and the world to believe he would respond forcefully to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, President Obama abruptly pivoted over the Labor Day weekend.

He determined that Congress should help make that call.

It looks to be a nifty political sidestep, rather than an attempt to marshal national unity and resolve.

You can be sure that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and the world’s leaders took note of the president’s pliable “red line” — the warning he made to Syria against chemical-weapon use.

Granted, the options are not appealing. Americans are in no mood for another Mideastern military venture.

The President is being attacked by members of Congress both for not doing enough to help Syrian rebels and contemplating a military strike against Assad’s forces.

But such criticism and painful decisions come with the presidential territory.

By simply passing the global hot potato to Congress, Obama conveys a lack of purpose and direction.

Until this weekend, the administration had been signaling it would undertake a limited military strike against Syria.

The administration provided compelling evidence of Syria’s use of toxic weapons and argued for the need to respond quickly and decisively.

But over the holiday weekend the administration’s stand evolved into “Never mind.”

The president decided he needed to hear first from Congress, but the matter was not so urgent that he needed to call Congress, on recess until Sept. 9, back into session.

Some red line.

We feel it would be wise for the United States to focus solely on Syria’s stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, and not get involved, as Sen. John McCain and others want, in the broader conflict.

The rebels include jihadists sympathetic to al-Qaida. They are unquestionably fighting an evil dictator, but they hardly represent the forces of goodness and light. A post-Assad Syria, as we’ve written, may also pose a threat to American interests.

But that does not mean the United States should not punish Syria for using illegal and inhumane weapons, which could easily fall into the hands of terrorists.

As former State Department counselor Eliot C. Cohen points out in The Wall Street Journal, the president has the right to initiate military action. Limited pinpoint strikes could badly damage Assad forces, and discourage the further use of poison weapons.

By announcing what will surely be a lengthy delay, the president will allow Assad to move his illegal weapons and prepare for any retaliation.

The president could have made the case that there is a difference between entangling the United States in a dubious civil war and allowing a rogue tyrant to dismiss American warnings and commit crimes against humanity.

He chose to pass the buck for what looks to be transparently political reasons.

The president surely recognizes his delay will likely shift attention and blame for the issue to a divided Congress.

The president can once again blame partisan politics — not his lack of guidance — for a crisis.

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