Earlier today, United Nations weapons inspectors finally reached the scene of last week's alleged poison-gas massacre in Syria, after their convoy was delayed by sniper fire. The U.S. and U.K. have threatened a "serious response" if the inspection supports opposition activists' claim that the deadly gas attack was carried out by the Syrian military.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad swears that his troops did not carry out the attack. An Obama administration official, however, said there was "little doubt that these attacks were undertaken by the regime." And U.S. officials said the Assad government's decision to allow inspectors access to the site after five days of evidence-destroying bombing was "too late to be credible."
The White House says President Obama has not decided yet how to respond, but a consensus is building among many analysts that some kind of military response by the U.S. and its allies is now inevitable, particularly after Obama warned Assad last year that the use of chemical weapons was a "red line" that could not be crossed without consequences.
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Assad, in an interview with the Russian newspaper Isvestia, warned that any U.S. intervention would result in "failure just like in all the previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to the present day." Obama has openly stated that he wants to avoid another costly war in the region, suggesting, perhaps, that the U.S. and Britain would instead opt for hammering Assad with air strikes.
The U.S. already has ships in the eastern Mediterranean, and is sending more, as is the British Navy. Christi Parsons and Patrick J. McDonnell at the Los Angeles Times note that regardless of what the U.N. inspectors find — and experts say the evidence of nerve gas use disappears quickly — the Obama administration has condemned Syria so clearly that it would find it difficult to back down now.
Administration officials reportedly began drawing up a list of those targets late last week. Fred Kaplan at Slate says Obama already has a blueprint for a strategy — the 1999 air war in Kosovo. In that conflict, ethnic Albanians were being massacred by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, and President Bill Clinton reluctantly decided to intervene. Russia, Serbia's main ally, blocked the U.N. Security Council from using force, so Clinton turned to NATO.
Does this mean that the U.S. will try to put an end to Syria's civil war, which has already dragged on for more than two years and cost tens of thousands of lives? Probably not, says Michael Crowley at TIME. But Assad has pushed the reluctant West too far, Crowley says, and after declaring the use of chemical weapons a "red line" a year ago, Obama now has no choice but to act to preserve America's credibility and reinforce the international taboo against using forbidden chemical weapons.
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