Herald-Leader Editorial

Obama has to make strong case; Link Syria crisis to U.S. protection

Link Syria crisis to U.S. protection

September 10, 2013 

The possibility that Syria may want to relinquish its chemical weapons to avert an American missile attack for its use of sarin gas, is a welcome development.

Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned that was an option, and Syria, Russia, the United Nations, key American allies and some Republicans in Congress embraced that idea Monday to avoid an international showdown.

We hope that President Barack Obama, when he speaks to the nation tonight, will be able to announce plans for such an agreement.

If so, his willingness to take a stand would be vindicated.

If not, he will need to better explain how military strikes in Syria would help protect U.S. interests and Americans.

He has focused on human rights abuses evident there, the importance of America's global standing and the necessity to live up to treaties and accords against chemical weapons use.

But America is in a self-centered mood.

We are tired of Mideast wars, distrustful of government and not fully recovered from a painful recession. Just the mention of another military action of any sort, understandably, spurred a collective tantrum.

That's why Obama needs to have an adult conservation with the American people, being honest about his plan's potential impact, clear about what's wishful thinking and blunt about the unknowns.

We need answers about the next steps and possible blowback. We are too well-educated about the limits and unintended consequences of war to tolerate sugarcoating.

And Congress must look beyond it own fears, ever-present partisanship and frustrations with Obama about what he should have done or what he shouldn't have said. We are where we are now — having to choose among bad options. And doing nothing may be the worst of all of the choices.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a resolution that limits the time for strikes, prohibits putting U.S. soldiers on the ground and calls for more support of pro-democracy Syrian rebels. House and Senate leaders overwhelming support military strikes. And generally lawmakers who have received classified briefings have found the evidence of chemical use compelling.

The challenge for Obama, clearly a reluctant warrior, is to bring the talk about red lines and global norms of war down to a level that speaks to the average citizen's concerns.

Will not taking a stand now embolden adversaries and make another full-scale war more likely? If we turn away from images of children poisoned by sarin gas, do we increase the odds of American children suffering such painful deaths?

If that is the case, it is now up to Obama to make it.

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