A civil war has rocked Syria since April 2011. It was an outgrowth of the Arab Spring that saw Middle East despots fall in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has managed to hold on to power, though it has come at a cost. A mid-2013 analysis by the United Nations put the death toll at more than 100,000.
Opposing the Assad government are many factions, some linked to Islamic militants. Attempts to put the rebels under one central organizing effort has proven difficult over the past two years. Aiding these factions comes with the peril that they may someday turn on their Western benefactors.
In August, various Western intelligence agencies believe, Syria used chemical weapons against rebels, killing almost 1,500 people, including 426 children.
The use of chemical weapons in warfare is a violation of international law, and has been since 1925.
France and the United Kingdom joined the United States in condemning the chemical weapons attack. All three have proposed a retaliatory strike against Syria. When Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron put such a premise before Parliament, he was promptly shot down by a vote of 285-272.
Now the U.S. Congress will entertain a similar proposal. The question: Should the United States attack Syria for using chemical weapons on its own people?
Obama took a circular and decidedly unpresidential path to get here. He first declared that such a strike was necessary. Then after several days of waffling he said he would seek the permission of Congress.
So about those cards held by Obama.
In the United Nations, two of Syria’s allies — China and Russia — appear willing to do what they can to block a stern international response to the chemical attack.
Regional stability, especially as it concerns Israel, is a strong factor in determining any military response to Syria. In fact, Assad has taken this tactic, describing the Middle East as a “powder keg” that could be easily upset by Western action.
A U.S. strike is being weighed in Congress, an institution weighed down by partisanship and gamesmanship. The outcome of such a vote is unknown, but it’s virtually assured politics will be involved.
These are the moments that test a U.S. president. Feel no extra measure of sympathy for Obama; after all, he asked for this job. However, we should all wish for him wisdom to pursue the proper path.
And one final note. Our presidential debates should be about these tense moments, not cheap rhetoric and gotcha quips.