By Dale McFeatters
In a letter to hawkish senators like John McCain, R-Ariz., who are demanding that the White House take sterner action against Syria now that persuasive but hardly conclusive evidence of the limited use of the chemical weapon sarin has surfaced, the White House wrote that “no option is off the table.”
The problem is President Barack Obama’s administration has no good options, other than what it’s given in humanitarian aid to the refugees and limited nonlethal military aid to the rebels, who now seem to have picked up a sizable radical Islamic component.
We could pump arms into Syria, but we have no guarantees into whose hand those weapons ultimately will fall.
The U.S., along with several other Western nations, proposed having the United Nations investigate the possible limited use of sarin last month in a village near Aleppo and in the Damascus suburbs and perhaps earlier in the city of Homs. But involving the U.N. is clearly a way of buying time in hopes that more conclusive proof and a better solution will arise. And it opened Obama to the charge by House Speaker John Boehner that the president was outsourcing U.S. security to the U.N.
McCain is urging that the U.S. use its airpower to create a no-fly, safe haven for refugees made homeless by the fighting. But Syria has formidable Soviet-era air defenses, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War cited by The Associated Press — 300 mobile surface-to-air missile systems and defense systems and more than 600 static launching sites.
One proposal is that U.S. troops enter the country to take control of and secure Syria’s stocks of chemical weapons, but Pentagon officials tell The Washington Post it could take “tens of thousands” of U.S. troops to do so. And, the AP noted pointedly after a closed-door bipartisan briefing by Secretary of State John Kerry, “No lawmaker pressed for a U.S. military invasion after more than 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Much of this bind is of Obama’s own doing. Earlier, Obama had said that Syria’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line,” “a game changer.”
It’s probably a mistake to call for a game changer until we know exactly what game we’re playing and, frankly, that’s still somewhat murky. After the Iraq weapons-of-mass destruction fiasco, the fact that U.S. intelligence agencies believe with “varying degrees of confidence” that Syria used poison gas is hardly 100 percent convincing, nor is White House spokesman Jay Carney’s assessment: “This is not an airtight case. We do have some evidence, but we need to build on that.”
If it’s all the same to McCain and the war hawks, we’ll wait for airtight.
Scripps Howard News Service