Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Punish Syria for crossing ‘red line’

There are plenty of reasons to avoid U.S. military intervention in Syria: We’re not the policeman of the world. It’s easy to get in, but hard to get out. The war-weary American people don’t want any part of it.

These are all sound reasons. The misadventure in Iraq remains a painful reminder of the dangers of jumping into a military conflict in the Middle East.

Yet despite all of these objections, the case for a direct and meaningful U.S. response is compelling. The colossal contempt for world opinion shown by Syria’s Bashar Assad cannot be ignored. The regime’s atrocities represent a direct challenge to U.S. leadership and credibility. This country’s vital national interests are at stake.

The humanitarian dimension of this crisis should be self-evident. To stand idly by while a despotic regime commits mass murder with the most lethal weapons against its own people would constitute a rejection of everything the United States claims to stand for.

To do so even after repeated warnings that such actions would trigger a response would further signal weakness. The Obama administration must back up its words when push comes to shove, no matter how much it wants to avoid involvement.

Given the mass slaughter against civilians in Syria and President Obama’s declaration of a “red line” against the use of chemical and biological weapons, the United States has no choice but to follow through with a military response or see its standing in the world diminished. The president once declared that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a “game changer.”

Today, like it or not, the game has decidedly changed.

Beyond the moral issue is American self-interest. Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons capability is the greatest threat in the region. Time and again President Obama has warned Iran that the United States and its allies would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. The mullahs in Tehran are carefully watching the president’s response in Syria, Iran’s ally.

If the White House backs down, Iranian leaders who believe the United States is bluffing on the nuclear issue would feel vindicated. Israel — the country with the most to lose from a nuclear Iran — would feel more isolated and alone than ever.

The U.S. response in Syria should be limited and narrowly defined. No boots on the ground, no unilateral action.

Sending troops into Syria would be a mistake. Regime change is not the immediate objective. A cruise missile strike against military targets would be more appropriate and proportional as a way of punishing the Assad government for actions it was explicitly warned not to undertake. A next step should be to work with allies to find Assad’s stash of chemical weapons.

The United States should not waste time seeking U.N. support for a retaliatory strike. It would be blocked by Russia. Forming a coalition with Britain, France and other countries that have condemned Syria’s government would amply demonstrate international resolve.

Deepening American involvement in yet another Middle East conflict goes against President Obama’s instincts — and ours. Unemployment should be his principal focus. But events have a way of intruding on presidential agendas. In this instance, it’s unavoidable. Syria’s brazen disregard for humanitarian norms cannot go unanswered.

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