As President Obama weighs a military response to Syria’s purported use of chemical weapons, some observers say the administration’s best chance for effective intervention has already passed.
The president consulted with the leaders of Britain and France over the weekend, and a senior administration official said there was “very little doubt” that Syrian government forces had killed civilians with chemical weapons last week.
Mr. Obama is “evaluating the appropriate response” but has not made a decision on military action, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
“This violation has to be taken very seriously,” Mr. Carney said. “The president is consulting with his national security team.”
But as the international chorus grows louder for a military strike, some Middle East specialists believe such action would be too late to weaken the position of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
“Even if the U.S. does intervene militarily, the time window for its best option has already passed,” said Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Every option today comes up against the reality that Assad is now far stronger, the country is increasingly being split into Assad and rebel-controlled sections, the rebels are fractured and rebel forces have strong Sunni Islamist extremist elements, and the nation is increasingly polarizing.”
Mr. Obama has resisted for two years taking direct military action in Syria, even after reports surfaced in the spring that chemical weapons likely had been used in the civil war. The president has long warned that the use of weapons of mass destruction would cross a “red line” requiring a harsher U.S. response.
The president has all but ruled out sending in ground troops, and he also has resisted calls to establish a “no-fly zone” over Syria. Among the remaining options are missile strikes against such potential targets as chemical-weapons stockpiles or other military installations.
Lawmakers in Congress increasingly are asking the administration that they be apprised of any planned military moves.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said on his Twitter account Monday: “Pres. Obama considers waiting on UN for permission to intervene in #Syria, but will he wait on the U.S. Congress?”
An aide to Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mr. Obama needs to explain to Congress and the public “clearly and resolutely” before taking any military action.
“The options facing the president are complicated, have far-reaching ramifications, and may require significant resources,” said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck. “More than just to Congress, the president has an obligation to the American people to explain the rationale for the course of action he chooses; why it’s critical to our national security; and what the broader strategy is to achieve stability.”