On the Precipice in Syria?

Syria has crossed Obama’s ‘red line’ in using chemical weapons, and the U.S. government is headed across the Rubicon of deeper military involvement.

There seems little doubt from the accumulating evidence, collected primarily by French and British investigators, that some chemical weapons have been used in Syria’s increasingly savage civil war. Syrian government forces control these weapons and are probably responsible for using them, but hard evidence is still lacking. A background analysis in Monday’s New York Times examines the continuing cloud of uncertainty about who used these weapons.

Thursday’s White House statement bases its conclusions primarily on “reporting.” It states that only “small-scale” use has occurred and acknowledges the absence of forensic evidence. Especially significant is this statement: the evidence “does not tell us how or where individuals were exposed or who was responsible for the dissemination.” That’s an extraordinary admission of the lack of firm evidence. Hardly the basis for becoming militarily involved.

The White House statement says that the U.S. will expand assistance to the Supreme Military Council, but it does not mention sending weapons. Administration spokespersons have said the administration will begin supplying small arms and ammunition, but no timetable has been given. The delivery of heavier weapons would require the presence of U.S. military personnel and contractors, which the White House remains reluctant to consider.

The White House says it will present its evidence to the international community. That’s the right step to take. The administration should bring whatever evidence it has to the Security Council and gain international support for taking appropriate action against those responsible.

The arguments against arming the rebels remain strong, as I write in my recent op ed in the Christian Science Monitor. Sending more weapons will intensify the war and increase the risk of the U.S. being dragged into another Middle East war. The administration should focus on pursuing a ceasefire and negotiated peace settlement. Rather than delivering weapons the United States should send more urgently needed humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people.