Syria and Chemical Weapons

Here we go again. Syria's apparent use of a small amount of chemical weapons against its own people has many Republicans and conservatives calling for President Barack Obama to intervene. Yeah, easy, right? Just like Iraq.

President Obama has said that use of chemical weapons by Syria would be a "red line." Last week, the administration said it believes that Syrian government forces have used a small amount of sarin gas against its own people. The president, speaking at a photo-op in the White House after his meeting with the Jordanian king, said its use was a "game changer."

According to various reports, the evidence of sarin gas comes from human tissue samples. Perhaps a few dozen Syrians were killed. But questions abound, like, did Assad loyalists use the chemical weapons? Why did they use the weapon of mass destruction, especially such a small amount? Was it a test? What action should the U.S. take in response?

More than 70,000 Syrians have been killed since the civil war broke out, and hundreds of thousands of citizens have fled the country. This is a terrible humanitarian crisis, and, failing President Bashar-al-Assad's resignation, there is no end in sight. Up to now, the Obama administration has been reluctant to arm rebels with sophisticated weapons because of fear the weapons would fall in the hands of terrorists organizations, and Al Qaeda has an increasing presence among the opposition fighters. Instead, the administration has relied on diplomatic negotiations.

But leading Republicans call the president's handling of the Syrian crisis "shameful." Senator John McCain, Republican from Arizona, said on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday, "Unless we change the balance of power, there is a danger that this stalemate could go on for months and months." South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, said on CBS's Face the Nation, "There's nothing you can do in Syria without risk, but the greatest risk is a failed state with chemical weapons falling in the hands of radical Islamists, and they are pouring into Syria."

Some Republicans are worried about the larger message inaction will send to Iran and North Korea. Republican Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan said on ABC's This Week, "It cannot be a dotted line. It can't be anything but a red line," he said. "Iran is paying attention to this. North Korea is paying attention to this." But neo-conservative Bill Kristol told Fox News that the president's inaction is "irresponsible." "This is not a president who wants to start another war," he said. "No one wants to start wars, but you've got to do what you've got to do."

Kristol was one of the most passionate supporters of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. About 4,500 American military members died in that war, as well as well over 100,000 Iraqis. The war cost U.S. taxpayers at least $2 trillion, and counting. Of course, Iraq's murderous dictator, Saddam Hussein, was captured and executed, but no weapons of mass destruction were found and the country is struggling with its future. The U.S. invasion became a recruiting tool for militants.

While no one is calling for a U.S. invasion of Syria, the actions being proposed would involve American military. For instance, given Assad's sophisticated air force and air defenses, a "no-fly" zone would be difficult to enforce. Establishing a "safe haven" would take a major military commitment.

The president has been quietly using diplomacy to deal with Syria. Now stepped up pressure is necessary from the White House and the world community on Russia, which has a close relationship with the Syrian leader, to get the Assad to step down. Iran and North Korea are watching Russia's actions too. If it fails to act, these rogue nations will get the clear message that having weapons of mass destruction is acceptable. And those weapons could end up in the hands of Russian terrorists. Also, the United Nations must immediately act forcefully, as should the Arab states, because chemical weapons in the hands of terrorists threaten the lives of all Arabs.

Before America enters into another war, it must urgently and energetically exercise all forms of diplomacy. The whole world is watching.