September 12, 2013

Next steps on Syria still risky for Obama

By DAN BALZ The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

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President Barack Obama, left, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, center, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, right, on stage at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, to mark the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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Many others in Congress who opposed military action were even more grateful for the pause and expressed their hopes for a diplomatic solution. But will their minds be changed if diplomacy fails?

Obama spent much of his time Tuesday night attempting to allay fears that military strikes could lead to sustained involvement by the United States in the civil war. He also was trying to assure skeptics that, as he put it, "The United States military doesn't do pin pricks," and that if strikes are ordered, they will have the desired effect.

He called on opponents on the left and right to rethink their positions and see the merit from their particular perspectives of U.S. intervention to prevent future carnage by dictators with weapons of mass destruction. But all of that is now on hold.

For Congress, that may be a relief -- a return to regular business as the focus of the Syrian debate shifts from Capitol Hill to the United Nations, with close discussions between the United States and its allies on the one hand and the Russians on the other.

For Obama there is no respite. The war in Syria has bedeviled his national security team for two years, with only bad options and worse options. The Russians seized on Secretary of State John Kerry's offhand proposal that Syria give up its chemical weapons, and the administration has seized on that slender opening.

Is it to call the Russians' and the Syrians' bluff in order to strengthen the case for military action, or is it out of a genuine belief that a diplomatic solution on the issue of chemical weapons may be possible?

The messy process continues, with the president facing the most difficult of choices.


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