New Castle News

Editorials

August 29, 2013

Our Opinion: Military action anticipated over Syria’s civil war

NEW CASTLE — Perhaps the last thing America needs right now is a military conflict with another Arab nation.

But one appears to be shaping up in Syria. The Obama administration indicates it is moving toward some sort of action against the regime of President Bashar Assad over the use of chemical weapons.

This follows reports of a second chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria in connection with its ongoing civil war. President Obama previously had warned that the use of chemical weapons in that country would not be tolerated.

Yet, despite previous indications the Syrian government had used poison gas against its own people, the administration had been muted in its response. That’s because the options in Syria are pretty much all bad.

First, although it’s believed the Assad regime is responsible for the chemical attacks, the evidence so far is imprecise. The government there claims it was rebels who were responsible for the use of chemicals. And it’s conceivable some rebels could have done so — if they had access to these weapons — simply to draw the West into the conflict.

Second, if there is military involvement in Syria by the United States and other countries, an eventual goal presumably is to topple the Assad government. But what will replace it?

The rebels in Syria are a mixed bag. And while some may be sympathetic to the West, many aren’t. They represent Islamic fundamentalist groups and other factions that are as bad as Assad if not worse. Overthrowing an unpopular dictator in the Arab world does not automatically translate into something better.

There is now an ongoing debate within the United States government, as well as the general population regarding what — if anything — the United States should do about Syria. While there seems to be virtually no support for an actual invasion (no doubt experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have tempered those calls), there have been demands to establish no fly zones and to target Syria’s air power in an effort to neutralize the government’s advantage over the rebels.

On the other hand, critics from the other side contend Syria is none of America’s business. That country has not threatened or attacked the United States, and if there is a civil war, it’s up to the people in that country to determine the outcome.

Typically, we would be sympathetic with this view. But there are a couple of problems. One involves the fact that outsiders are already involved in Syria’s civil war. And they run the risk of establishing a very unfriendly regime there.

The other deals with the use of chemical weapons. We believe there is a legitimate international benefit in thwarting the use of these weapons. Ignoring chemical attacks in Syria threatens to expand their use elsewhere.

Assuming it can be confirmed the Assad regime employed chemical weapons, and assuming a broad-based international consensus for action — including Arab nations — can be achieved, action that punishes the Syrian government is warranted. But no one should conclude that will lead to a positive outcome.

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