The Herald Bulletin

August 30, 2013

Editorial: Retaliate for crossing the red line in Syria

— President Obama finds himself in a difficult situation concerning Syria. He's on record as saying that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used poison gas on the rebels, the U.S. would be forced to act. It was crossing that red line that Obama said would demand retaliation.

Apparently that red line has been breached, and now the U.S. has to weigh whether to begin raining bombs onto key Assad positions.

The matter took an odd turn on Thursday when Britain — America's closest ally — said it wouldn't be joining in the attack. Prime Minister David Cameron would've probably lined up with Obama as Tony Blair followed President Bush into Afghanistan and Iraq. But Parliament said no.

That brings up Congress' role. Since it is the only body that can declare war, Obama should consult with Congress about what he's going to do. But he didn't take Congress into consideration when he dropped bombs on Libya. He cited the War Powers Act of 1973, which allows the president to begin a military action if he informs Congress within 48 hours after the action begins. Congress then has 60 days to approve the action. After 60 days and absent congressional approval, the troops must be withdrawn.

Obama can begin his attack. The question is, should he? In the last 12 years, the U.S. has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and launched a bombing campaign on Libya. Syria will be the fourth country that feels the shells of U.S. military might. This doesn't include drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.

By most objective criteria, the U.S. forcing its hand in these countries has not brought more stability to the region nor has it brought the countries closer to democracy, which is always the stated goal. It's safe to say that interference in Syria will produce no lasting positive effect as long as Assad is in power. But even if he's taken out, there are no guarantees.

That leaves a humanitarian response, to get rid of the gas before it can be used again and punish the Assad regime for using it.

The U.S. has a tradition of helping when people are being brutalized by their leaders. Remember Kosovo. But the U.S. also needs to be aware that it will be perceived as trigger happy if it goes in guns blazing top stop every dust-up and argument in the Muslim world. It's a fine line to walk because it's easy to create enemies in that region.

But if Obama's red line has been violated, he should make good on his word.

In summary If Obama's red line has been violated, he should make good on his word about military action in Syria.