It’s risky business to threaten the head of a large country such as Syria with “severe consequences” if the beleaguered leader uses chemical weapons against his own people. Syria is too vast to invade, and another land war in a Muslim country is a bad idea. The risk of dispersing chemical gases with a bombing attack on Syria’s stockpiles is too great.
But President Barack Obama, who has been cautious about intervening in Syria’s bloody civil war, has made the correct move to draw a line in the sand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must not cross. Obama now is warning Damascus that war is coming if the desperate Syrian leader makes any move to use deadly sarin gas against civilians.
Syria’s violent effort to quell the popular uprising against Assad has been a blight on civilization for too long. The international community has not been able to agree on whether to arm the rebels – or which rebels to arm. Assad has clung to power far more tenaciously than many predicted. The consequences that Obama now is warning about are difficult to maneuver into place, especially because Russia has been reluctant to join the condemnation of Assad for his brutality against the rebels who want to oust him from power.
But Russia is now suggesting that it, too, is receiving new intelligence indicating Syria is contemplating using chemical weapons against the rebel forces. As usual, the Russians are being cagey about their intentions, but the 28 NATO allies meeting in Brussels this week are under great pressure to resolve the conflict, beginning with providing Patriot missiles to neighboring Turkey to improve its air defenses as Syrian violence gets closer to its borders.
Fittingly, Obama has not specified what consequences he will consider. But a direct air strike on Assad and his supporters is not out of the question. Arming the rebels is now a strong possibility. Assad already has assured that history will abhor him. Any move to use sarin gas on his people would make him one of the world’s great monsters. He must be stopped.