US must guard against mission creep in Syria

Now that President Barack Obama has authorized the shipments of weapons and ammunition to the rebels struggling to maintain a semblance of cohesion in their bid to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, many Americans are wondering if we’re getting into another losing proposition in the Middle East.

Recent polls have shown little public support for America’s involvement in the Syrian civil uprising. And until last week, the president shared that reluctance to get the nation embroiled in another costly war — in terms of American lives lost and money spent.

What caused Obama to change his mind. According to the White House, Assad crossed the red line established by the president; administration officials revealed they had conclusive evidence of chemical weapons — the deadly sarin gas — being used against the Syrian rebels during the past year.

America’s allies in Europe hailed the decision to arm the rebels, with British Prime Minister David Cameron calling for the enforcement of a no-fly zone.

Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, who announced Saturday that his nation was breaking relations with Syria over Assad’s use of chemical weapons, also called for a no-fly zone.

In light of the growing international support for direct and indirect support for the rebels, Obama, who is attending talks in Northern Ireland among the Group of Eight leading industrial powers, must make it clear that the United States does not intend to take the lead in any Syrian incursion.

After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which the United States took the lead and has paid dearly in blood and money, the American people are demanding that Washington turn its attention to domestic issues.

The national economic recession, which began in late 2008 as then President George W. Bush was leaving office, has caused major dislocations in every sector.

The unemployment rate remains unacceptably high, government spending at all levels has been slashed, and private sector workers have been forced to accept concessions in order to keep their jobs.

This nation can ill afford another costly military venture.

If Egypt’s president is sincere in his call for a more aggressive response to Syrian President Assad’s use of chemical weapons and the support he’s receiving from Iran and Hezbollah fighters, he should seek a meeting of the Arab League and persuade leaders to commit weapons, troops and money for the overthrown of the Syrian regime.

Indeed, several of the leaders are in office because the U.S. supported the ouster of dictatorial regimes and the installation of democratically elected governments.

Unfortunately, the results have not always worked out the way Washington had wished. Islamic extremists have emerged in control in more than one country, which is exactly the concern many have about the rebels fighting in Syria.

There are reports that some of the fighters are affiliated with al-Qaida, the terrorist organization once led by Osama bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. Navy SEALS, while others have been linked to Islamic extremist groups.

Islamic republic

Indeed, Assad has warned that his ouster will result in Syria becoming an Islamic republic with Israel and the United States as its avowed enemies.

It is easy, on humanitarian grounds, to support the efforts of the rebels, given a new United Nations report that says more than 90,000 Syrians have been killed in the civil war, many of them women and children.

But America cannot continue being the savior of the world.

The only way to solve the problem in Syria is through negotiations, which is what the Obama administration, along with Assad’s ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, should be pursuing.

If the weapons and ammunition the U.S. is sending to the rebels give them a chance to at least level the fighting field, that will be a positive development.

Any other action should be widely debated before a decision is made.

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