August 28, 2013

When to strike: Syria timing is complex for Obama

There are few good options for when to attack.

By Josh Lederman / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Compounding the pressure, some lawmakers and allies are urging President Obama to proceed slowly and seek U.N. Security Council approval, while others are imploring the president to act quickly and decisively.

AP

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Obama, on Tuesday, will travel to Stockholm for his first visit as president to Sweden. The Northern European nation has claimed a position of neutrality in international conflicts for about 200 years.

Two days later, he heads to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the Group of 20 economic summit with leading foreign counterparts. A major conference intended to focus on wonky issues like tax evasion and monetary policy could easily be subsumed by a military incursion in a Mideast hot spot embroiling the U.S. and potentially other G-20 nations.

What's more, Russia, the host of the summit, is staunchly backing Assad and would be among the most vocal opponents of a military strike in Syria. An American-led attack on Assad's forces while world leaders meet in Russia would be a major embarrassment for the Kremlin, and would deliver yet another blow to shaky relations between Russia and the U.S., already at a low point since the recent U.S. decision to cancel a bilateral meeting between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The president has to be prepared for a lot of tension and a high degree of awkwardness," said Nikolas Gvosdev, a national security professor at the U.S. Naval War College.

Despite the messy optics, Obama's foreign travel next week will not be a factor in his decision about when to act, said the administration official, who wasn't authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly and requested anonymity. The main factor in when an action starts will be how long it takes to get it off the ground once Obama makes the call. An increase in foreign assistance, for example, would take a while to ramp up, while a military action could be ordered right away.

There's precedent for Obama to take military action while outside the U.S. It was in Brazil in 2011 when Obama, on a five-day Latin America swing, authorized limited military action against Libya to counter Moammar Gadhafi's assault on his own people.

U.S. officials say a response most likely would involve sea-launched cruise missile attacks on Syrian military targets. Logistical and military considerations could also play a role in determining when the U.S. and others take action. Military experts and U.S. officials said strikes probably would come during the night, a strategy that could help minimize civilian casualties.

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