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Obama Is Right on Chemical Warfare in Syria

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
April 27, 2013
Daily Beast


Of course, we Americans think it's horrible for any nation to use chemical weapons—except when we don't. And of course, we want to punish any user of chemical weapons—except when we don't. And of course, many now screaming against Syria's likely use of chemical weapons against its rebels didn't do much complaining when Iraq hurled these internationally banned gases against Iran and its own Kurdish people in the 1980s. And of course, American interventionists now demand U.S. military action against the Syrian government. But America's history on chemical weapons is littered with mistakes and hypocrisy, and Syria itself is a bottomless pit of hatreds that can't be "fixed" by more and more outside military force. And so, President Obama now correctly applies the brakes on further military action until the world knows for sure who did what, when, and how with these horrible gasses, and until he figures out what the U.S. can do that won't make the situation worse.

Yes, Mr. Obama was wrong to declare Syria's use of poison gases to be a "red line" that required U.S. military action. Presidents should say such things only when they're absolutely sure they will act accordingly. He wasn't sure and still isn't. But he's right to count to 10 now before he does something irretrievably stupid. We aren't yet certain exactly what happened. We aren't confident whether taking direct military action will bring the civil war to a speedier end or make it bloodier still. And we have no idea what we would do if initial U.S. military moves fail.

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