Commentary: A Confusing Mess Regarding Syria

US President Barack Obama answers a question on Syria during a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister after their bilateral meeting at the Rosenbad Building in Stockholm on September 4, 2013. Obama met with Fredrik Reinfeldt upon arrival in Sweden on a two-day official trip before leaving for Russia, where he will attend G20 summit. Russia on Thursday hosts the G20 summit hoping to push forward an agenda to stimulate growth but with world leaders distracted by divisions on the prospect of US-led military action in Syria. AFP PHOTO / JEWEL SAMAD        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Commentary: A Confusing Mess Regarding Syria

The Obama administration’s position on Syria seeks to address a situation that has left many Americans confused and reluctant.

Published September 4, 2013

Let’s face it. The situation in Syria is a mess. And it’s a challenging mess to navigate.
President Obama, the man who campaigned in 2008 as the champion of pulling the United States out of combat, is the champion of military intervention in Syria.

With the administration of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons on its own citizens, Obama feels strongly that the United States needs to act decisively and forcefully. But he presides over a nation that has grown weary of military intervention, fearing the open-ended scenarios that the nation has endured in Iraq, Afghanistan and, to an earlier generation, Vietnam.

It is a highly complex, incredibly nuanced situation that has possible implications for a wide swath of Americans. And it presents a series of vexing questions to which no one seems to have good answers.

What is there about the proposed strikes against Syria that would assure that Assad would not decide to gas thousands of other citizens?

The Obama administration has insisted it favors a limited strike with military activities that would last about three months. But what would happen if the response from the Syrians – potentially with assistance from others in the region – ratchets matters up to a level that is now unpredictable?

What might American involvement look like under those circumstances, particularly for the nation’s communities of color, which are overrepresented in the ranks of the military? What guarantees are there that wider involvement by American forces might not someday be called for? And if so, who precisely are the Americans who might wind up in harm’s way? Will a limited air strike accomplish anything?

In the last few days, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry have sought to clarify the administration’s objectives, often to perplexing effect. If the strike does indeed take place, how does it help to have military intervention that is so widely and prominently forecasted?

It is a business about which the American people feel decidedly skeptical. Same goes for legislators in Britain, where Parliament voted last week to turn down a plan by Prime Minister David Cameron to get that country’s military to participate in those strikes. The Parliament vote was a 285-to-272 rebuke of the prime minister’s plan.

In the end, the president’s stature and credibility are at stake here, whether he accepts that view or not. Obama has a great deal on the line with the vote he has asked Congress to take, particularly with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives that has offered him little beyond hostility. It’s not a pretty picture.

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(Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks


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