Editorial: Can’t have it both ways with Syria

Sep. 11, 2013 @ 04:05 PM

President Barack Obama’s decision to wait for diplomacy with Syria deserves a degree of our admiration.

It also deserves our caution with any optimism for two reasons. Bashar Assad is a man that cannot be trusted in word or deed. And one important fact — proof — remained elusive from the president’s 16-minute address to the nation on Tuesday night.

“He said so” isn’t good enough.

The death of children and civilians is undeniable. Symptoms common to chemical weapons banned by international treaty are evident.

But blame is disputable. Obama says it was Assad and his government. Assad says it was by rebels fighting to drive him from power.

We’re inclined to believe Obama. Thus far he’s only offered video of victims “after” the attack. The administration says it has satellite imagery, and intelligence reports “before” and “after.” But it also has death reports far apart from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based agency counting victims by name.

The president has tumbled closer to a no-win situation.

Assad previously warned foreign intervention, particularly from the West, would have global consequences. But he can’t challenge our military.

In late 2011 he said, “We don’t kill our people. No government in the world kills its people, unless it’s led by a crazy person.”

On that point we agree.

Initially, Obama wanted to strike. He didn’t get support from the world, Americans or liberals.

He was backpedaling Tuesday, asking Congress not to vote on use of force. He promised “no boots on the ground” in Syria. But if America strikes, how can he assure the consequences of the fallout? It is a wishful, well-intended promise, with little else.

He agreed we can’t be the world’s policeman, yet later questioned, “What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas, and we choose to look the other way?”

His compassion mirrors our own. But we can’t have it both ways, and neither can the president. We don’t want to strike and we can’t trust Assad to relinquish his deadly weapons.

Cautious optimism in our search for the truth is the best we’ve got.