What to do about Syria

What should President Obama do with Syria? Well, there’s a conundrum.

When George W. Bush ordered the Iraq invasion in 2003, he rationalized it several different ways. Saddam Hussein was hiding Weapons of Mass Destruction; he had defied numerous United Nations resolutions regarding these WMDs; he was an evil dictator who had poison gassed his own people, so he should be deposed; and he had links to terrorism, which with his WMDs made him a threat to the United States.

Then-Senator Barack Obama argued that we should not have invaded Iraq–and he started making this argument when the invasion was still popular. The Senator felt that we should not get involved in a Middle Eastern war while we were already engaged in Afghanistan, and Iraq was not an immediate threat to the United States. The Senator repeated these arguments when he first ran for President, and he used his early stance regarding a war that had become quite unpopular to demonstrate that despite his inexperience in international politics, he had exhibited better judgement than people with greater experience (like Hillary Clinton and John McCain).

I wonder what Senator Obama circa 2008 would think of President Obama circa 2013. We are still engaged in Afghanistan, and no one is arguing that Syria is an immediate threat to the security of the United States.

So why does the President support an attack? Because the Syrian dictator used poison gas (chemical weapons) on his own people after the President said that such an action would be unacceptable. How does the President energize his political base for this action when they didn’t support Bush’s arguments? How does he win over the skeptical political opposition in America?

Where does that leave the President? Well, if he presses ahead, he has two potential problems:

1. He could authorize a military strike that is not successful in ousting the dictator. This would leave the United States looking weak.

2. He could authorize a military strike that is successful. Once he does that, then what? Are the Syrian rebels clamoring for a chance to install a democracy? I haven’t heard that.

I do not envy the President in any of this. You want a President to be decisive, but I have no idea what a good decision would be. It seems like a big mess.

But I pity the Syrian people more so than I do the President. He lives in a nice house in a great country. The Syrians are stuck in the middle of a bloody civil war being fought by people who don’t have a Ulysses Grant or Robert E. Lee among them.

I guess my only advice to President Obama is to pray for a miracle. Hmm, the more I think about it, the better that advice sounds.

What would you tell the President?