- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shocking as it was, the massacre of more than 100 Syrian villagers is unlikely to galvanize a military assault like last year’s campaign in Libya to oust Moammar Gadhafi.

The killings, however, did provoke the strongest international condemnation the United States and other nations could muster.

The U.S. joined more than a dozen nations in expelling Syrian diplomats on Tuesday, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pushed for further, direct action to dislodge Syrian President Bashar Assad.

But President Obama’s spokesman emphasized more limited options.

“We do not believe that militarization, further militarization, of the situation in Syria at this point is the right course of action,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “We believe that it would lead to greater chaos, greater carnage.”

The nation’s top military officer — Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — had appeared to hint at a possible shift in that longstanding U.S. position, saying Monday that despite reservations about military intervention “it may come to a point with Syria,” because of the mounting atrocities.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Tuesday that those remarks did not mean the United States had backed off its position that military intervention risks doing more harm than good. The Pentagon has not been asked to provide plans for military options in Syria, Mr. Little said.

“The focus remains on the diplomatic and economic track,” Mr. Little said. “But at the end of the day, we in the Department of Defense have a responsibility to look at the full spectrum of options and to make them available if they’re requested.”

Mr. Romney said the massacre argues for strong action, including arming the rebels and pressuring Russia to stop selling arms to Assad forces.

“President Obama’s lack of leadership has resulted in a policy of paralysis that has watched Assad slaughter 10,000 individuals,” Mr. Romney said.

The administration’s position reflects deep doubt that any bombing campaign could be accomplished quickly and relatively bloodlessly, as in Libya.

The United States would have to be a major participant in any sustained coalition war to remove Mr. Assad, something U.S. officials had all but ruled out before the weekend massacre in Houla.

The United States is providing “nonlethal” assistance to the Syrian rebels fighting Mr. Assad, meaning supplies and help that do not include ammunition or weapons.

“Right now, our focus is on humanitarian aid, nonlethal aid, and I’m not going to speculate as to where the future might take us,” Mr. Little said.

The administration also is helping other nations that are providing lethal aid to determine suitable recipients.

“We and many nations that are — that consider themselves friends of Syria — are assessing the opposition as we help … them stand themselves up and help them unify,” Mr. Carney said.

A senior U.S. official said events like the recent killings have that the potential to provide a major change in an already perilous situation, and that the U.S. would seek to further move other nations toward a political solution because of the broad outrage over the killings and widespread fears that the window for a political solution is narrowing.

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