President Obama finds himself caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place over Syria. He drew his line in the sand last Spring when he threatened military action that Assad used chemical weapons against civilians in a recent attack outside Damascus. The 2-1/2 year civil war has long turned ugly, but the US has not been able to get Russia from arming the Assad regime, so it seems he is capable of carrying this war on indefinitely against the poorly armed rebels. All though, if he has resorted to chemical weapons, as US intelligence agency insist, it sounds like the Assad regime is on the ropes and Obama sees this as a propitious moment to take him out.
He has become a reluctant war president, having had to take over two wars from his predecessor, and provide back-up for British and French forces in Libya, which he was roundly criticized by Republicans in Congress for doing so without Congressional approval. So, it seems Obama will honor a Congressional decision this time around on Syria to avoid the impression that this was a unilateral decision.
Obama's argument seems to be that the UN is paralyzed to take action because of Russia's veto power in the UN Security Council, which Putin has vowed he would use. NATO is out because Britain is out. Parliament voted against going to war in Syria. Could a "no" vote by Congress be a convenient "out" for Obama, who finds himself battling with Democratic and Republican hawks who insist the US will lose credibility if it does not strike Syria?
It seems that Senators McCain and Graham, the most outspoken Republican advocates of military intervention are looking beyond Syria to Russia and Iran, who have both aided Assad. It's the old Cold War paradigm with Syria essentially a proxy, as the US has little strategic interest in this country.
From Obama's perspective, he doesn't want to risk losing ties with Turkey, which has long been frustrated with the spill-over of the Syrian civil war into its country, and would support the US in an attack on Syria. Obama has also received the support of Israel and France and the tacit support of Gulf Arab countries like Saudi Arabia. Strange bedfellows to say the least. But, is this a good enough reason for going to war, as it seems that the limited missile strikes Obama is proposing would only serve as a punitive gesture, having little impact on Assad's hold of the country.
This is the basic conundrum of being President. Whatever high-mindedness one might have when seeking the highest office in the land is soon put to the test by thorny international problems that Obama has found himself wrestling with for the better part of five years. For those on the sidelines, like McCain and Graham, the decision is easy, but for Obama he risks jeopardizing the next three years of his administration over a highly questionable war.