The issue: Obama’s innate caution may be irritating to his followers, but in this case it is sound policy
President Barack Obama, who is cautious by nature — many on both sides of the political spectrum say too much so — is being double-extra-careful on Syria. And he is right to do so.
AT HIS NEWS conference last week, he not only backed off his “red line” about chemical weapons, which he had said earlier would be a “game-changer,” the president almost seemed to be trying to talk himself out of any tougher measures on the Assad regime than he has already taken.
“What we have now,” he said, “is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them. We don’t have a chain of custody that establishes exactly what happened.”
And if Obama was certain that he had all the facts and that Syrian President Bashar Assad had indeed used chemical weapons, “we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us.”
“Rethinking” falls somewhat short of a blood-curdling threat likely to make a murderous dictator change his ways.
In fact, the diplomatic, legal and political grounds for Obama to take action are weak or nonexistent.
Unlike our intervention in Libya, there is no U.N. resolution authorizing such action. And, for all the bellicose talk of GOP Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, it’s doubtful that Congress would pass a resolution approving the use of force by Obama.
BY TORTUOUS legal reasoning, the president might be able to invoke a 2001 congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against nations or organizations that participated in or aided the 9/11 attacks. While there are radical jihadists with tenuous ties to al-Qaida in Syria, they are fighting to oust Assad, so technically we would be on the same side as the radicals.
In Libya, the Arab League took the lead in the fight against Moammar Gadhafy. In this case, the Arab League seems to have elected to sit out the Syrian civil war. Individual Arab nations — namely, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — are actively aiding the rebels, but Saudi Arabia and Qatar are backing different factions.
And the American public is hardly in favor of intervention. A CBS-New York Times poll last week found that 62 percent of Americans say the United States has no responsibility to intervene in Syria against 24 percent who say it does.
Obama’s innate caution may be irritating to his followers, but in this case it is sound policy.